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Newmarket RAF veteran Peter Powney-Jones’ role in UK nuclear tests finally recognised after 65 years





A Newmarket Royal Air Force veteran has finally received recognition for the part he played in the UK's nuclear testing programme.

Peter Powney-Jones was among thousands of British servicemen shipped to South Australia and the Pacific Island of Kiritimati where tests took place more than 65 years ago.

Peter, who lives at the Brampton Manor care home in Newmarket, was presented with the Nuclear Test Medal last month by John Gilmour, of the Royal Air Forces Association, at a ceremony attended by family members.

Peter Powney-Jones, right, receives his medal from John Gilmour of the Royal Airforces Association
Peter Powney-Jones, right, receives his medal from John Gilmour of the Royal Airforces Association

It was not until November 2022, after many years of pressure from the British Nuclear Test Veterans' Association (BNTVA), that the Government announced veterans would receive the specially-minted medals to mark their contribution to the tests, which saw the UK become the world’s third nuclear power, joining the USA and the Soviet Union.

Peter, who is 88, joined the RAF in 1953 when he was 18 and after training at RAF West Kirby, in Cheshire, was posted to the Maralinga test site in South Australia, part of the Woomera Prohibited Area, where Operations Buffalo and Antler took place in 1956 and 1957.

He was subsequently shipped to Christmas Island, now known as Kiritimati, in the Pacific Ocean, where 20,000 British servicemen took part in Operation Grapple, which saw nine thermonuclear weapons tested between May 1957 and September 1958.

Peter Powney-Jones, second right back row, inhis RAF days
Peter Powney-Jones, second right back row, inhis RAF days

The effects of radiation did not emerge until much later when a BNTVA study revealed 30 per cent of veterans involved in the tests had died, mostly in their 50s, from cancer. Peter did not develop the disease but, after he married his first wife Caroline, the couple believed their inability to have children was due to the effects of radiation.

Subsequent service at home and in Northern Island and RAF Seletar, Singapore, took him to 1975 when he left the service after 22 years.

After his wife’s tragic death in a road accident Peter worked for a few years at Bahrain Airport before meeting Newmarket woman Margaret Powney through membership of the British Racing and Sports Car Club. The couple married in Newmarket and lived in Savile House, in St Mary’s Square, until her death in 2015. Peter later moved to Wood Ditton where he became a parish councillor. He moved to Brampton Manor 18 months ago.

The medal presented to Peter Powney-Jones
The medal presented to Peter Powney-Jones

Samantha Gardiner, whose mother was Peter’s cousin, said: “It was an honour and a delight for my family to be a part of his medal presentation. I know how proud of him his parents, brother and sister would have been if they could have seen him receive his medal.”