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Watching the birth of n-power

PUBLISHED: 09:00 27 September 2002 | UPDATED: 12:43 03 March 2010

FOR the men on board HMS Plym, it was just another day and just another job.

But October 3, 1952, marked the historic day that Britain successfully tested an atom device that would give the country an independent nuclear deterrent.

FOR the men on board HMS Plym, it was just another day and just another job.

But October 3, 1952, marked the historic day that Britain successfully tested an atom device that would give the country an independent nuclear deterrent.

A blinding light, a ferocious rush of heat and an explosion of dust and sea water mushrooming into the trademark cloud, marked Britain's introduction into becoming a nuclear power.

A few miles from the blast were Suffolk men, Danny Pullen and Jimmy Osborne who had travelled to the Montebello Islands off Australia's north-west coast on the ship that had just been blown nearly three miles into the air.

Mr Pullen is now 74 and living in Leiston and has suffered no ill side effects from the blast. But Jimmy Osborne, 79 from Grundisburgh believes he has a lasting legacy from Britains efforts in the atomic race.

Just a few years ago all his teeth turned black and fell out which he is convinced is a consequence of playing a role in Britain's nuclear programme.

He said: "At the time they said it was nothing to do with that but I also had to go to the hospital for a number of years and have treatment on my head.

"I had all lumps and bumps over it which still come up now. They absolutely burned."

Years later, servicemen in the Christmas Islands were to fly through an atomic cloud to see what effects it had. Some of those are now in legal action in the High Court against the MoD for the ill health they believe is a side effect of the bomb. Mr Osborne is not taking part in the legal action.

Mr Pullen and Mr Osborne had different experiences being part of the explosion but both will agree that it was a major marker in their lives.

The top secret mission was codenamed Operation Hurricane and Mr Pullen can remember the historic trip like it was yesterday.

He said: "It was put out that it was a survey ship.

"We knew we were going somewhere warm but not exactly where. The Plym was being fitted out in Chatham dockyard and a lot of us were working on her – I am surprised she ever got to Australia the way she was put together."

The crew did not know officially where they were going and what they would be doing until they set sail.

Mr Pullen from Sylvester Road said: "Most chaps in the service just accepted their fate. You just know that these things are going to happen."

Mr Pullen still looks back with some affection on the time he spent on the ship and the friendships that were made.

Once the explosion had taken place, Mr Pullen, a chef on the ship, stayed on nearby islands where sailors enjoyed spare time swimming, playing hockey and sampling the chef's rum.

It was on the morning of October 3 that the explosion took place. The tension had been mounting among the British media and speculation had been rife.

Another ship, the HMS Campania had accompanied the doomed HMS Plym and one of the members, Derek Berry, wrote his own account of the trip.

He wrote: "The scientists were beyond themselves with excitement. Naturally they had been tensed up in the past four weeks, some had not even been confident that we would make the deadline, let alone explode the weapon into a very successful outcome."

Ten minutes after the explosion,because of strong winds, the cloud was blown into a Z shape with the top of the cloud rising two miles above the sea.

A few miles away Mr Pullen and Mr Osborne were standing with their backs to the explosion.

Mr Osborne said: "It was a sight that I would never want to see again. You just could not believe the size of the explosion – it was about two and a half to three miles high.

"You could see the bones through your hands because the flash was so bright – it was one hell of an experience."

Mr Pullen said: "We were made aware of the dangers and when the bomb was actually detonated they sounded the ships siren and we had to face away from the bombs direction.

"The scientists were in a bunker and were looking through darkened glass so they could see the effects.

"We were about three miles away so there was no real danger as far as I was concerned."

The British nuclear programme was set up in 1947 which British scientist Dr. William Penney was instructed to lead.

The horrors of Hiroshima were still fresh in peoples minds but the Government was pushing for its own nuclear device in a bid to catch up with the US.

Although the two countries had initially shared the development of the atom bomb, at the end of the second world war, America had broken any ties and was in the position of controlling the resources with which to construct and use it.

Five years later HMS Plym set sail to the Montebello Islands carrying the fruits of Dr Penney's work.

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