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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.  Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  'Project Vernon' is officially supported by Portsmouth City Council, Gunwharf Quays, the MCDOA, AORNFCD, MWA, RNCDA and the TCA.  Click here for details.

17 Feb 17 - SDU2 deals with explosive relic at Portsmouth


The Royal Navy website contains this article and the Portsmouth News this article describing the disposal by members of Portsmouth-based Southern Diving Unit 2 (SDU2) of another explosive relic dredged up in Portsmouth harbour in preparation for the arrival of the new aircraft carriers.  The RN website article features PO(D) Scotty Eaton.


The explosive relic, thought to be "a British-made Armstrong Whitworth munition"

(RN website photo)


16 Feb 17 - MCDO and MWO promotions


Congratulations to the following MCD and MW officers who have been selected for promotion to Lt Cdr effective from 1 October 2017:


MCD Officers Location
Catherine KER
David MILN
NRC WWE (Birmingham)
MCM1 Crew 3
Exchange Australia
MW Officers Location
Thomas WALL


I am grateful to MCDOA member Dave Stanbury for supplying this information.


15 Feb 17 - Death and funeral of Lt Cdr Ian McConnochie RAN


I have heard from MCDOA member Cdr Edward 'Jake' Linton BEM RAN (Patron of the Royal Australian Navy Clearance Divers' Association (RANCDA)) and Capt Mick Edwards OAM RAN (National President of the RANCDA) that Australian MCDO Lt Cdr Ian McConnochie RAN passed away on Monday 13 February with his wife Pat by his side.  Ian saw active service in Korea and Vietnam and was a past President of the NSW RAN CD Association, contributing greatly to taking the State-based CD Association to a National Association.  He was also a member of the HMAS SYDNEY Association.


Ian was born in Portsmouth in October 1931 but lost his father, an Engine Room Artificer, when the submarine HMS UNDAUNTED was sunk in the Mediterranean in May 1941.  He joined the RN as a Writer in April 1949 and transferred to the RAN in October the following year when his mother and sister emigrated to Australia.  He was promoted to commissioned rank in 1963, transferred to the Seaman Branch and qualified first in his class as an MCDO.  He left the Service in January 1980 and was responsible for these articles on the Naval Historical Society of Australia website:


McConnochie – History of a Family’s RN Service 1845 to 1980


The RAN Clearance Diving Team in Vietnam 1967 to 1971


RAN Clearance Diving Operations in the Gulf War 1991


In 1974, Dan Nicholson relieved his fellow MCDOA member. the late Tim Hildesley OBE, as the RN exchange officer on the staff of COMINEWARCOM at Charleston, South Carolina where Jake Linton was the RAN exchange officer.  Dan and Jake were later relieved by MCDOA member Martyn Holloway and Ian McConnochie respectively but Dan renewed his friendship with Ian during an exchange posting in Australia 1978-79.


In November 2005, Dan visited Ian at his home in Sydney (see entry for 28 Nov 05 in News Archive 12):


Ian McConnochie & Dan Nicholson in 2005


Ian McConnochie will be laid to rest at 1130 on Monday 20 February at Hillside Chapel, Palmdale Lawn Cemetery & Memorial Park. Palmdale Road, Palmdale NSW 2258.  Uniforms for serving members.  Medals are appropriate.  POC: Eric McKenzie +61 (0)428 899376.


From MCDOA member Dan Nicholson:


"Hello again Rob,


Thanks for the details about Ian's funeral.  Can’t guarantee appropriate attire but glad to report that we will be there.






From MCDOA member Martyn Holloway:




Very sad to hear but in peace at last after a long fight.


Dan is visiting Oz at present and no doubt will make every effort to attend.




From MCDOA member Dan Nicholson:


"Thanks Rob,


We have just arrived in Oz and had planned a visit to see Ian THIS WEEK!  We will see his wife Pat.






14 Feb 17 - LS&GC and VRSM awards


Congratulations to CPO(D) G W Spence and PO(D) M A Sharrock on being gazetted for the award of the Clasp to the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal and to PO(MW) D V Dean on being gazetted for the award of the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.  Congratulations also to LS(D) C M E Fullen RNR on being gazetted for the award of the Volunteer Reserves Service Medal.


28 Jan 17 - Can you help with these enquiries?


I received all these enquiries yesterday.  I will research them at some point but, regrettably, my attention is currently focused elsewhere.  If anyone can help answer them in the meantime, I would be extrememly grateful.



Chariot Mk II Human Torpedo


From Gary Wallace-Potter of the Historical Diving Society:


"Hi Rob,


I wonder if you can help.  We recently had an inquiry from the grandson of Sidney Woollcott.  He has been researching his wartime actives, but has particulary asked for any information about the Mk II Chariots.  Anything you can help with or direct me to?


Best regards,




My main Chariot bible is Chariots of War by Robert W. Hobson which contains details and photos of an abandoned Mk II seen by Sidney Woollcott at Pounds scrapyard in Portsmouth before it was restored at Teeside Training & Enterprise at Middlesbrough.  It is now on display at the amazing Eden Camp Museum in Malton, North Yorkshire.



Records of Naval Bomb Disposal (EOD) Teams in 1970s - 1990s


From Robin McDermott:


"Dear Lt Cdr Hoole,  


Please excuse this unannounced approach, particularly from a pongo, but I am currently engaged in researching the early years of bomb disposal robots (focussing on Wheelbarrow) in the British Armed Forces.  I am aware that Royal Navy EOD teams serving in the 1980s were equipped with Wheelbarrow, chiefly as I understand it for the defence of their own establishments. 


Following my initial enquiries for the National Museum of the Royal Navy, where (apparently) there are no associated objects or archives in its collections, I was pointed in your direction.  Might the Association be in a position to help me with this? 


Whilst I acknowledge that it is unlikely that you will have any 3D objects, I wondered if your membership might be able to provide individual accounts of the Royal Navy’s use and deployment of Wheelbarrow, especially if it is accompanied by photographs or similar.  


I should add that I am an ex-ATO, so I already have a little knowledge in this field.  


Best wishes,  


Robin McDermott"



TON class MCMV binnacles


From John Soanes, Chairman of the Ton Class Association:




To my ancient eyes, the binnacle on the bridge of Bronington seems rather different to any other I have seen. 



Was it special?





Decompression or Recompression chamber?


From David Reith of the Surface Warship Association of Modellers:


"Hi Rob,


My name is David Reith and I'm a member of the Surface Warship Association that builds scale model warships.  I wonder if you could help me.  I'm currently building a 1/48 scale model of HMS Quorn MCMV.  My question is about the chamber on the quarterdeck.  Is this a De- Compression Chamber or a Re- Compression Chamber?


One other item.  I am the assistant event rep of Area 4 of the SWA.  We've attended one of your book launches (Last of the Wooden Walls) in Portsmouth Dockyard in the past (see entry for 10 Mar 12 in News Archive 37).  If you have any events like this in the future and would like us us to put on another model display, please drop me an email.


Thank you for your help.


Dave & Andrea"


Dave Reith and David McNair-Taylor with their models of HMS Penzance, HMS Kirkliston

and HMT Sir Galahad (with TCA member Barry Barnes in the foreground) at the

launch of Last of the Wooden Walls in March 2012



Rolex Military Submariner (MilSub) diver's watch


From an enquirer (name withheld for obvious reasons):


"I am contacting you after being given your details by Mrs Christine Harper of Naval Historical Branch (Naval Staff) in HM Naval Base, Portsmouth.


I have a very rare Naval Divers watch that was issued by Rolex in the 1970s to either Royal Navy divers/ SAS/ SBS.  It is a Rolex 5513 Military submariner (milsub).  There are only around one hundred remaining around the world, and since Rolex do not have any records since their archives were cleared in 2011 you are my only hope for some simple, basic information, ie: which dockyard or ship it was issued to, even a name.  The serial number is 3927017, the m.o.d number is 0552/923-7697 and year 529/76.



I am also awaiting communication from the SBS at Hamworthy." 



If anyone can help with any of the queries above, please send me an email via my Webmaster address and I will forward it to the relevant enquirer.  I will publish responses here in due course unless asked otherwise.


27 Jan 17 - FCDT clearance of Grand Harbour, Malta 


1984 Operation


The Times of Malta has published this article recalling the 1984 operation, undertaken partially by members of the Fleet Clearance Diving Team (FCDT) based at HMS Vernon, to help clear Grand Harbour of wrecks and unexploded bombs.


Former CD Paul Jeacock, one of the FCDT divers involved, has kindly given me permission to publish these images of the operation:


Paul Jeacock fishing for divers in Grand Harbour, Valetta 


Twin-barrelled gun belonging to an unidentified British destroyer


Two-thirds of HMS Jersey's boiler/superheater.  Single dive.  Single lift.




