Nuclear Community Remembrance Virtual Museum Project

The Bernard Wolfe Gallery

In 2017 David Coppin, adoptive son of Bernard Wolfe brought a remarkable collection of photographs from the nuclear tests to the nuclear veterans conference at Gateshead. The collection, which David is now the custodian of, features both formal images of the tests and more candid pictures of personnel and scientists relaxing.

Within this gallery, we present a series of photographs from Operation Buffalo a series of four ‘shots’ carried out in Australia in 1956. are indebted to Mr Coppin for sharing these remarkable images with our visitors.

David talks about Bernard…

Here is a selection of Bernard Wolfes photographs taken at the “Operation Buffalo” series of British nuclear tests (four shots) in Australia in 1956. They have come to me as the adoptive son of Bernard who appointed me as the sole executor and beneficiary of his estate.

Needless to say, it was quite a surprise after his death in 2012 when I started going through his possessions to find this photographic record of the British testing of nuclear weapons – A-Bombs – in the Australian outback, when he was working for the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston. I’d always been aware that his work had taken him to Australia but I hadn’t realised that he’d documented where he’d been. There are, however, no photographs of the nuclear bombs exploding!

The photographs were all taken on square glass colour slides.  Most of the photographs in the collection were just ordinary touristy photographs taken around various Australian cities that he was able, or required to visit, during the 6 months that he was out in Australia.   There’s also a significant number of photographs of the airports that he flew from, of the planes he flew in, and of the places that were stops on the long journey to and from Australia, such as Singapore.

But as well as these travel photographs which could have been taken by anyone, a handful of the slides in the collection, were taken by Bernard at the Maralinga base, which was back then in 1956 a very top secret location totally off limits to the general public.  Moreover, his photographs feature some of the personnel involved in the tests, including such senior scientific staff as Sir William Penney.

These are undoubtedly rare photographs because the bulk of the personnel involved in the tests – both the civilian scientists and the military support staff – were not allowed to take cameras onto the test site.   I believe the reason why Bernard was the exception to the rule, was that he had a management role in the official recording of the tests by Aldermaston photographers and also liaison role with the local and international press, and thus he could justify having a camera with him.

Although the photographs are rare there’s plenty of information out there on the web, and in various books, on these particular nuclear tests.  Obviously, as mere Atomic Bomb tests, they have tended to have been overshadowed by the perhaps bigger drama of the testing of the massive H Bomb tests on Christmas Island, which took place just a year later.

David Coppin 2018

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Museum proudly maintained by  BH Associates on behalf of the NCCF and the British Nuclear Community

The NCCF Remembrance project is funded by the AVF using monies made available by the Chancellor from the LIBOR Fines