Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

An RAF veteran who survived two nuclear blasts has revealed how he managed to escape alive after being awarded a medal in hospital.

Thomas Walsh, 85, from Harrow, was awarded the Nuclear Test Medal at Northwick Park Hospital this week.

Thomas recalled the moment the first nuclear bomb was detonated at Christmas Island in 1957 while he was working in the RAF.

He said: “I heard a distant explosion and when I put my hands across my eyes I could momentarily see all the bones in my hands lit up like an X-ray followed by a strong hot wind.”

Thomas, who was 18-years-old at the time, said he had not been wearing any sort of protective clothing at the time, donning only shorts and flipflops as the bomb went off.

He said: “None of us really understood the potential threat to our lives back then. You just did what you were told and trusted your superiors.

“We were told to go and stand in a grove of palm trees near the beach. We had no protective clothing and were told to cover our eyes with our hands to protect against the flash,” reports MyLondon.

Thomas and his friends had been shipped out to the remote Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean during their RAF national service for the detonation and took part in a second test the following year with a far more powerful bomb.

Operation Grapple was the UK’s first step towards becoming a nuclear power as the Cold War crept over Europe and involved the detonation of several atomic and hydrogen bombs in 1957 and 1958.

The veteran has never suffered any ill effects but said he shudders to think what might have happened.

“We’re all aware of the danger of nuclear radiation nowadays,” Thomas said, “so I consider I had a lucky escape given I was just wearing shorts and flipflops at the time.”

The hospital honoured Thomas as he received his medal this week. CEO Pippa Nightingale said: “It is an extraordinary part of history to have taken part in and even more extraordinary that Mr Walsh said he has never suffered any ill effects. We wish him all the best and a quick recovery.”

The new medal design was unveiled by the government on July 28 this year and is being rolled out to veterans in order for them to be received before Remembrance Sunday on November 12.

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