Sand and Sea — Mike Tolson — 28th April 2014

In 1957 Mike was in the RAF and was posted to Christmas Island as part of the mil­it­ary involved in the British H-bomb tests (code named Grapple X).

Conditions were prim­it­ive.  Troops were bil­leted in tents in tem­per­at­ures of 95 degrees and 95% humid­ity, with only 5 gal­lons of desal­in­ated water for 6 men each day.

The bomb was to be exploded as an air­burst to the north of the 30-mile long island.

The troops were taken to the south of the island, to shel­ter with backs to trees, facing away from the bomb.  They tucked trousers in socks and rolled down shirtsleeves.  Hat brims were pulled down over eyes and hands also covered eyes.

When the bomb burst they heard no sound but a very intense flash pen­et­rated hands and hat brims so that hands were vis­ible like X-rays, with red flesh and black bones.  Next was a heat flash, which burned the skins of those who had not rolled down their sleeves.  They were ordered to leave the trees and saw a huge white pillar stretch­ing up into the sky, with a fire­ball in the centre and white rings trav­el­ling out­wards.  Then the sound came, like a very loud gun­shot, and the blast like a tor­nado that flattened the trees.

At base camp the pay­mas­ters office and two Shackletons were crushed and lines of tents flattened.

The amount of radio­act­ive fall-out was not appre­ci­ated at the time and the Navy sail­ors, who col­lec­ted sensor instru­ments from near the blast site, were most exposed.