Moulton man’s fishing trip with tragic consequences

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Doug Hern is one of the very few people still alive to have witnessed an atomic explosion at close range.

He is one of the lucky ones to have survived being used as a guinea pig during the nuclear bomb testing on Christmas Island in the 1950s.

Doug Hern and an illustration of an neuclear explosion.

Doug Hern and an illustration of an neuclear explosion.

Of 22,500 men out there over a ten-year period, 18,500 have died, mostly of cancers and related diseases, says Doug, who has access to a lot of archive material as trustee and archive master for the British Nuclear Test Veterans’ Association.

Doug, who lives in Moulton with Sandie, was just 16 when he joined the Royal Navy as a boy entrant. However, life up to that point had been far from safe and carefree.

Doug was a young boy living in London during the war and his family was bombed out of three homes before they sought peace in Donington with family willing to put them up.

He still has a piece of mangled bullet, red hot he remembers when it entered his left leg as he played outside.

Doug says those experiences didn’t leave a lasting impression, though he suffered from symptoms of shellshock until he was nine.

He says: “We jumped at the slightest bang, even after we came up to Donington.

“Because we were Londoners we were called evacuees, and treated like it.”

Doug joined the Royal Navy as a cook, working first on a destroyer in home waters, before joining a series of destroyers and submarines, priming depth charges ready for firing as his active duty.

The trip to Christmas Island was top secret, the men only told their destination an hour after leaving Honolulu. On arrival they signed the Official Secrets Act and were then told they were there to assist in the testing of nuclear weapons.

Doug was filled with trepidation, but all fears were allayed and the men were tasked with fishing so the scientists could test the samples.

Doug and the other men fished in flip flops, shorts and bush hats, and ate surplus fish; the scientists were in full protective suits.

Each bomb was equivalent to 1,200 X-rays within three millionths of a second from explosion, says Doug. He was exposed to five of them in the year he was on the island.