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.