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Operation Grapple: We Were There

May 31, 2022

On May 13th, Disarmament and Security Centre staff attended the opening of the portrait photography exhibition – Operation Grapple: We Were There at Canterbury Museum, Christchurch. This exhibition has been travelling the country and Ōtautahi is its latest stop. Operation Grapple: We Were There tells the stories of New Zealand naval officers exposed to radiation from nuclear weapons testing.

Photo Credit: Denise Baynham. Source: Denise Baynham.

Photographer Denise Baynham has captured portraits of New Zealander naval officers who in 1957 and 1958 took part in Great Britain’s Operation Grapple at the request of the New Zealand Government. They were to observe and monitor nuclear weapons testing near Kiritimati (Christmas Island) in the Pacific. Operation Grapple exposed these men to the life-changing dangers of gamma radiation. The sailors were provided with woefully inadequate and flimsy protective antiflash gear (pictured below) and were not informed of the danger they were being placed in.

“Antiflash gear issued to the crew of HMNZS Rotoiti, Operation Grapple 1957” Photo by Lt. Cdr. Julian Howard. Source: Steve Knight/Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Many of those who took part in Operation Grapple died young and many more experienced illness, DNA damage and intergenerational health effects from these tests. During the exhibition’s opening night and connected events, speakers shared that these sailors’ efforts for the New Zealand and British governments have not yet been fully recognised. The lifelong and intergenerational damage from nuclear radiation is another reminder of the devastating impact of nuclear weapons and the need for their elimination.

Operation Grapple: We Were There is showing until October 16 at Canterbury Museum. We highly recommend a visit.

“Operation Grapple 300 kiloton H Bomb Test 1”. Photo Credit: Lt. Cdr. Julian Howard. Source: Steve Knight/Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.
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