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Items from The News, Navy News and Warship World are reproduced by kind permission of David Brown, Sarah Fletcher and Steve Bush respectively.  Click on the thumbnails to enlarge them.


Have you ordered your miniature of the Vernon Monument yet?  It is being sold in a variety of sizes, finishes and prices to raise funds for the planned sculpture at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth to celebrate the Minewarfare & Diving heritage of HMS Vernon which previously stood on the site.  'Project Vernon' is officially supported by Portsmouth City Council, Gunwharf Quays, the MCDOA, AORNFCD, MWA, RNCDA and the TCA.  Click here for details.

ATTENTION ALL MCDOA MEMBERS!

 

Dave Stanbury, our new Honorary Secretary, is attempting to update the MCDOA's somewhat obsolete membership database with valid contact details.  To achieve this aim, ALL MEMBERS are requested to download, complete and return the form below which is also available via the Membership section of the website.  Note that the option remains to have your information excluded from the database i.a.w. the Data Protection Act if you choose.

 

MCDOA Joining Details Form (Word document)

 

Another cause for concern is that several MCDOA members still haven't amended their Standing Orders to reflect the increase of annual subscription from £10 to £15 (it changed on 1 Jan 2011) and Dave would like to notify recalcitrants.  This does not apply to members aged 75 or over or who qualified more than 50 years ago for whom subscriptions are waived (although the Association appreciates any continuing payment whatever the amount).

 

Your urgent attention and cooperation are requested.

 


1 May 15

 

Brighton bomb scare teenager cautioned

 

The Brighton Argus website contains this article describing how a 17-year-old youth has been handed a caution after entering a Brighton station with a rucksack full of chemicals.  Members of Portsmouth-based Southern Diving Unit 2 (SDU2) were called to the incident when it occurred on Friday 13 March.

 

 


Story of the 'Blackfriars Bomb' added to website's Dit Box

 

MCDOA member Colin Churcher MBE has kindly sent me a short personal account of his disposal of the German Second World War bomb discovered under London's Blackfriars Bridge on the River Thames in February 1968.

 

 

Colin's story, titled 'The Blackfriars Bomb', has now been added to the website's Dit Box.

 


30 Apr 15

 

NDG advises on beached exercise mine

 

The BBC News website contains this article following yesterday's discovery of an exercise moored mine on the beach at Ardrossan in the Firth of Clyde.  It was due to be collected by members of Faslane-based Northern Diving Group (NDG).

 

 


SDU1 attends hoax device incident in Exeter

 

As this article on the BBC News website indicates, the incident reported yesterday and attended by members of Plymouth-based Southern Diving Unit 1 (SDU1) involved a hoax device discovered in a garden in Bramley Avenue, Exeter.  The device transpired to be "not viable and not dangerous".

 

 


29 Apr 15 - SDU1 called to incident in Exeter

 

The Torquay Herald Express website contains this article describing an incident yesterday evening when members of Plymouth-based Southern Diving Unit 1 (SDU1) were called to investigate a "suspicious item" at the rear of a property in an Exeter street. 

 


28 Apr 15

 

HMS Pembroke returns to Faslane

 

The Royal Navy website contains this article announcing the return of HMS Pembroke (MCM1 Crew ?) to Faslane last Thursday after her four-month deployment with Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 (SNMCMG1).

 

HMS Pembroke returning to Faslane last Thursday

(RN website photo)

 


RN Diving Heritage: The Diving Magazine

 

 

I am experimenting with converting issues of the RN Diving Magazine, published in HMS Vernon between 1951 and 1970, into pdf files.  Here is Vol.1 No.2, the second issue ever published:

 

RN Diving Magazine: Vol I No 2 (October - December 1951)

 

Also see the first and final issues of the magazine:

 

RN Diving Magazine: Vol I No 1 (July - September 1951)

 

RN Diving Magazine: Vol 16 No 3 (September - December 1970)

 

The files are large so download may take some time.

 


27 Apr 15 - Tasks undertaken by UK EOD/IED teams during the past three years

 

The Daily Mirror website contains this article revealing that, since 2012, UK EOD teams have undertaken 1,864 tasks involving reported improvised explosive devices (IEDs), of which 50% were false alarms, and 5,402 tasks involving Second World War explosives.

 

...A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: “Bomb disposal teams in the Armed Forces regularly put themselves in dangerous environments to protect the public.

 

“We have around 250 personnel, including three Royal Navy bomb disposal teams, on short notice standby to respond immediately to callouts across the UK 24/7.”...

 

Do not ask me why the Daily Mirror has chosen to illustrate its article with a photo of US forces training Ukrainian National Guardsmen.  My thanks to ex-CD Perry Mason for this link.

 


26 Apr 15 - ANZAC 100 commemorations in the Far East

 

Two MCDOA members helped mark ANZAC Day in the Far East yesterday.

 

Lt Cdr Bob Hawkins MBE RN represented the Royal Navy at the ANZAC 100 Dawn Service at Hellfire Pass followed by a Remembrance Service at Kanchanaburi Cemetery.  Both locations in Thailand are associated with the infamous Japanese 'Death Railway' linking Thailand with Burma.

 

Cdr Clive Coombes RNZN laying a wreath on behalf of the New Zealand

Defence Force at the Dawn Service at Hellfire Pass

 

The catafalque party departing at the end of the Dawn Service

at Hellfire Pass

 

 

Above and below: The British High Commission Defence representatives

Flt Sgt Tam McDonald RAF and Col Chris Luckham OBE PWRR with

Bob Hawkins before and after they changed for the

remembrance service at Kanchanaburi Cemetery

 

 

At Kanchanaburi Cemetery, Bob laid a wreath at the request of the UK's Defence Attaché in Thailand, Col Chris Luckham OBE PWRR, whose pre-amalgamation regiment was the Royal Hampshires.  The 2nd Bn Royal Hampshire Regiment landed 800 men at Gallipoli from SS River Clyde and only three of them returned.   Chris Luckham's wreath commemorates the poignant fact that out of 7,580 Royal Hampshires who perished in the Great War, 2,000 were lost at Gallipoli.

 

         

The wreath Bob Hawkins laid to commemorate the 7,580 officers and men of

the Royal Hampshire Regiment who fell in the Great War

 

At about the same time, Lt Cdr Dave Ince RAN (formerly RN) acted as Master of Ceremonies at a remembrance service in Tonga.

 

         

Dave Ince acting as Master of Ceremonies for the ANZAC 100 ceremony in Tonga

 

A photo montage of Dave Ince flanked by his sons Brent (left) and Luke (right),

both serving in the Australian Defence Force

 

In the photo montage above, Dave's elder son Brent is wearing his Afghanistan service medals and Australian Defence Medal (after four years' service) while his younger son Luke is wearing his Operational Service Medal for Operation Resolute (border protection).  Dave is wearing a mix of all the above plus his RN GSM (Op Harling and Gulf) and QE Jubilee medals on his left breast.  On his right breast, he is wearing the NI GSM and LS&GC medal his father earned during 33 years of service.

 


25 Apr 15 - SDU2 recovers "potentially explosive devices"

 

The Portsmouth News website contains this article describing a call-out last Tuesday for members of Portsmouth-based Southern Diving Unit 2 (SDU2) to deal with a rucksack containing hundreds of bullets and three wired devices wrapped in plastic.  The rucksack was in the garden shed of a house belonging to a Royal Marines veteran in Leigh Park near Portsmouth.

 


24 Apr 15 - Vernon Monument Fundraising Dinner on Friday 5 June

 

I am delighted to publish this announcement (see entry for 11 Apr 15):

 

 

The Trustees of The Vernon Monument Fund are pleased to announce their next major fundraising event.  All proceeds will go to Project Vernon towards the installation of the Vernon Monument in Gunwharf Quays:

 

 

Event: Vernon Monument Fundraising Dinner

 

Venue: The Royal Naval Club & Royal Albert Yacht Club (RNC-RAYC), 17 Pembroke Road, Portsmouth, Hampshire PO1 2NT (Opposite “The Pembroke” pub).

 

Date: Friday 5 June 2015

 

Time: 1900 to 2330

 

Dress: Black tie

 

Cost: £60 per head

 

Tickets are on sale on the Vernon Monument website via:

 

http://www.vernon-monument.org/shop/portsmouth-dinner-2015/

 

More details (e.g. menu and programme of events) are available on the Vernon Monument website via the link above.  Come along and make it a night to remember.

 

 

See you there.  Admittedly, you could eat cheaper at a Harvester but that wouldn't be nearly as salubrious, much less help the Vernon Monument reach fruition (or be as much fun ).

 


23 Apr 15

 

Death of French wartime agent and combat diver Bob Maloubier

 

The Daily Telegraph contains this obituary for Bob Maloubier MBE DSO, an extremely brave SOE agent during the Second World War and co-founder of the French SDECE (now DGSE) counter-intelligence service's combat diver unit in 1952 (see second entry for 5 Jun 14 in News Archive 46).  He died in Paris on 20 April aged 92.

 

Bob Maloubier flanked by MCDOA member & Historical Diving Society Chairman

Dr John Bevan and HDS Secretary Reg Vallintine at the annual HDS gathering

in the Queen's Hotel, Southsea in November 2010

 

Already a holder of the UK's DSO (Distinguished Service Order), Bob was invested as an Honorary MBE (Ordinary Member of the Honourable Order of the British Empire) by the Queen during her state visit to France last year for the 70th anniversary commemorations of the D-Day landings:

 

 

The Queen investing Bob Maloubier DSO as an Honorary MBE

at the British Embassy in Paris on 5 June 2014

 


May issue of Navy News

 

Next month's Navy News should prove interesting to our community if the front page is any indication:

 

HMS Brocklesby on front page of Navy News 

 


NDG called to incident in Dunoon

 

The Dunoon Observer & Argyllshire Standard website contains this article describing how members of Faslane-based Northern Diving Group (NDG) were called to an incident in the Castle Street area of Dunoon yesterday.

