Military veterans who took part in nuclear testing awarded medals

  • Video report by Michael Billington

Two military veterans who were used as "guinea pigs" during the testing of nuclear bombs have been awarded medals recognising their service more than 60 years later.

Gordon Coggon, 84, and 81-year-old Eric Barton were among the British military personnel involved in a programme of nuclear explosions on remote Christmas Island in the late 1950s and 60s.

They have been part of a decades-long campaign to win official recognition.

On Wednesday they were presented with the Nuclear Test Medal in a ceremony at Doncaster's Mansion House.

Former RAF serviceman Mr Coggon, from Epworth, Doncaster, said: "Our country is about the only one that's given us nothing and it's taken us 70 years to get this medal. Honestly I could cry, we have been waiting so long."

Mr Barton, from Creswell, near Worksop, added: "It's been a long time coming. It means a lot."

The pair were among those exposed to massive doses of radiation, as part of a British Government programme to develop hydrogen bombs in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Eric Barton, left, and Gordon Coggon both served on Christmas Island. Credit: ITV News

Mr Barton said he was told he would be posted to a "paradise" island and was given "safety equipment - a pair of sunglasses" before being sent to Christmas Island in the South Pacific.

Mr Coggon described the basic safety precautions that were taken as the tests were carried out.

He said: "When it dropped they told us over the loud speaker, 'put your hands over your eyes, your head between your knees and your beret between your hands and your eyes'.

"The first thing I saw was the bones in my hands and at the same time a heat going through my body as if someone was throwing an electric fire up against my body."

'You don't think they're going to use you as a guinea pig'

At the time the health impacts of radiation exposure were not clear.

It was only as the years passed that the consequences emerged.

Mr Coggon said: "I lost a lot of my friends as young men. I've had prostate cancer, I've had my gall bladder removed, I've had digestive problems my whole life

"Your own country - you don't think they're going to use you as a guinea pig and not tell you about what they're using you for until it's too late."

Mr Barton later developed cancer and claimed for compensation from the US government, which was jointly in charge of the nuclear testing. He was awarded $75,000.

But he said he had not received "one little penny" from the British authorities.

Campaign group Lab Rats was set up to represent nuclear veterans, atomic veterans, scientists, civilians, and their families across the world who have been affected by testing.

Earlier this year, the Government revealed the Nuclear Test Medal would be awarded to military, civilian, and overseas staff and personnel who participated in the testing programme.

According to Lab Rats more than 3,000 medals have been applied for. More than 1,000 have been sent out.

Major Adrian Hunt, deputy lieutenant for South Yorkshire, who presented Mr Coggon and Mr Barton with their medals, said: "It's long overdue. They are going to wear those medals with pride. Thankfully that fight is over for them. It will mean a lot to them and for the colleagues they have lost over year."

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