Nuclear test veteran may have died of leukaemia from levels of radiation he was exposed to during atomic bomb tests

  • Louis Holford, 71, was adamant his ill health was caused by MoD work
  • Witnessed a series of atomic bomb blasts on Christmas Island in 1958
  • Coroner ruled radiation exposure may have caused his leukaemia
  • Wife Geraldine said he watched bomb blasts without protective clothing
  • Said radiation also caused her to have three miscarriages after marriage
  • Mr Holford among 32 veterans who tried to sue MoD for exposure in 2007
  • High Court ruled it was too late for servicemen to make claims

By William Turvill


A coroner said Louis Holford may have contracted leukaemia as a result of radiation exposure on Christmas Island

A coroner said Louis Holford may have contracted leukaemia as a result of radiation exposure on Christmas Island

A nuclear test veteran who died after contracting leukaemia may have gotten the cancer from being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation as a serviceman, a coroner has ruled. 

Louis Holford, 71, had a number of health problems through his life after he witnessed atomic bomb blasts on Christmas Island, near Indonesia, in the Pacific Ocean, in 1958.

The Ministry of Defence has never admitted fault, but a coroner ruled this week that his death may have been caused by the exposure.

Father-of-two Mr Holford was adamant that his cancer - as well as two strokes and thyroid problems - had been caused by toxic fallout.

He and 31 other servicemen launched High Court action against the Air Force in 2007 for negligence. They claimed they had been used as ‘guinea pigs’.

But the test cases were thrown out, with judges saying the veterans had lodged their claims too late.

Mr Holford, who died while undergoing intensive treatment for acute myloid leukaemia following a fall in 2009, never saw a verdict reached.

But a coroner has ruled that his condition could have been caused by his exposure to radiation.

North Staffordshire coroner Ian Smith branded the nuclear tests ‘appalling’ and said Louis must have been exposed to unnatural levels of radiation.

Recording a verdict of accidental death yesterday, Mr Smith said he could not rule out a link between Mr Holford’s condition and his experiences in the Pacific Ocean.

But he said he would leave it to ‘others to deal with the tricky issues’.


The coroner said: ‘What happened on Christmas Island was an appalling and inhumane process with potentially devastating effects to those exposed.

‘That was then, however. Times are very different but, even so, it seems very hard to justify.

‘In Mr Holford’s case, his acute myloid leukaemia could have been or could not have been caused by his exposure.

‘The most obvious cause of death was a fall leading to a head injury potentially brought about by AML and potentially exacerbated by his AML.’

Giving evidence, wife Geraldine, 74, told the inquest RAF clerk Mr Holford and thousands of others were ordered to watch A-Bomb and H-Bomb blasts without protective clothing.

Mr Holford with his wife, Geraldine, who believes the radiation caused her to have three miscarriages

Mr Holford with his wife, Geraldine, who believes the radiation caused her to have three miscarriages

She said: ‘They had to sit with their backs so they weren’t facing it. They were told to put their hands over their eyes and not to look. There were five bombs in total.’

She also blamed the exposure to radiation for three miscarriages she suffered after the couple married in 1961.

Mr Holford was within 20 miles of three H-Bomb and two A-Bomb explosions when he spent six months at the RAF HQ on Christmas Island.

Speaking in 2009, the retired office manager described the ‘spectacular’ bomb tests which he had watched as a 20-year-old.

He said: ‘At the time, without knowing everything that happened since, it was quite a spectacle.

‘You heard the plane coming over, then we had to turn away from the bomb site with our hands over our eyes.

‘Ten seconds after the explosion someone said we could open our eyes and turn round.

‘It was like a bright new sun, then the dust formed a cloud and you could feel the heat.

‘When one bomb went off the wind veered towards us and we had to get on to a landing craft and go out on the water.

‘There was never any mention of possible dangers.’