 

 


22 Apr 15 - New book featuring the history of HMS Vernon

 

         

 

Mrs Webmaster and I attended a reception last night to launch an impressive new book titled 'Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth' subtitled 'The history, architecture, conservation and development of a remarkable miltary site'.  The reception was held in the Aspex Gallery in Vulcan Building at Gunwharf Quays and I was grateful to be acknowledged by Michael Underwood, its author, as one of those involved in its research, particularly with regard to the site's existence as HMS Vernon.  Also present were MCDOA co-founding Chairman David Sandiford and Minewarfare Association (MWA) Chairman Dixie Dean MBE as well as the Mayor of Portsmouth and many other dignitaries plus representatives of Land Securities and Berkeley Homes who were responsible for the current site's development.  The book was available to purchase at the launch with, exceptionally, £2 per copy being donated to the Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC).

 

         

 

I believe this richly illustrated 192-page paperback does justice to the minewarfare & diving heritage of HMS Vernon during its 70-year occupation of what has been an important military and naval site in Portsmouth for over three centuries.  Priced £12.99, it will soon be available for purchase online from Waterstones here or via Amazon here.  Alternatively, it is available over the counter now from the Guest Relations Suite located in Central Square, Gunwharf Quays; see details here.

 


21 Apr 15

 

11th MCM Squadron reunion in Hull 13 & 14 June 2015

 

MCDOA committee member Martyn Holloway was the Senior Officer of the 11th MCM Squadron comprising five Hull trawlers (HM Ships Cordella, Farnella, Junella, Northella and Pict) taken up from trade, converted into minesweepers and sent south for the Falklands conflict.  Read their extraordinary story in 'The Forgotten Few of the Falklands' in the website's Dit Box.

 

I am grateful to Martyn for the following photos and announcement regarding a special reunion of 11th MCM Squadron personnel and their supporters in June: 

 

"Without these ships the reinforcement of 3 Commando Brigade in East Falkland in 1982 would have been delayed unacceptably.  These two ships and their three sisters cross-decked the 5,000 men of 5 Brigade and 1,200 tons of stores at South Georgia in 36 hours.  In the Falklands, they inserted and re-supplied Special Foces patrols, carried out a potentially dangerous 'guinea pig' influence task and, finally, cleared the sea minefields off Port Stanley using EDATS rigged as double oropesa.  

 

         

 

         

 

The ships may be gone but the men who manned them are getting together to talk about it.  Join them if you will in Kingston-upon-Hull 13/14 June 2015 (14 June is 'Falkland Islands Liberation Day').  Details may be found on the Mine Warfare Association's website or the 11th MCM Squadron's Facebook group page."

 


Bomb disposal team called to deactivate ‘bomb’ in garden of Bideford home

 

The North Devon Gazette website contains this article describing yesterday's removal of a bomb from the front garden of a Bideford home by "bomb disposal experts", possibly members of Plymouth-based Southern Diving Unit 1 (SDU1).  

 

 

 


20 Apr 15

 

David and Dorothy Bartlett celebrate their Diamond Wedding Anniversay

 

 

Warm congratulations to MCDOA member David Bartlett MBE and his wife Dorothy on the occasion of their 60th wedding anniversay.  Your humble webmaster and his wife were privileged to be invited to their surprise celebration party organised by their married children (Dawn, Andy and Dennis) in the clubhouse at Southwick Park Golf Course on Friday night and it was a hugely uplifting affair.  We had also attended their Golden wedding anniversary which was covered by the Portsmouth News in this article owing to David's auspicious naval career (see entry for 21 Apr 05 in News Archive 10).  This time, David and Dorothy received a congratulatory card from HM the Queen.

 

 

         

 

 

 


HMS Quorn departs Portsmouth to join SNMCMG1

 

The Royal Navy website contains this article announcing today's departure of HMS Quorn (MCM2 Crew 3) from Portsmouth to replace HMS Pembroke (MCM1 Crew ?) in Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 (SNMCMG1) at Glasgow.  She will then deploy with the force to the Baltic region for three months of exercises and Historic Ordnance Disposal off Northern Europe.

 

HMS Quorn departing Portsmouth today

(RN website photo)

 

Post script: On 21 April, the Navy News published this article covering the same event.

 


Mine Countermeasures, Survey and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) in Port Clearance and Amphibious Operations

 

The thought-provoking Think Defence website has published an interesting analysis of MCM and EOD in Port Clearance and Amphibious Operations with some eye-catching illustrations and I commend it to you.  In a former life at the Maritime Warfare Centre (MWC) before it moved from high atop Portsdown Hill, I was proud to champion this capability and liaise with CINCFLEET, COMAMPHIBFOR / COMATG, DSTL, QinetiQ, etc., acquire funding, sponsor the trials, perform the OA (Operational Analysis) and write the report that supported the procurement of equipment for RN MCM units and diving teams conducting amphibious operations including VSW (Very Shallow Water) and Surf Zone (SZ) clearance; I therefore have my own views.  I am also grateful to the desk-drivers who have kept us informed of progress during the operational updates at our annual MCDOA gatherings on Horsea Island although Chatham House rules prevent them from being repeated elsewhere.

 

The relevant Think Defence posts are at:

 

Mine Countermeasures, Survey and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) in Port Clearance and Amphibious Operations – Part 1

 

Mine Countermeasures, Survey and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) in Port Clearance and Amphibious Operations – Part 2

 

Mine Countermeasures, Survey and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) in Port Clearance and Amphibious Operations – Part 3

 

Mine Countermeasures, Survey and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) in Port Clearance and Amphibious Operations – Part 4

 

Port Clearance and Operations in Iraq 2003

 

Although the Think Defence blogger tends to disparage the Royal Navy's role, personnel, capabilities and achievements as a rule and attracts those similarly minded, the introduction to his post (as a year ago in a similarly informative Unmanned Mine Countermeasures Update) contains these uncharacteristically complimentary words:

 

"...Minesweepers are an enduring image of the battle against mines but the last combined influence sweep system deployment was in 2005.  The MCDOA provides a great look at this, click here to view. The Minewarfare and Clearance Diving Officers’ Association has a wealth of great information about the subject in general and you can lose many hours on their great website..."

 


19 Apr 15 - HMS Middleton in RNR Live Event at HMS President next Saturday

 

HMS Middleton (MCM2 Crew 2) will participate in the Royal Naval Reserve Live Event alongside HMS President (commanded by MCDOA member John Herriman) on the Thames in London next Saturday (25 April) and will be open to visitors from 1000 to 1600.  Tickets are free but going fast.  See here on the Eventbrite website for booking details:

 

HMS MIDDLETON Ship Tour & HMS PRESIDENT Royal Naval Reserve Live Event Saturday 25 April 2015

 

Post script: On 20 April, the Royal Navy website published this article announcing the same event while adding that the Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender will participate too.

 


18 Apr 15 - New book about Second World War pioneer of EOD techniques

 

I was delighted to hear today from Kerin Freeman in New Zealand (although she started off in Southampton) that her book about the Earl of Suffolk and his 'Holy Trinity' of civilian bomb disposal operatives during the Second World War has been published at last.  I have been assisting her research for the past five years and it is wonderful to see her project reach fruition.  Among the Earl's many other achievements, he pioneered the techniques of trepanning bombs and mines and steaming out and burning their explosive content.

 

 

Charles Henry George Howard (otherwise known as Jack), 20th Earl of Suffolk, 13th Earl of Berkshire, GC FRS led a relatively short but eventful life.  Born on 2 March 1906, he attended the Royal Naval College at Osborne until the age of 15 then quit Radley College in 1923 to join the windjammer Mount Stewart as an apprentice officer.  After his return from a round the world voyage, he was commissioned into the Scots Guards but was later asked to resign by his superiors because of his "wild ways".  In 1926 he returned to Australia where he first worked as a Jackaroo and later owned a large farm jointly with Captain McColm, who had been Master of the Mount Stewart.  In 1934, he married Chicago-born ballet dancer Mimi Forde-Pigott with whom he later had three children.  He enrolled at Edinburgh University, graduating three years later with a first-class honours degree in Chemistry and Pharmacology.  In his early twenties, the Earl was made a Fellow of The Royal Society of Edinburgh.  The Nuffield Institute of Medical Research at Oxford University then offered him a research post in the area of "explosives and poisons".  As Liaison Officer for the British Department of Scientific and Industrial Research during World War II, the Earl of Suffolk and his colleague Major A V Golding were subsequently posted to Paris. 

 

Following his return to the UK from some adventures in France involving the evacuation of 35 eminent nuclear scientists, the world's entire stockpile of heavy water, £4 million's worth of industrial diamonds and 600 tons of precious machine tools as the German invaders advanced, the Earl worked for the Ministry of Supply as a Research Officer learning how to defuze bombs of new and unknown types.  The Earl then led an unexploded bomb detachment in London during the Blitz.  The detachment comprised himself, his private secretary Beryl Morden who recorded his actions while he rendered bombs safe, and his chauffeur Fred Hards.  They called themselves "the Holy Trinity" and they became famed for their prowess in detecting and successfully tackling thirty-four unexploded bombs with "urbane and smiling efficiency."  Tragically, they were all killed on 12 May 1941 when a 250 kg bomb, supposedly rendered safe by others some time before, exploded at a 'bomb cemetery' on Erith Marshes in Kent.  Jack Howard was subsesquently awarded a posthumous George Cross while Beryl Morden and Fred Hards were awarded commendations "for brave conduct in Civil Defence".

 

This image of the dust jacket provides more information about the book and its author:

 

 

Kerin's well-illustrated 224-page hardback can be ordered online from Pen & Sword here at an introductory price of £15.99 plus p&p:

 

The Civilian Bomb Disposing Earl - Jack Howard & Bomb Disposal in WW2

 


17 Apr 15 - FTRS vacancies of possible interest

 

Several FTRS (Full Time Reserve Service) vacancies of possible interest have become available including these:

 

A VACANCY FOR AN OF3 OF ANY SPECIALISATION SERVING AS STAFF OFFICER OPERATIONS ON THE MINE WARFARE BATTLE STAFF IN UKMCC BAHRAIN – REF No 1822265

 

A vacancy has arisen for an OF3 (Lt Cdr or equivalent) of any Specialisation to serve as Staff Officer Operations (SOO) on the Mine Warfare Battle Staff on a rotational cycle in Bahrain and the UK on FTRS(FC) Terms and Conditions of Service (TCOS). 

