1954 – Rationing, Atomic Bombs and the Bikini

I was born on Tuesday 15th June 1954 on the same day as the actor James Belushi and also on that day the Union of European Football, or EUFA, was founded with its headquarters in Switzerland.  I’ve never particularly liked James Belushi but I have always been rather fond of football.

This seems almost unreal but it was only in 1954 that war time rationing was officially ended.  It began in January 1940 when bacon, butter and sugar were rationed and this was followed soon after by meat, tea, jam, biscuits, breakfast cereals, cheese, eggs, milk and canned fruit.  As the Second-World-War progressed, most kinds of food came to be rationed along with clothing and petrol.  My parents were issued with a ration card for me but never had to use it because it all stopped three weeks after I was born. 

The last food item to be released from the shackles of rationing was bananas which for me is quite a significant fact.  Dad loved bananas and I could never quite understand why but I suppose he was only twenty-two in 1954 and hadn’t had the pleasure for fifteen years and in fact it is quite possible I suppose that he had never had a banana before in his life.   He liked all sorts of strange banana combinations, weirdest of all being banana sandwiches on brown bread with sugar, but he was also very fond of chopped bananas with custard.  Personally I’ve never been that keen on bananas but this rationing fact explains a lot about my dad’s unusual dietary preferences.  Once a week we all had to have bananas for a pudding until one day when I was about fifteen I could take it no longer and I refused to eat them.  It was the only time I can remember him getting really upset with me but I stood my ground and after he had severely chastised me I think he ate them up for me.

Another interesting fact is that it was only in 1954 that Germany and Finland finally made peace and declared the end of the war.  I find that amazing, the Second-World-War was still going on during my lifetime!  OK there were no hostilities or gun-fire but I still find that a chilling fact.

Also in 1954 the United States began serious nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean on the island of Bikini Atoll and they carried out the detonation of a massive bomb codenamed Castle Bravo, which was the first test of a practical hydrogen bomb and the largest nuclear explosion ever set off by the United States.  In fact, a bit like a ten year old with a box of fireworks, they really had little idea what they were doing and when it was detonated it proved much more powerful than predicted, and created widespread radioactive contamination which has prevented people from ever returning to the island.

With a yield of fifteen Megatons, Castle Bravo was the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by the United States . That yield, far exceeding the expected yield of four to six megatons, combined with other factors, led to the most significant accidental radiological contamination ever caused by the United States. In terms of TNT tonnage equivalence, Castle Bravo was about 1,200 times more powerful than each of the atomic bombs which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

This event was important for two reasons, firstly it signified the state of tension in the world called the cold war that was around for the next thirty years or so but secondly and much more importantly it inspired the introduction of the bikini swimsuit and I’ve always been grateful for that.  According to the official version a French engineer called Louis Réard and the fashion designer Jacques Heim invented the swimsuit that was a little more than a provocative brassiere front with a tiny g-string back.  It was allegedly named after Bikini Atoll, the site of nuclear weapon tests on the reasoning that the burst of excitement it would cause on the beach or at the lido would be like a nuclear explosion.  Plenty of fallout and very hot!

Nuclear testing was a big thing in the 1950s as the US and the USSR prepared enthusiastically for wiping each other of the face of the earth.  The fact that a major explosion even on the side of the world might have serious consequences for both sides and everyone else in between just didn’t seem to occur to them.  Years later I visited the US and although I didn’t know this at the time travelled along a road in Nevada that was only a hundred kilometres or so southwest of the Nevada Test Site that is a United States Department of Energy reservation which was established in January 1951 for the testing of nuclear weapons.  The location is infamous for receiving the highest amount of concentrated nuclear detonated weapons in North America.

The Nevada Test Site was the primary testing location of American nuclear devices during the Cold War and began here with a one kiloton bomb on January 27, 1951.  From then until 1992, there were nine hundred and twenty eight announced nuclear tests at the site, which is far more than at any other test site in the World, and seismic data has indicated there may have been many unannounced underground tests as well.  During the 1950s the familiar deadly mushroom cloud from these tests could be seen for almost a hundred miles in either direction, including the city of Las Vegas, where the tests instantly became tourist attractions as Americans headed for the City to witness the spectacle that could be seen from the downtown hotels.  Even more recklessly many others would thoughtlessly drive the family to the boundary of the test site for a day out and a picnic to view the free entertainment.  In doing so they unsuspectingly acquired an instant suntan and their own personal lethal dose of radioactive iodine 131, which the American National Cancer Institute, in a report released in 1997, estimated was responsible for thousands of cases of thyroid cancer in subsequent years.

Continuing the nuclear theme, the world’s first atomic power station was opened near Moscow in Russia and knowing now how careless the Russians were with anything nuclear this was probably something that world needed to worry about.  Just look what happened at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine in 1986 when a reactor accident at a nuclear power plant resulted in the worst nuclear power plant accident in history and the only incident ever to record level seven on the International Nuclear Event Scale (and on a scale of zero to seven, believe me, that’s pretty serious!) resulting in a severe nuclear meltdown and sending a plume of highly radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area to the extent that it remains uninhabitable today and for many more years to come as well. 

Mind you, we British could also arrange a nasty little nuclear disaster and on 10th  October 1957 the graphite core of a nuclear reactor at Windscale in Cumberland caught fire, releasing substantial amounts of radioactive contamination into the surrounding area. The event, known as the Windscale fire, was considered the world’s worst reactor accident until Three Mile Island in 1979 before both incidents were dwarfed by the Chernobyl disaster.

 Here are the results of the Cold War: USA 1 (Bikini Atoll) – USSR 1 (Chernobyl) two own goals by the way!

Thinking about news coverage, which is what has stimulated these thoughts in the first place, it is significant that the very first television news first bulletin was shown in 1954 on BBC TV, which is obvious of course because there was no ITV until 1955, and presented by Richard Baker, who was also by coincidence born on 15th June.  He was required to give off screen narration while still pictures were put in front of the camera, this was because, and I really find this hard to believe, television producers were concerned that a newsreader with facial movements would distract the viewer from the story. On screen newsreaders were only introduced a year later, in 1955, and Kenneth Kendall was the first to appear on screen.

Visit this web site to see what else was going on in 1954 – I think you will find it amusing:

http://vintagescans.blogspot.com/search/label/1954

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2 responses to “1954 – Rationing, Atomic Bombs and the Bikini

  1. Really decent post… I love it. Keep ‘em coming… :)

  2. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great. I don’t know who you are but certainly you are going to a famous blogger if you are not already ;) Cheers!

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