Just Testing - Derek Robinson - Witnesses Monte Bello 1952


Originally published in 1985 by Collins Harvill.


Veterans at Monte Bello 1952


"Nobody said nothing about it; all we knew was that we was going abroad. But where, nobody knew, nobody didn’t have any clues. We just sailed on, and sailed on … until you reached Australia. And then like somebody had a little bit of a guess then, and by all accounts the papers got hold of it … He was in the army, with us. I don’t think he meant to give it away, you know what I mean? It was just somebody got it out of him. And he was court martialled for it. Oh yes, we was there at court martial. It was on deck. It was on deck in front of us. And that was the last I seen the bloke."


D.ATWILL – ROYAL ENGINEER REGULAR


________


"There was a bit of a discussion on the way down, when we went down, but … the impression I got, it was like any bomb – once it had gone bang and all the muck had gone, you were all right."


W.THOMPSON – ROYAL NAVY

________


"It was volcanic rock. Mostly. And sand. But a wonderful place for fishing. It was a bit boring, really. Because we went for seven months, and never saw a house, or a motorcar, or a woman even, for seven months. Very routine. We went to a couple of lectures from this RAF doctor which told us it would be quite safe, that we would be allowed so many milliroentgens of radioactivity – I forget the exact figure now, but it would be within the safety limits. But no one knew what sort of results they’d be, because it was the first British test."


J.TRIVETT - ROYAL NAVY

________




"When you’re doing shelters, and Anderson shelters, and, you know, putting up cameras, you know there’s something fishy going on, you know. Nobody ever come up to tell you that it was atomic bomb. Although you heard Dr Penney was on board the ship, and you had a good guess then; you knew that something was going on. Well I should say . . . when they came clean was the time when they had you on deck to get away from the bomb, to witness the bomb. I think that was the only time you ever knew, really, that it was an atomic bomb."


ATWILL

________


"It was exploded in a river-class frigate, HMS Plym, which was 1,500 tons, and it just … well it just … vapourised."


A CLARK – HMS CAMPANIA

________


"There was five LCMs. Our job was the ferrying of all these scientists and things. Well, one of the LCMs was waiting on the beach to pick up the scientists who triggered this device. I’m not going to say how long they were given but they weren’t given all that much time because they actually ran onto the beach, they ran onto the landing craft, and the landing craft was still inside the lagoon when the explosion took place. Between two and three miles away. No more than three."


F GRAY – ROYAL MARINES

________


"Dr Penney and them was going up on deck, and then you got told that the bomb would be going off, and would we all face the other way. Which you did, really. And then he’d count down from ten to zero, and he’d say ‘Now, when I say zero, give it a minute and then you can turn round and look at it.’ So we said, well all right."


ATWILL

________


"We got the reflection of the flash through the superstructure and off the flightdeck. And then, when the flash went – it lasted, hung for a few seconds – then we turned around and saw the cloud rising up, big white molten ball. Then we got the blast several … well, minutes later."


THOMPSON

________


"You know, we couldn’t understand why we had to stand with our backs to the thing. You had an element of lightheartedness and some people not bother, others would take it very seriously. I can recall just feeling, well this is a bit if a waste of time – what was the point of standing on deck and looking round at the thing after it had exploded?"


I MCKENZIE – ROYAL NAVY

________


"It didn’t go like a mushroom like you see on the films. It was more like a Z shape. It started drifting one way, then the other, then back again."


GRAY

________



"When the actual bomb went off we could see the cloud breaking back in the centre. It was supposed to go out to sea but it broke back in the centre and you could see the fall, like you would in a storm, the rain coming from a storm, going back right across the islands, where it wasn’t supposed to be."


THOMPSON

________


"We were behind the islands, the highest ones I’d say were about 30 feet. We were told it was going to happen, but we didn’t have a countdown for certain it was going to go off. We weren’t warned of the actual minute that it was going up. So it came as rather a surprise. I was, actually I was trying to brew some tea, and the blast blew the primus over, so I still haven’t got that cup of tea yet."


GRAY

________


"I took the parties of men ashore that did have the protective clothing. They used to come back in the evening, strip off all this clothing. It was put into a 40-gallon drums with cement, to be ditched later. They’d go for showers and things. If they went ashore the next day they were given new clothing again. I think they wore gas masks. I don’t recall being checked myself. The men we took ashore were not experienced in radiation: it was stokers, and able seamen; they were just picked out as shore landing party. Just picked at random. [Their job] was to plot safe areas, with these dosimeters. Geiger counter, I think they called it."


TRIVETT

________


"About four days later, I went back in, in the boat and we went into the area, looking to see if we could find anything of the boat itself, the Plym. We went in over the actual spot, right over the spot. Right in the spot. We were actually looking in the water. Looking to see if there was anything left, and I can remember going back on the Campania and telling the boys that come off the Plym, ‘No, there’s nothing there, not a bloody bit if it left anywhere.’"


THOMPSON

________


"We made water from the sea water. All the time. And as far as I know, we never stopped making water. And although the bomb was exploded on the waterline, or below the waterline, it must have been very contaminated; and distilling water doesn’t take radiation out; and so we were still drinking that water."


CLARK

________


"And there was hundreds of men going in there, working in there, for weeks afterwards. And I learnt since that they recovered the moorings. Recovered some of the moorings off the Plym and they was so contaminated that they had to take them out in deep water and dump them, they couldn’t keep them on the ship."


THOMPSON

________


"There was an incident just after the blast. We were in one of the lagoons – we called it a lagoon, because there were various inlets between the islands, something like the Norwegian fiords, you know? – and one night there was an alert, because they had fixed a Geiger counter to an engine condenser, which takes seawater for cooling the steam, which has to be used again; and this Geiger counter gave a rather high reading. And we raised full steam to make a quick manoeuvre. I remember that incident. About 2 a.m. one morning. There was a bit of panic, to get the ship moving."


TRIVETT

________


"None of the scientists or anything wore any protective clothing, that I knew. Or saw. And I was taking them all in, all the prominent ones, Dr Butterworth, Dr Penney. Everyone was in their shorts. Dr Penney used to run around with shorts and a straw hat on. There was no protective clothing. None whatsoever. We had a badge they told us to pin on ourselves. It was like a plastic thing with a square bit if lead or whatever it was in there. And it was supposed to turn red if you got radioactive, well, half of us didn’t bother to put the bloody things on in the morning, you know. You used to forget about them. You never bothered. I never heard anyone say anything about them. That was all we had. There was no … When we went in, after that time, there was no one with us monitoring or anything, we were just a boat’s crew and we went in."


THOMPSON

________


"It was a lovely sight, mind. I’m not saying it wasn’t, but … I don’t want to see another bomb. I wouldn’t see another one."


AWILL

________


"It was just like a great big holiday really. You know, we treated it as a great skylark."


THOMPSON


Next Blog - Monte Bello 1956

44 views0 comments