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My husband’s secret nuclear work meant he wouldn’t tell GP cause of fatal cancer… now my son has died & grandson had it

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WIDOW Jean Brogan was glad to be sitting down when she opened the cheap plastic box that had arrived through the post.

In it was a silver medal, with King Charles on one side and an atomic symbol between two olive branches on the other.

Tony Brogan witnessed four nuclear blasts at Maralinga — such as the one above — and suffered ill health for the rest of his life

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Tony Brogan witnessed four nuclear blasts at Maralinga — such as the one above — and suffered ill health for the rest of his lifeCredit: Handout
Tragic Tony pictured with his grandson James

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Tragic Tony pictured with his grandson JamesCredit: Arthur Edwards / The Sun
Grandson James with Jean - and the medal - with King Charles on one side and an atomic symbol between two olive branches on the other

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Grandson James with Jean – and the medal – with King Charles on one side and an atomic symbol between two olive branches on the otherCredit: Arthur Edwards / The Sun

It is the Nuclear Test Medal, sent by Defence Secretary Grant Shapps and Veterans’ Affairs Minister Johnny Mercer to survivors or relatives of the 20,000 servicemen and women who took part in a programme to develop Britain’s atomic weapons.

Jean’s husband Tony was one of them. He was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2011 and died of pneumonia in December 2013, aged 76, after years in agony — though Jean is convinced the real cause of his cancer was his exposure to radiation from the nuclear tests he witnessed.

She says it is “shameful” no official has heard his story nor offered support.

Because he had signed the Official Secrets Act, he dared not even tell his own doctor the truth about what he believed had made him ill with a disease that his widow fears spread to their two sons and her grandson.

Tears pour down Jean’s cheeks as she looks at the medal, which she received last month and insists down-values her beloved Tony’s anguish.

She says of receiving it: “I could not believe it. It’s an insult. I’m so upset because it has brought so many painful memories flooding back.”

Anthony Brogan joined the RAF aged 18, and trained as a cook. In 1956 he was sent to the Australian outback town of Maralinga, where the trigger mechanisms for Britain’s atomic bombs were being tested.

By then the UK’s nuclear testing programme had been going for four years and was the biggest operation involving the Army, Navy and RAF since D-Day in 1944.

‘Tony and men he served with were guinea pigs’

Tony witnessed four nuclear blasts at Maralinga — and suffered ill health for the rest of his life.

Jean claims they caused the cancer that eventually killed him.

Newly restored footage of 1953 nuclear tests shows terrifying power of the atomic bomb

When the bombs went off, food that Tony was preparing got covered in radioactive dust. He told Jean how the troops were forced to eat it, despite the contamination.

But Jean’s devastation did not end with the loss of her beloved husband.

My husband’s service killed him, but it’s also killed one of my sons too — and they sent me a medal through the post.

She is certain their two boys and her grandson suffered the effects of the radiation exposure Tony endured.

At her home in Taunton, Somerset, she says: “My son, Roy, died of bowel cancer when he was 54, in 2016.”

Her other son Tommy, 63, lives in Perth, Australia, and also has bowel cancer. Her grandson James, 35, had blood cancer when he was 21.

Jean says: “My husband’s service killed him, but it’s also killed one of my sons too — and they sent me a medal through the post.

“No one even came to present it or hear Tony’s story. No one offered us any help or support over the years. It’s shameful.”

Tony was called up in 1955 to join the RAF during National Service.

Within a year he was in the Australian outback as part of the test series, termed Operation Buffalo.

Jean says: “Tony told me once they were told to turn their backs when the bombs went off. That was it, that was their protection. No goggles, no suits, no nothing.

“He said one explosion was so bright in front of him he could see the skeleton of one of his friends through his skin.

“The rest of them were sent back so they weren’t too close to the explosion. But he was the cook. He had to stay and prepare their food.

“He always said the dust from the explosion would land on all the potatoes and everything else and he’d have to brush it off and cook them. He was so exposed.”

In a letter Tony wrote to the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association in 1983, he detailed the exposure and pain he had been left in. He wrote: “I remember after one explosion, there was a big windstorm and there was red dust on and in everything. Even the spuds we cooked were full of it, but it was still served up.

“It’s funny how so many of us have had similar ill effects, yet the GPs have made me feel guilty, nothing but a bloody hypochondriac with his aches and pains and bad nerves.

“You walk in the surgery and you see that look, ‘Oh bloody hell, here he is again, what’s the matter with you?’.”

He said one explosion was so bright in front of him he could see the skeleton of one of his friends through his skin.

After serving for three years in Maralinga, Tony met Jean in a cafe when he returned home to the UK.

They got engaged a month after they met in May 1959 and married that August.

Tony started to get sick shortly after their wedding. His doctors could find nothing wrong and Tony, who was bound to protect sensitive information under the Official Secrets Act, refused to tell GPs what he had been through in Australia.

Jean remembers: “He’d go to sleep absolutely fine then wake up with huge cysts and ulcers the size of apples all over his body.

“I used to beg Tony to tell the doctors all his ailments were from the nuclear testing, but he was sworn to a secret and he kept it.

“Tony and the men he served with were used as guinea pigs. He died keeping their secret and feeling like no one understood.

