Keep the home fires burning: Rekindling the Flame with the French and British nuclear test veterans

Mr Liddiatt and Mr Sans rekindle flame
Mr Jeffery Liddiatt and Jean-Luc Sans Rekindle the Flame

I explore the lives of international nuclear communities, discovering the human and cultural experiences and impacts of ionising radiation to individuals and societies. My current major research project with the University of Southampton is called Nuclear Families and provides an in-depth investigation into the lives of the British nuclear test veterans and their families.

As part of this project, I was invited to document the first Anglo-French Rekindling of the Flame above the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe on July 2nd 2016. The flame was first lit on November 23rd 1923, and has since been rekindled at 6.30pm each day by a variety of different French military and veteran communities. However, there has been comparatively little British rekindling with only the Queen and Prime Ministers Winston Churchill, Antony Eden, Howard McMillan and Tony Blair having gained this unique honour.

The ceremony was undertaken by British Nuclear Test Veterans Association Chairman and Maralinga nuclear test veteran Mr Jeffery Liddiatt, in conjunction with Mr Jean-Luc Sans who is president of AVEN, the French atomic veterans association. It was an incredibly poignant and commemorative moment when they lent together to reignite the eternal flame, and an exceptional demonstration of several years of solidarity that have existed between the French and British nuclear communities. There were veteran representatives present in full military regalia, not only from the British Christmas Island and Maralinga tests, but also from the French Algerian and Polynesian tests.

The Arc de Triomphe parade
The Arc de Triomphe parade

This year has been significant for the British nuclear test veterans, who have gained £1 million research and care funding in March, and were granted Consultative Status by the United Nations in April this year. It seems that the achievements of the men who worked on our nuclear deterrent during the Cold War are finally gaining international recognition.

Becky Alexis-Martin is a Research Fellow: Nuclear Geographies and is part of the Population, Health and Well-being Research Group within Geography and Environment at Southampton. More on her research exploring the lived experiences of nuclear veteran families can be found here.

Follow Becky on Twitter @CalamityCake

Please note that photos are credited to Becky Alexis-Martin.


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