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Flintshire nuclear bomb test veteran to continue fight for compensation

A grandfather exposed to nuclear bomb testing in the 1950s is vowing never to give up his fight for compensation despite a setback in the courts this week FRANCESCA ELLIOTT reports

MORE THAN half a century ago a teenage RAF cook Harold Walmsley, from Holywell, was despatched to Christmas Island in the South Pacific.

It was no holiday but the beginning of a nightmare and the misery of decades of illness.

The 19-year-old was among a group of servicemen used as ‘guinea pigs’ during the testing of nuclear bombs by the British government

This week Harold, currently a patient in Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, and 1,000 surviving veterans of the tests suffered a setback in their fight for justice.

They demanded an apology and compensation from the British Government – other countries involved in the tests paid out but UK leaders have refused.

They wanted the right to take their cases to court, but this week the Court of Appeal said there was no evidence to show that the tests were the only causes of the men’s illness.

“I’m extremely disappointed with the decision,” said Harold. “This Government has shown itself to be the same as all the others.

“At first, other British Governments said we couldn’t go to court because of the Official Secrets Act, and now they’re saying we’re too late, or there’s no evidence.

“We’re not giving up the fight. America, Canada, France and Russia, as well as other countries involved, have all compensated their veterans.

“The Government has spent at least £4m fighting this, they might as well have just given everyone a few thousand. There’s less than 1,000 of us left now.”

Harold added: “Prisoners from Guantanamo are being given £1m each no questions asked.

“The MoD (Ministry of Defence) is also refusing to hand over documents involved, despite the Statute of Secrecy being long over. They should be held in contempt.”

Harold recalled his time in the South Pacific in November 1957 and April 1958 as the British Government tested three megatons of nuclear weapons 30 miles away from where the servicemen were sitting.

“We were told to sit on the sand and cover our eyes with the palms of our hands and press our heads into our knees,” said Harold, now 72.

“There was a huge bang and I felt a rush of heat to the back of my head like an oven door being opened behind me, and a flash so bright I could see every bone in my hands and knees through my closed eyelids.

“It lasted about five seconds, then they told us we could turn and face the bomb. It was a massive fireball in the sky.

“Thirty seconds later we were hit by three blast waves of sound that sent us spinning into the sand over and over again.”

Decades later Harold, and the thousands of other servicemen used as guinea pigs, have suffered the terrible effects of radiation.

Harold has twice been diagnosed with cancer twice and is now experiencing prostate problems.

His three children were all born with genetic abnormalities usually only affecting one in three million people, and his eldest son also had throat cancer despite never smoking.

“All three of my children were born with pyloric stenosis, a rare stomach disorder that requires surgery,” said Harold.

“We were visited by The Lancet medical journal, as it’s almost unheard of to have three sufferers in one family.”

According to research, incidents of cancers among veterans of the H-Bomb are 17% higher than the national average.

Harold’s wife of 50 years, Norma, is supporting her husband’s fight, saying it was not only the lives of servicemen that were affected, but also their families.

“These lads were 18 when they were put on a plane, not told where they were going and exposed to the biggest nuclear bomb ever made in the world,” said Norma.

“How can the Government say that amount of nuclear radiation didn’t affect anyone?

“It’s making the British Government look foolish, especially when other countries are paying out. These guys didn’t volunteer for this.”

She added: “The Government needs to have some compassion. This has affected our whole family.

“Doctors said Harold’s sperm was affected by the blast, which is why our children were born with a genetic disorder and needed surgery at six weeks old. It’s not been an easy ride.

“Thank God none of our grandchildren have been affected.”