by Becky Alexis-Martin, Research Fellow, Department of Geography, University of Southampton @
Nuclear testing is often portrayed as a bombastic process, overshadowed by the devastating majesty of mushroom clouds and described in terms of annihilation or dramatic uncertainty. This is understandable, given the inherently destructive nature of nuclear weapons. However, my aim is not to sensationalise the British nuclear test series, but instead to provide a thought-provoking insight into the daily routines and experiences of the soldiers who travelled far from their families and homes to test the bomb.
Here, I share two personal narratives that describe some of the typical experiences of living within a military camp community, during British nuclear testing from 1952 to 1963. These particular communities and timescales are of interest to me due to being prior to the consolidation of the US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement. After 1963, much British nuclear testing was moved to Nevada, USA. However, prior to this, testing occurred on remote South Pacific British colonies. Therefore, some of the men toured Emu Field, across the desert of the Australian outback. Others visited Montebello Island near Australia; or Christmas Island, which is nestled within the Pacific Ocean. I have been told during conversations that “…people didn’t even travel to Spain” at this time, so I can imagine how exciting it must have been for the soldiers to have the opportunity to travel internationally. I personally still remember that precise moment when I stepped off an aeroplane for the first time, my own feet touching the burnished tarmac of Malaga airport. This was also the first chance for some of these men to leave their local communities. They travelled away from the tightly-knit social regulation of family and life-long friends, away from everything familiar, whilst jumbled up into regiments with a random assortment of other British soldiers. This the first time that many of these men would be able to define themselves on their own terms.
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