“WE were not told anything.”

When Tom Bell arrived on Christmas Island in April 1959 with the 616 Royal Army Signals Air Formation Squadron he, along with the rest of the soldiers, had no idea that just six months earlier the last of the Operation Grapple test had been completed.

These were a series of four British nuclear weapons tests of early atomic bombs and hydrogen bombs carried out on the Pacific Ocean island between 1957 and 1958 as part of the British hydrogen bomb programme - all of which the squadron were not told about.

“All they said was I was to stay on the island for 11 months,” the 81-year-old said.

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“That was the only clue you got, you wondered why that was. No one was allowed to stay any longer, I was never told the reason but it was because of the radioactivity on the island due to the fallout from the nuclear bombs. They didn’t tell us anything - the only thing was you were warned not to do was to take your shirt off. No protective clothing, nothing. I was only 22, at that age you are not wise.

“I never saw any bombs, or anything like that. But you were suspicious. I found a metal door with radioactive signs on it, the signs were 100 foot down - but no signs above ground level. During all my time on Christmas Island, I was never checked to see if I had been contaminated with radioactivity. I had been to nearly every part of the island and swam in lagoons, and the ocean. The food cooked in the cookhouse, was it contaminated? You had to drink, but you didn’t know what was in the water. I went all over the island repairing telephone lines, that was my job, I was a linesman. If it was today it would be national scandal, you wouldn’t even be allowed there.”

In later life, Mr Bell went on to suffer a number of health scares, that developed from the age of 61.

These have included prostate cancer, angina attacks, having a double heart bypass operation in 1997 before a heart attack in 2001, tinnitus, vertigo, blepharitis (red, swollen eyes) and a umbilical hernia. But what hurt most, Mr Bell said, were health problems suffered by his children, born after his visit to the Christmas Island to wife June who he met after being posted to Droitwich.

In a tragedy for the family, Fiona was born in September 1965 with a hole in her heart and, after burning easily in the sun, she was diagnosed as an albino child aged 18 months. At the age of three, she was operated on, but died.

“We were told it was million to one to have one albino child, and we had two,” the Stalls Farm Road resident said.

“There was a definite link. It’s frightening - when you think what’s happened to me, I’m surprised I’m still here.”

Campaigners from the British Nuclear Test Veterans’ Association have been fighting for the veterans who were in Christmas Island during the tests to receive compensation - as other countries have compensated their veterans.

“I support the campaigners fighting for compensation,” Mr Bell added.

But the Ministry of Defence argues there is no “valid evidence” linking the nuclear tests to ill health, with the Supreme Court ruling in their favour in March 2012.

A MoD spokesman said: “We are grateful to all those who participated in the British nuclear testing programme, which contributed towards keeping our country secure. Any veteran who believes they have suffered ill health due to service has the right to apply for compensation.”