 

SOO is the senior N3 - 5 Staff Officer who is responsible for coordinating all current and future plans for MCM Operations for 24 hours and beyond for all aspects of the employment of the MW Force, including branches and sequels and all other contingency planning.  This role will normally be filled by COS prior to deployment and thereafter or the SO3 HM when not on MCM Operations.  SOO is also responsible for the cohesion of staff effort within the division particularly between the current Operations Cell and the Plans Cell within the N3 Division and between the N3 and N5 Divisions...

 


A VACANCY FOR AN OF3 OR OF4 OF THE WARFARE SPECIALISATION SERVING AS THE OIC UK MARITIME TRADE OPERATIONS DUBAI – REF No 1669260

 

A vacancy has arisen for an OF3 or OF4 of the Warfare specialisation to serve as the OIC UK Maritime Trade Operations Dubai on FTRS(FC) Local Foreign Service Terms and Conditions of Service (TCOS).  UK contribution to regional freedom of navigation, primary point of contact for all merchant shipping transiting the MEJOA, conducts liaison and reassurance role on behalf of UKMCC Bahrain/ NCHQ...

 


A VACANCY FOR AN OF3 OF ANY SPECIALISATION SERVING AS THE SO2 FORCE DEVELOPMENT IN NCHQ PORTSMOUTH – REF No 1732731

 

A vacancy has arisen for an OF3 of any specialisation to serve as the SO2 Force Development in NCHQ Portsmouth on FTRS(HC) Terms and Conditions of Service (TCOS).

 

Following the Levene report on Defence Reform, the MOD has undergone Defence Transformation which includes the transfer of responsibilities from MOD Head Office to Front Line Commands, and Navy Command in particular.  As part of reorganising itself to meet this increased responsibility, Navy Command has strengthened its conceptual and force development process by setting up a Force Development team.  This team will be primarily responsible for producing a single coherent Navy Command view of the future maritime force beyond 2020.

 

This post will be looking at alternative options for future ships, air platforms and capabilities, and will influence the decision making that will shape the future maritime force.

 

The team will work with the Defence Strategic Force Development processes (through DCDC / JFC and Head Office) providing a coherent Navy input, ensuring an appropriate understanding of current and future maritime capabilities.  Furthermore it will take the outputs of the strategic/operation level Head Office force development, and develop the operation/tactical understanding for the maritime environment.  This should provide the context for the Capability Planning process and a mechanism to assess the effectiveness of the Capability Management Plan.  It will be a vehicle for engagement with other Commands and promote a common understanding of capability requirement where capabilities delivered by different Commands must all come together coherently to deliver the optimal output.  Concepts developed by DCDC and endorsed through the Head Office should lead to the development of solutions within the Maritime environment (through the Genesis options process)...

 

The closing date for applications is 30 April 2015.  Further information about these and other FTRS vacancies of possible interest can be found at:

 

Vacancies for Full Time Reserve Service positions updated 07 April 2015

 


16 Apr 15 - Funeral of Anthony William Charles 'Lofty' Eldridge DSC

 

I am grateful to MCDOA member John Herriman for this announcement:

 

"Hi Rob,

 

I’ve just been made aware of the funeral of Lt 'Lofty' Eldridge, who was the last surviving wartime charioteer, and who led a successful operation to attack Japanese merchant ships in Phuket harbour during WW2.  He was awarded the DSC I believe.

 

The only reason I know is because my Padre, Fr Tom Pyke, in HMS PRESIDENT is taking the funeral service tomorrow at Watford Crematorium – he regards it as a singular honour to be asked to lead the service.

 

I couldn’t see anything on the website announcing the sad passing of one our wartime heroes and thought I’d bring it to your attention – deserves our recognition and admiration.

 

Trust all well.

 

With best regards,

 

John

 

Commander John Herriman RNR

Commanding Officer

HMS President"

 

Anthony 'Lofty' Eldridge died on Monday 13 April.  I have ascertained that his memorial service will take place tomorrow at 0920 in the North Chapel of West Herts Crematorium in Watford.  This article published in The Independent on 14 April is also relevant:

 

Veteran Anthony Eldridge dies hours before he could say final farewell to grandson due to visa delays

 

Anthony Eldridge (right) with his grandson Brendan Currie

 

Sub Lt (later Lt) Anthony 'Lofty' Eldridge RNVR was gazetted for the award of the DSC on 6 March 1945.  He and Petty Officer Sydney 'Butch' Woollcott, later awarded the DSM, had manned the human torpedo HM Chariot Tiny in company with HM Chariot Slasher in an attack on the Italian liners Sumatra (4.859 tons) and Volpi (5,292 tons) at Phuket, north of Penang, on 28 October 1944.  Both chariots returned to the submarine HMS Trenchant where their crews were able to watch as their respective targets exploded and sank. 

 


15 Apr 15 - Remembrance Service for Ian Gray-Taylor

 

Ex-CD Terry Gosling has asked me to publish this announcement:

 

"There will be a remembrance service for Ian at the Treetops Hotel, Aberdeen on the 23rd April at 1400.  All welcome."

 

The Aberdeen Press & Journal contains this article which includes the following photo and passages:

 

Memorial service arranged for former Aberdeen diving boss

 

 

"A memorial service will be held this month for a top north-east diver who died just weeks after being diagnosed with cancer.  Ian Gray-Taylor, the former boss of the Aberdeen-based National Hyperbaric Centre, emigrated to Gran Canaria with his wife Colleen last year.  But their new life in the sun was cut tragically short, after Mr Gray-Taylor went to the doctor complaining of a sore stomach, and was told he had oesophageal cancer.  He died just a month later, on February 25...

 

Mr Gray-Taylor’s 40-year career in the offshore industry began after he left the Royal Navy – where he worked on bomb and mine disposals – and moved to Aberdeen to take on a job as a commercial diver with Comex.  He later became operations manager at the National Hyperbaric Centre.  Mr Gray-Taylor eventually set up his own company, IG-T Drilling, carrying out work for oil and drilling companies across the globe – including Las Palmas...

 

Anyone wishing to attend the memorial service should e-mail iansmemorial@gmail.com."

 

I will publish any tributes sent to me via my webmaster email address.  

 


From former MCDOA Honorary Secretary Richard 'Soapy' Watson:

 

"Hi Rob,

 

On behalf of the NHC [National Hyperbaric Centre], I would like to pass on our condolences.  Our thoughts are with the family.

 

Kindest Regards,

 

Richard Soapy Watson

Global Training Manager

NHC"

 


From ex-CD Terry Gosling

 

"Greetings Rob,

 

The diving industry offshore and inshore are full of 'illustrious' ex-CDs.  The training we obtained in the RN and the 'drive' that that training gives you, ensures success.  G/T was one of many success stories.  I have personally helped a number of ex-CDs into employment, most of whom are now at the top of their profession.   Let's hope that future generations of RN divers will do as well!

 

Hope you are well?

 

Best regards,

 

Terry Gosling

Ex-ABCD2"

 


14 Apr 15 - SDU1 removes ordnance from Swansea Bay

 

The South Wales Evening Post website contains this article describing the removal by members of Plymouth-based Southern Diving Unit 1 (SDU1) of an artillery shell discovered by a walker on the sands at Brynmill in Swansea Bay in South Wales.

 

 


13 Apr 15 - Forthcoming book describing the history of Royal Australian Navy diving

 

 

MCDOA member Cdr Edward 'Jake' Linton BEM RAN, Patron of the Royal Australian Navy Clearance Divers Association (RANCDA), has collaborated with fellow ex-MCDO Cdre Hector 'Hec' Donohue AM RAN to write a 430-page book titled 'United and Undaunted - The First 100 years'.  It is due to be launched by Grinkle Press in September this year to coincide with the 60th Anniversary of the completion of the first RAN CD Course.  This is the accompanying announcement:

 

United and Undaunted - The First 100 Years

 

This unique and comprehensive story of diving in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) spans its entire history.

 

From its beginnings in 1911, the gallant service of its members in two World Wars, the evolution to a specialist Clearance Diving Branch in 1951 and the exemplary service of clearance divers in many parts of the world since, this tale is a must read tome for those who have served in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and for naval and military historians.

 

The book will be particular interest to past and present members of the RAN Clearance Diving Branch because its chapters examine the evolution of the RAN Diving School, the exploits of many in aircraft and ship salvage and their operational service during the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, East Timor and significant Defence Cooperation Explosive Ordnance Disposal activities in many countries.

 

Of particular importance, this extensively illustrated history recounts for the first time the personal recollections of many in the RAN Clearance Diving Branch who have taken part in more recent ADF operations.  These personal accounts arise from the service by RAN Clearance Divers in Middle East deployments focusing on boarding parties; counter- improvised explosive device operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the clearance diving involvement with counter terrorist activities.

 

Jake, an Able Seaman on the RAN's first Clearance Diver course in 1955, has described his own illustrious MCD career in 'A Clearance Diving Experience' in the MCDOA website's Dit Box.  His service included several associations with the Royal Navy and US Navy including courses and exchange posts in both countries. 

