Fresh demands have been made for the Government to recognise Britain’s nuclear test veterans with a medal - with a Greater Manchester MP among the politicians supporting them.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, the Labour member of parliament for Salford and Eccles, has once again raised the subject in the House of Commons and says prime minister Rishi Sunak to end what she said is a “national scandal” over the lack of recognition and support for the veterans.
Thousands of young men doing national service were sent to the Pacific in the 1950s to locations such as Christmas Island where they were exposed to radiation while nuclear bombs were being tested nearby. John Morris, from Rochdale, has previously spoken to ManchesterWorld about his horrifying experiences on the island and he and his granddaughter Laura Morris are among those campaigning for justice for the veterans.
Nuclear test veterans from across the country rallied in London on Tuesday (8 November) to demand a medal and support from the government, with Laura saying it was disgraceful that they had to travel to the capital city to get recognition for what they went through.
What has been said about the nuclear test veterans?
Ms Long-Bailey once again raised the issue of the nuclear test veterans in Parliament on Monday (7 November). So far the British government has not given a medal to acknowledge what they went through (unlike other countries involved in the 1950s nuclear arms race) and they have also been denied war pensions and financial support.
Campaigners also want research done into the health complications many of them have faced since they were on Christmas Island and whether or not this will affect future generations of their families.
Ms Long-Bailey said: “So many veterans have lost their lives and many more are facing serious, complex, and rare health concerns, which research suggests is linked to their service on the British Nuclear Test programme. It is scandalous, however, that despite their service and sacrifice, the UK is sadly one of the only nuclear powers on Earth to yet provide medallic recognition and full support to its nuclear testing veterans. They have waited for over 70 years.
“The Government has the power to end this national scandal now: provide long-overdue medallic recognition, research for descendants, financial and medical support for veterans and families, war pension reform and education.”
Mr Morris, who was originally from Bolton and was just 18 when he went to Christmas Island, has previously described what it was like to be in the vicinity of the nuclear bomb tests and made shocking allegations about the lack of protective equipment they were given. He said he sat with his back to the plane carrying the bomb wearing just a t-shirt, trousers and sunglasses and that the heat from the nuclear weapon was so intense he felt his “body was boiling”. Mr Morris told ManchesterWorld he believes he and the other young men sent to Christmas Island were “guinea pigs”.
What is happening with the campaign for recognition?
Survivors of the nuclear tests and their descendants were in London on Tuesday (8 November) to once again demand the prime minister recognises what they went through and comes up with a suitable response.
The group of veterans, widows, and descendants marched along Whitehall to lay wreaths at the Cenotaph, Downing Street, and the Ministry of Defence (MoD), in honour of the 22,000 servicemen who took part in the nuclear tests.
Those involved in the campaign for recognition are calling on Mr Sunak to act after Boris Johnson became the first prime minister in British history in June to meet with veterans and campaigners, only to resign before a promised medal review could be pushed through.
Alan Owen, the son of a nuclear test veteran and founder of the Labrats campaign, accused politicians of “waiting for us all to die” to avoid having to act. He said successive governments had been involved in “unending denials” on the issue.
Mr Morris’ granddaughter Laura said now is the time for politicians to act as this year is the 70th anniversary of Britain’s first nuclear test - a milestone campaigners have dubbed the Plutonium Jubilee. The demonstration in London also comes before nuclear test veterans will take part in the Remembrance Suday parade, but without a medal.
Laura said: “My message to Rishi Sunak would be to look the veterans in the eye and listen to their stories, the same way that Boris Johnson did. During his campaign for leadrship he gave a very strong statement about backing the nuclear test veterans, and he’s now in the position to be able to deliver on that pledge that he made.
“The right time to do this is now, in this 70th anniversary year. It was also the 65th anniversary of the biggest bomb detonated while my grandpa was on Christmas Island.
“It’s a disgrace that veterans will be marching this weekend in the Remembrance Sunday parade with no medal and no indication of whether or not they will get one and it’s also a disgrace that my grandpa had to go to London at 85 years old and walk through Westminster in the rain with his comrades. It’s the final insult to these men.”
The MoD still does not accept participants in the tests were exposed to ionising radiation that adversely affected their health and the authorities have also said the men’s work on national service did not have enough “risk or rigour” to qualify for medals. The MoD has also said that nuclear test veterans who believe they have suffered ill health due to service have the right to apply for no-fault compensation under the War Pension Scheme.