Above and below: Torpedo tubes from HMS Maori lying off Boiler Wharf in Senglea



Recovered chains, mooring anchors, buoys and other debris


David Schembri (Mayor at Qrendi Local Council), who features in the Times of Malta article, has kindly provided this photo of some of the FCDT divers involved in the 1984 operation:


Left to right: Bungy Williams (TBC), Rich Edwards, Paul Jeacock, George Rennie and Taff Onda


From David Schembri, Mayor at Qrendi Local Council:


"Dear Rob,


Many thanks for the information re the Grand Harbour clearance that was not just restricted to the SS Talabot but also included the HMS Maori torpedoes, the superheater \ boiler of HMS Jersey, the 30 ton sinkers of the floating dock, mooring chains and anchors, as well as a large amount of WWII debris.


The work was carried out by many dedicated and loyal AFM EOD and PWD divers answering directly to Dom Mintoff.  The clearance and salvage of the wrecks and debris were carried out with the Sea Wolf, an 'A' frame tug boat owned by Cassar Ship Repair Ltd and a grab dredger, the Giddiem owned by the Dredging Works Ltd, and the said Dutch Tuglift 'A' frame.


The overall official in charge of the operations was Col Albert Camilleri with myself responsible for diving operations and the liaising with the Army and civilian divers.  Both Col Camilleri and myself answered directly to Perit Mintoff and where daily meetings were held in this regards.  One must however be fair to comment that the RN Fleet Clearance divers took ownership of the recovery and disposal of the torpedoes from Boiler wharf, and assisted in the lifting of the SS Talabot hull off Pinto Wharf.


The Royal Navy clearance divers formed an integral part of the salvage team due to their expertise in unexploded ordnance.  Prior to the salvage works, an underwater video survey was carried out by the Hydrography department of the ports department with the assistance of a small and selected team of divers and where hours of underwater video footage of the obstructions proved useful in the Anglo Maltese negotiations in order to clear the fareway to the China Dock designed for super tanker repair works as well as the Pinto and Crucifix Wharf designed as a cruise liner passenger terminal.


Maltese divers at the RN Diving School on Manoel Island including two from my village of Qrendi


Thanks a million once again for helping to rediscover our past history and the courage and unselfishness of many others.





1972 Operation


A similar operation had been conducted by FCDT divers in 1972.  As a result, MCDOA member John O'Driscoll was gazetted for his appointment as an MBE and CPO(CD1) Bernard Edward 'Donkey' Bray and PO(CD1) (later FCPO(D)) Victor John 'Vic' Humphrey for their award of the BEM (Supplement to The London Gazette of Monday, 6th August 1973):



St. James's Palace, London S.W.1.

7th August 1973


The QUEEN has been graciously pleased to give orders for the following appointment to the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire: To be an Additional Member of the Military Division of the said Most Excellent Order, for Gallantry:


Lieutenant John Francis O'DRISCOLL, Royal Navy


Lieutenant O'Driscoll was the Officer-in-Charge of the Fleet Clearance Diving Team which was engaged in clearing a large number of unexploded bombs from the wreck of the SS Talbot (sic) in Grand Harbour, Malta.  The SS Talbot (sic) had been bombed and set on fire on 26th March 1942 and because of her dangerous cargo was scuttled.  From 16th October to 11th December 1972 the Fleet Clearance Diving Team recovered 73 bombs with a combined weight of 19,500 Ibs.  All the bombs were fused and heavy corrosion had made them stick together.  Many of the bombs were buried in the mud and had to be cleared by water jetting which meant that the divers had to work entirely by touch, visibility being nil.  Each bomb had to be broken out individually using a winch and wire strop and up to two tons tension had to be applied to break each bomb out.  Once the bombs were brought to the surface they had to be continually hosed down to prevent crystallising and becoming extremely dangerous.  The successful completion of this lengthy and highly dangerous operation was due largely to the coolness and courage of Lieutenant O'Driscoll.  His determination and leadership were of the very highest order and in the best traditions of the Service."



The QUEEN has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the British Empire Medal for Gallantry (Military Division) to the undermentioned:


Chief Petty Officer Clearance Diver First Class Bernard Edward BRAY P/J898304P

Petty Officer Clearance Diver First Class Victor John HUMPHREY P/J90S626P


Chief Petty Officer Bray and Petty Officer Humphrey were the Seconds-in-Command of the two shifts who were working under Lieutenant O'Driscoll during the period 16th October to 11th December 1972.  Their coolness both whilst diving themselves and directing the operations of others was instrumental in the success of the highly dangerous operation of removing the bombs from the wreck of the SS Talbot (sic).


The leadership and courage shown by Chief Petty Officer Bray and Petty Officer Humphrey were of the highest order and in the best traditions of the Service.


Note that "SS Talbot" was actually SS Talabot.  Confusingly, HMS Talbot was the name of the wartime base in Malta of the 10th Submarine Flotilla. 


Interestingly, the burning ammunition ship SS Talabot was scuttled in Valetta harbour on 22 March 1942 by Lt (later Lt Cdr) Dennis Arthur Copperwheat RN of HMS Penelope, aka 'HMS Pepperpot' owing to the number of shrapnel holes in her structure caused by German bombs and shells.  He had qualified as a Torpedo Officer at HMS Vernon and was gazetted for the award of the George Cross for his heroism (Third Supplement to The London Gazette of Friday, 13th of November 1942):



 St. James's Palace, S.W.1

11th November, 1942


The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the Award of the GEORGE CROSS to:


 Lieutenant Dennis Arthur Copperwheat, Royal Navy, H.M.S. Penelope


For great bravery at Malta. During heavy air attacks on Valletta, Lieutenant Copperwheat was sent in charge of a party of men from H.M.S. Penelope to scuttle a Merchantman, laden with ammunition, which was burning in the harbour.  Owing to the fires, it was impossible to place scuttling charges in the holds, and they had to be slung over the side of the ship.  As they worked, ammunition was exploding all round them from burning stowages on deck.  The ship lay 40 yards from the shore, to which the electric cables for firing the scuttling charges could only just reach.  Lieutenant Copperwheat sent his working party to shelter, and stayed himself fo fire the charges from a position where he was exposed to the full blast of the explosion, which lifted him bodily.  But for his brave action the ship must have blown up, and grave damage would have been done to the harbour.


Moreover, much of the ammunition was saved and some very heavy bombs, part of the cargo, were soon afterwards dropped in Italy.


26 Jan 17 - Advance Australia Fair



Happy Australia Day to all our mates down under.


The Tasmanian Chapter of the RAN Clearance Divers' Association (RANCDA) has kindly extended this invitation (see entry for 17 Jan 17):


Clearance Divers Association Reunion 11-17 September 2017 in Tasmania


The Reunion


The Tasmanian Chapter of the RAN Clearance Divers Association (RNCDA) extends an invite to all members, ex-serving Clearance Divers, current Clearance Divers, and their families to attend the 2017 Biennial Clearance Diver’s reunion.  An invitation is also extended to the diving and EOD communities of allied and Commonwealth defence forces around the world.


Tasmania, the island state, where much is considered world heritage, offers a unique setting for the reunion. 


The reunion activities will be focused in the Hobart area as well as a deployment to the West coast wilderness.  We have chosen the West coast to showcase some of the stunning areas and activities Tasmania has to offer.  A packed program will give visitors the opportunity to not only catch up with old colleagues and fellow warriors, but encourage new friendships while fostering the younger generation to continue the growth of the Association. 


The organisation of any reunion poses many challenges.  We ask that you please bear with us and assist by indicating your intention to attend events early.


If you have any questions you can contact me direct and I will endeavour to answer them.  Please pass the message on and we look forward to hosting you in Hobart September 2017.


United and Undaunted.


Corry Van den Broek 


See here for further details.


22 Jan 17 - Diving Museum calendar of events in 2017 


The 2017 calendar of events at the Historical Diving Society (HDS) Diving Museum at No.2 Battery in Stokes Bay is available for download in pdf format here:



The museum will be open at weekends between 1100 and 1600 from Easter to Halloween.  Volunteer guide Mike O'Meara states that there will a significant new exhibit so, even if you have already made a visit, it is well worth coming back again this year.


21 Jan 17 - Award of third clasp to VRSM


Congratulations to WO1(MW) Davey Annan RNR on being gazetted for the award of the third clasp to his Volunteer Reserves Service Medal (VRSM).  Davey, a 55 year-old IT specialist from Leith, has spent 32 years in the Royal Navy Reserves and has served on the minewarfare battle staff of Commander UK Mine Countermeasures Force (COMUKMCMFOR) in Bahrain.