 

Hec Donohue also had an illustrious MCD career and will be known to older MCDOA members through his own associations with the Royal Navy and US Navy.  When working as the General Manager (Mine Countermeasures) of Australian Defence Industries (ADI), he wrote a very informative book titled 'Mines, Mining and Mine Countermeasures', published by ADI in association with the Royal Australian Navy in 1994.  These are the tatty front and back covers of my own well-thumbed copy:

 

         

 


12 Apr 15 - RN MInewarfare & Diving Heritage: HMS Shoulton 50 years ago

 

 

This anonymous update from the divers conducting trials with the 'new' Sonar 193 on board HMS Shoulton was published in the Spring 1965 issue of the RN Diving Magazine:

 

SHOULTON CONTINUES

 

Greetings - and a few lines to prove that we in the mine-hunter still survive and are still able to write despite certain rude remarks from the Editor.  Considerable changes have taken place in recent months during which time the ship has migrated from the flesh pots of South Queensferry to the arms of our 'alma mater' [HMS Vernon] and the purlieus of Portsmouth, had her ship's company reduced by about one third and suffered three changes of managing director.

 

In spite of these factors, the last year has presented a busy and varied life during which we claim that we have managed to leave our mark and hope that we may have performed a useful service now and again.  In addition our technical boys have proved their worth and have continued to keep our equipment working.  For the benefit of those who have not yet encountered a mine-hunter, the days of 30 foot circular searches are receding when we are told that the marking error is 2 yards, that means 6 feet, (see the advantages of higher education), and if the error is more than three yards that is a bad run and it is time for the 'Ops' room to start again.  The only disadvantage being that a 5 minute dive is poor recompense for having been in a rubber bag for 5 hours.

 

Over the time our excursions have taken us to Lerwick, Invergordon, Port Edgar, Esjberg, Den Helder, Flushing, Brest, Caen, Brixham and Portland, and at times we have tried to educate divers from Plover, Dingley, Miner III, Reclaim and the Plymouth Deep Team.  In addition we have sought swimming aircraft off Lossiemouth, Great Yarmouth and in Torbay.  We even managed to find and destroy a G.C. in Sandown Bay (and get sour looks from the B. and M.D. team in Pompey on our return to harbour after a very creditable bang).  We have also tried to initiate our successors in the gentle (or should I say - patient) art of mine-hunting, after all they will man the conversions and we do appreciate that they must be good imitations even if there is only one Shoulton.

 

As far as the future is concerned the buzz is that we shall be invited to pay off soon so that our hull may be returned to some dockyard for conversion to who knows what.  When that time comes all we ask is that the radiators' crew move one tiny pace to the left and allow their seagoing confreres to get at the coffee boat (black, two sugar, please!).

 

As we now know, HMS Shoulton was subsequently fitted with pump jet propulsion resembling an outboard motor and recommissioned on 5 April 1967 as Senior Officer 3rd MCM Squadron based at Portland for trials of new equipment.

 

HMS Shoulton fitted with her 'outboard motor' and wearing the Portland

3rd MCM Squadron's trident badge (tines pointing down) on her funnel

 


11 Apr 15 - Forthcoming Vernon Monument Dinner

 

Artist's impression of the Vernon Monument

in situ at Gunwharf Quays

 

The next major fundraising event for Project Vernon is a dinner to be held at the Royal Naval Club & Royal Albert Yacht Club (RNC-RAYC) in Pembroke Road, Old Portsmouth on Friday 5 June.  Further details will follow soon but the gala evening will include well-known entertainer Shep Woolley and his band, auctions, raffles, sea shanties and tots of rum.

 

 

 

Tickets will be available online soon via the campaign's website at www.vernon-monument.org.  Early bird bids for tables from Vernon-trained personnel or Vernon-based Ton crews are especially welcome by name of the ship or team in which you served.  Keep your diary clear and watch this space. 

 


10 Apr 15 - Jones and Mulrain reunited

 

I am grateful to MCDOA past-Chairman Paul Jones for allowing me to publish this photo showing him reunited with former WO(MW) Tony Mulrain BEM when he and his wife hosted Tony and his family at their villa in Cyprus earlier this week.  Paul reports that they "had a great night (and morning) of dit-spinning with wives looking on aghast!" 

 

Tony Mulrain and Paul Jones in Cyprus

 

Paul and Tony served as SOO and Squadron Chief respectively on the staff of Commander First MCM Squadron (MCM1) between 1995 and 1997 and then as Ops and WO respectively at the HQ in Bahrain for Operation ARABIAN GAUNTLET in 2001.

 

I worked with Tony on the Saudi Minehunter Project training team in Vernon from 1989 to 1990 and remember waving at him on board HMS Atherstone from HMS London's Lynx while flying overhead with SNOME (Senior Naval Officer Middle East) during the first Gulf War in 1991.  Tony was subsequently awarded his BEM.  On 12 October 2005, Tony was on board HMS Ledbury off the Isle of Wight where we witnessed the last conventional minesweeping operation in the Royal Navy (see entry for 12 Dec 05 in News Archive 12):

 

Tony Mulrain on board HMS Ledbury

in October 2005

 

More recently, Tony was spotted with MCDOA members David Carey (one of my students on LMCDO '83B when I was LTO) and my old LMCDO '76 course-mate Grenville Johnson MBE at a British Legion Remembrance Day function in Dubai in November 2012 (see second entry for 29 Nov 12 in News Archive 40):

 

David Carey and Tony Mulrain standing behind

Grenville Johnson in Dubai in November 2012

 


9 Apr 15 - Big bang for Stan's Navy

 

I could not resist these photos from Standing NATO MCM Group 1's (SNMCMG1's) Facebook page showing the detonation of a wartime German LMB (GC) ground mine by divers from BNS Lobelia during the recent clearance of historic ordnance off Cherbourg.

 

 

Above and below: Detonation of wartime German GC ground mine off Cherbourg

(Photos by BNS Lobelia)

 

 

SNMCMG1, which currently includes our own HMS Pembroke (MCM1 Crew ?), has been working for the past few weeks with SNMCMG2 which normally operates in the Mediterranean.

 

HMS Pembroke off Cherbourg while attached to SNMCMG1

(Photo by Cdr Peter Bergen Henegouwen RNethN, Cdr SNMCMG1)

 


8 Apr 15 - "There will be a short intermission."

 

For a variety of reasons, I have not touched the website for a fortnight.  Even so, it was accessed by 43,687 different IP addresses in March, only just down from its peak of 44,112 in February last year.

 

I will endeavour to update the 'Latest News' page retrospectively over the next few days.  Thank you for your patience.

 


7 Apr 15 - New book from David Bruhn

 

The latest book from prolific author Cdr David Bruhn USN is titled We Are Sinking, Send Help!.  Although it focuses mainly on the work of the US Navy’s tugs and salvage ships in the African, Mediterranean, and European theatres during the Second World War, it also lists and describes the activities of RN minesweeping and clearance diving forces tasked with clearing the waters off the coast of Normandy for the D-Day landings as well as the port of Cherbourg and its approaches.

 

 

The book's jacket shows a painting by distinguished marine artist Richard DeRosset depicting the rescue tug USS ATR-1 alongside the British light cruiser HMS Spartan after she had been hit by a glider-bomb that blew a hole in her hull and set her aflame off Anzio.  She sank shortly afterwards.

 

Spartan Death Throes off Anzio by Richard DeRosset

 

Your humble Webmaster had a hand in researching the book and was honoured to be invited by David to write one of its two forewords:

 

David & Nancy Bruhn with Linda & Rob Hoole

in San Francisco last October 

 

This substantial 388-page paperback costs $33 (£22 approx) plus p&p and can be ordered via the Heritage Books website here.  As chronicled on this website, David has also published these books which include US-built BYMS (British Yard Mine Sweepers) transferred to the RN:

 

Wooden Ships and Iron Men, Volume I: The U.S. Navy's Ocean Minesweepers, 1953-1994

 

Wooden Ships and Iron Men, Volume II: The U.S. Navy’s Coastal and Motor Minesweepers, 1941-1953

 

Wooden Ships and Iron Men, Volume III: The U.S. Navy's Coastal and Inshore Minesweepers, and the Minecraft that Served in Vietnam, 1953–1976

 

      Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The U.S. Navy's Coastal & Motor Minesweepers, 1941-1953     

 

This section of David's website lists US Navy units and personnel (including minesweeping helicopter crewmen, explosive ordnance disposal divers, underwater demolition team divers, minesweep sailors, minelayer sailors and minemen) awarded a Navy Cross, Silver Star or Bronze Star medal and other bestowments for heroism; it includes several of the citations:

 

Mine Warfare Hall of Valor

 


6 Apr 15 - UK selects Atlas Elektronik UK for MHC sweep

 

The Janes Defence website contains this article announcing that the Ministry of Defence has awarded a £12.6m three-year contract to Atlas Elektronik UK to deliver a prototype unmanned surface vessel (USV)-based minesweeping system under the first phase of the Mine Countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC) Sweep Capability project.  The MHC Sweep Capability is intended to reinstate an influence minesweeping capability in Hunt class MCMVs.  The previous Combined Influence Sweep system, comprising acoustic and magnetic influence sweeps, was retired in 2005.

 

Atlas Elektronik UK's MHC Sweep Capability solution based on its proprietary

USV-based ARCIMS system

(Atlas Elektronik UK)

 


2 Apr 15 - HMS Pembroke remembers the loss of HMS Isis

 

The Royal Navy website contains this article describing a wreath-laying service held by HMS Pembroke (MCM1 Crew ?) on 26 March over the wreck of the destroyer HMS Isis, believed mined off Normandy on 20 July 1944

 

 

The article features PO(D) Les Cockerton whose great-grandfather, Ordinary Seaman Henry Mannerings, was serving on board when she sank.  Contrary to what's stated in the article, no enemy bombers or manned torpedoes were involved and not all hands were lost.  There were 45 survivors according to the Admiralty but the names of the casualties are engraved on plaques in Portsmouth Cathedral.  See this article on the Portsmouth Memorials website for more information including names and survivors' accounts. 

 

From the normally respected Naval History.net:

 

I Class destroyer HMS ISIS

 

17th July 1944

Sailed from Portsmouth for interception patrol off French coast.

 

20th July 1944

Sunk whilst on patrol off Normandy.  15 of ship's company were killed [most other caualties were listed as missing presumed killed] and survivors spent several hours in the water.

