A GOUROCK veteran who witnessed the detonation of two massive hydrogen bombs while stationed in the Pacific has finally received ‘long overdue’ recognition for his involvement in nuclear testing after 65 years

Former RAF air traffic controller Ian Bernard was one of around 22,000 British personnel who took part in Operation Grapple, a set of early nuclear tests carried out on at Christmas Island and Malden Island between 1957 and 1958.

The efforts of Ian and his peers went unrecognised for decades, until the UK Government agreed in November 2022 to create the Nuclear Test Medal after years of campaigning from veterans and charities.

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However 86-year-old Ian did not initially receive his medal from Downing Street. He was only given the honour after Inverclyde MP Ronnie Cowan raised the issue in parliament. 

Greenock Telegraph: Ian Bernard receives nuclear test medal from UK Government

The Gourock resident, who spent much of his career as an accountant in the NHS, today recalled the 'frightening' experience of being a witness to the tests and being placed in danger.

He said: “I went out there in 1958, January to December, and while I was there, they detonated two hydrogen bombs from a V bomber. 

“It was frightening, obviously I’d never experienced anything like it.

“When the pilot said 'bombs away' we had to dash outside. It was all wooden buildings on the island, even the control tower.

“We ran out and had to lie flat with our hands over our eyes, because we would have been blinded by the flash.

“You would hear this kind of thump noise, it wasn’t like a huge explosion, but that was the bomb going off. 

“Although we were lying flat on the ground there was a sort of wave that would pass over you and the palm trees were all at an angle.

“You’d lie there until you were told it was okay to look up. 

“When I looked up there was this explosion in the sky which was all red and black. 

“It was a bit like looking at hell. 

“Eventually it would turn white and change to the familiar mushroom cloud shape.”

Despite the alarming scenes Ian witnessed while on the island, the veteran, who began his career in RAF in 1956, said that living and working on the Pacific atoll had its perks. 

Greenock Telegraph: Ian Bernard receives nuclear test medal from UK Government

He added: “We spent a lot of time practicing with the aircraft and testing it all out, but it was a desert island and the sun was shining all the time. 

“We had a lot of free time and in those conditions it wasn’t a bad place to be, we got to go on leave up to Honolulu in Hawaii a few times too, which was nice.”

The local grandad and father had initially been unaware of the Nuclear Test Medal’s creation, only learning of its existence while watching a Remembrance Day service on the television last year. 

He said: “I was watching the parade and when it got to the last group of people in the procession it was mentioned that they had all been on Christmas Island and had received a medal.

“I spoke to a guy I used to work with, who got in touch with Ronnie.

“Ronnie took it to parliament, and I finally got the medal right before Christmas, which was a great present. 

“I feel very chuffed to get it, I was only 21 at the time I was there and I’m 86 now so it was a long wait!”

After ensuring that Ian had received his medal, Mr Cowan visited the veteran and his wife Anne at their home in Gourock.

Speaking to the Telegraph during the visit, Mr Cowan said: "Ian stepped forward to serve in the very difficult and dangerous environment of the Christmas Island nuclear tests in his role as an RAF air traffic controller.

"Recognition for this valour was long overdue.

"The UK Government confirmed in 2022 that these brave veterans would be honoured with this medal and that they would receive it by Remembrance Day last year, except that in Ian's case this did not happen.

"When his family and friends contacted my office, I raised it in parliament and named Ian so there could be no doubts about it.

"To be fair the UK Government listened and Ian now has the medal that he very much deserves for putting himself in such perilous danger.

"This is not about what people may think of these tests, it is about the 22,000 servicemen and servicewomen who did their duty in extremely dangerous circumstances. 

“Many of them have sadly passed away before receiving this recognition.

"It was a privilege for me to be able to visit Ian and his wife Anne to see the medal for myself and to thank the family personally."