British troops on Christmas Island in 1957, when they would have been exposed to atomic bomb explosions

British troops on Christmas Island in 1957, when they would have been exposed to atomic bomb explosions

Around 22,000 men are thought to have witnessed nuclear blasts between 1952 and 1967, with 3,000 surviving today.

Of those that remain, it is thought around three will die each month.

In March last year the Supreme Court ruled on ten test cases lodged by Christmas Island veterans who witnessed nuclear tests in the Pacific.

The court found nine of the claims, brought against the MoD in 2009, had been entered too late and threw them out of court.

A spokesman for the MoD said: ‘The MoD recognises the debt of gratitude we have to the servicemen who took part in the nuclear tests.

‘The Supreme Court ruled in favour of the MoD that the claims brought by Nuclear Test Veterans were time barred and declined to allow the claims to proceed under the statutory discretion.’

The comments below have been moderated in advance.

Children can get leukaemia so lets be fair, the fact that this guy was involved in nuclear tests could just be coincidental and it may be nothing to do with the radiation.

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Interesting really if you commit a sex crime there is no time bar but if the government do something total wrong they try anything to get around the problem

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My father was an RAF pilot posted to Christmas Island in 1959 for a standard 3 months along with his crew and many other colleagues. We still have original film of him and other crews taken during the time they were on the island living in tents. He died at the age of 63 from Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma a month from first visiting the doctor and the hospital asked if they could perform an autopsy. My family and I firmly believe that these men were used as guinea pigs.

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I spoke to many servicemen during my time in the Army who witnessed the Atomic bomb tests and there is no doubt in my mind that they were guinea pigs. The description given by Mrs Holford of the servicemen being instructed to sit with their backs to the explosion is almost exactly that which I heard from 1958 onwards except that most of them were wearing shorts only yet the civilians conducting the tests wore protective clothing. It was disgusting then that those young men were nothing more than guinea pigs just like those who volunteered for tests "against the common cold" at Porton Down. For those tests we were offered extra pay of 1/6d (seven and one half pence) per day and I almost volunteered but thank heavens I did not, having found out in later years that they were testing anthrax on those who volunteered.

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Just because he was there it doesn't make him immune to leukaemia either. There are significant numbers of older men who have leukaemia who have never been anywhere near anything radio-active. Statistically, in this age population there will be cases of leukaemia and some of these cases will, naturally, be in those who witnessed bombs, some who witnessed crimes, some who witnessed Tele-tubbies. There is no necessary correlation. Harsh but true and worthy of your red-arrows as you'd like to think life was fair and obvious.

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My father RIP died in the certain belief that he had been made ill from being there as a member of the RAF during those very same tests. He had tried for several years to get some admittance, not necessarily compensation, but just an apology that his life had been severely compromised by his RAF employment at that time. When he had his first cataract operation which proved very difficult due to hardened corneas the doctor performing the op baldly stated that ' of course your cornea were compromised due to your Padgetts Disease as a direct result of exposure to radiation' which was the first we knew that he was suffering from that radiation sickness ailment and that it had been noted on his medical records for many years!

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And the evidence that he would not have suffered the same or similar fate if he had not been a witness to tests is what exactly? I know people dying of cancer who have never been anywhere near a nuclear test and they are younger than he was. What's your point? Uranium is a naturally occurring ore found in many parts of the world; how would you like it destroyed and who exactly do you have in mind to do so?

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"but a coroner ruled this week that his death may have been caused by the exposure" The operative words here are "may have". Mr Holford was 71 years old and the likely-hood of suffering from various cancers increases with age until they become an statistical inevitability. Had Mr Holford suffered a major dose of radiation I would have expected there to be ill effects of his health sooner than that.

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My Dad was on Christmas Island when the bomb was exploded. I am one of three sisters, two of whom have died of aggressive cancers and I also have cancer. Could this be connected to the radiation my Dad brought back?

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Still had a good innings, I thought if you got radiation on you it showed. Also do not tell me he did not know the dangers and was possibly paid well for his work

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