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Medallic recognition for nuclear test veterans

18 March 2002 Media Statement

Medallic recognition for nuclear test veterans

New Zealand personnel who witnessed nuclear tests in the 1950s and 1970s will be eligible for a new medal, the Prime Minister Helen Clark and Veterans' Affairs Minister Mark Burton announced today.

"The Queen has agreed to the institution of the New Zealand Special Service Medal," Helen Clark said.

The medal will recognise service to New Zealand in very difficult, adverse, extreme, or hazardous circumstances. Such service often involves risk (whether physical, environmental, or psychological) similar to operational service, without fitting the criteria of operational service.

It is intended that the medal be initially awarded to New Zealand Service personnel and civilians who formed part of an official New Zealand presence at an atmospheric nuclear test. This includes attendance at British nuclear tests in the Pacific and Australia in 1956-58, American tests in 1957-58, and French testing at Mururoa Atoll in 1973. Approximately 1100 people will qualify for the award.

"The award of this medal to nuclear test veterans will help resolve a long-held medallic grievance, by providing them with tangible recognition of their service to New Zealand," Helen Clark said.

The medal will also be available to the families of eligible personnel who are deceased.

The institution of this medal follows the government announcement in June last year of the institution of the New Zealand Operational Service Medal and other awards, to resolve medallic grievances stretching back to 1945.

"It is estimated that up to 50,000 New Zealanders could be eligible to receive the NZOSM," Mark Burton said, "which is recognition of service in the many campaigns and operations that New Zealand forces have been sent to over the past 57 years.

"A number of operations that have not previously been acknowledged by the award of any medal are being recognised by the Operational Service Medal. One example is the New Zealanders who participated in the 1948-49 Berlin Airlift."

Mark Burton called on all veterans who believe they are eligible, to apply to the New Zealand Defence Force for their NZOSM.

Full details of the qualifying service for the New Zealand Operational Service Medal and the New Zealand Special Service Medal, and details of the medals themselves, are summarised below.

New Zealand Special Service Medal (NZSSM)


The first award of the New Zealand Special Service Medal is to personnel who were sent by the New Zealand Government to observe atmospheric nuclear tests.

For the 1957-58 British tests, named Operation Grapple, at Christmas Island in the central Pacific, New Zealand provided two frigates to act as weather-observation ships. HMNZ Ships Rotoiti and Pukaki were deployed to Christmas Island in March 1957 and were present for the first test at nearby Malden Island in May 1957. The second test followed on 31 May and the final test for 1957 on 19 June. After returning to Auckland, Rotoiti and Pukaki were made available for an extra weapons test in November. More tests were conducted in 1958, with Pukaki being deployed to observe tests in April and again in August and September.

New Zealand also sent observers to other British nuclear tests in Australia in 1956 and 1957. The United States also invited observers to weapons tests, and New Zealand personnel attended tests in Nevada in 1957 and at Eniwetok Atoll in 1958.

Later attendance by New Zealand personnel at atmospheric nuclear tests was of a somewhat different character. To demonstrate its opposition to French nuclear testing, the New Zealand Government sent the frigate HMNZS Otago to Mururoa Atoll in 1973. Otago was off Mururoa when a test was detonated on 22 July. HMNZS Canterbury followed Otago in this duty, and was present for a further test on 28 July. Although France continued nuclear tests at Mururoa, subsequent tests were underground.


The Special Service Medal is gold plated and bears on the obverse the New Zealand Coat of Arms and on the reverse a representation of a bouquet of New Zealand flora, composed of fern fronds and sprigs of blossom of Pohutukawa, Manuka, Kowhai and Mt Cook Lilies, with a scroll below inscribed “FOR SPECIAL SERVICE”. The medal is suspended from a ribbon with an orange-yellow centre with crimson, red, white, and black stripes on either side. The Herald of Arms, Mr Philip O’Shea, designed the medal.

New Zealand Operational Service Medal (NZOSM)


The Operational Service Medal is awarded to all personnel who have received one or more of the following campaign medals for service in the New Zealand Armed Forces:
New Zealand Service Medal 1946-1949
Korea Medal
General Service Medal (1918) with clasps: Malaya
Naval General Service Medal with clasps: Minesweeping 1945-51
Near East
General Service Medal (1962) with clasps: Brunei
Malay Peninsula
Vietnam Medal
Rhodesia Medal
New Zealand General Service Medal
East Timor Medal
United Nations Medal (where accepted for wearing by New Zealanders)

Personnel who have not qualified for any campaign medal may be awarded the Operational Service Medal In some circumstances. Any person who has accumulated seven days’ service towards any of the campaign medals will be eligible. Personnel who served during the 1948-49 Berlin airlift are also eligible.

The Herald of Arms, Mr Philip O’Shea, designed the Operational Service Medal after consultation with veterans’ groups. The medal is silver plated with the New Zealand Coat of Arms on the obverse and a Kiwi, facing to the right, with below a wavy line with the inscription “For Operational Service”. The medal is suspended from a black and white ribbon.

Veterans who consider they are eligible for either of the medals should write to:

Staff Officer Medals
Headquarters New Zealand Defence Force
Private Bag 905

Veterans should supply as much of the following details as possible:

Service Number
Service: RNZN, NZ Army, RNZAF or name of other organisation
Full forename(s) and surname
Name of medal being applied for
Details of service that supports the claim.


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