Author Topic: JANE WALKER; Journalist who broke story of US hydrogen bomb drop in Palomares  (Read 3858 times)


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This a report from the Irish Times

The Journalist who broke story of US hydrogen bomb drop in Spain

JANE WALKER witnessed and reported on the pivotal events of recent Spanish history, from the long and often bloody agony of Gen Franco?s dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s to today?s fractious and troubled democracy.

Only for the most recent and acute phase of Spain?s current economic crisis has her reporting voice been silenced, since it coincided with her six-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She bore the illness with a stoic courage that was typical of her character, until her death on August 3rd.

Her professional life as a journalist linked her to the stuff of newspaper legend. Her early career at the Guardian ?s Madrid office brought her into contact with the doyen of Spanish correspondents for decades, that paper?s brilliant and charismatic representative in the city, Bill Cemlyn-Jones, whom she later married.

She was always characteristically modest about her own role in covering dramatic happenings alongside the more flamboyant Cemlyn-Jones. But it was she who broke a story which both the US government and Spain?s ageing dictator wanted silenced, and which drew attention to the ever-present threat of nuclear disaster posed by cold war military exercises.

In January 1966 an American B-52 bomber collided with a refuelling aircraft over Palomares, Almer?a, scattering four hydrogen bombs over the area. The crash was obviously public knowledge, but the deadly cargo, though suspected, was hushed up.

Scouring the countryside around Palomares, Walker happened to pick a tomato; an American soldier inadvertently confirmed the nuclear rumours by warning her not to eat it because it was ?hot?. The bombs were all found (one after months in the sea) and decommissioned but the persistent radioactivity of the soil around the town remains controversial even today.

Her contribution to revealing the truth was remembered warmly in a local paper, La Voz de Almer?a , earlier this week.

Her professional life with Cemlyn-Jones was particularly dramatic towards the end of the dictatorship. Their stylish apartment ? the paintings included a fine work by Jack B Yeats ? was the scene of many interviews with leaders of the underground democratic opposition. These included a groundbreaking BBC encounter with the Communist Party leader, Santiago Carrillo, who arrived disguised in a rather ridiculous wig.

Walker was the kind of well-informed, sceptical and conscientious reporter who is the backbone of all good journalism, a contribution that was further recognised when Time Magazine made her their Madrid stringer some 20 years ago. She became a go-to person for visiting TV crews, and assisted on a number of BBC documentaries and features. She reported regularly for The Irish Times from the late 1990s, and also wrote reports and features for numerous other outlets.

As she became a veteran of the Spanish scene, many newer correspondents sought her advice, with which she was always most generous. Her generosity was not limited to contacts and information, since she was also a most accomplished hostess and cook.

It is ironic that her most memorable political report was associated with a tomato, because it is probably fair to say she prized her expertise on Spanish cuisine as much as her knowledge of public affairs. She collaborated on the wine and cuisine sections of several Spanish tourism books and magazines.

Her dinners were always memorable, not only for the superb food but also for the brilliant and convivial company, which often included Irish diplomats and distinguished visitors to the city.

But she was never impressed by the idea of running a salon for its own sake. It was people who interested her, whatever their role in life, and she bestowed attention and kindness without distinction on all her visitors.

Her family and wide circle of friends will remember her, above all, for her lovely smile and her great-hearted affections. Her marriage was childless, but her relationship to her husband?s five children by a former marriage was as loving and caring as any mother?s. She was also devoted to her sister, her nieces and their children.

Cemlyn-Jones died in 1986. Walker subsequently met John Donnellan, from Omagh, Co Tyrone, with whom she had a very happy relationship until his untimely death.

She was born in Congleton in Cheshire, England, and grew up in Staffordshire, where her father was an orthopaedic surgeon. She is survived by her sister Ellie, her nieces Katie and Zo?, her grandnephews Jack and Aidan, and her grandniece Ciara; and by David, Mele, Oonagh and Morys Cemlyn-Jones.

Jane Walker: born January 16th, 1942; died August 3rd, 2011

John and Maureen Berry

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Well spotted Tony, an interesting and informative piece.
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