Atomic test veterans to attend 70th anniversary commemoration

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A commemoration will be held on Monday for veterans of the UK’s nuclear test programme, whose “invaluable contribution” to the country is set to be marked.

The service, held at the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, Staffordshire, will mark the 70th anniversary of the UK’s first atomic test – which took place on October 3 1952.

Nuclear test veterans and their families are hopeful that the Government will announce a medal recognising their service.

Veterans minister Johnny Mercer is due to attend, with many veterans expected to wear a “missing medal” badge to show they are still denied an official honour for their service to their country.

Mr Mercer said: “To this day the nuclear deterrent remains the cornerstone of our defence and that is only because of the service and contribution of the brilliant veterans and civilian personnel.

“It’s right that we mark this contribution today.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who will also join the event, said that the veterans had made an “invaluable contribution to the safety and security of the UK and we recognise and deeply value their enduring service to our nation”.

Cabinet meeting
Johnny Mercer, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Last week, he told the PA news agency: “We are very thankful to the Office of Veterans Affairs for all their work, we are hopeful there is going to be an announcement of a medal at this event, although this has not been confirmed.

“We hope this event will be the start of further engagement with the OVA and ministers and they will work towards getting this recognition.

“It’s a good start and for ministers to attend and give us this recognition is great, although we want more.

“There has never been a memorial organised previously by the Government, we have done our own small memorials and services but there has never been any organisation by the Government.

“We were getting standard letters, ‘We appreciate your service, we can’t meet at this time’, now we are having meetings and they are negotiating with us.”

The commemoration service follows an open letter by former prime minister Boris Johnson announcing £450,000 funding for an oral history and education package about the UK nuclear testing programme.

He also asked for the issue of a medal to be reassessed and wrote: “Many of us have spent our whole lives under the formidable shield that you helped to build. On behalf of all those millions, let me offer my profound thanks for your part in keeping us safe.”

Mr Owen, whose father, James Owen, from Cheltenham, was present during nuclear testing on Christmas Island in 1962 at the age of 21 said: “It’s great the Government is starting to recognise the veterans.

“For me it is going to be an emotional day because I will be representing him and my sister will be there and we will be laying flowers in his memory.”

His sister was born blind in one eye, his elder brother died aged 31, and Mr Owen recently suffered a cardiac arrest.

James Owen died from heart conditions at the age of 52 in 1994.

The first test of a British atomic device, a plutonium implosion device, took place in Main Bay, Trimouille Island in the Montebello Islands in western Australia.

The success of Operation Hurricane ensured Britain’s place as the third nuclear power after the USA and the Soviet Union.

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