Recollections by Robby Robinson


We flew from Heathrow Airport (much smaller than it is now), in early December, 1956. We stopped in Shannon and then took 14 hours to fly to Goose Bay Labrador. Unfortunately, the weather in Goose Bay was atrocious and the plane skidded off the runway. We had to wait overnight, spending our time in some old Nissan huts, which were very cold. After that we went through Philadelphia and Chicago and finally to San Francisco, landing at Moffet Airbase.

San Francisco was all dressed up for Christmas, so we had a very exciting time. We went to a bar at the top of the Mark Hopkins Hotel. At that time it was the tallest point in San Francisco. Now it is dwarfed by the buildings around it. After a few days in the area, we took off for Honolulu, landing at Hickham Field. I remember that there was an NCO club on Waikiki beach and only one hotel. Now there are dozens of hotels and many more people.

We landed on Christmas Island about a week before Christmas. As the song says “I did spend Christmas on Christmas Island.” I remember that it was very hot, particularly since it had been very cold and wet when we left England.

I worked in the communications area of the J.O.C. and for most of my stay I was in tent E24. I well remember the showers with salt water, because they didn’t want to waste the purified water. The biggest problems came from crabs and bed-bugs. Until we built the frames for our beds to sit on we had a real problem with the crabs, which would grab our toes. The bedbugs were more insidious and I slept
quite a few nights on the beach, because I couldn’t get rid of the bugs. We also had a problem with crabs when we made tea in the evening. They would be attracted by the flame, so we had to carry a large stick to hack our way through the hordes.

During the bomb drops, most of the people were taken off the island, but our group had to stay to maintain the equipment, which was a bit nerve-wracking the first time.

I remember that there was not a lot to do on the Island, except to go to the port or the lagoon or walk through the palm trees. When we first arrived, there were still a lot of natives on the Island, so we gave them cigarettes to get coconuts for us. After a while we got so tired of coconuts that most of us never wanted to see one again. In fact I still can’t stand the taste of coconut.

I remember that we were given free cans of 50 cigarettes. Apparently they were provided by the customs service and had been taken from smugglers. It made sure that I had a good solid habit by the time I went home. It took 12 more years before I was able to kick the habit.

When I left the Island, in November, 1957, 1 flew back in a Hastings, which was not exactly set up for comfort. I remember that it took three days and we stopped a couple of times, but I can’t remember where, except for a stop in Florida. I do remember being very impressed with the facilities at the US air bases where we stopped. I was particularly impressed with the varieties of food available.

I am not able to remember the names of most of the people I knew on the Island. Perhaps I put a block on it, because it was certainly not a pleasant experience. I remember that a famous reporter for the Daily Mirror came during my time there. He wrote a lengthy article about the deplorable conditions under which military people were living. Either he or someone else suggested that the sanity of anyone who stayed more than six months could not be guaranteed. That explains a lot about my life since then !!

I would strongly recommend a book about the tests. I found it to be very honest and open about what really went on, and how the people involved in the tests were exposed to high levels of radiation. The name of the book is “Fields Of Thunder”, Written by Denys Blakeway & Sue Lloyd Roberts, published by “Unwin Paperbacks” in 1985.

I had an interesting experience recently. My neighbours went on a cruise from Fiji to Hawaii. One of the places they stopped and got off the ship was Christmas Island. I had never quite seen it as a tourist destination !!!

 ©: R.Robinson 01 Aug. 03