As the dust settles on the medal announcement for the Nuclear Test Veterans by Rishi Sunak on the 21st of November 2022, we celebrate this award. It ended 70 years of denial of their service, 70 years of waiting, 70 years of campaigning by various individuals and organisations.
For those who don't know the history, the first British test was carried out on the 3rd of October 1952 in the Montebello Islands. It was followed by many other operations:
Many individual people began campaigning, John Morris (Operation Grapple) has been campaigning for over 60 years. (Pictured below with his grandaughter Laura Morris at the medal ceremony)
In 1983 Ken McGinley founded the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association under the 'All we seek is Truth and Justice' banner. He fought for years to get formal recognition and compensation. (Ken is pictured below. Picture courtesy of the Daily Mirror)
Without Ken, the fight for recognition would never have existed. He is the grandfather of the campaign for truth and justice and we will always remember the dedication of many people over many years, who fought the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Taking them on in court and unfortunately losing in 2012 with a Supreme Court ruling, after the MoD appealed an earlier decision.
Many trustees, campaigners, volunteers, and others have taken on the fight, many of which are no longer with us today.
In 2017, at the All Test Reunion, I as the then Chairman of the BNTVA asked the veterans what they wanted to happen, Colin Moir stood up and said that we should fight for a medal. The veterans, widows and descendants agreed. (Colin Moir pictured below marching at the Cenotaph in London in 2022)
After a meeting with Gavin Williamson (then Defence Secretary) in 2018, at which Shirley Denson told him 'You are the man who killed my husband' the Advisory Military Sub-Committee was re-established and a submission was made to the committee for medallic recognition with Susie Boniface and the Daily Mirrors Medal for Heroes campaign. Unfortunately in 2020, this submission was refused.
I along with two other trustees had now left the BNTVA and set up LABRATS with Mel Owenand with the help of Susie Boniface and The Daily Mirror, in May 2021 we set up the #lookmeintheeye campaign. (https://www.labrats.international/lookmeintheeye)
We were fed up with the standard responses from the UK Government stating that they were grateful for the service of the Nuclear Veterans, but no formal recognition was planned.
On the 28th of June 2021, we met Sir Keir Starmer and he fully backed the campaign.
At the All-Tests reunion at Pontins, SandBay, the attendees signed a banner and support was building for the campaign.
On the 17th of November 2021, Rebecca Long-Bailey MP questioned the Prime Minister at PMQ's and asked him to meet with us. Rebecca (left) is pictured below with Julie Soan.
On the 14th of December 2021, representatives met with the Metro Mayers (Andy Burnham - Manchester and Steve Rotheram - Liverpool). They pledged their support for the campaign. Telling veterans they were victims of a crime. We joined the #HillsboroughLaw campaign.
On the 19th of February 2022, we held a seminar in Manchester which was attended by individuals from across the world. Listening to the participants was very emotional.
On the 23rd March 2022, Salford MP Rebecca Long-Bailey at Prime Ministers Questions told the house that the Mirror newspaper uncovered data showing the govt may have given wrong figures about people exposed to radiation through nuclear testing in the past.
On the 19th of April 2022 South Holland MP Sir John Hayes asks for personal assurances from the Prime Minister that nuclear test veterans will be honoured during PMQs.
Sir John asked: "Will he now assure the House that he will take personal charge of the decision on whether to grant the remaining servicemen, for there are few left, the service medal they so richly deserve."
In response, the Prime Minister thanked Sir John for campaigning on the issue and said: "I certainly will take personal charge of the matter myself and make sure they receive the recognition they deserve."
On the 8th of June 2022, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with representatives of the campaign and listened to our stories. He looked each one of us in the eye.
Listening to the stories of John Morris, Laura Morris, Steve Purse, Jacqueline Purse, Laura Jackson, and myself the PM was shocked to hear the trauma of the tests and how it has affected the servicemen and their families.
Representatives of the Office for Veterans Affairs and the Minister for Defence People and Veterans Leo Docherty listened to the testimonies and the evidence.
The PM said 'I have never been educated about this', if the testing program is not taught at Eton, arguably the top school in the country, then the education on nuclear testing has failed. It needs to be added to the curriculum. It is a disgrace that the nuclear testing program has not been taught to generations of children.
On the 28th of June, representatives of the campaign met with the Director of The Office for Veterans' Affairs, Jessie Owen to discuss the recognition package and how we can work together to ensure not only medallic recognition but education and research in the future.
The meeting was very productive and the collaborative working environment is enabling great progress to end the 70 years of injustice.