(Note: Contrary to WARSHIP LOSSES IN WW2 by D Brown. Admiralty correspondence in July 1944 records ship was not at anchor.  Loss was likely to have been due to a mine or torpedo.  Another source records that it was a German NEGER midget submarine but U-Boat Archivist Klaus Mattes indicates that NEGER craft had ceased operations on 17th July.)

 

21st July 1944

21 survivors rescued by HM Fleet Minesweeper HOUND but one later died.  The Admiralty List of survivors contains 45 names.  Some were rescued by US Navy Rescue Cutter and taken to the US Headquarters Ship PRESIDENT WARFIELD before going to a US Field Hospital.  For details see MEMORIES OF HMS ISIS – 50 YEARS ON prepared by Tony D Jupe for The ISIS Survivors Association and held at Enfield Public Library Local History Unit).

 

 The same website provides the official list of casualties on this page.

 


1 Apr 15 - Amateur divers find long-lost nuclear warhead

 

The World News Daily Report website contains this article describing the discovery of a thermonuclear bomb by Canadian scuba divers off the coast of Georgia in the USA.  It puts finding the odd hand grenade into perspective.

 

 

"...When I saw the inscription saying that it was a Mk-15 nuclear bomb, I totally freaked out.  I caught Chritina by the arm and made signs to tell her we had to leave.  We made an emergency ascent, went back to shore and then we called 911."

 

Rapidly understanding the gravity of the situation, the 911 operator contacted every possible emergency service, including the coast guard and the military, leading to the deployment of more than 20 ships and 1500 men in the area.  Using the GPS coordinates given by the couple, they rapidly located the powerful 3.8 megaton bomb.

 

An unmanned submarine was sent to determine the condition of the bomb, before explosive experts were sent to disarm it.  Fortunately, the thermonuclear weapon produced in 1955 seemed in sufficiently good shape for a team of Navy seals to try to defuse it.  They successfully deactivated the warhead after hours of strenuous work, allowing the rest of the bomb to be moved.  The delicate recovery operation took more than 48 hours, but the bomb was finally recovered and transported to Mayport Naval Station in Florida.  A full set of tests and analysis will now be performed on the warhead to evaluate its actual state and the possible ecological and health hazard that its presence in the bay for 50 years could represent...

 


30 Mar 15 - Award of LS & GC medals

 

Congratulations to PO(MW) D D Watters, PO(D) M J Doherty, LS(D) A Morgan and AB(D) C R Ansell on being gazetted for the award of the Long Service & Good Conduct (LS & GC) medal.

 


27 Mar 15 - UK works with France to defeat threat of underwater mines

 

The UK Government's website contains this article announcing that the Ministry of Defence and its French counterpart have committed more than £17m to design a new system to improve how the Royal Navy tackles underwater mines.  The project will involve the design of a Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM) demonstrator, which includes an unmanned surface vehicle with sonar and an unmanned underwater vehicle.  It will provide a demonstration of systems and equipment to defeat sea-mines using remotely-operated, unmanned marine vehicles and sensors.

 


25 Mar 15 - Gentlemen Who Lunch

 

The MCDOA's 'Not Quite the Last of the Summer Wine' trio of Barlow, Holloway and Hoole is still very much active.  Yesterday found us back at The Blue Bell in Emsworth, one of our favourite haunts, where we happened to bump into Dick Twitchen, my old boss when Director of the Maritime Warfare Centre (MWC) and a former Commodore Portsmouth Flotilla (COMPORFLOT).  He was accompanied by ex-submariner Michael Parkins and we had a fine old time catching up with each other.

 

Left to right: Yours Truly (Rob Hoole), Martyn Holloway, Doug Barlow,

Michael Parkins and Dick Twitchen

 


24 Mar 15 - HMS Penzance visits Qatar

 

The Navy News website contains this article describing the activities of Gulf-based HMS Penzance (MCM1 Crew 7) and her ship's company during a three-day visit to Doha in Qatar.  Personnel from HMS Penzance exchanged places with personnel from the Qatari Coast Guard vessel Mazham.  The article features AB(D) Matthew Kilminster.

 

 


22 Mar 15 - HDS Diving Museum update

 

MCDOA associate member Dr John Bevan, Chairman of the Historical Diving Society (HDS), has provided this update about the Diving Museum in No.2 Battery at Stokes Bay and the WWII bunker in Gosport that houses the Society's library and museum reserve collection:

 

"We've made a significant step forward in developing the Bunker recently when Nigel Phillips organised a party of sailors from HMS Sultan to dig for Britain.  They dug up about 10 tons of top soil to level the front of the site!  So if you'd like some free top soil, now's your chance!  

 

 

Kevin Casey and Nigel bust their guts to continue the good work yesterday and more bramble has also been removed from the wild northern territory. 

 

 

Meanwhile Mike Fardell attacked the library and where there was chaos, there is now order.

 

Former WO(D) John Dadd has tidied up the external exhibits at the Museum which needed cleaning and touching up.  Our lock-out diver suffered flooded boots and his feet fell off.  John has de-watered the boots and given the diver his feet back.  

 

As a point of interest, on 31 March, the Historical Diving Society will be fully-functional as an "incorporated" charity.

 

JohnB"

 

Members of the HDS have featured in two recent TV programmes.  On 15 March, Museum Officer Kevin Casey was a guest on Channel 4's 'Sunday Brunch' show.

 

 

Kevin described the museum's role and the significance of its location near Gosport.  The show can be watched again for the next 15 days via the link below.  The relevant section is between 01:22:10 and 01:30:45 although you will have to tolerate a commercial break after scrolling to the required time:

 

Sunday Brunch Series 4 Episode 2:

 

On 16 March, Gary Wallace-Potter and other members of the HDS Working Equipment Group featured in an episode of the BBC's 'Heir Hunters' and demonstrated the use of standard diving dress.

 

 

The starring diver was the MCDOA's very own Membership Secretary, Dave Stanbury, currently working at the Defence Diving School (DDS) on Horsea Island.

 

     

 

 

 

The programme can be watched again for the next 24 days via the link below and the relevant section is between minutes 19:20 and 24:10.

 

Heir Hunters - Series 9: 16. Bulling/Barron

 

The HDS Museum opens to the general public at weekends from Easter until the end of the summer season when it closes (except for special groups) for maintenance over the winter.  It relies on a handful of volunteer guides, at least two but ideally three of whom need to be on site when it is open for business at weekends during the summer.  If you live locally and can spare the odd few hours, please contact John Bevan via this email address or call him on 078 0278 5050.  You will then be given access to the online roster to fill in your own dates as and when you are available.  You don't have to be an HDS member to get involved in this or any other way.

 

Post script: The museum will be open from 23 to 26 March 2015 (normal hours 1100 to 1600) whilst the USS Theodore Roosevelt is anchored in Stokes Bay.  Make the most of this opportunity to visit the museum and see the visiting warship!

 

 

Post post script: Sadly, the museum didn't open on the Friday when I took my three-year-old grandson to watch Roosevelt's departure.

 

 


21 Mar 15 - Sealbeaver: Cammell Laird's Sea Bed Vehicle

 

Sealbeaver: Cammell Laird's Sea Bed Vehicle (SBV) circa 1970

 

In researching the answer to a query from MCDOA member Dave 'Spidey' Ince about the fate of Cammell Laird's Sea Bed Vehicle (SBV) described on pages 16 - 18 of HMS Vernon's final issue of the Royal Naval Diving Magazine (see entry for 20 Mar 15), I discovered this New Scientist article published in July 1972 which may be of interest to some:

 

           

 

 

This letter defending the actions of the National Research Development Corporation (NRDC) was published in New Scientist later the same year:

 

 

Was this a missed opportunity in the early days of offshore mineral exploitation?

 


20 Mar 15 - RN Diving Heritage: The Diving Magazine

 

 

Having re-published the first issue of the Diving Magazine, published in HMS Vernon in 1951 (see entry for 13 Mar 15), here is the final issue published in late 1970.  I will fill in the gaps in due course.  The bearded PO(D) on the front cover is Joe Maher who was to become my Chief Instructor for LMCDO '76.  Enjoy the stories, pictures and advertisements in this trip down memory lane including MCDOA member Dr John Bevan's account of his 1,500 ft dive with Peter Sharphouse at the Deep Trials Unit (DTU), part of the Royal Naval Physiological Laboratory (RNPL) at Alverstoke.

 

 RN Diving Magazine: Vol 16 No 3 (Large file so download may take some time.) 

 


19 Mar 15

 

Peter Laughton is 'face' of Royal Navy's new uniform

 

MCDOA member Peter Laughton MBE, Commanding Officer of the Type 23 frigate HMS Lancaster, has been much in evidence in the media today as the senior 'face' of the Royal Navy's new working dress as featured in the video in this article on the BBC website and this article on the Royal Navy website.

 

 

Peter and his ship leave Portsmouth on Saturday for a nine month deployment and we wish him and his ship's company fruitful operations and a safe return.

 


HMS Pembroke detonates wartime bomb in North Sea

 

The Royal Navy website contains this article, including this video, describing the detection and subsequent disposal of a Second World War 500 lb bomb by HMS Pembroke (MCM1 Crew ?).  HMS Pembroke has been conducting HOD (Historic Ordnance Disposal) operations in the Baltic and North Sea with Standing NATO MCM Group 1 (SNMCMG1) and has dealt with a number of unexploded mines, bombs and torpedoes (see entry for 12 Mar 15).

 

 

HMS Pembroke disposing of bomb in the North Sea

(RN website photos)

 

 


SDU1 set to detonate mine off Brixham

 

The Plymouth Herald website contains this article describing how a fishing vessel trawled up a mine off the South Devon coast last night.  Members of Plymouth-based Southern Diving Unit 1 (SDU1) were due to detonate it late this morning. 

 


SDU1 called to Woolacombe

 

The North Devon Gazette website contains this article describing how a suspected mortar bomb was found in sand dunes at Woolacombe yesterday.  Members of Plymouth-based Southern Diving Unit 1 (SDU1) had been called to the scene and were expected to arrive late afternoon.