I am grateful to Cdr Neil Meharg RD RNR, SO1MW(R) at HMS Hibernia, for pointing out that Davey has been a WO since July 2016 and is not a CPO as stated in the London Gazette.


20 Jan 17


World War Two bomb removed from River Thames


The Royal Navy website contains this article, the Portsmouth News website this article, the BBC website this article (including video) and the ITV website this article reporting the removal and disposal of a German SD 50kg bomb dredged up from the River Thames in Central London last night.  The operation, conducted by members of Portsmouth-based Southern Diving Unit 2 (SDU2) and the Metropolitan Police, forced the temporary closure of Waterloo Bridge, Westminster Bridge and the Victoria Embankment.



RN website images




The Royal Navy article features MCDOA member Del McKnight (CO Portsmouth-based Fleet Diving Squadron (FDS)) and Mike St-Pierre RCN (OIC SDU2).


Divers shed light on wreck of RN’s worst wartime accident


The Royal Navy website contains this article describing a recent survey of the wreck of the dreadnought HMS Vanguard, torn apart by an explosion in Scapa Flow in July 1917 with the loss of all but two of her 845 personnel. 


The dreadnought battleship HMS Vanguard

(Royal Navy website)


The specially approved survey of the war grave was conducted by civilian divers operating from the Orkney-based diving tender MV Huskyan.



Above and below: The wreck of the dreadnought battleship HMS Vanguard

(RN website photos)




The wreck of HMS Vanguard was last visited by the Royal Navy in 2009 when divers from HMS Bangor placed a weighted wreath and white ensign on her shattered hull (see entry for 23 Oct 09 in News Archive 28).


19 Jan 17 - Commander UK Maritime Forces speech at Palace of Westminster


The Royal Navy website contains the text of this speech delivered by Rear Admiral Alex Burton (Commander UK Maritime Forces) to the All Parties Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces at the Palace of Westminster on Monday 16 January 2017.  These excerpts are of particular interest:




Welcome to 2017 the ‘Year of the Royal Navy’.  How true for a year that will see some extraordinary statements of our island nation's ambition; cutting steel on the Type 26, the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth [of which MCDOA member Bob Hawkins MBE is 1st Lt] and much, much more.  But I want to steer clear of this well publicised and hugely exciting strategic intent and spend a few minutes describing why, for those on operations and those of us supporting operations, every year is the year of the Royal Navy.  


2016 was no exception, with on average a third of our service deployed – a shame then that, if you relied solely on the press, you would be forgiven for thinking that 2016 saw your navy alongside on half pay, seeking employment as prison hulks.  So let me dispel those myths.


Why me this evening? Well, I am the Royal Navy's only sea going, fighting, Admiral - in army parlance my peer is General Commanding Three Division Patrick Sanders and for the historians; Sandy Woodward is my forbear.


Let me start with a short reflection on the exploits of a couple of Warships.


HMS DARING [Previously commanded by MCDOA President Rear Admiral Paddy McAlpine CBE]


First, HMS Daring the Type 45 destroyer you may remember photographed in the summer alongside.  Fair, I’d suggest - getting her only leave before deploying in September on a 9 month deployment East of Suez and the Gulf - an area of the world that the Royal Navy could almost call home having spent half a century in the region providing reassurance, deterrence and when required, hard power.


Daring arrived in theatre on the day that an Emirati civilian ship was attacked by the Yemani Ansar Allah group.  In the following 7 weeks she conducted 17 transits between the Southern Red Sea and Bab-El-Mendeb Strait.  This was protecting shipping ranging from HMS Bulwark, HMS Ocean and the maritime joint expeditionary Task Group to 650,000 tonnes of merchant shipping, equivalent to 17 typical WW2 transatlantic convoys of approximately 50 ships.  


I have spent much of my time at sea in the region and I would observe it is the perfect example of a congested battle space - a large number of Gulf warships and aircraft conducting operations in the vicinity of the Straits against Houthi forces ashore, as well as continuous merchant traffic passing through the choke point.  So there is a very real risk of misidentification.


HMS Daring remained ready and available for operations for every day she was tasked; spending 39 days in Defence Watches, a heightened but sustainable internal posture, with a further 97 hours at Action Stations, the Ship’s highest protection posture with every seat manned.  That is longer than she spent alongside during that tasking.  HMS Daring is still deployed and will not return until May...




Beyond this, the surface fleet has conducted 50 named operations from chasing Russian submarines in the wilds of the North Atlantic to our decade of duty providing mine countermeasures in the Gulf, and spent 7,106 days at sea, of which 2,630 days almost 40% has been on operations.  30% of the Fleet have deployed away from the UK which does not include those mine countermeasures and hydrographic and patrol vessels more permanently deployed.  


A final fact may put into perspective everything I have mentioned about the tempo and intensity of Royal Navy operations; of the personnel who spend more than 1,900 days away from their families over the course of their career the Royal Navy has 5,260, the Army 310 and the RAF 25.


Effective and calibrated unit action relies on effective command and here the Royal Navy has been the benchmark upon which many other Navies have judged themselves for years.  


2016 was a pretty routine year for us but what might surprise you is how intense that routine is:




Let's start in our second home: For the past 13 years the Royal Navy has held the Deputy Commander’s position in the Gulf for all coalition forces.  Cdre Will Warrender is the Commander of all Royal Naval forces in the region but he is also the right hand man to the US Navy Admiral, Cdr Fifth Fleet.  He has a small team of 86 people and perhaps I can bring to life his responsibilities.  


With an area of operations covering over 4 million square miles spanning the Eastern Mediterranean, Red Sea, Arabian Gulf, Northern Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean south to Diego Garcia, he commands over 1000 RN/RM/RFA personnel.  They support a range of aircraft to achieve over 3,000 flying hours including embarked Wildcat and Merlin helicopters, the Merlin detachment operating in support of the Royal Omani Coastguard conducting Maritime Security Operations and the venerable Sea Kings embarked in RFA Fort Victoria who provide a surface search and airborne early warning capability.  We have come a long way since HMS Jufair closed its doors in 1971 and it will not be long before JUFAIR reopens back in Bahrain [planned to re-commission in July 2017].


Staying in the Middle East Region: One of these coalition task forces was commanded by my deputy for 5 months last year and has a standing responsibility for counter terrorism and drugs in the sea areas.  Leading this fight he commanded vessels from the Navies of Australia, France, Pakistan, the United States and the United Kingdom.  He has provided 431 ship Days of support, 2 Focused operations resulting in 80% of the coalition seizures of heroin and 100% of the seizures of hashish, removing over 2000 kgs from making their way to the streets.  Equally important has been the Key Leader Engagement with regional partners including Tanzania, Seychelles and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.


And this year we will be bringing to life a key tenet of the Lancaster House agreement.  We will form a combined battlestaff with our French colleagues to deliver this task as CTF 150 again, and current plans have us repeating this in 2019.  So, not exercises but frontline combined operational command with the French.


Finally, sticking to the Middle East, Command of the Minewarfare task group in the Gulf has been vested in the Royal Navy since 2006.  This means routinely taking command of a multi-national MCM Task Force of up to 700 people including air, surface and underwater MCM assets alongside the command and support ship from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and the four mine counter-measures ships permanently based in Bahrain. 


It is worthy of note that many of our mine warfare Senior Rates may conduct 8 tours in a 10 year period in the Middle East.  Indeed, some personnel have never deployed in the traditional sense as they simply fly from the UK to Bahrain and back..."


18 Jan 17 - MCDOA trio celebrates 30th anniversary of entering BRNC Dartmouth


Having featured MCDOA Martin Mackey in yesterday's entry, I was delighted to receive this message from him today:


"Hi Rob,


I thought you’d be interested to hear about a recent reunion that took place over the weekend 6 – 8 Jan 17.  Don Crosbie, Chris O’Flaherty and I had the pleasure of meeting up at BRNC to celebrate our 30th anniversary since joining the RN, along with over 30 others of our entry nicely mixed between serving officers and retirees. 


Reunion of BRNC Dartmouth's 1987 entry


We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves over the whole weekend which was marked by a mess dinner on the Saturday evening at the college with a fantastic meal on the upper gallery in the Senior Gun Room (and songs), after dinner drinks in the Senior Gun Room bar and then a lock-in until the early hours of the Sunday morning at the Royal Castle Hotel.  We had a fantastic time and the three of us made the most of catching up. 


Martin Mackey, Chris O'Flaherty and Don Crosbie

on The Quarterdeck at BRNC Dartmouth


One of the celebrants is now serving in the RAN and told me that they don’t sing at mess dinners anymore.  I can’t imagine a mess dinner without singing.  As ever, hooting with the owls and soaring with the eagles is becoming much more difficult to do these days, not so much the hooting, but definitely the soaring.   


