Christmas Island 1957
known as Grapple X, Y and Z. Prior to these tests the islands were made ready for the arrival of military troops, tents
were erected and runways built, the first troops to arrive got there in early 1957 and my fathers squadron arrived in the April.
develop a much stronger bomb, this bomb was dropped and then detonated on November 8th 1957 on the south
side of the island. The bomb was described as a
“two-stage thermonuclear bomb which exploded with a yield of about 1.8 megatons. This was close to being the real
hydrogen bomb Britain wanted, but used a relatively large quantity of (expensive) highly enriched uranium”
The tests my father took part in were said to be
“spectacularly successful, exceeding its predicted yield of one megaton by about 80 percent.”
Dad is quiet and reserved in nature and is a pragmatist and I know he didn't look at his experiences there negatively,
he said "you did what you were told, it was was my job” he never said much about it because "there was not much to tell" although he can remember NOT being told the reason he was sent.
The day the bomb was detonated my father wore no protective clothing, however the scientists did, he said.
“I was told to sit with my back to the blast and to cover my eyes with my hands and when we were
told it was safe I looked at my watch and it had stopped. We were instructed to go into the sea and pick up any dead fish!”
One man in my dads squadron said that he saw the bones of his own fingers even though his shut eyes.
To help with this piece I purchased a book on the this subject and to my surprise this is what I read.
“ Once the Valiant’s (aircraft) were airborne, the assembly on the main concrete dispersal area would begin. Roll calls would
be taken and all personnel then given instructions over the tannoy system. Each man would be required to sit on the
ground with his back to the target area; he would be able to listen to the radio calls being passed by the dropping Valiant to Ground Control and would be able to hear the replies from Ground Control. For those sitting on the ground it would be fascinating to be able to look up to the sky and observe both Valiant’s flying at 45,000 feet with vapour trails coming from
their four jet engines. They would be free to observe in this way until such time as the Valiant was cleared to make the live drop; then, as the aircraft flew the final phase of its live bombing run, every man would be instructed to close his eyes
and cover them with his hands in order to shield them from flash after weapon detonation.”
I was astounded when I read the above, my father had remembered the instructions and recited them to me almost
verbatim. He never mentioned how it felt when the bomb went off but he remembers being impressed by the huge cloud
formed in the sky above him.
Once the detonation had occurred
“most people would feel a little heat on the back of the neck, though once this had passed, hand would be removed
from the eyes and personnel warned to expect a blast of air as the weapon detonation bang was heard, followed
immediately by over-pressure wave. Once this phase had passed all personnel would be cleared to observe the
development of the fireball and the progressive build up of the mushroom shaped cloud”
Previous to the detonation, my father remembers birds singing in the trees, afterwards however
he said that the island was eerie and quiet for a long time afterwards. A strange experience it must have been, but he
did talk of letters from home, of friends and of large sideways walking crabs with one claw bigger than the other.
Dad left the island at the end of that year on an aircraft carrier and I remember him laughing and saying that he was glad he
hadn't joined the Navy, he was sick every day until they arrived in the United States, he was back home by the middle of 1958.
as a guinea pig, because that’s what he was really wasn't he? I wonder if these tests affected the islanders themselves
and if any of them are still on the island today that were there fifty years ago.
When the British forces went home they left most of their equipment behind and it wasn't until 2007
that they finished 'cleaning'!
Did these tests benefit the world? I don't think so.
All that was achieved was to create weapons of mass destruction. Today nuclear weapons are seen
as a deterrent but how long before we, that is the planet as a whole, start using them against each other. Some people
came to their senses and talks began about the dangers of nuclear weapons and ended with the foundation of CND,
the Campaign of Nuclear Disarmament in 1958.
What of my dear father today, he is in his seventies now and suffers as the elderly do. I don’t believe he suffered any ill
effects due to these tests but he did say that he had worried from time to time about it. I was born a few years after my
father returned and was followed quickly by a brother, I know my parents have wondered if we as children born soon after these tests we would suffer any ill effects? And what of the Christmas Islands today? There is a small amount of tourism,
the hotel built in 1975, on the site of the Royal Air Force base, was named The Captain Cook Hotel and is now a group
of small grass-roofed detached apartments. They are more than likely used by anglers who are interested in lagoon
fishing, and quite recently Christmas Island has been discovered by surfers hungry for a large waves.
The whole island is now a Wildlife Sanctuary with thirty-five different species of bird and over fifty species of plant
all of which arrived once the military had vacated the island.
All but one of the quotes in italics are taken from the published works of Group Captain Kenneth Hubbard, OBE, DFC, AFC
and Michael Simmons called Dropping Britain's First H-Bomb. The Story of Operation Grapple 1957/1958
27th August 2014
I would like to dedicate this blog to my DEAREST DADDY who passed away on Tuesday of last week peacefully in his sleep.
Remembering you is easy
I do it every day.
Missing you is the heartache
That never goes away