Video blog – Michael Johnston previews ‘H-Bombs & Hula Girls’, his new book

Set for publication in April 2017, Michael previews this account – by himself and fellow shipmates – of the aircraft carrier HMS Warrior‘s participation in Operation Grapple, Britain’s first successful thermonuclear bomb tests in the Pacific in 1957, and the goodwill voyage in the Pacific and to South America which followed. (The text of this vlog is below.)

Hello and welcome to this book preview.

How many of you have been within 25 miles of a thermonuclear explosion – and not just one but three of them – and lived to tell the tale? H-Bombs and Hula Girls is the true story of a small group of men who have done just that. I’m one of them but the book’s not just mine.  It’s rich with all kinds of personal, first hand and contemporary accounts and illustrations from all the members of the group.

The story starts sixty years ago. Now getting into our 80s, we were among the last young men to do National Service.  In our case in the Royal Navy.  Firm friends ever since, we meet again this May to mark both the 60th anniversary of our country’s entry into the world’s thermonuclear club and the publication of our story, H-Bombs and Hula Girls.

With a foreword by Prince Philip, who approves our decision to give all royalties to Navy charities, it has also earned praise from a former Secretary General of NATO, “An invaluable and unique account of a pivotal moment in Britain’s history (he says).  Frightening and jolly in equal measure” and from a former First Sea Lord, “A vivid and immensely readable account of the critical testing of Britain’s first H-Bomb…highly entertaining. As good a view of life at sea as junior officers as one could wish for. Their sharp [observation] and sense of fun shine through.”

But we were a lot more than just observers and small boat kings. The book recounts in some detail the serious work we did to help prove to the world’s fishing fleets that Britain’s tests were not making their fishing grounds radioactive.

“But,” I hear you asking, “Where do the Hula Girls come in?”  While the book offers a serious historical account of the nuclear science and politics and a picture of Britain’s place in a 1950s world; it also tells of some stirring adventures in the ship in which we all served, both en route to and on the way home from the remote Pacific Ocean location where the H-Bomb tests took place. Our ship was HMS Warrior, one of several British aircraft carriers – in the days when the Navy actually had several aircraft carriers!  Visits were made to Hawaii, home of the Hula, long before the era of mass tourism, but also to other and even more exotic far-away islands including Rarotonga, and Pitcairn of HMS Bounty fame.

Then there followed a succession of memorable flag-showing visits all around South America by the first British capital ship to go there since World War II.

The stories in the latter part of the book range from parts of Peru to which you wouldn’t want to take your mother, to the pomp and splendour of an embassy ball in Rio de Janeiro, and from watching albatrosses soaring majestically in our wake in the Straits of Magellan to horseback shooting of wild boar in Argentina.  Two of us were actually sunk off the Falklands – a story in itself. Our ship then sailed directly from Port Stanley to Puerto Belgrano, and all unaware of future conflict, actually moored alongside the Argentine Navy’s flagship, General Belgrano.

H-Bombs and Hula Girls can be ordered now from bookshops and on line.  Buy and enjoy yours now, and support naval charities.  Thanks for viewing this and happy reading.

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