A VETERAN of Britain’s Nuclear weapon tests in the 50s has spoken of his support for other veterans trying to claim compensation for illnesses they have suffered since.
David Irvine, 73, of St Anne’s Road, Bridlington, was stationed at Christmas Island and saw three test explosions of nuclear weapons over Malden Island in the Pacific Ocean in 1957, while a member of the British Navy.
David was recently diagnosed with cancer in his right arm - and although he “couldn’t say” whether this was as a result of being part of the tests - he has spoken out to support more than 1,000 fellow veterans of Britain’s testing program in the 1950s who are battling for compensation from the Ministry of Defence for health problems suffered since the tests.
“I am not looking for anything out of this, but there are other people who took part in the tests who have suffered with cancer and other problems from the day they returned to the UK,” said David, who is originally from Dewsbury but has lived in Bridlington for around ten years.
“When I heard about their fight in the Supreme Court, I wanted to give them my support.”
Last week, test veterans took to the UK Supreme Court and won the first battle of a legal war over compensation for their conditions.
Requests for damages have been repeatedly knocked back, because although the MoD acknowledges a “debt of gratitude”, it denies negligence, saying the veterans’ claim for compensation has come too late.
Now the ex-service personnel have been given permission to further argue their right to seek damages.
For David, the ruling brought back memories of the nuclear explosions he witnessed from HMS Warrior, named the Grapple tests, on May 15, May 31 and June 19 1957.
“We were given overalls, white balaclavas, gloves and thick goggles and we were told to make sure our overalls were tucked into our boots,” said David, who has been married to his wife Margaret for 46 years and has two children, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
“We were told to stand with our backs to the explosion and cover our eyes with our hands, over the goggles, otherwise we would be blinded by the flash. I certainly didn’t want to risk it. After a count of ten the bomb exploded and you could feel the brightness even with your eyes closed, and then after another ten count we had to turn and look at the explosion.
“It was a huge red blast in the sky which turned white, with the smoke going into a mushroom at the top, and not long after I felt a hot wind blow past me.”
A copy of a Naval base publication, the Mid Pacific News, which David kept from May 15 1957, the day of the test, describes the explosion as ‘an enormous ball of fire that changed swiftly into a bubbling cauldron of coppery-red streaked with grey. A feathery white cap spread over the top of the cloud, extending downwards to form a gigantic snowball poised on a white stem, that appeared in sections between cloud and sea’.
In a letter he sent back to his mother after the test, David remembers it much the same.
“We knew about the other H-bombs that had been used in Japan during the war, but being thirty miles away from this explosion it was quite an exciting spectacle.
“We thought we were doing it for Britain, but it was kept very quiet back home and I wasn’t even fully aware of the other tests carried out afterwards. If tests had not been carried out so quickly Britain would have missed out on being a nuclear superpower - which was unthinkable during the Cold War.
“We didn’t think there would be any danger.”
Upon leaving Christmas Island with the Navy, David developed serious dermatitis and was initially refused shore leave in Argentina, where the HMS Warrior had docked on it’s way home as the Navy were trying to sell it to the Argentinians.
“I marched straight up and asked why I couldn’t have leave like the other men, and I was told that the Argentinians knew we had been testing nuclear weapons and my dermatitis would have alarmed them. I argued my case and I was eventually allowed to leave the ship, but they said for me to ‘keep to the back streets’ - it’s a good job that’s what we would’ve done anyway!”
David recently had an operation to remove a cancerous tumour from his right arm, and will await further tests over the next few months, while also making contact with the Hull branch of the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association.
He hopes the effects of the operation won’t stop him playing the guitar, a hobby he has enjoyed since his days in the Navy.