 

Post script: It was later revealed that the metal object was not an explosive device.

 


18 Mar 15 - The Royal Navy's first MCD Admiral

 

Cdre Paddy McAlpine CBE ADC

 

Warm congratulations to MCDOA President Paddy McAlpine, currently Commodore Portsmouth Flotilla (COMPORFLOT), on being selected for promotion to Rear Admiral.  He goes to Lisbon in July as Deputy Commander Naval Striking & Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO) and will run the deployable HQ.  Earlier today, he was feted with this cake at the Defence Diving School (DDS) on Horsea Island:

 

 

Paddy will join MCDOA Honorary Member Vice Admiral Russ Crane AO CSM RAN, former Chief of the Royal Australian Navy, as the only MCD officers in history to reach flag rank.  I know that all members of our community will join me in wishing him the best of good fortune in his elevated career.

 


16 Mar 15 - Minehunters conduct training in the Gulf

 

The Royal Navy website contains this article describing the recent activities of HMS Penzance (MCM1 Crew 7) and HMS Chiddingfold (MCM2 Crew 1) in the Gulf.

 

AB(D) Connell firing minigun from HMS Penzance

(RN website photo) 

 

AB(MW) Battiste and AB(MW) Walsh preparing to fire 30mm from HMS Penzance

(RN website photo)

 


13 Mar 15 - RN Diving Heritage: The Diving Magazine

 

 

I am experimenting with converting issues of the RN Diving Magazine into pdf files.  Here is Vol.1 No.1 (July - September 1951), the very first issue of the Royal Navy's 'Diving Magazine' published in HMS Vernon.  The introduction was written by Captain (later Rear Admiral CB) Clarence Dinsmore "Johnny" Howard-Johnston DSO DSC RN, the Captain of HMS Vernon between 14 Aug 1950 and 7 Oct 1952.

 

RN Diving Magazine: Vol I No 1 (Large file so download may take some time.)

 


12 Mar 15 - HMS Pembroke bags nine wartime bombs and mines in Baltic

 

The Royal Navy website contains this article and the Navy News website this article describing how HMS Pembroke (MCM1 Crew ?) has disposed of nine Second World War bombs and mines off Kiel during recent HOD (Historic Ordnance Disposal) operations with Standing NATO MCM Group 1 (SNMCMG1) after a visit to Gdynia in Poland (see entry for 9 Mar 15).  The articles feature Lt Pete Needle RN, Pembroke’s operations officer.

 

HMS Pembroke rafted up on SNMCMG1 flagship FGS Donau in Kiel Bay

(Navy News website photo by WO C Artiges, NATO Marcom)

 


11 Mar 15 - MWA boosts Vernon Monument funds (again)

 

Artist's impression of the Vernon Monument

in situ at Gunwharf Quays

 

Congratulations to members of the Minewarfare Association (MWA) for raising £245 towards the Vernon Monument with a raffle and auction at their highly enjoyable reunion in Birmingham last weekend.  As the project's Honorary Treasurer, former CPO(D) Tony Devitt, said in his letter of appreciation, "The MWA's continued support of Project Vernon is most appreciated and shows most admirably the cameraderie of all those who served in HMS VERNON and spent their 'sea time' on MCMVs."

 


10 Mar 15 - Change of date for next MCDOA gathering in London

 

MCDOA member Andy 'Sharkey' Ward has asked me to announce that the date for the next gathering in London has been changed from Thursday 7 May to Thursday 21 May (see entry for 5 Mar 15 and Forthcoming Events page).  All other arrangements remain the same. 

 


9 Mar 15 - HMS Pembroke attends a rare gathering in Amsterdam

 

In a rare event, MCMVs of Standing NATO MCM Group 1 (SNMCMG1) and Standing NATO MCM Group 2 (SNMCMG2) have gathered together this weekend in Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands, as described in this article on the NATO Maritime Command (MARCOM) website.  The two forces have united in advance of HOD (Historic Ordnance Disposal) Operation BENEFICIAL COOPERATION off the Dutch and Belgian coasts.

 

The Commander of SNMCMG2 (left) shaking hands with the Commander of SNMCMG1

(NATO photo courtesy of SNMCMG2 Ensign Alessandro Boggio Tomasaz)

 

HMS Pembroke is currently attached to SNMCMG1, led by Cdr Peter Bergen Henegouwen RNethN.  The rest of the Group comprises the flagship FGS Donau (Germany) and the minehunters ORP Mewa (Poland), BNS Lobelia (Belgium), FGS Auerbach (Germany) and HNLMS Willemstad (Netherlands).  SNMCMG2, led by Captain Giovanni Piegaja IN, comprises the flagship ITS Euro (Italy) and the minehunters TCG Anamur (Turkey) and FGS Bad Bevenson (Germany). 

 


8 Mar 15 - An interesting conversion

 

I have just stumbled across this picture of "An Admiralty bronze and teak molgogger from a minesweeper decommissioned circa 1970, adapted as a table".  It fetched £7,500 when auctioned at Christie's in London last September.

 

 

The Lot Notes provided this definition and I am offering free access to the MCDOA website for a year to anyone able to come up with a more accurate version:

 

"A molgogger is a mechanism fixed to a minesweeper ship to tow a paravane or underwater glider to detect and destroy naval mines.  Usually constructed of wood and non-ferrous metal to reduce the magnetic signature, the molgogger would have supported a towing cable which when it snagged the cable anchoring a mine then the anchoring cable would be cut, allowing the mine to float to the surface where it could be destroyed by gunfire.  If the anchor cable would not part, the mine and the paravane would be brought together and the mine would explode harmlessly against the paravane."

 

This object would complement some of the work of Estonian 'mine furniture and stoves' designer Mati Karmin nicely:

 

 


7 Mar 15 - News from Les Maynard and a query about HMS Reclaim

 

Les Maynard left the Royal Navy as a CDO in 1973 after an eventful career.  I shared a table with him at one of the last divers' dinners in HMS Nelson (Gunwharf), formerly HMS Vernon, before the establishment finally closed its gates in 1996.  After dabbling for a while in maritime safety, Les moved to Gooseberry Hill near Perth in Western Australia and I received this update from him today:

 

"G'day Rob,

 

At long last we have been forced into the world of electronic comms and Dave Lott told me I had better get in touch OR ELSE!

 

So here we are in Australia and I am OIC Western Australian retired CDs feasting set-up consisting of Mike Horlock and Ron Neville.  We meet every three or four weeks, have a feast and a few bevvies and, of course, reminisce about the old days.

 

Dave has been keeping me informed of branch news.  He is a good buddy but suffering old age like most of us.  This is just to say hello and, if you like, we can keep in touch.

 

Best regards,

 

Les Maynard"

 

If anyone would like to contact Les, please let me know and I will forward your email to him.

 

Coincidentally, Les served in HMS Reclaim in the early 1970s and may be able to answer this request which I also received today:

 

"Good afternoon,

 

Please could you shed some light on these pictures of a lady's compact.  I think it was given to my mother by my father who may have served in HMS Reclaim.  His name was Ian William Mcluckie.

 

 

 

         

 

 

 

Many thanks,

 

Stuart Mcluckie"

 

See 'HMS Reclaim - A World Record-Breaker' in the website's Dit Box for further information about her.  I have advised Stuart how to obtain a copy of his father's service record so he can ascertain if and when he served on board.  Can anyone else help him with his enquiry?

 


From Les Maynard:

 

"Rob.

 

Sorry but I have no knowledge of the compact case.  It must be a one-off.  I am sure that had it been a general item, it would have been a very popular gizzit.

 

Regards,

 

Les"

 


6 Mar 15 - Final call for DEMS Trng Regt visit

 

Please notify me by Tuesday 10 March if you wish to take advantage of the opportunity to visit DEMS Trng Regt at Bicester for a tour and evening social on Saturday 16 May as the organisers would like some idea of numbers.  For further details, see the entry for 2 Jan 15 in News Archive 49.

 

 


5 Mar 15 - Next MCDOA gathering in London

 

MCDOA member Andy 'Sharkey' Ward has declared that the first London gathering of 2015 is planned for Thursday 21 May and will take the standard format of a few beers in a pub followed by a meal in one of London's finest Indian restaurants.  Initial R/V will be 1800 with dinner booked for 2000.  Rig is 'Come as you are'.

 

If interested, please email Andy at this address.

 


4 Mar 15 - David Lermitte follow-up featuring John Futcher MBE

 

Regular readers will be aware that I announced the death of MCDO David Lermitte last July and subsequently attended his funeral in Godalming.  Two weeks ago I received this rather poignant request:

 

"Dear Webmaster,

 

My father, Lt Cdr John Futcher, is trying to find out if there is any contact information about one of your members, Lt Cdr David Lermitte, with whom he served as a clearance diver in the 1960s.  Please let me know if there is anyone we can speak to about this as my father knew David very well and is keen to get in touch.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Michael Futcher"

 

Lt Cdr John Futcher MBE RN, currently residing in Plainland,

South East Queensland, Australia

 

This exchange of emails then followed:

 

From MCDOA Webmaster:

 

"Hello Michael,

 

I regret that David Lermitte died in Surrey on 19 July 2014 (see entry for 27 Jul 14 in News Archive 47).  He was not a member of the MCDOA but I attended his funeral near Godalming the following month (see entry for 18 Aug 14 in News Archive 47).  You might also wish to draw your father’s attention to ‘HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales - The First Wreck Surveys’ by David 'Ginger' Lermitte, ‘The Far East Clearance Diving Team’ by Brian Braidwood and ‘The Far East Fleet Clearance Diving Team’ by Mike Gillam, all in the MCDOA website’s Dit Box.  David Lermitte features quite prominently.  I do not have any contact details for his family but I am blind-copying this to others who might. 

 

You may also find the entries for 24 Jun 09 in News Archive 26 and for 19 Jun 12 in News Archive 38 of interest.  They feature your father. 