In June, LABRATS submitted a further application to the Advisory Military Sub-Committee to support the medal application and the campaign. The BNTVA also submitted a further application.
Representatives of the campaign met with the Office for Veteran's Affairs again in August to discuss progress. On the 5th of September 2022, Boris Johnson resigned as Prime Minister, one of his last acts in office was to announce details of a memorial service and to commission an oral history piece. He also stated that it is his firm belief that the veterans deserved a medal and that work is underway to make it happen. Read his letter below.
On the 20th of September, Jessie Owen (Director of the Office for Veterans Affairs) spoke to the audience at the All tests Reunion at Weston-Super-Mare. Jessie also answered questions from the veterans and their descendants.
On the 25th of September, the campaign held a Fringe Event at the Labour Party Conference, organised by the Daily Mirror, the panel consisted of Alison Phillips (Daily Mirror Editor), Andy Burnham (Mayor of Greater Manchester), Susie Boniface (Chair), Rebecca long-Bailey MP, John Healey MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Defence), John Morris (Operation Grapple Veteran), Steve Purse (Descendant) and myself. The meeting was also attended by Rachel Hopkins MP. The Labour Party re-issued their pledge to ensure that the Nuclear Veterans are fully recognised and included in their Election manifesto. Picture courtesy of the Daily Mirror. (John Healey MP with John Morris, Rebecca Long-Bailey MP and Steve Purse)
On the 26th of September, Steve Purse participated in the Hillsborough Law Fringe Event at the Labour Party Conference. His speech was very powerful.
The Office for Veterans Affairs announced that a commemorative event to be held at the National Memorial Arboretum on the 21st of November 2022 would take place and work began on planning the event, which was asked for at the meeting with the Prime Minister by Susie Boniface.
We were still no further forward, no medal announcement was planned.
On the 8th of November, representatives of the British Nuclear Test Veterans marched on the Cenotaph, Number 10 Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence, all wearing missing medal badges. The demonstration was supported by many MPs and celebrities.
I made a passionate speech on the steps of the Ministry of Defence, which attracted armed Police.
On the 13th of November, representatives marched at the Cenotaph parade in London wearing the missing medal badge, in protest at the lack of a medal.
Our black and yellow wreath sitting proudly on the cenotaph.
On the 21st of November 2022, we received the news that we had been campaigning for, Rishi Sunak was going to attend the ceremony and award a medal to these brave servicemen.
From starting the campaign to achieving medallic recognition in 18 months, a lot of hard work has gone into this campaign by many people, we have had cross-party support, the #lookmeintheeye working group has worked extremely hard, Mayors, celebrities, veterans, descendants, wives and widows have all supported us as well as the general public.
We have faced many hurdles along the way, some from within the community who did not want us to succeed, and I get it, some veterans don't want a medal, they want compensation and their children to be looked after, but this is just the start. Think about how massive this is, 70 years of denial, 70 years of nothing, fighting in court, no recognition and we have achieved it in this 60th and 70th Anniversary year. It is an opening that we have never had.
I have been involved for 10 years in December, after meeting Doug Hern at Baytree Garden Centre, he has been an inspiration to me, he has lost a lot in this fight, along with many others. My father, along with many others are not here to see this award, but the decision to award the medal posthumously was one that we demanded and it will enable thousands of families to show that their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers did their service and they should be proud.
Many people have tried to stop this campaign, with threats, legal action, false accusations to shut down LABRATS, complaints regarding media, and complaints to Parliament (including trying to stop the meeting with the Prime Minister), but we were never going to stop and we will continue to make sure that this is not the end. Many times we asked other nuclear organisations to join us in the campaign and many times they refused, but we continued on our journey.
We will now be working closely with the Office for Veterans Affairs whose support has been incredible, and with Johnny Mercer MP whose drive to ensure veterans are looked after is amazing.
For everyone involved in the #lookmeintheeye campaign, you know how much this means, your efforts have been amazing, the passion, and the drive to succeed. You are all superstars! So much effort in getting to this stage.
I like to think that this is the end of a relay race, the baton has been passed on through generations to many people and we got it over the finish line, but without those people (many of whom put in massive efforts) it would never have started. People who are no longer with us such as Roy Sefton, Sandie Hern, Gordon Lowe, David Hemsley, Bob Fleming, John Sankus and many more, we did it, it is a shame you cannot be here to see it, but I hope wherever you are, you are smiling.
I was told that I had unfinished business and that is why I had survived my Cardiac Arrest on the 3rd of April 2022 and that person was right.
And finally dad in this 60th anniversary year of Operation Dominic, this is for you and all the other veterans who are no longer with us.