A Portaferry resident with a remarkable RAF service history that was recognised by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II, is now being honoured by a third monarch, King Charles III. 

Bernard Jenkins (who is known as Barney) is to receive the newly created King’s Nuclear Test Medal in honour of his special contribution to the UK’s nuclear test trials in the late 1950s and early 1960s. 

Mr Jenkins, who will be 98 in April, now lives in a care home but received his medal in the post this week from the Ministry of Defence, though a special presentation may be in the offing. 

His son David, who lives in Holywood, is delighted that his father has been recognised in this way, quite possibly as the oldest recipient of the medal. 

“My father has never been one to blow his own trumpet but he also received a commendation from King George VI, the present King’s grandfather, for services in the air, and he was given an OBE for special services to the RAF by Queen Elizabeth, and now he is being honoured by King Charles. 

“I am waiting to hear if the Royal Air Force or someone of that nature wants to attend to present the medal,” says David. 

Though born in Mumbles, Wales, Mr Jenkins has lived in Northern Ireland since being posted here when he joined the RAF in 1944 as an officer, serving at RAF Aldergrove and then Ballykelly. 

He met his late wife Margaret (née Kirk) at that time and they settled in her home town of Dundonald where they raised their two children. 

Mr Jenkins later lived in Groomsport before moving into a nursing home in Portaferry. 

A graduate of Oxford University he initially flew gliders before being offered a position as a navigator in the RAF. 

It was in this capacity that in 1957 Mr Jenkins was posted to Maralinga in Australia as operations manager when the UK started nuclear testing in Australia (and also, the same year, in the Pacific). 

Explains David: “My dad was the RAF officer in charge of the operations of all the jets that did the testing and bombing runs. At the time he would have been what they called a Flying Officer. 

“As I understand, all of these details were contained in a [test series] that the Ministry of Defence called Operation Antler and that was classified until about 15 years ago. 

“When all of it became declassified the Ministry of Defence started looking at commemorating these efforts to basically develop a nuclear bomb. 

“Then last year King Charles gave approval for the medal to be struck and the Ministry of Defence put out a call saying, ‘if you know anybody who’s a survivor of this get in contact’, so I gave them the details about my dad. 

“They’ve gone through all the checks and confirmed obviously that my dad was there and quite involved with it. 

“Then I got a notification from the Ministry of Defence to say that they had decided to award the medal to my father.” 

David says some of those involved in the nuclear testing will receive the award posthumously, his father being one of the few people from that time who is still alive.  

He adds: “I told my dad on Friday that he was going to be awarded the medal and immediately he was able to tell me all about the operations that went on at Maralinga. 

“He was able to tell me the jet bombers that were involved because he also used to fly the jet bombers that were used to deliver the nuclear weapon. 

“He asked if he was the only one and I said, ‘No dad there are others but because this happened in 1957, there are not many left and certainly none that would have been present at the dropping of the bomb’. Or rather it wasn’t dropped, it was actually put in a tower and exploded.” 

He continues: “As the operations officer he would have coordinated where the aircraft will have been because it was all filmed.  

“He’s not a scientist, he’s not an Oppenheimer, he was a young serving officer who was brought out from the UK to oversee these tests, which ultimately led to the UK becoming a nuclear force.” 

David describes his dad as ‘very well spoken and a gentleman’, adding: “He rose through the ranks and retired 30 years ago as a Wing Commander with an OBE from the Queen. 

“My father has had an incredibly interesting career. When I chat to him and see his log books I believe he was the first human being to see Sputnik One in orbit with his naked eye. 

“Sputnik One was the first satellite that the Russians put up in 1961 but the first human being to see a man-made object in space was actually my dad.  

“What he has done is unbelievable, but my father is a humble man and he regarded what he did as simply serving his King and his Queen, he is not looking for an accolade.”