Chris is currently DCOM CTF 52 in Bahrain, Don is the RNLO to Commander 7th Fleet and CINC Japanese Self Defence Fleet, and I’m on the Directing Staff of ACSC at JSCSC.  Both of them will have finished their current jobs and be back in the UK well before the next MCDOA dinner.  We all hope to be there.






[If you want to expand the abbreviations in my text for the readers: DCOM CTF 52– Deputy Commander, Commander Task Force 52; RNLO – Royal Navy Liaison Officer; CINC – I’d hope everyone knows that; ACSC – Advanced Command and Staff Course; JSCSC – Joint Services Command and Staff College (Shrivenham).]"


17 Jan 17 - RAN CD Association Biennial Reunion - Tasmania


I am grateful to Capt Michael 'Mick' Edwards OAM RAN, National President of the Royal Australian Navy Clearance Divers' Association (RANCDA), for this invitation which I am sure applies to all ranks of Clearance Diver:


"Good evening,


I am pleased to advise that planning is presently underway for our Biennial reunion in Tasmania Sep 2017.  Accordingly, your members, particularly those having served on exchange or with RAN personnel, are cordially invited to attend.


Details are available at  Please disseminate as required.  


United and Undaunted.




Michael Edwards  | President  

RAN Clearance Divers Association" 


Mick was one of four RAN exchange officers who underwent Minewarfare training with MCDOA members Martin Mackey and Jonathan Lee at HMS Nelson (Gunwharf), previously HMS VERNON, in 1991 prior to serving as Ops Officer of HMS Atherstone.



Here are MCDOA members Martin Mackey and Jonathan Lee celebrating the 25th anniversary of MWO 1/91 at the association's dinner last year (see entry for 20 Nov 16 in News Archive 56):



From Capt Mick Edwards OAM RAN:


"Thank you Rob,


Of course I regret that none of us could muster the time to make it back for the 25th.  I am sure our passage back will be inevitable and only a matter of time (if we are allowed in!).  Now that you have also dragged some of the more reticent of our warriors from their hiding spaces by revealing emails, I will be able to email them in future!  


The Colonials on this 1991 Vernon course included:  




Myself - Lt Cdr Michael Edwards, OAM (Rtd) - see

Cdre Jay Bannister, RAN




Cdr Scott Hamilton, RAN

Capt Bryan Parker, RAN  


(All the above were inducted into the the ‘Caledonian Northern Scotland Naked Drinkers Club’)  


Lt Cdr Paul Davey, RN (in the photo he had switched to the dark side - although he will always belong to us!!!)  


United & Undaunted.


Best wishes,




15 Jan 17 - A message from ex-CD James Coombes



Former Royal Navy Clearance Diver James 'Pat' Coombes and his family had to abandon their 50 ft yacht Dove II in the Caribbean on 21 December after its rudder disintegrated as reported in the entry for 11 Jan 17.  James has since sent me this message:


"Hi Rob,


I'd like to thank everyone who has helped us out already.  The funds we've raised up to now have helped us buy a dinghy and engine to get around St Martin.  A guy here has given us the use of his boat to stay on at anchor in the lagoon.


We are very grateful for everyone's help as we have lost everything.  The support messages from all around the world are keeping us sane.


We have been in contact with the US Coast Guard and Chris Parker who is a weather routeing expert.  We are not sure if our yacht is going to drift around the north of the islands or pick up on the north Atlantic current towards Bermuda.  We are trying to keep positive but we are slowly losing hope as the days pass by.


James (Pat)"


In the spirit of Branch solidarity, please consider donating via the Coombes' Go Fund Me webpage if you haven't done so already.  It was set up by Will Marks who was on board the yacht Tilly Mint which rescued Pat and his family from their drifting boat.  All funds from the campaign go directly into James 'Pat' Coombes' bank account.


GoFundMe: Coombes Family - Rescued at Sea


14 Jan 17 - Polish MCM support ship visits Portsmouth


The Royal Navy website contains this report of the visit to Portsmouth of the Polish Navy's multitask logistical support ship ORP Kontradmiral Xawery Czernicki.  She appears to be designated as the next flagship of Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 2 (SNMCMG2) in the Mediterranean.


ORP Kontradmirał Xawery Czernicki alongside in Portsmouth Naval Base

(RN website photo) 


13 Jan 17 - SDU1 deals with wartime phosphorous grenades in Plymouth


The Plymouth Herald website contains the following articles (including videos) telling the unfolding story of the disposal of ten 'Dad's Army' self-igniting phosphorous (SIP) grenades by members of Plymouth-based Southern Diving Unit 1 (SDU1) near the Derriford roundabout on Tuesday 10 January.


Tavistock Road CLOSED after workers find eight grenades


Royal Navy bomb squad at scene of unexploded grenades on Tavistock Road



Watch as Royal Navy bomb squad remove objects in Tavistock Road



Bomb squad reveal exactly what they found - and blew up



12 Jan 17 - RN Bomb & MIne Disposal Heritage: The Whitstable mines


I received this query earlier today:


"Good morning,


My name is Mark Harrison and I am an archaeologist and historian researching the defence works that were constructed along the Kent Coast during WW1 and WW2.  During the course of my work I have come across two interesting stories, both involving parachute mines that landed on the inter-tidal mudflats to the west of Whitstable at Seasalter.


The first was rendered safe and taken to Whitstable from where it was driven to HMS Vernon for examination.  It appears this action was painted by war artist Eric Ravilious.  


The second case involved two mines that sunk into the mud, following an attempt to destroy by use of a charge.  Two excavation shafts and a railway had to be constructed to remove the mines and render them safe.  


Do you have an historian that may be able to assist in my research?  


Best wishes,




Mark Harrison BSc(Hons) FSA

The Forgotten Frontline - Director" 



I sent Mark this response:


"Hello Mark,


Oddly enough, I received a query back in 2010 about 'Dangerous Work at Low Tide' which depicted the second successful clearance of a World War II German parachute mine, on Whitstable Sands, in early 1940.  It came from James Russell who was researching a book about the English war artist Eric Ravilious and I included the resulting exchange of emails in the fourth part of the entry for 31 Mar 10 in News Archive 29 of the MCDOA website:


Also see:  


Historian Chris Ransted, author of ‘Bomb Disposal and the British Casualties of WW2’, sent me this extract from 'Of Mines and Men' by Lt Cdr G.A. Hodges GM VRD RNR.  It describes the event portrayed in the Ravilious painting.



Dangerous Work at Low Tide by Eric Ravilious, 1940

(MOD Art Collection)


I am blind copying James and Chris on this in the hope that they might shed further light on the Whitstable incidents.


Best wishes,





I was then delighted to receive this response from Chris Ransted:


"Hi Mark,


Have you looked at the file ADM 1/14438 at The National Archives?  It covers:


HONOURS AND AWARDS (85): Mine disposal services, 1941-1943 with photographs of operations: awards.


STRATEGY AND TACTICS (82): Mine disposal services, 1941-1943, with photographs of operations: awards.


I have attached these photos of the recovery of the two acoustic mines at Seasalter that are in the file.  





As it happens I am just in the process of having another book published on wartime bomb disposal and I mention these two Seasalter mines.  I can't really add anything to the information held in the file mentioned above, other than a bit of background on Leading Seaman (Act.) R.N. Pensioner Frederick Henry Roberts Pickett who was in charge of the party of Seamen digging for the mines.  He was born in Plumstead in 1900 and joined the navy as a boy in 1915 and initially served on the troop transport ship, HMS Powerful.  


Hope that's of help.  


Best regards,





The war artist Eric Ravilious also created these paintings in his 'Submarine Series' of 1940:


The Whitstable Mine by Eric Ravilious, 1940

(National Maritime Museum, Greenwich)


The Diver by Eric Ravilious, 1940

(National Maritime Museum, Greenwich)



Mark Harrison replied to Chris's email thus:


"Hi Chris,


Many thanks.  I was aware of the file but not the exact reference number.  I think this image may be from the same file.  Sorry about the quality.  We are hoping to locate both shafts using geo-physics but I need to focus the potential locations by overlaying archive images with contemporary images.  These shots also show a range of other conflict archaeology - in particular anti-invasion obstacles (scaffold fencing, posts etc.).



We are also hoping to pinpoint the location of the single mine that was painted by Ravilious.  We have confirmed where it was brought ashore.


Thank you for your help.  




Mark Harrison FSA

The Forgotten Frontline - Director"



Mark Harrison also sent this message:


"Hi Rob,


Many thanks.  I will keep you apprised of our findings.