 

Best wishes,

 

Rob Hoole"

 


From Michael Futcher:

 

"Dear Lt Cdr Hoole,

 

Many thanks for responding to my email so quickly and for passing on the sad news about David.  My dad guessed there was something wrong when he stopped hearing from him a couple of years ago.  I will pass all this on to my dad via email but will also call him tonight when he gets home (after having had Sunday lunch with us).  Thanks also for the information about mentions of Dad in the News Archives.  I will look them up shortly.

 

Dad is currently 86 and is an amazing man.  He served in the Royal Navy from around 1945-1968, served in Korea at the Chosin Reservoir, then worked as a Clearance Diver for many years.  He was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in July 2012 and was told by the doctor he would be around for only a matter of months.  They said chemotherapy wasn’t really on and that he should get his affairs in order.

 

Fortunately, we sought a second opinion and he went on chemo for 18 months.  Now, two and a half years later, he’s still going strong.  He also has a number of other ailments but he doesn’t let it get him down and he is very lucid.  In fact, over the last 18 months he has been writing his memoirs which are fascinating.  He’s written around 50,000 words so far and much of it, of course, revolves around his time in the Royal Navy.  He wouldn’t ask this of me but I know he’d love to hear from anyone who may know him – he always lights up when he hears news of his colleagues, and would certainly appreciate a bit of contact.  I have some great pictures that he’s putting into his memoirs of his time as a clearance diver which might interest you. 

 

Dad’s not very good with technology so I am taking it upon myself to broach this with you!   Anyway, thanks again for your prompt reply.

 

Best wishes,

 

Michael Futcher"

 


From MCDOA member David Burstall:

 

"Hello Rob and Michael,

 

David L relieved me in the Far East in 1962 and I kept in touch with David and Susan for a while after that, but then lost touch altogether until I attended David's funeral last year.  Unfortunately Susan was already in hospital and unable to go to his funeral so the only contact I have is with his daughter, Julia, now married and living in Bromley... [address and telephone number available from Webmaster on request].

 

I hope this is of assistance.

 

Regards,

 

David Burstall"

 


From MCDOA member John Grattan OBE:

 

"Dear Michael,

 

You have received Rob's sad reply to your query about David Lermitte but I am so pleased to read that your father is still with us and has not gone on his last dip.  Am I correct in writing that your father was on the same CDO Course, 1957, as David,  Bill Thorniley and who else?   Bill is the only recorded CDO who was dismissed his ship (HMS Brearley) and awarded his MBE on the same day.  He won his well-deserved decoration for dealing with the WW2 controlled minefield in Belfast Loch.

 

It was pretty common practice in the diving tender inshore minesweepers to issue neat rum [not diluted 'grog'] at tot time.  Sadly, Bill was caught and court-martialled by the much feared Captain Norman Henry Pond, who was the CO of HMS Lochinvar; where HMS Brenchley and HMS Brearley were based with the 51st Minesweeper Squadron.  Your father was driving HMS Dingley at that time (David Lermitte was driving HMS Brenchley) and somehow the rum problem was also discovered by the Captain of HMS Vernon (later Admiral and M.P. Morgan Giles) when Dingley was south in Vernon creek.  I was at Glen Fruin doing the first underwater ejector trials as Boss of the Experimental CD Unit.  Bill Filer, as deputy Superintendant of Diving and my direct Boss, telephoned one afternoon ordering me to get down to Vernon ASAP and report to him immediately on arrival - which I did the following morning.  He would not tell me what I was summoned for but I had report to Captain Morgan Giles immediately, which I did of course. 

 

The Captain made it quite clear from the moment I was shown into his office that he did not like divers at all.  I asked him why and he told me that amongst other things, when he was the Captain of the Dartmouth Training Squadron, a diving minesweeper had failed to pipe or follow the normal procedure of asking permission of the senior officer to "proceed in accordance with previous orders".  This all sounds very trivial now but Captain Morgan Giles was a stickler for old fashioned Naval etiquette.  He then grilled me about what I though of x, y and z and I still not know what the hell I was there for!!

 

Eventually he asked me about the issue of neat rum and was I aware that Bill Thorniley had been "dismissed his ship?"  "No", says I.  He then ordered me to go down immediately to relieve your father, Johnny Futcher, in Dingley who he had relieved of his command with instant effect!!

 

Wow - that was not a happy turnover for either of us.  I think Johnny was the only ex-Royal Marine to get an Upper Yardsman's Commission in the RN but he was already famous from the Korean War when his three-tonner truck got a direct hit from a Chinese RPG that killed the driver and another in the front seat.  Johnny was with 23 other RMs in the back and they all jumped clear.  He went one way whilst all the others went another.  He was the only one ever seen again; typically independent and as tough as nails.  

 

He retired early from the RN and pioneered lobster farming in a loch near the north west corner of Scotland.  He also won the vital annual inspection contract at the nuclear power station near Dounreay.  This gave him access to continuous warm water so that he was able to get minute lobsters through the first five stages of their development in seven days instead of many months with a minimal loss of eggs, etc., because there were no predators.  Thus, when he took the baby lobsters back to the fenced-off loch they could be marketed in only three years as opposed to seven years in nature.

 

There were several other benefits: the suits of his divers were considered to be contaminated so Nuclear Fuels replaced them every year!!   And he became so well known and respected by local fishermen that he would buy their lobster catches when the market was down and sell them when the market was more propitious.  I was sorry to read that he had to give up just when things were turning very good for him and he then went to Australia where all contact was lost until you, Michael, e-mailed Rob.  If I have mixed up a few small facts please forgive me - put it down to anno domini: but I am sure this is all close to fact.

 

Thank you for that and please give Johnny my best salaams.

 

Yours aye,

 

John" 

 


3 Mar 15 - Daily Telegraph obituary for Major Stephen Hambrook MBE GM RE

 

The Daily Telegraph website contains this obituary for a very brave man and member of our affiliated organisation, the Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal Officers Club (REBDOC). 

 

Although Stephen Hambrook disposed of many explosive devices during his career, he received his George Medal for dealing with a GC parachute mine in Camden, London in 1969; an incident that led to the making of a BBC programme called 'Seven Seconds to Run'.  He went on to serve in the Falklands immediately after the conflict in 1982 and stepped on a mine in a previously declared 'safe area'.  Despite losing his left leg below the knee, he continued to serve for a further ten years and was recognised as 'Army Man of the Year'.  He was appointed an MBE in 1991.

 

Stephen Hambrook was a true gentleman with a wicked sense of humour.  I am sure that all members of our community will join me in extending our sincere condolences to his family, friends and former colleagues.

 

Maj Stephen Hambrook MBE GM RE

(12 May 1933 - 6 Feb 2015)

 


2 Mar 15 - Website facts and figures

 

The MCDOA website's home page contains a new search engine provided by 'Freefind'.  This replaces the previous 'Pico' search engine which is no longer supported.

 

During February 2015, the MCDOA website was accessed by 39,770 distinct host servers, down from its peak of 44,112 in February last year.  The number of individuals accessing the site is likely to be higher as many servers (e.g. MoD, US military, etc.) are shared by several users.  Internet surfers in 115 countries made 785,468 successful requests for individual pages, files and images during which they downloaded 47.61 gigabytes of data.  This equates to well over half a terabyte per year.

 


1 Mar 15 - MCDOA members abroad

 

As regular followers will know, MCDOA former Hon Treasurer Dave 'Spidey' Ince (aka Bradley Vincent) has undertaken many challenges during his eventful naval career as chronicled on this website.  In early 2007 he transferred from the Royal Navy to the Royal Australian Navy and I am grateful to him for this illustrated account of his experiences with RN ex-CD Eamon 'Ginge' Fullen QGM in Tonga last week:

 

Adventures in Tonga - A long story if you can be bothered to read it to the end

 

The Tongan Island of Kao

 

When my mate Ginge Fullen comes to stay you can bet that adventure will soon follow.  To that end we have just completed an epic climb of Tonga's highest mountain, the inactive volcano of Kao which tops out at 1,030 metres. That may not seem much but, for starters, this place isn't easy to get to, being a long way by plane and boat from where we live in Tonga.  Secondly it is covered in dense rain forest and all manner of impenetrable flora.  It is completely wild and overgrown with slopes 35-45 degrees all the way to the summit.  We had to hack and bludgeon our way all the way to the top and all the way back down again via a different route.

 

Dave Ince and Ginge Fullen on board a Tongan patrol boat before their climb

 

Ginge is a man who holds several world records in the field of mountaineering.  As he said it was brutal and one of the hardest of the 164 of the 194 mountains in the world he has climbed to date, then I know I wasn't being a wimp.  It is probably the hardest thing I have done that I didn't have to do!

 

Ginge Fullen taking things in his stride

 

The trip started with a landing on sharp rocks in heavy surf from a Tongan Navy RHIB; I immediately got drenched boots.  We then hacked our way into the lower rain forest, where upon within five minutes Ginge machetes a wasp nest.  We are swarmed and stung more times than I can count.  An ignominious start.  It takes us 1.5 hours to hack ourselves through the first 200m.  Our path was blocked by thick chest-high fern; the stuff was to be the bane of our mission. In fact as soon as I get back to Sydney I am cutting down the 'Jurassic fern trees' at our house!  I never want to see the plant again!  The timeline was not looking good for a three-hour climb up and back.  We'd previously been told there was a path to the top and had based our climb on that.

 

Dave 'Spidey' Ince with the anchored Tongan patrol boat far below

 

Hitting the rain forest proper we started the 35 and 45 degree ascent, each carrying 40lb packs.  I quickly realised that 13 months of rowing machining and occasional running on Tonga's flat roads was not the ideal training for this caper.  Fortunately we were evenly matched despite Ginge's impressive pedigree.  He lives in Fort William, Scotland you see; the tropics is not his thing.  What I considered a cool temperature on the island was quite the opposite to him. 

 

Anyway, nearly three hours later we are still doggedly cutting our way up hill in the jungle.  It was nearly dark by now so we camped for the night.  The following morning, after a bowl of porridge we hit the slopes at 0530, climbing using head torches.  We still had this ambitious notion that we could crack Kao and be back down by 1000. 

