A veteran has described the dramatic moment he witnessed a nuclear bomb blast, after being awarded a medal at a surprise ceremony.

Former Royal Signals Sergeant Ron Starling 88, was moved to tears when he was presented a medal for his service on Operation Grapple at Christmas Island in 1956.

Mr Starling, who lives in Hardwick, in Stockton, thought he was visiting The Bishop Auckland Veterans Group to have a chat to a few fellow veterans about his time on the island.

But he was greeted on his arrival with cheers and applause by a huge turnout of people who came to see him being awarded with the Nuclear Test Medal and a Veteran's Badge.

Lieutenant Colonel John Henry REME, who is based at The Ministry of Defence in London and is a resident of Durham City, was on hand to perform the honours. The Northern Echo: Ron Starling was moved to tears by the award Ron Starling was moved to tears by the award (Image: KEITH TAYLOR)

Lt Col. Henry said: "It was a great honour for me to be asked by the Veterans' Group to make this presentation in recognition of his remarkable service.”

Mr Starling said the presentation was sprung on him as a complete surprise.

He said: "I was totally amazed the whole thing brought tears to my eyes, I’ve never seen as many ex military personnel in one room together. I’ve had a great memorable day. It was absolutely amazing “.

As a 20-year-old soldier at the time of the tests was not called up for National Service but decided to volunteer for nine years service in the army “ because the pay was better”.The Northern Echo: One of the blasts during Operation Grapple One of the blasts during Operation Grapple (Image: KEITH TAYLOR)

At the time of Operation Grapple Mr Starling was a telephone operator and was in a building away from a viewing platform many other servicemen were gathered. 

He said: "On the day I was listening to the aeroplane. I could hear it flying around. I heard the crew saying 'bomb away' and later heard a big bang.

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"The blast, when it came, broke several windows and blew all the telephone handsets of the telephones at the same time.

"I went outside because I had to turn the radio transmitter off. I couldn't see a mushroom cloud - like you see in photographs - because I was right beneath it.

"It was just big white cloud fluffy big cloud above me. It was 68 years ago, but I can still remember it clearly."

The Northern Echo: Ron Starling is presented with his Nuclear Test Medal by Lt Col John Henry surrounded by fellow