Mark Mark Harrison FSA

The Forgotten Frontline - Director" 



Finally, art historian James Russell sent this message:


"Dear Mark and Rob,


Thanks for getting in touch.  This is a fascinating story, but I'm afraid I can't add anything except to say that 'Of Mines and Men' is well worth reading - though I'm sure you already know that, Rob.


Actually there is one little thing.  A couple of years ago I curated a Ravilious exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery and included 'Dangerous Work at Low Tide'.  Who should turn up but the son of Commander West, who led the defuzing operation.  It turned out that he had another Ravilious picture, painted for Commander West and showing HMS Actaeon.


Good luck with the project,




The 'Commander West' to whom James refers must have been Harold West DSC*.  This is from WW II Awards for RN Diving and Bomb & Mine Disposal in the website's 'Branch History' section: 









HMS Escort
HMS Vernon

RN Barracks, Portsmouth

HMS Pembroke
(Torpedo School, Chatham)

24 Apr 40
24 Apr 40
20 Dec 40
4 Mar 41

Bar to DSC

RMS - First MID awarded for devotion to duty in rescuing, rendering first aid to, and caring for, many survivors from a Liner sunk by the enemy.

DSC awarded for courage and skill in securing and stripping live enemy mines without regard for his own safety.

Second MID awarded for courage, coolness and devotion to duty.  Mine Disposal.

Bar to DSC awarded for gallantry and skill. German parachute mine RN Barracks, Portsmouth.


This is an excerpt from my friend and colleague Hans Houterman's excellent Unit Histories website:


H. West
Married 1st ((12?).1922, Medway district, Kent) Mary Kathleen Keogh (1900 - (03?).1926); ... children (daughter Mary Keogh West married Lt.Cdr. Charles Philip Bowers, RN).
Married 2nd (12.10.1946, St George's Church, RN Barracks, Chatham) Mary Henrietta Forbes, 2nd Officer WRNS, daughter of William Henry K. Forbes (1874-1958), and Mrs Forbes, of Muswell Hill.

St Pancras, London
Chichester district


? [J907]




?, seniority 01.03.1918




08.03.1939 (retd 05.04.1942)

A/Lt.Cdr. (retd)

> 08.1942, < 02.1943

Lt.Cdr. (retd)


A/Cdr. (retd)

< 07.1945


Distinguished Service Cross



Stripping live enemy mines [investiture 07.05.40]

Distinguished Service Cross



German parachute mine [RN Barracks, Portsmouth] [investiture 08.04.41]

Mention in Despatches



Rescue liner survivors

Mention in Despatches



Mine disposal




HMS TB 92 (torpedo boat)




HMS Versatile (torpedo-boat destroyer)




HMS Hecla (special torpedo vessel; depot ship)




No appointment listed




HMS Wild Swan (destroyer) (for torpedo duties) (China)




HMS Ambuscade (destroyer) (for torpedo duties) (Mediterranean)




HMS Woolston (destroyer) (for torpedo duties) (Mediterranean)




No appointment listed




HMS Cardiff (cruiser) (Reserve Fleet, The Nore)




HMS Woolwich (destroyer depot ship) (for torpedo duties) (building at Govan, then Mediterranean)




No appointment listed




HMS Caledon (cruiser) (for minesweepers in reserve) (for torpedo duties) (Reserve Fleet, The Nore)




HMS Escort (destroyer)




Torpedo School, Chatham [HMS Pembroke] [in command since > 06.1944, < 07.1945]


This is the Ravilious painting of HMS Actaeon owned by Harold West:


HMS Actaeon (the former HMS Ariadne) by Eric Ravilious, 1942

(Cdr Harold West DSC* RN)


Regular devotees of the MCDOA website will know that the hulk of the HMS Actaeon depicted in the painting is the former 26-gun screw frigate HMS Ariadne (1859).  As Ariadne, she and the hulks of the 50-gun fourth rate frigate Vernon (1832) and the lighter Florence Nightingale were commissioned as HMS Vernon on 26 April 1876 to become the floating home of the Royal Navy's Torpedo Branch at Portsmouth, independent of HMS Excellent. 


HMS Ariadne (the later HMS Actaeon in the painting above) as part of HMS Vernon in 1896


The hulk of Ariadne (1859) was used for accommodation but was renamed Actaeon in 1905 after moving to Sheerness where she became a floating torpedo school.  In November 1906 she was joined by the hulk of the former screw corvette HMS Dido (1869) which was renamed Actaeon II.  The floating establishment was also used as an auxiliary First World War patrol base between 1914 and 1918 but closed in 1921 and the vessels were broken up in 1922.  Harold West commanded the Torpedo School ashore at Chatham during the Second World War and probably wanted a painting of its predecessor.


HMS Ariadne's figurehead at HMS Vernon in the 1980s


Confusingly, the hulk of the 50-gun frigate HMS Vernon (1832) was also renamed Actaeon (VERNON IV) in 1886.  She replaced the hulk of the original Actaeon (1831), added to the RN's then embryo floating mining and torpedo school at Portsmouth in October 1879, and was used as a workshop.  She was sold in 1923 when HMS Vernon moved ashore to what was then the Army's Gunwharf and is now the marina, shopping and residential development known as Gunwharf Quays.



HMS Actaeon (VERNON IV), the former HMS Vernon, in 1904



11 Jan 17 - A former RN Clearance Diver who needs our support


The Daily Mail website contains this article and The Times website this article (behind a paywall) describing the plight of the Coombes family who crossed the Atlantic last month and had to abandon their 50 ft yacht Dove II in the Caribbean on 21 December after it lost its rudder.  The head of the family is James 'Pat' Coombes (nicknamed after the well-known actress), a former RN Clearance Diver who served in HMS Chiddingfold and HMS Grimsby.


Former RN CD James 'Pat' Coombes


This is an extract from the family blog:




November 4, 2016 · by westerlyadventures · in James.



I’m dad, husband and captain.  I am the reason we have started this crazy adventure.  I have wanted to sail the world since I was a child.  I joined the Royal Navy at 21 and became a clearance diver for 8 years.  I then met Fran, left and lived in Newquay, working as a carpenter and creating our little family.  This has been its own adventure but the pull to cross oceans has remained.  We have worked hard to finally fulfil this dream.  This summer I got some miles under the belt crossing the Atlantic from Grenada to Portugal with a good friend and feel confident to move my family off land and onto water."



This is the latest extract from his family's blog:


Where to go from here?


January 11, 2017 · by westerlyadventures · in Uncategorized. ·


Ok family, friends and readers.  I’ve been letting Fran run with the blog and oh my god she’s been doing a Stirling job.  170,000 views in the last 5 days, we’re blown away by all the support and generosity we are receiving from people all around the world.  My writing skills are nowhere near Fran’s so please bear with me and my babbling.  I keep meaning to sit down and write my side of the story, to try and give a little insight into what I think went wrong for us.  My head is in all out find the boat mode at the moment, with no time to sit down and concentrate on writing it all up.  I’ll get there soon I hope.


I’ve put help posts on various sailing forums in hope that someone comes back to me saying they’ve spotted the boat.  I’ve had a lot of positive help and advice feedback, but I’ve also had numerous people giving me the should’ve, would’ve, could’ve comments. 


Within hours of posting on the first forum I had a guy contact me, offering me to come and stay on his yacht, then we could go out and search for Dove II.  His name is John Blair from Tenby, Wales on board his 42′ Bavaria ‘BALLYHOO’ in Falmouth harbour, Antigua.  When I met John, we got along great as we had a lot in common.  He runs a mackerel fishing boat out of Tenby and has spent his life on the sea.  I cannot express in words how grateful I am. 


I also want to thank Glenn Tuttle the net manager at Seven Seas cruising association’s HF radio service “KPK” who has links with the US Coastguard and Navy and Chris Parker from marine weather and communications. 


Finally thank you to Will Marks for setting up a gofundme site and Bethany Rush for linking it to the blog by clicking help us out at the top of the home page.  You’re both awesome.



A GoFundMe webpage has been set up by Will Marks, a fellow sailor in the Caribbean: 


"On December 21st, 2016 the Coombes family were forced to abandon Dove II, their sailboat and home, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  James, Fran, Tony, Heath, and Isla were at the beginning of their journey around the world when catastrophe struck.  After saving money for years, preparing the boat for months, and having made it 3/4 of the way across the Atlantic, their rudder completely disintegrated because of heavy wind and waves.  With no way to control the boat, they spent three days being punished by 4 to 6 meter waves while trying to jury rig an emergency rudder.  With their repair attempts being repeatedly thwarted by the bad conditions, they were forced to abandon ship into their liferaft and be rescued by another sailboat.


The Coombes family is safe, but they have been left with nothing.  They were able to take little more than the clothes on their backs when they abandoned ship.  Their wordly possessions and their very home itself were left behind on Dove II.  They are currently stuck in St. Martin, trying to figure out how to move forward.