 

Getting to the upper tree line our path was blocked by ferns again.  It looked as though the stuff would thwart our efforts.  We had already sapped our strength on a 200 metre section of the relatively flat lower slopes.  The prospect of pushing through the stuff for another 2km and 800m of vertical climb was a non-starter given that we had to be back for our flight home by 2:15pm.  However, hacking and barging through we hit shorter fern growth, knee high as opposed to the chest / shoulder high mat of the lower slopes.  We decided to go for it.  I had earlier told the Tongan Navy, our safety cover in one of the patrol boats, that we would be back at the drop off point no later than 1000.  Ha ha.  It was a good thing that they spotted us as we came out of the trees and did their own calculation.

 

So, making a base camp we decide to leave the majority of our gear behind, including the machetes, and just take our water.  Ginge took a GPS marker of the position and we girded our loins for the distant cloud-enshrouded peak.  The going was certainly easier now and within 30 minutes we had already made double the height of the previous day, now at 700m.  The summit gradually crept closer.  We were going to make it in the time.  As we stomped up the last 10m our folly was revealed.  The mountain was playing with us; it was a false summit.  The real one was half a km away fading in and out of the cloud and taunting us.  Bollocks!  We still had to find 230m. At this stage we decided that we'd forget about the flight and conquer this beast regardless. We forged onwards and upwards. The cloud closed in below as well as above us and the patrol boat was no longer visible.

 

 

Dave Ince, with Ginge Fullen in the background, nearing the summit

 

However, we still made good progress and by 0930 we were 75m from the top.  This is when our fern nemesis returned.  Kao was trying desperately to stop us standing on her crown.  With no machetes, body weight was the go to flatten and forge through.  We prevailed and reached the elusive highest point of Tonga at 1015 28 Feb 2015.  It has been climbed before, of course, but we believe the most recent climb was the now King of Tonga himself in 1994.  Funnily enough his soldiers preceded him to Kao and cut a path to the top!  It transpired that this was the path we were told about.  Twenty years of rain forest growth had put paid to it!!! 

 

Ginge Fullen and Dave Ince savouring their triumph

 

Briefly celebrating our victory, we steeled ourselves for the long descent to the beach.  Believe me, the novelty of going down hill quickly wears off.  This was briefly assuaged when we couldn't relocate one of the rucks sacks we'd left further down.  Thinking we had passed it, the prospect of climbing back up for the thing filled me with dread.  Luckily we were well short of the spurious GPS marker and found the pack further down the slope.

 

Did I mention the ground was soaking wet?  Well it was, so there was plenty of slipping and falling as we had gained and now lost our altitude.  Then at a crucial point Ginge and I disagreed which spur of the mountain to head down.  He said right, I said left.  This was important as the correct spur would lead us back to base camp.  We chose left.  It was a bad choice.  This spur eventually took us 250m away from the camp.  When we realised 'my' error it was too late.  Now a deep gully lay between us and the camp.  Pfffft.  We had no choice but to go down and up.  It was one of our lowest ebbs, especially when dropping In to the deep murky green chasm I looked up to see an almost sheer cliff of ffffffffferns!  There was nothing for it; my mistake and I had to lead us on the path out.  It was horrendous and barely achieved.  By the time we emerged we were both absolutely exhausted. 

 

By this stage water was running low too and Ginge began to suffer excruciating cramps due to dehydration.  This was part of the not being acclimatised to the tropics issue.  I managed to massage them out of his quads a few times, but after a while my hands began cramping too, so he had to suffer it.  But we were back on track and reunited with our gear.  To be honest I was almost ready to leave it at this point, the thought of putting the hefty thing back on aching shoulders was not a happy one.  By now we were back below the cloud line and the ship was visible.  We elected to head on a compass bearing straight to her, stuff finding our previous route.  We knew of course that the f'ing ferns would be the first obstacle before hitting the rain forest, but going down hill through them was relatively easier, but still ball-bagging.

 

It was short stretch though and we were soon back in the trees.  The next time we would see the ship we'd be seeing it from the beach.  A happy prospect. The home run then, with frequent stops so Ginge could ease his cramps.  We lost altitude slowly but surely and then.....you guessed it.  We met a wall of ferns.  It was almost too much to bear.  We were both in rag order by now and it was starting to seem doubtful we would get off Kao anytime that day.  Every step was now a major effort, I was staggering like a drunk man from exhaustion, Ginge in a really bad way from dehydration.  I was out of water by this stage,but Ginge needed his more so I didn't mention it.  This was getting Bear Grylls-esque!  Kao was dead set in not letting us leave, the ferns got thicker and I could see no end to them.

 

Then through a gap in the trees we saw the patrol boat.  We both agreed that letting off our emergency flare would be a good move at this point.  Neither of us knew that they had seen us previously, but as it happened the flare was very timely.  The ship was just weighing anchor to move away and search for us.  They spotted the flare and launched the RHIB towards us.  We continued down to meet them.  The down had now become very steep and, to save a lot of effort (I was at point again), I lay sideways and rolled downhill through the wretched fern wall.  It was very effective and the battering I got for my troubles was worth it.  We cleared the last batch of the horrendous plants but I nearly rolled over the 10-foot drop that marked their ending.  Ginge soon joined me and we peered down the drop to the very steep sloping ground below.  There was nothing for it; we had to go this way, we were too weak to go back and find a safer route to the beach.

 

By this stage, so tantalisingly close, we could hear the roar of the breakers on the rocks.  We also could hear the Tongan Navy lads shouting out to us from the RHIB and we let them know we were on our way.  There was no way we were going to attempt the climb down with our rucksacks so, after re-packing some of the more delicate equipment (sat phone, camera and EPIRB), we simply tossed them off the mini cliff and watched as our packs tumbled on their way out of sight down through the trees.  Hopefully their fall would be checked at some point.  I gingerly lowered myself down to the ground and saw the sea!  It was only 50m or so away, but an alarming 60 degree slope was between us and the beach. 

 

Arse-sliding was now the go; the wet ground made for a good slide but for the occasional root and rock.  Luckily there were handy sapling grab holds to slow the slide to a vaguely controllable speed as opposed to a suicidal rush.  I stopped 25m or so down to wait for Ginge.  He announced his arrival with the large rock he had dislodged striking me on my left shoulder blade.  Ouch!  Sorry mate.  All good!   I then continued the wild helter-skelter plummet.  It was nearly my last slip and slide too.  My feet shot out over a sheer drop of 40 feet on to the rocks below just as I grabbed at a conveniently placed tree branch. It held!  Kao was not that disgruntled with me then!  I warned Ginge and he stopped at a safe distance.

 

Taking a bit of time to recover from a near fall that would have broken a few bones at the minimum, we looked over the edge and could see there was no way down.  Over to Ginge to use his mountain climbing prowess to find us a route.  Fortune favoured us and Ginge soon located another death slide that took us to the rocky beach.  With no further mishap we recovered our battered rucksacks, (Ginge's was hung up on the cliff face), and limped across the rocks to our rescuers. 

 

At this stage we saw the heavy breakers we had previously heard surging on to the rocks.  This was not going to be an easy extraction.  But first things first, we needed water, rest and some wit-gathering.  The RHIB went back to the patrol boat and picked up some water.  On its return, one of the Tongan sailors leapt into the surf without hesitation and brought it to us.  When I say it was the best tasting water I have ever had in my life you know it was appreciated.  We eyed the waves warily as we drank and knew that getting to the boat would be easier said than done.  A plan was soon hatched.

 

Once more repacking our rucksacks, we moved the electronic gear into Ginge's waterproof bag and our brave Tongan mate waded out in to the surf and deposited the bags in the boat.  The boat's coxswain had the devil's job to keep the stern of the RHIB facing the waves so he could pull himself back out of trouble.  He did a brilliant job in conditions that few Australian navy boat coxswains would attempt.  'We'll send a helicopter' would have been the conclusion to the inevitable long-winded risk assessment.  Then it was our turn.  It happened fast; the boat came in the closest yet to the shore, huge waves crashing around it.  We thought it would broach and flounder on to the rocks, but the Tongan boat driver kept his cool.  Ginge was in, I was in.

 

Then disaster struck; it was to be Koa's final smite. Not surprisingly in the conditions, the propeller hit a rock with the result that the engine stalled.  My wits fully restored, I immediately saw that the coxswain was trying to restart the engine with the gear engaged; it wasn't going to happen.  We were in the shit....again.  I dived across to him and flicked the gear lever to neutral.  Behind us, a huge wave was about to break over the boat.  He pulled the chord once, nothing; then again and the engine roared into life.  Astern gear engaged.  The boat was soon backing out of the maelstrom into safe waters.  We had finally escaped Kao!

 

Ginge, don't ever ask me to climb a mountain with you again mate. Tuvalu's high point at 5m is more my style ha ha ha.

 

It was now 1:00pm and there was not a chance in hell we would make our flight.  No matter, we were too tired to care.  The Captain then told us that their patrol was over anyway and they were heading back to main island, a mere six-hour transit.  That will do nicely.

 

As a final note, once we got back within mobile range I received a message from the airline.  The flight we were booked on had been cancelled and rescheduled for Monday, two days hence.  I can see a refund coming.  Unfortunately the photos don't do it justice.  When we eventually and literally crawled, rolled, slid and fell off the island after ten hours of blood sweat and tears, we were fairly demoralised and dead on our feet.  Neither of us photographed the really shit parts.  I wish I'd taken my Go Pro.

 

Recovery Day

 


 

MCDOA member Ian Morton is also in the Far East where he encountered fellow ex-MCDO Colin Dodd in Thailand last Thursday:

 

"Rob,

 

A couple of photos taken last week when we were taken up to the Big Buddha on the highest point of Phuket before going for an Indian meal together, he did say he should join the association!

 

     

Ian Morton (wearing glasses) with Colin Dodd in Phuket, Thailand

 

Hope you are well.

 

Ian"

 


 

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