Doncaster nuclear test veteran calls for Government apology over bomb experiments

A Doncaster nuclear test veteran who was exposed to massive doses of radiation in bomb tests more than 60 years ago is calling on the Government to apologise for using personnel as ‘lab rats’ and ‘guinea pigs.’

Thursday, 17th June 2021, 12:56 pm
Gordon Coggon wants answers, apologies and recognition over the nuclear tests carried out by Britain in the 1950s. (Photo: Getty).

RAF veteran Gordon Coggon was among a number of British military personnel involved in a programme of nuclear explosions on remote Christmas Island in the last 1950s.

The tests were part of a British Government programme to develop devastating hydrogen bombs in the aftermath of the Second World War.

But personnel were blasted with huge doses of radiation during the tests, with many developing cancer and dying early as a result of the testing programme. Mr Coggon himself spent time washing radiation off planes used in the testing.

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Now Mr Coggon, 82, of Cantley, is calling on the Government to recognise the efforts of veterans involved in the controversial programme and is calling for an apology to those who served on Christmas Island at the time.

He said: “For almost 65 years, we nuclear test veterans have been lobbying the British Government for some kind of recognition for our service to the crown and country.

"We were used in these tests and have been subjected to irradiation which is now being passed genetically to our children.

He added: “We are the forgotten army, the nuclear test veterans of the fifties and sixties who were made to put ourselves and our families at risk, by being used in experiments as guinea pigs, by the United Kingdom's race to arm themselves with the hydrogen bomb.”

Dubbed Operation Grapple, the top secret programme was a set of British nuclear weapons tests of early atomic bombs and hydrogen bombs carried out in 1957 and 1958 at Malden Island and Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean.

Nine nuclear explosions were initiated during the programme.

In his letter to the Ministry of Defence, Mr Coggon, of Ansten Crescent, added: “Throughout the Cold War years and up to the present day, we, the victims of those experiments have been suffering nuclear radiation 'likely' caused diseases or died early deaths because we were not allowed to mention our part in those experiments for fifty years.

"Now we are hearing that our children and our grandchildren are also having to pay the price for what we were subjected to, by a very shady group of people in government circles.

"For the last sixty five years our country has remained safe because of our service to the Ministry of Defence during the Cold War years by what is defined in their own words, ‘our nuclear deterrent.’

"So why then, have we nuclear test veterans been shut out by those people in government?

"Why after so many years of misery and suffering are we being ignored and told we do not deserve a medal, much less compensation?

"According to the recent answers from government spokespersons, we did not face enough 'risk or rigour' to earn even a medal.

"What a nasty horrible answer we have been given to pass on to our genetically damaged children by radiation causes, which are being proven more and more to be linked to our time during those nuclear tests.”

Mr Coggon says he and other veterans were exposed to radiation emitting plutonium with a half-life of 24,000 years.

They are being supported in their fight by Labrats International which wants to achieve recognition for all nuclear test and clean-up veterans.

He said: “Despite the fact it may be a little late in the day for us old veterans, could we appeal for the sake of our dear colleagues who have paid the ultimate price for their part in the nuclear tests, and ask the Ministry of Defence for a little dignity, of appropiate recognition?

"Perhaps it would be the right time for the Ministry of Defence to save face and admit that previous denials made by their predecessors were made without the time and modern technology needed to determine the long term health risks caused by irradiation.”

Mr Coggon has also recently published a book about his time on Christmas Island, entitled The Life of A Yorkshire Lad, which is available via Amazon.