While the family is currently attempting to recover the boat, the outlook is not good.  The search costs as well as the future expense of re-establishing their lives are going to be enormous.  Let's rally behind this wonderful young family and help them get back on their feet after this disaster.


Thank you so much."


In the spirit of branch solidarity, please help if you feel able:


GoFundMe: Coombes Family - Rescued at Sea


From an anonymous serving MCDOA member:




I read about Pat Coombes and his family’s ordeal in The Times.  While it’s easy to be a ‘Monday morning quarterback’ in terms of reflecting on the fine line between adventure and irresponsibility the simple fact is that they are in a tight spot and need a bit of help.  I myself will be donating a day’s diving pay to the fund and perhaps our generous community might consider doing the same.  After all, none of us are terribly far from our own ‘hero to zero’ moment…  


By all means stick this on the news page; preferably anonymised but happy to have it attributed to me if you don’t ‘do’ anonymous!"


10 Jan 17 - Awards of LS&GC medal and clasp


Congratulations to CPO(D) G W Grayson on being gazetted for the award of the clasp to the Long Service & Good Conduct medal and to CPO(MW) S Baxter on being gazetted for the award of the Long Service & Good Conduct medal..


7 Jan 17 - ENS Cowan (ex-HMS Sandown) joins SNMCMG1


The Naval Today website contains this article reporting that ENS Admiral Cowan (ex-HMS Sandown) has joined Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 (SNMCMG1) which normally operates in the Baltic.  The Estonian minehunter is named after the Royal Navy's Admiral Sir Walter Henry Cowan who helped Estonia and Latvia fight for independence from the Russian Empire.  Admiral Cowan commanded a light cruiser squadron sent to the Baltic in 1919 to help keep sea routes open for the two countries.


ENS Admiral Cowan (ex-HMS Sandown)

(Estonian Navy)


6 Jan 17 - Fire destroys former HMS Ledsham


The Forces TV website contains this article reporting that the former Ham class inshore minesweeper HMS Ledsham has been destroyed by fire.  She was berthed at Deptford where she had become the centre of an artist's cooperative called the Minesweeper Collective which comprised a printing studio and venue for art and music events.  From The Minesweeper blogspot:


History of the Ham Class Minesweeper LEDSHAM



 HMS LEDSHAM (M.2706) was built by J. Boison, in Poole 1954, Hull and launched on 30 June 1954.

Completed 22 March 1955. 

1955 to 1956 Senior Officer's ship 232nd Mine Sweeping Squadron.

1957 to 1965 Operational Reserve, Rosneath.  Then Land Cradled.

1967 Clyde Division RNR as Accomodation Ship.  Possibly did service on the Suez Canal for clearing the mines. 

21 April 1971, she was sold to Metal Recoveries, Newhaven for BU.

She is entirely wooden and a rare surviving example of shipbuilding.

Click on this link to see the minesweeper HMS LEDSHAM coming alongside HMS GANGES, for ten seconds at the very beginning of this archival film from 1956, with the crew and the Duke of Edinburgh on board.


HMS Ledsham at HMS Ganges during a visit by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1956


1 Jan 17 - New Year Honours


Congratulations to PO(D) Martin 'Doc' Doherty on being gazetted for his appointment as an MBE (Ordinary Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the Military Division of the New Year Honours.


The full list of military honours and awards is available here:


The Military Division of the New Years Honours list 2017  


30 Dec 16 - Death of Sub Lt Eric Worsley MBE GM RNVR


I have received this sad news about veteran Second World War bomb & mine disposal officer Eric Worsley (see entry for 26 Nov 16 in News Archive 56).


"Dear Rob,


My grandfather died in his sleep in the early hours of this morning.  I have found some of his notes about the GM and MBE incidents and will type up and send to you with some photographs for the site.


Hope your Christmas went well.


Best wishes,




I am sure that all members of our community will join me in extending our sincere condolences to Nick and his family.


29 Dec 16 - Funeral of Raymond William 'Brum' Maries BEM


I am grateful to ex-CD Jim 'Tommo' Thomson for this account of the funeral of veteran Second World War 'P' Party diver Ray Maries (see entry for 19 Dec 16).


"G'day Folks,


Yesterday was the funeral of Ray Maries, one of the remaining 'P' Party divers.  It was a special occasion for quite a few in the area, with a turnout by the local Sea Cadet Corps.




During the service, Mike Jay, Ray's son-in-law gave a short history of Ray's life.  He also included a remark thanking the HDS [Historical Diving Society] for having a representative there.


The last post was played and six Sea Cadets lowered banners, followed by Wakey Wakey! 


Unfortunately Les Sharpe was a bit late as he got lost but he managed to make up at the wake with a couple of rums.


Best regards,




Mike Jay has supplied this scan of an obituary for his father-in-law published in the Sunday Mercury, the Birmingham Mail and the Solihull News.  Interestingly, it mentions that Ray, already awarded a Mention in Despatches "for good services in mine clearance and mine disposal operations in NW Europe" while serving in 'P' Party 1572, was also awarded the BEM (British Empire Medal) in the 1973 Queen's Birthday Honours for his services as a Petty Officer (SCC) on the staff of his local Sea Cadet Unit, TS Gamecock at Solihull.



24 Dec 16 - Funeral of Arthur Smith, the last survivor of HMS Royal Oak


I am grateful to Clearance Diving branch legend Eamon 'Ginge' Fullen QGM for this account of the funeral of Arthur Smith, the last survivor of the battleship HMS Royal Oak when she was torpedoed by U-47 at Scapa Flow in Orkney on the night of 14 October 1939 with the loss of 833 lives including 134 boys (see entry for 16 Dec 16):


"Hi Rob,


It was a good send off for Arthur, very fitting with the ensign he was given from the Royal Oak drapped over his coffin.  There have been a few bits on Facebook so it's been well covered.


The St Vincent Association is going to send me a letter Arthur wrote about his career in the Navy.  I'm not sure you have it but I will pass it on. 


I have a  few old photos of him from his family so can scan and pass those on as well.  His brother was there.  A 92 year-old ex-Royal Marine.  He was shot four times in WW2.  Made of stern stuff, eh? (although he said he did need ten days off after the third time!)


Have a good Christmas.






Ginge was a pall bearer along with five other members of Faslane-based Northern Diving Group (NDG), at Arthur's funeral which took place at South West Middlesex Crematorium, Hanworth on 22 December.


Archive photo of Ginge Fullen with Arthur Smith


23 Dec 16


NDG deals with unexploded mortar bomb at Perth


The Daily Record website contains this article reporting the disposal, presumably by members of Faslane-based Northern Diving Group (NDG), of an unexploded mortar bomb found in Perth.


HMS Shoreham emerges from refit


The Royal Navy website contains this article announcing the emergence of HMS Shoreham from a six-month refit at Rosyth (see entry for 24 Oct 16 in News Archive 56).



21 Dec 16 - HMS Brocklesby returns to the water


The Royal Navy website contains this article announcing that HMS Brocklesby has been returned to the water following a six-month refit in the ship hall at Portsmouth (see entry for 10 Dec 16).


20 Dec 16

A Merry Christmas to all our followers


The Webmaster is taking a break during the festive season but normal service will be resumed in the New Year.

Keep those cards & letters coming in.


Image courtesy of MCDOA former Hon Sec

Richard 'Soapy' Watson


19 Dec 16 - Arrangements for the funeral of 'P' Party veteran Raymond William 'Brum' Maries BEM


I am grateful to Martin Jay for this information about the funeral of his grandfather, 'P' Party veteran Ray 'Brum' Maries (see entry for 14 Dec 16):


"Hi Rob,


 The details for Granddad's funeral are as follows:  


The service will be at 13:00 on Wednesday 28th December at:


Yardley Cemetery and Crematorium

Yardley Rd,


B25 8NA


There will then be a gathering afterwards at:


The Ramada Solihull

The Square,


West Midlands 

B91 3RF


If you could include a note asking if people planning to attend would be so good as to email this address so we have an idea of numbers, it would be very much appreciated.






18 Dec 16 - News from HMS Middleton



I am grateful to Lt Cdr Simon Cox, Commanding Officer of HMS MIddleton (MCM2 Crew 6) for this newsletter for December 2016 which I have received via the Ton Class Association ((TCA).  I write a column titled 'MCMV News' for the Associaton's bi-monthly newsletter 'Ton Talk'.


MCM 2 Crew 6 has just returned to the UK after six months manning HMS Middleton on Operation KIPION in the Gulf.  They have now handed over the ship to MCM2 Crew 8 (ex-HMS Cattistock) commanded by MCDOA member Charlie Wheen.  HMS Cattistock is now manned by MCM2 Crew 4.


