Harold Geoff Beestin

In March 2022, I received an email from Dr. Rosie Hancock-Child asking about the photo below and Harold Geoff Beestin who was a radio operator on HMS Gambia's 1955/56 commission.

HMS Gambia's radio room. Harold Geoff Beestin is the second left.

Leading Telegraphist John "Jock" Aire on left front, Ordinary Telegraphist Harold Geoff Beestin, Telegraphist G. "Jock" Redpath. Front right, holding the phone is the leading hand of the watch, who is anonymous, looking at the back of the head of Ordinary Telegraphist Nev Blockley.

Cricket team. Trincomalee, January 1956. Image from Rosie Hancock-Child. The batsman with the pads is Harold Geoff Beestin. 'Beheading the menace!' After cricket fun! Trincomalee, January 1956. Image from Amanda Dalton, the daughter of John Aire who was also on the team.

Rosie wrote that Geoff as he was known is her partner's father. Rosie wrote that "2 years later he was placed on Christmas Island to watch those horrific nuclear tests, and his health was damaged and his future wrecked. We know he was actually on Christmas Island because of information in The Communicator Magazine."

Geoff was born on April 12, 1938 at Garforth, Yorkshire. He was the youngest son of Harold Beestoin (1902 - 1985) and Harold's 3rd wife Phyllis Poole. Both the Beestins and the Pooles were mining families who, in the 19th century, moved from Shropshire to Yorkshire for work. It is thought that Geoff joined the Royal Navy in his mid-teenage years and very probably trained at land base HMS Mercury in Hampshire. He was definitely serving on the ship HMS Gambia 1955/56.

It is thought that he then volunteered to be posted by the Navy to Christmas Island (Kiritimati) in the Pacific for a year 1957/58, however he would have had no idea of the intended nuclear tests. As he was present on Christmas Island, he was obliged to witness the British H-bomb tests of Operation Grapple, without being offered any protection. After sailing back to the UK, Geoff was probably deployed on land, in London.

He got married in 1964, aged 26. Like many people present at the nuclear tests in the Pacific, Geoff suffered from long-term ill health exacerbated by the extravagant spraying on Christmas Island of DDT. This blighted his life and caused estrangement from his family. He lived alone thereafter, struggling to cope. He used to sit on his back step wearing a huge pair of sunglasses, because his eyes had been damaged while in the Navy. He wasn't able to pursue a normal life or career, or use his natural skills, and he worked for a time in Leeds as a bus conductor. Very sadly, the family believe he chose to end his own life in October 1997.

Geoff Beestin in 1964 and 1965

Geoff Beestin in 1964 and 1965

Geoff is kindly remembered by neighbours and friends in Yorkshire, who say they called him "Christmas Island Harold" because he always said "I was on Christmas Island you know", as if in defence of his damaged health. However was a "very intelligent man", a fine mathematician, and an accomplished pianist. Also, it seems he loved his cricket!

British Nuclear Test Veterans Association (BNTVA)
THE DAMNED: The human fallout of Britain’s nuclear bombs