Veterans who are survivors of Britain’s 45 nuclear tests in Australia and the South Pacific marched at the Cenotaph this Sunday on Remembrance Day. 12 veterans marched, alongside them were three veteran wives, widows, children and grandchildren of the soldiers.
Advocacy groups such as the British Nuclear Test Veterans Associaton and LABRATS (Legacy of the Atomic Bomb Recognition for Atomic Test Survivors) also marched as they fight for the release of medical records of those who took part in the nuclear tests.
In the 1980s, many soldiers came forward across three continents to say they had cancer, that their wives had miscarried, and others that their babies were sick or dead.
Other soldiers prematurely died in the years after they returned home from the tests and the grandchildren of those who went have also been shown to have their health impacted by the nuclear testing.
One veteran described the experience of the tests, saying: “New Year’s Eve in 1957 we left in a boat and got to Christmas Island on the 28th of January 1958.
“We were young and didn’t have a clue what was going on, but we were prepared for the [nuclear bombs] that were coming.
“The first thing that happened is a flash, and we were sat on the beach…with our backs to the explosion…with our eyes covered…when the flash came, you could see the bones in your fingers.”
Some vetrans have expressed anger at the Government as they feel they have been unrecognised for their sacrifice, and one veteran said: “Recognition is what we all need for being on that island. That was a horrible place at times.”
Laura Morris, a granddaughter of a veteran, said in an interview with the Mirror, said: “I am so proud and happy to be here, but at the same time so angry.”
Veteran Terry Quinlan from Kent was a driver on Christmas Island and experienced chest pains as he marched and had to be attended to by pandemics but managed to make it to Parliament Square.
Around 1,500 veterans of nuclear testing survive to this day but have said their sacrifice in being used in nuclear experiments had gone unrecognised.
Veterans on Remembrance Day wore the Missing Medal, a yellow and black symbol, to show they had been denied a medal by the Government.
One veteran said: “The Government or the MOD can’t be bothered to recognise our achievements 70 years ago, so I ain’t got a medal.”
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The Shadow Defense Secretary, John Healey, has said: “The Conservatives’ failure to give our nuclear test veterans a medal is a slap in the face to the thousands of personnel who made a vital contribution to the creation of our independent nuclear deterrent.
“Labour is committed to giving them the medallic recognition their unique service deserves. They took considerable risks to serve their country and many face enduring consequences.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, as well as past Prime Ministers, have supported honouring the veterans and in August a spokesman for Mr Sunak said: “Rishi supports the campaign for nuclear veterans to be recognised for their service.
“We are incredibly grateful for our nuclear veterans’ sacrifice which kept Britain safe during the Cold War.”
“Whilst the ultimate decision on medals lies with the independent Advisory Military Sub Committee, as Prime Minister Rishi would strongly support these veterans receiving a medal and urges the committee to reconsider.
“He would also back an investigation into whether the tests represented a criminal offence towards these veterans.”
While running to become the leader of the Conservative Party this summer, former Prime Minister Liz Truss also said nuclear veterans should be awarded medals.
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Last month, the Government announced it will be spending £450,000 on projects to honour the veterans and to remember their stories due to their “incredible service”.
The scheme was originally announced by Boris Johnson, who became the first Prime Minister this year to meet with the war veterans and said it was his “firm belief” that the veterans should be honoured.
In a letter published to Twitter, Mr Johnson wrote: “Hearing your accounts first hand, I’m determined that your achievements will never be forgotten.”
Minister of Veterans Affairs James Heappey has said veterans had “played a crucial role in keeping Britain and our NATO Allies safe and secure”.
He added: “Their sacrifice contributed to achieving the ultimate guarantee of UK sovereignty and they forever have this nation’s gratitude.”