Sixty-two years ago, I wrote these words: ‘This will be something to tell my grandchildren about – if they aren’t all born deformed half-wits as a result of what I’ve just experienced.’
They were part of an entry in my midshipman’s journal. It was during my – then compulsory – National Service. I was serving it in the Navy. I had just an hour or two earlier seen, felt and been terrified and awestruck by a thermonuclear explosion: in plain English, an H-bomb.
The test took place in 1957 on Malden Island, south of Christmas Island, in the Pacific.
The explosion was little more than 20 miles away from me, and only 8,000 feet above the surface of the Pacific Ocean. I was standing on the flight deck of one of the UK’S fleet of six aircraft carriers. We had just become only the third nation to develop successfully the ultimate ‘weapon of mass destruction’ – the hydrogen bomb.
In my mind’s eye, as I wrote, I could still see and almost feel the enormous, raging fireball in the sky, the cloud pouring like cream out of the top of the fireball, and the stem of the mushroom shape rushing up from the surface of the sea to join the cloud itself. And I was a part, if a tiny part, of helping to create what even then seemed a significant moment in British history.
Six decades on, I find myself debating many things, including the subject of war, with my five grandchildren — none of them remotely a ‘deformed half-wit’. (The scientists in 1957 were careful with our welfare.)
I think it is nuclear weapons, with their ‘mutual assured destruction’ connotation, aided by NATO, that have kept the peace since the war, even if they have been unable to prevent lesser and still hideous wars.
By Gillespie Robertson, London, who receives £50. Readers are invited to send in their own 400-word submissions about the past