Nuclear test veterans and their families are hoping that the Government will announce a medal recognising their service at a commemoration being held next week to mark the 70th anniversary of the first UK atomic test.
A service is to be held for the first time by the Office for Veterans’ Affairs at the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, Staffordshire, to mark the anniversary of the first test which took place on October 3 1952.
Veterans minister Johnny Mercer is due to attend with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace also expected to join the service, with many veterans expected to wear a “missing medal” badge to show they are still denied an official honour for their service to their country.
Alan Owen, founder of the Labrats International charity for atomic test survivors, said he hoped the event would be used to announce a medal recognising the test veterans which the group has been campaigning for over several years.
He told the PA news agency: “We are very thankful to the Office of Veterans Affairs for all their work, we are hopeful there is going to be an announcement of a medal at this event, although this has not been confirmed.
“We hope this event will be the start of further engagement with the OVA and ministers and they will work towards getting this recognition.
“It’s a good start and for ministers to attend and give us this recognition is great, although we want more.
“There has never been a memorial organised previously by the Government, we have done our own small memorials and services but there has never been any organisation by the Government.
“We were getting standard letters, ‘We appreciate your service, we can’t meet at this time’, now we are having meetings and they are negotiating with us.”
The commemoration service follows an open letter by former prime minister Boris Johnson announcing £450,000 funding for an oral history and education package about the UK nuclear testing programme.
He also asked for the issue of a medal to be reassessed and wrote: “Many of us have spent our whole lives under the formidable shield that you helped to build. On behalf of all those millions, let me offer my profound thanks for your part in keeping us safe.”
Mr Owen, whose father, James Owen, from Cheltenham, was present during nuclear testing on Christmas Island in 1962 at the age of 21.
His sister was born blind in one eye, his elder brother died aged 31, and Mr Owen recently suffered a cardiac arrest.
James Owen died from heart conditions at the age of 52 in 1994.
Mr Owen, from Carmarthen, south Wales said: “It’s great the Government is starting to recognise the veterans.
“For me it is going to be an emotional day because I will be representing him and my sister will be there and we will be laying flowers in his memory.”
The first test of a British atomic device, a plutonium implosion device, took place in Main Bay, Trimouille Island in the Montebello Islands in western Australia.
The success of Operation Hurricane ensured Britain’s place as the third nuclear power after the USA and the Soviet Union.
A Government spokesman said: “We are forever grateful to all service personnel who participated in the British nuclear testing programme and have kept our country secure.
“Claims for historic military medals are considered by the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals.
“This case is still being considered and all recommendations will be announced in the usual way.”