Moulton nuclear test veteran's case heard as campaigners meet with Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Nuclear test veterans held an historic meeting with the Prime Minister last week - as the quest to finally award them medals took an important step forward.
South Holland and the Deepings MP Sir John Hayes was part of a delegation that met Boris Johnson - while a video of veterans’ stories sent ahead of the meeting included the story of Douglas Hern, of Moulton.
This was the first official meeting between a sitting prime minister and the nuclear veterans - who have waged a decades-long fight for justice and recognition of the effort they played in the Cold War and the ill-effects they have suffered since exposure to the fallout of atomic bombs.
Sir John told the Free Press it was a ‘moving’ and ‘poignant’ occasion, adding: “The Prime Minister was impressed by what they said and also affected by what they said.”
Mr Johnson said veterans should be ‘recognised’ and has now asked ministers to look into this. Sir John said the Platinum Jubilee year would be a fitting time for the Queen to present the men with medals, adding: “Without them we wouldn’t have a nuclear deterrent.
“They were proud to have done that and we should be proud of them.”
He added: “We have a duty to these people. They did their duty and now it’s our duty to them to show our appreciation. We should have done this years ago.
“It’s very odd that countries of the realm - New Zealand and Australia - have granted this medal and we don’t.”
Mr Hern (86) has suffered a series of health complaints after witnessing five thermonuclear explosions off Christmas Island in the 1950s and saw his 13-year-old daughter die of a rare cancer. His case encouraged Sir John, now a patron of the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association, to take up the cause.
Mr Hern said: “I am enthusiastic about this and I will give it my full support. We have still got a way to go to get a medal - at least Boris Johnson has picked up the baton at last.
“Sir John has been a stalwart in this since the 1990s - he probably got fed up with me putting stuff through his letterbox.”
At Wednesday’s Downing Street meeting, Mr Johnson was presented with information about suggested cover-ups and missing records as well as the face-to-face personal testimony of a veteran who fought for 60 years to get an autopsy report for his son’s death.
Mr Hern said he wasn’t surprised to hear that Mr Johnson was visibly moved by all of this, adding:”You couldn’t make it up in a Hollywood film, could you?”
Sir John and Salford MP Rebecca Long-Bailey had raised the prospect of a meeting at Prime Minister’s Questions - with the idea forming part of a campaign spearheaded by Susie Boniface of the Mirror and former Pinchbeck resident Alan Owen, of Labrats.
Mr Johnson said: “These veterans epitomise the true meaning of service and their selfless commitment has allowed us to enjoy the very freedoms we have today. I know I speak for the nation when I express my immense gratitude to those involved in our nuclear testing programme, who have made significant contributions to our national security both then and now. It is only right that they are recognised for their service, and I have asked Ministers to explore how their dedication can be marked.”