Crew 6 Chronicle (Issue 04: Dec 2016)


16 Dec 16 - NDG to be represented at funeral of last Royal Oak survivor


The Royal Navy website contains this article announcing the death on Sunday 10 December of Arthur Smith, the last survivor of the battleship HMS Royal Oak when she was torpedoed by U-47 at Scapa Flow in Orkney on the night of 14 October 1939 with the loss of 833 lives including 134 boys.  He was 94.


The Faslane-based Northern Diving Group (NDG), which replaces the Royal Oak's ensign annually (see entry for 13 Oct 16 in News Archive 56), knew Mr Smith well and is sending four representatives to his funeral which will take place at 1300 on Thursday 22 December at South West Middlesex Crematorium, Hanworth.  CD branch legend Eamon 'Ginge' Fullen QGM informs me that he will be attending, too, having met Arthur in 2007.


Left to right: NDG Chief of Staff (Lt Cdr Tim 'Castro' Castrinoyannakis), CO Fleet Diving Squadron

 (Cdr Del McKnight), CO NDG (Lt Cdr Tony Hampshire) and LS(D) Craig MacMillan

replacing HMS Royal Oak's ensign earlier this year 


15 Dec 16 - Results of Webmaster's Spinnaker Tower abseil


The fundraising page for my abseil down the Spinnaker Tower (see entry for 29 Aug 16 in News Archive 55) to raise funds for the Vernon Monument and the Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC) has now closed.  Overall sponsorship totalled £5,150 which means £4,635 towards the Vernon Monument and £515 for the RNRMC.  I would like to thank all those who supported these worthy causes via my admittedly enjoyable escapade.  Who's next?




There are now more ways to support Project Vernon, the campaign to erect a monument at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth to celebrate our Minewarfare & Diving heritage.  The latest initiative is Crowd Funding and you can see that some of us have already put our money where our mouths are.  Please join us:


Crowdfunder: Vernon Mine Warfare and Diving Monument


The second is the Portsmouth Lottery whereby you can contribute for as little as £1 per week with the chance of winning prizes.  Every 10 tickets bought brings in at least £260 for the cause annually:


Portsmouth Lottery: The Vernon Monument


Over £225k has been cleared towards the Vernon Monument to date but, unfortunately, this is still not enough.  Without a single benefactor willing to cough up £325k, this was always going to be a marathon rather than a sprint.  Since its launch, this competitively-tendered monument in a prime public location, selected by an all-ranks committee of volunteers, was forced to become more than just a simple statue on dry land which is why the target had to be increased.  No matter how long it takes, I and others will continue to raise money and give more of our own until the monument is built for the benefit of our minewarfare & diving community, past, present and future.  Please continue to be generous until we have achieved our target.


Postscript: The Royal Navy website published this article on 21 December covering the same story.


14 Dec 16 - Death of 'P' Party veteran Raymond William 'Brum' Maries BEM


Yours Truly (Rob Hoole) with Ray Maries in June 2008


I have been informed by ex-CD Jim 'Tommo' Thomson of the death on Tuesday 13 December of Ray 'Brum' Maries after a long illness (see entry for 17 Jul 16 in News Archive 55).  He was 91.


The 'P' (Port Clearance) Parties were the fore-runners of the Clearance Diver branch and cleared the booby-trapped ports and harbours of previously German occupied north west Europe of explosive ordnance after D-Day.  Ray was awarded a Mention in Despatches "for good services in mine clearance and mine disposal operations in NW Europe" while serving in 'P' Party 1572 immediately before the close of the war with Germany and in the months that followed.  To the best of my knowledge, he was the last surviving 'P' Party member following the demise of David Shane of 'P' Party 1571 (see first entry for 20 Aug 14 in News Archive 47), Mike Connolly of 'P' Party 1572 (see entry for 7 Jun 12 in News Archive 38), John Home-Douglas of 'P' Party 1571 (see entry for 24 Apr 12 in News Archive 38) and Arthur Russell MBE of 'P' Party 1572 (see entry for 22 Dec 09 in News Archive 28).


Despite all the hazards they endured, the 'P' Parties only suffered one casualty, AB William Brunskill who died from his wounds on 19 December 1944 after a German V-2 rocket hit the Cinema Rex in Antwerp where he was watching a film three days earlier.  He is buried in Schoonselhof Cemetery at Antwerp in Belgium.


These images, kindly provided by Andrew Bailey, son of the late Lt William 'Bill' Bailey CBE DSC GM RNVR (OIC 'P' Party 1574), show a 'P' Party trainee bring dressed in the Sladen 'Clammy Death' Shallow Water Diving Suit and diving set on the training barge at HMS Vernon(D) at Brixham circa 1944:


Diving training barge at HMS Vernon(D) in Brixham with a diver in RMS (Rendering Mines Safe)

diving set shown centre







Left: 'P' Party Mk I suit

Right: 'P' Party Mk II suit


'P' Party members at work


I am sure that all members of our community will join me in extending our sincere condolences to Ray's family, especially his grandson Martin who has accompanied him to several of our functions.  I am in contact with Martin and he has promised to send me funeral details when available.


Next year will mark the 65th anniversary of the formation of the RN Clearance Diver branch of which Ray was a pioneer.  Here he is being given a preview during the Golden Jubilee 50th anniversary celebrations over the Bank Holiday weekend 3-5 May 2002.  About 300 attended the Friday night reunion in the Home Club (where this photo was taken) and over 400 attended the Saturday night dinner dance in the Guildhall.  The weekend was rounded off nicely with a Sunday morning thanksgiving service at St Barbara's in HMS Excellent followed by refreshments in the Whaley Club.


Ray 'Brum' Maries ready and waiting for the RN CD Branch Golden Jubilee celebrations

in May 2002



 The Committee for the RN CD Branch Golden Jubilee celebrations in May 2002

(Les Sharpe, Yours Truly, Nick Carter and John Cobb)




I look forward to next year's events with anticipation.  Sadly, I doubt anyone from Ray's generation will be around to share them.


From MCDOA member Bob Hawkins MBE:


"RIP Ray.  Condolences to his family."


From Cliff Coulson-Bonner:


"RIP Brum.  I had the honour of meeting Ray at CD1 meetings.  Such a gent and a humble legend.


Respects to his family."


From Paul 'Yorky' Tudor:


"RIP Ray.  Five bells for your efforts and courage.  Respects to your family."


From Paul 'Taff' Kennedy:


"RIP Ray.  Without heroes like you we would never have had the fantastic careers and lives we have so enjoyed.


Rest easy Sir.  Five Bells.  Your work is done."


From Martin Spiers:


"RIP Ray.  A branch legend."


13 Dec 16 - FDS COs convene on board Royal Yacht Britannia


The Royal Navy website contains this article reporting that the Autumn Conference of Fleet Diving Squadron (FDS) Commanding Officers, all MCDOA members, was held on board the retired Royal Yacht Britannia at Leith on Friday 25 November.  The Conference was attended by the COs of the Fleet Diving Squadfron (FDS), Northern Diving Group (NDG), Southern Diving Group (SDG) and Fleet Diving Group (FDG), along with the Officer-in-Charge of the FDS Operational Support Unit (all MCDOA members) and the two Squadron Warrant Officers.


FDS Commanding Officers Conference attendees on board the Royal Yacht Britannia

(Royal Navy photo)


12 Dec 16 - News from HMS Cattistock



I am grateful to Lt Cdr Anthony Pimm RN, Commanding Officer of HMS Cattistock (MCM2 Crew 4), for this update which I have received via the Ton Class Association ((TCA).  I write a column titled 'MCMV News' for the Associaton's bi-monthly newsletter 'Ton Talk'.


"I hope this letter finds you well.  Please allow me to introduce myself as the new Commanding Officer of HMS CATTISTOCK serving with MCM2 Crew 4.  I wanted to write to you to update you on the various changes and events that have occurred for Crew 4 within the last few months and how my crew and I feel honoured to serve in HMS CATTISTOCK.


Crew 4 returned to the UK in December 2015 having completed a six-month Gulf deployment in HMS ATHERSTONE.  After a period of UK running throughout 2016, Crew 4 transferred units and since late November has served in HMS CATTISTOCK.  Now under my command we are firmly focused on our future generation in order to deploy to the Gulf in July 2017.  At this point we will hand over HMS CATTISTOCK to another crew from our Squadron.


Before the actual deployment the Crew will go through a series of exercises and training serials in Scotland.  One of the exercises we will take part in is known as 'Joint Warrior'.  This is a golden opportunity for my Crew to conduct Mine Counter Measures operations.  After Joint Warrior, we will go through Operational Sea Training (OST) where HMS CATTISTOCK will be put through her paces as every aspect of our operations will be assessed, from fire fighting to live gunnery serials.  This will ultimately assure myself and the Fleet Commander that as a Crew we are ready to deploy on Operations.


