Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Recognition 70 years in the making

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He was only 19 when he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

Thrust into the great unknown, he was subsequently given orders to participate in a top-secret mission known as Operation Totem where a pair of British atmospheric nuclear tests were conducted at Emu Field in South Australia in October 1953.

He recalls feeling a flash from the top of his head to the souls of his feet, and a burning heat unlike any other.

When his sergeant gave him permission to turn around and look, he did, and he saw it, a rising orange fireball three miles away.

And then, without warning, the blast hit him, knocking him off his feet.

Now aged 91 and living at Whiddon Grafton, lifelong Clarence Valley resident Samuel Darke was finally recognised for his contributions during his country’s war history on April 24 when Member for Clarence Richie Williamson presented him with the Nuclear Test Medal, only made available to recipients by the British Government in 2022, almost 70 years after the events took place in the Australian desert.

Previously awarded the Service to Australia Medal through the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) and the Australian Nuclear Test Medal, Mr Darke’s son Dennis Darke applied for his most recent accolade on his behalf, describing it as a fitting tribute which has been a long time coming.

“It was quite emotional,” he said as he watched his father receive the medal from Mr Williamson, who described him as “a hero”.

“It means so much to Dad, and our family, and we feel incredibly proud.

“It’s a big story, and its one that should be told.”

Mr Darke said his father did not know he was going on a secret mission in the 1950s and did not open up about his experiences to anyone, including his family, until years later.

“It wasn’t until two years ago we became aware of the fact the British Government were issuing the Nuclear Test Medal, after 70 odd years, and I applied on Dad’s behalf to enable him to finally receive the recognition he so rightly deserves,” he explained.

Last week, as he humbly reflected on his most recent accolade, proudly pinned alongside his other medals above his left breast pocket, Mr Darke said he remembers getting knocked off his feet during the explosion when Totem 1 was detonated, later adding he was “too bloody close” to the action.

During Operation Totem, Mr Darke’s role was to transport scientists to and from the detonation site.

He declined the opportunity to participate in a second detonation, called Totem 2, declaring “once was enough.”

Mr Darke was discharged from the RAAF in 1954 and returned home to the Clarence Valley.

Joining Mr Darke at the presentation ceremony last month was his wife of 66 years Elizabeth, affectionately known as Betty, who also resides at Whiddon Grafton, and members of their extended family. 

Clarence Valley Independent 8 May 2024

This article appeared in the Clarence Valley Independent, 8 May 2024.

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