A Wigan veteran has spoken of being a “guinea pig” in nuclear tests on a remote Pacific island and the shocking chapter of British military history being forgotten.
Alan Evans was one of thousands of British troops exposed to high levels of radiation while atomic weapons were being tested on Christmas Island.
He spent a year at the desolate spot half the world away when he was just 20 years old and described how the lethal work was carried out with no proper safety equipment and no information about what was happening to them.
His experiences left him with life-changing health issues, as half his stomach had to be removed shortly after being demobbed and his teeth were also taken out.
Mr Evans, who is now 80, also spoke of being one of the “forgotten veterans” who went to Christmas Island and says he just wants their experiences to be recognised.
Mr Evans, of Lime Street, said: “They just told us we were going to Christmas Island. At 19 years old I thought that was alright. I hadn’t a clue what was going on.
“They billeted us in tents all the time we were there and we were allocated these jobs.
“I think they detonated five bombs while I was there. When they did everybody had to go down to what they called the port side and sit down with our backs towards the sea. We were only wearing shirts and shorts and a pair of sunglasses.
“When the explosion happened you could feel the heat and you could more or less see through your hands, right to the bones.
“We would then be told to stand up and turn around to look out to sea. We could see the mushroom cloud forming.
“I was given the job of monitoring people as they came back out of what they called the dirty area. I had a geiger counter if it the reading went up so far they had to have a shower.
“We also monitored the pilots because their gear was full of radiation and had to scrub the planes down with brushes.
“We even had to do our laundry in the dirty area. We would clean the clothes there, hang them up to dry and then wear them again. We also buried these lead boxes of samples in a big pit we dug for them.
“We were guines pigs, purely and simply. That’s why we were put there.”
Alan had joined the RAF in 1956 and ended up serving for four years, with his year-long stint on Christmas Island coming in 1958.
Almost immediately after returning, though, he started to feel unwell but now suspects he encountered a wall of silence from the forces keen to keep the details of the nuclear testing quiet.
His condition went downhill dramatically once he returned to civilian life.
He said: “When I got back I had about six months to do so I went to Catterick but I was unwell, I was being sick. I kept going to the medical officer but he kept fobbing me off and saying there was nothing wrong with me.
“I was told while I was on home leave that I should demand an X-ray but they told me there was nothing there.
“When I got demobbed I went for an X-ray and they found an ulcer in my stomach straight away.
“I was in the operating theatre for several hours while they took half my stomach away. When I came round the nurse told me that if I had left it longer before seeking treatment I wouldn’t still be here because it would have burst when they opened me up.
“When I came out of the forces I lost four and a half stone. The weight just fell off me. I was always a fit young man playing sport but I couldn’t do anything after I came home.
“For the first 12 years of my working life after being demobbed if I did three days a week I was lucky. It takes me five or six hours to digest my food and I can’t eat a lot.”
Mr Evans says he was recently heartened to see the issue of the Christmas Island veterans raised in the Wigan Observer by Makerfield MP Yvonne Fovargue.
He feels the story is nowhere near as well known as it should be and points out that Britain has treated those who were exposed to nuclear tests uniquely poorly.
He says he has asked his family to continue battling in the future to ensure this particular episode in military history is not forgotten.
However, despite his ordeal and the lifelong consequences he suffered as a result he says he feels absolutely no bitterness or anger towards the military.
Mr Evans said: “We are the forgotten veterans and we are also the living proof of what happened out there. I spoke to people at the new armed forces hub and even they didn’t know about it.
“It wasn’t exactly a war and we didn’t fight with guns so it is forgotten about, although it was almost as bad as being in a war.
“I just think there should be recognition of what we have done, those of us left and the many lads who are dead and buried.
“I know there’s a push again for us to get a medal but what’s happening with that we don’t know.
“Every country in the world has recognised what we went through except Britain. The Isle of Man gave people compensation, but it’s not about the money.
“I’ve nothing against the forces. I would have stayed in but I couldn’t because I was medically unfit.
“I enjoyed every minute I was in the military. The only bad thing was Christmas Island.”