In another letter to the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association in May 1990, Tony explained his horrific symptoms.

He revealed: “Since the time of the explosion and not long after, I have suffered many unexplained illnesses. Firstly, terrible bowel pains. I would walk down the road with very bad pain, everything would pour out of me, but the doctor at the hospital and X-rays could find nothing wrong.

“Next, the terrible head pains. I would wake at night, terrific pressure in my head and blood would gush from my nose and mouth, but once again, no answer.

“Bright red blisters on my legs as if I had hot fat thrown at them. Then the nerve disorders set in . . . along with prostate trouble, the shakes, dizzy spells . . . 

“For the last seven years I’ve had terrible back pains. I get a feeling of pain and wonder what the hell is happening.

“Until now, doctors have said it’s all in my mind, so only my wife and family believe me. I have got to the stage now where I feel like a worn-out car battery that will just about turn the engine over, but not enough power for anything else. I’m 53 but feel 100.”

While Tony was able to hold down a job when he left the RAF, his job in security at NatWest bank left him totally exhausted.

‘Is this going to pass to a third generation?’

Jean says: “He was so bad one day I left him at home while I took the children to school. I had a cleaning job that I normally went on to. But I’d forgotten something, so I popped back home.

“When I got there, he’d tried to take his own life. The pain he was in every single day is utterly unimaginable. He’d wake up in the middle of the night and he would have blood pouring out of his face.

“If he fell asleep on the sofa you could see his skin aging in front of you as he slept. It was terrifying.”

Jean lost touch with her grandson James when he was seven.

 But The Sun brought James, of Newquay, Cornwall, and his gran together again, where he revealed his blood cancer ordeal.

Sitting together for the first time in more than 25 years, the father of two told how his body is plagued with cysts.

I have two daughters, Maisy, 14, and Millie, who is four. I have no idea if what my grandad endured is going to pass on to a third generation.

He says: “I had no idea Grandad used to get them, but I do too.

“I’ve had them come and go on my back for as long as I can remember. They come from nowhere.

“Overnight, my skin will go from being fine to not — and then they can get really sore and take a while to heal.

“I can’t believe they might be because of what my grandad was exposed to back in the ’50s.

“The thought my cancer might have been caused because they wouldn’t give him any protection or let him retreat back with the other men is sickening.

“I have two daughters, Maisy, 14, and Millie, who is four. I have no idea if what my grandad endured is going to pass on to a third generation.

“I know when I was diagnosed with lymphoma I was told it was incredibly rare for someone my age. With what I know now it all makes much more sense.

“Knowing my dad died in part because of what my grandad experienced is disgusting, as is the way the veterans have been treated. For my gran to get a plastic box through the post with no presentation when my grandad gave his life and suffered in pain isn’t right.”

Tony, centre,  joined the RAF aged 18, and trained as a cook. In 1956 he was sent to the Australian outback town of Maralinga

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Tony, centre, joined the RAF aged 18, and trained as a cook. In 1956 he was sent to the Australian outback town of MaralingaCredit: Arthur Edwards / The Sun
Within a year. Tony, left, was in the Australian outback as part of the test series, termed Operation Buffalo

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Within a year. Tony, left, was in the Australian outback as part of the test series, termed Operation BuffaloCredit: Arthur Edwards / The Sun
The medal that was sent to Jean

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The medal that was sent to JeanCredit: Arthur Edwards / The Sun

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “We are grateful to all service personnel who participated in the British nuclear testing programme and contributed to keeping our nation secure and are pleased that over 3,000 medals have been issued.

“In accordance with long-established processes, medals are being dispatched via post by the MoD Medal Office.”

But Jean, who is 86 next month, believes Tony deserved so much better.

She says: “He’d have been proud of this medal, I’m sure, but he’d also have felt it was an insult to the decades of pain he endured.”

‘RADIATION CAN CAUSE DNA HARM’

THE British Nuclear Testing Veterans Association was set up to help survivors and families of the 20,000 servicemen and women who took part in the atomic programme between 1952 and 1965.

The charity says successive governments have failed the tens of thousands of men, families and children affected by the exposure to atomic bomb testing over the years the testing occurred.

Its Facebook group has 933 members who have posted reports of cancer, degenerative diseases and birth abnormalities – all potentially caused by exposure to radiation when multiple nuclear bombs were detonated in the South Pacific and Australia.

Medical security and safety consultant James Bore says: “Exposure to radiation of any kind causes damage to DNA.

“In some cases this can cause cancerous tumours, since the damage to the DNA instructions can lead to cells replicating continuously, without the limitations that healthy cells have.

“As well as cancer, damage to DNA can cause other mutations, and young children are particularly susceptible to radiation damage as they are undergoing rapid cell replication.

“In both men and women radiation damage to reproductive organs can cause infertility or lowered fertility.

“Damage to the egg cells and sperm can cause higher risks of cancer and other health problems in descendants.”

The Ministry of Defence said: “Four epidemiological studies were carried out.

“The latest report, published in 2022, concluded that overall levels of mortality and cancer incidence in nuclear test veterans have continued to be similar to those in a matched Service control group, and lower than in the general population.”

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