The death of my father - 25 years on.
Whilst it is difficult to write this blog, the story needs to be told as our family is not alone in suffering, many families have been affected by the testing program and continue to suffer today. Our story is one of thousands.
It is 25 years ago today that my father died. He was 52 years old. He was present at the Operation Dominic series of Nuclear tests on Christmas Island from 1961 - 1962. This blog explains the impact on our family that his participation at the tests has had.
As a child, my father did not speak about his time on Christmas Island, he had left the Navy before I was born and did not discuss any of his Navy exploits with us. I am the youngest of 3 children. It was only when a documentary was aired on TV, that my father told us that he was there during the tests.
My brother Gordon was born in December 1964, my sister in January 1966 and myself in March 1971. My brother was an ill child, suffering from chest infections. My sister was born blind in her left eye and underwent an operation at Moorfields eye hospital to colour and correct issues. She will never see out of that eye.
None of the problems we had as children were ever attributed to the Nuclear testing program as there was no BNTVA or any DNA evidence to prove the link.
My father had suffered two heart attacks before he died. I remember the night of his death as if it was yesterday. I was looking after my cousins house for a year whilst they were away and it was in the early hours that the telephone rang. Before I could get to the phone, the answer machine kicked in and I heard my mother tell me that there was a problem with my father and that he had suffered another heart attack. I picked up the phone and told her I would be right over.
I telephoned for an ambulance, got dressed and drove across Cheltenham at high speed, running red lights. I was the first sibling to arrive and beat the ambulance to the house. My mother opened the door and I ran upstairs to find my father lying in bed, not breathing. I checked his pulse, but he was already gone. There was nothing I could do.
The paramedics arrived soon after and tried to revive him, but it was too late, he was dead.
I telephoned my sister and told her not to rush over as she was nearly 9 months pregnant and her baby was due within a few days. There was nothing anyone could do to bring him back.
My brother arrived, then my sister and brother in law. A doctor arrived and pronounced my father dead. It was surreal, we had been sitting in the garden that afternoon as the weather was great and we had no idea that it would be the last time we would see my father alive.
The undertaker arrived and asked us if we wanted to remove his jewelry, my brother in law and I removed rings and his necklace and we said goodbye. This is a memory that no-one should have.
My brother stayed with my mother that night and my sister and I returned to our houses. I did not sleep any further that night.
The next day, as I went downstairs for breakfast, the answer machine was flashing. I pushed the button instinctively and listened to my mothers panicked voice once again telling me my father had suffered a heart attack. I deleted the message as I did not want to relive the events of the previous night.
I telephoned my employer and informed them of the situation and they gave me leave to be with the family. The next few days saw preparations for his funeral, registration of his death, contacting relatives, his employer and the insurance companies.
A few days later my sister then went into labour and her third child was born. A baby girl that my father would never see.
My father was cremated in Cheltenham and his ashes were scattered next to his mum and dad. My sister had lost her father, given birth to a child and buried her father all within 2 weeks.
My mother was terribly affected by the loss of her husband, she continued to be strong for the family, but it left a massive hole in her life that was to get even bigger in 1996, when very unexpectedly, my brother died. He was a delivery driver for a catering company and whilst out on deliveries, he suffered a massive heart attack and died at the wheel of his truck in Bourton-on-the-Water, luckily he was stationary at the time.
I was working in London at the time, when I received the news from a close colleague, I drove home to find the family at my mothers house, mourning the loss of my brother who was taken so young. In the space of under two years, our family unit had been ripped apart.
Because my father and brother had died of the same condition, the males in the family were checked for the condition. Luckily, I do not have the condition. I continue to undergo regular checks.
My mother died in 2011 from skin cancer, she never recovered from losing her husband and oldest child in a 2 year period. My sister has had heart problems and has now developed cataracts on her other eye which will need surgery.
I now have a son who is 12, he has been diagnosed with epilepsy this year and has had a rough year in 2019, I do not know if his DNA has been affected by the testing program, but I am eagerly awaiting the results of the Brunel research which may prove to be decisive.
My sister now has 8 grandchildren, they never knew their great granddad. My youngest niece never knew her granddad and neither did my son.
I joined the trustee board of the BNTVA because of the personal tragedies that have affected our family. I met Doug Hern who was promoting the BNTVA at a garden centre in Lincolnshire. When I told him that my father was at the tests, he told me 'He is either ill or dead'. He was right.
As Chairman of the BNTVA, I have now met colleagues of my father who were with him on Christmas Island, they have provided me with pictures and stories of their exploits, I am very grateful to them for the memories that they have given me.
My son plays football and he asked me once if his granddad would be proud of him. I told him that he would definitely be proud of him. I see a lot of my father in my son, he plays football almost exactly the same way. The pain and hurt of losing a family member never goes away, we just learn to deal with it in time.
Cherish the time you have with your loved ones, you never know when it will end. My brother always told me to live everyday as it was your last, because one day you will be right.
So if you are lucky enough to have family around you, call them, visit them or hug them today.
I will continue to fight for the Nuclear veterans and whilst I am able, will continue in my role as Chairman to get the recognition they deserve, my father would want me to. Our family lost so much, but we are not alone, there are thousands of families affected who continue to struggle every day.
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