Leeds great-grandfather ‘delighted’ to receive medal for nuclear test work over 65 years later during RAF ceremony
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Geoff Holgate, 88, was stationed on Christmas Island – a remote island off the coast of Australia – for six months during his National Service in 1958 and was part of a squadron tasked with testing nuclear bombs as the Cold War rumbled on.
After much campaigning from charities, press and Geoff’s own family, he finally one of the first of the 22,000 people who worked on the operation to receive a medal for his service after an order to honour them was made by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the end of his time in Downing Street.
Geoff’s family, local figures, care home staff and representatives from the RAF were all present at Aire View Care Home in Kirkstall on Monday (October 30) to show their appreciation to the great-grandfather as he received his medal, which is one of the first of its kind to feature the face of King Charles.
Speaking to the YEP, Geoff said: “It was great.
"It’s a nice medal. It’s really nice.”
Geoff was told that he was going to receive a medal by his granddaughter Elsa – who did a significant amount of work in ensuring that he received it – the day before but had no idea that a ceremony would be held for him.
Geoff’s daughter-in-law Jacqui Holgate said: “It was a really emotional day.
"His son and daughter wheeled him down the corridor and into the room where the presentation was and it filled with applause.
"He was absolutely speechless. He couldn’t believe it all.”
Elsa said that she got heavily involved when she read about a campaign to ensure that veterans who had worked on the tests received medals around five years ago and that she helped appeal to MPs, the RAF and Ministry of Defence to ensure that this was rectified.
She explained that the work of Geoff and other veterans was certainly deserving of one. They were responsible with testing the devastating weapon on the island and the lasting impact on them was evident.
Being topless rather than wearing any health and safety gear while the bombs went off; Geoff lost his sense of smell as a result of the blasts and many others suffered from serious health issues for years to come.
Geoff spoke about what it was like when the bombs went off – which you can watch in the video at the top of the page – explaining that he and others could still see the light through their hands while they covered their eyes and that seconds after the blast there was an almighty “BOOM!”
He said: “I jumped out of my skin.”
Elsa said that even into his older years Geoff would whisper while talking about his experience due to the secrecy surrounding it.
She added that it was “far more complicated than you would think” to apply for Geoff’s medal after confirmation that he would receive one, saying that it was fortunate that he had kept so many documents of his time during his National Service that included critical dates and details.
She said the ceremony was “absolutely fantastic” though, adding: “12 months ago we didn’t think he would get it so for him to be there and for the RAF to present it just blew us away.
"It was lovely for grandad to have that moment. He’s really proud.