I am delighted and proud to have now assumed Command of HMS CATTISTOCK and of MCM2 Crew 4.  She is a tremendous ship with great history and possesses a formidable capability.  I know that you hold a great affiliation with our ship and I will always look where possible to strengthen our affiliation with yourselves through regular updates.  Our present programme in the lead-up to deploying is pretty tight.  Nevertheless, I remain engaged with our planners to identifying opportunities to invite our affiliates onboard.  I will of course keep you updated.


On behalf of HMS CATTISTOCK and Crew 4, I wish you a Merry Christmas and I am looking forward to future correspondence in the New Year.


Yours Sincerely,


Anthony Pimm


Lt Cdr RN

Commanding Officer

MCM2 Crew 4"


10 Dec 16 - HMS Quorn and HMS Atherstone start major upgrade at Portsmouth while HMS Brocklesby re-enters the water


The Portsmouth News website contains this article describing the movement of HMS Quorn and HMS Atherstone into the huge shiphall at Portsmouth Naval Base to undergo a major upgrade including replacement of their Deltic main propulsion engines with Caterpillar diesels.


Postscript: On 13 December, the Royal Navy website published this article, including images, covering the same story.


HMS Quorn (right) and HMS Atherstone in the Ship Hall at Portsmouth

(RN website photo)


HMS Brocklesby was moved out of the Ship Hall and back into the water on completion of her upgrade at the end of November.







(All freeze frame images from Royal Navy video)


9 Dec 16 - From our foreign correspondent


Here is a rare image of the four Avenger class MCMVs USS Dextrous, USS Gladiator, USS Devastator and USS Sentry at sea together in the Gulf.  The Bahrain-based ships are under the overall command of the Commander MCM Squadron 5 (COMCMRON 5) otherwise known as Cdre Nils 'Eric' Wirstrom USN who was Guest of Honour at our dinner last month (see entry for 20 Nov 16 in News Archive 56).  The Deputy Commander of MCMRON 5 is MCDOA member Chris O'Flaherty who relieved fellow member David Bence in September last year.


USS Dextrous (MCM-13), USS Gladiator (MCM-11), USS Devastator (MCM-6)

and USS Sentry (MCM-3) in formation in the Gulf


RAN Exercise OCEAN RAIDER 2016


The Royal Australian Navy's website contains this article describing the participation of a minewarfare & clearance diving task group in Exercise OCEAN RAIDER.  The exercise took place in Broken Bay, New South Wales and in Cockburn Sound, Western Australia from 14 November to 4 December and involved HMAS Gascoyne, HMAS Huon and CD Team 4.


Launching a Double Eagle mine disposal vehicle from HMAS Gascoyne during OCEAN RAIDER

(RAN website photo)


The Maritime Evaluation Team was led by Cdr Max Muller RAN who undertook the Advanced Minewarfare (AMW) course at HMS Collingwood in 2013 (see entry for 31 May 13 in News Archive 42).


Left to right: Darren Chapman, Yours Truly (Rob Hoole), Max Muller,

John Gunter, Paul 'Taff' Reader and Taff Crandon in May 2013


USN and JDF bilateral MCMEX 3JA


The US Navy website contains this article describing the participation of  USS Chief, staff from US Mine Countermeasures Squadron 7 (MCMRON-7) embarked in the Japanese minesweeper tender JDS Bungo and US Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5 (EODMU-5) embarked in the Japanes minesweeper tender JDS Uraga, plus other USN and JMDF units, in MCMEX 3JA off Japan.  The initial phase focused on limpet mine neutralisation, improvised explosive device (IED) training and helicopter tasking while the secondary phase, involved sweeping, hunting and mine detection culminating in the clearance of a route through a simulated minefield.


Avenger class minehunter USS Chief



Left: Uruga class minesweeper support ship JDS Bungo

Right: Uruga class minesweeper support ship JDS Uruga


Enoshima class minesweeper JDS Chichijima




The NATO website contains this article describing the participation of corvettes, patrol boats, minehunters, fighter aircraft and unmanned underwater vehicles in Exercise NUSRET.  This Turkish-run exercise immediately followed Exercise MAVI BALINA and was conducted in the Aegean Sea from 28 November to 4 December.


Turkish forces included the minehunters TCG Alanya, TCG Amasra, TCG Ayvalık, TCG Anamur, TCG Edincik, TCG Edremit and TCG Enez, the minelayer TCG Sokullu Mehmet Paşa (which also served as an MCM command & control ship), the corvette TCG Heybeliada, the patrol boat TCG Karşıyaka, a mine recovery vessel, three Coast Guard vessels, a naval EOD team, a helicopter, two F-16C fighters and and a C-130 transport.  Other forces included the Bulgarian minesweeper BGS Priboy, the German minehunter FGS Fulda, the Greek minehunter HS Kallisto (ex-HMS Berkeley) and MCM command ship HS Aliakmon, the Romanian minehunter ROS Sub Lieutenant Alexandru Axente and the Spanish minehunter ESPS Tajo.  Belgium provided a UUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) and its operators and Greece and Romania deployed EOD teams.


Turkish 'A' class minehunter TCG Anamur


Historical note: On the night of 8 March 1915, just prior to the ill-fated invasion at Gallipoli, the Ottoman minelayer Nusret (365 tons) laid a clandestine field of 26 mines in the Dardanelles which sank the British battleships HMS Irresistible and HMS Ocean and the French battleship Bouvet.  It also left the British battlecruiser HMS Inflexible and the French battleships Suffren and Gaulois badly damaged.


Replica of the Turkish Ottoman minelayer Nusret


8 Dec 16 - Award of LS&GC medal


Congratulations to PO(D) J P Harvey, PO(D) P J Hill and LS(D) M G Platts on being gazetted for the award of the Long Service & Good Conduct medal.


7 Dec 16 - Gentlemen Who Lunch


Yesterday, our 'Not Quite the Last of the Summer Wine Trio' of Barlow, Holloway and Hoole joined other members of the Ton Class Association (TCA) for their Portsmouth area Christmas lunch at the Royal Maritime Club.  I may have been a tad overdressed this year.



These photos were taken before attendees pulled crackers, donned funny hats and generally let their hair down.  Our trio probably helped lower the tone by an order of magnitude.






Many thanks to TCA Stores Officer Laurie Johnson for organising such an enjoyable event to kick off the festive season. 


6 Dec 16 - RN Diving Heritage: HMS Safeguard follow-up


I am grateful to ex-CD Peter Gallant for this contribution:


"Hi Rob,


Your entry for 24 Nov 16 in News Archive 56 featured the Diving School at HMS Safeguard, Rosyth.  I enclose a photo taken during Navy Days in the mid-1960s.  It shows a mix of CDs and ships' divers.


Back row: Stu Grainger (CD), Wilbur Dodds (SD), Charlie Kempson (CD1), Dave (Tanzy) Lee (CD),

 ? (ShD), Pete Gallant (CD), ? (ShD), Pete Edge (ShD later CD)

Front row: Ken Snowball (CD1), Chief Robbins (Standard Diver 1), ? Standard Diver,

Lt John O'Driscoll (CDO), Retired CDO)


Best regards,


Peter Gallant"


5 Dec 16 - Query about gas storage bottle and SABA pressures


I have received this query via the website:


"Dear Sir, or if the incumbent is still Rob Hoole, Hello Rob!


We met some years ago, when I was an RNR Officer, during a 'Naval Control Of Shipping' weekend exercise, I think at Falmouth.


I recently took up the writing of an autobiographical book earlier this year that I had allowed to lapse for some time owing to other pressures and Rob had both previously and kindly filled in some detail for me.  A BR 155 circa 1964 edition would be very useful at present, or even access to a copy would be invaluable.  


I spent the majority of my lower deck career before being promoted on the SD (AV) list, as a Helicopter Aircrewman/SAR Diver.  My RN diving life started in February 1963, when I qualified at Devonport as a SWD [Shallow Water Diver], then later that year, I passed a combined Free Diver-SAR [Search & Rescue] Diver course at Vernon and as the years progressed, Senior Rate Supervisor, to ShDO.  


It is amazing what people forget and the few former SARDs with whom I am still in contact are unable, for instance, to recall the working pressure of the UBA bottles.  I think it was 6,000 psi, 'Stepped up' with a (manual) booster pump from 4,000 psi in the main storage bottles.  I don't remember much more about the details of SABA either, apart from the bottles being very light as they were of spun alloy, 


A little help from you professionals of the MCDOA would be greatly appreciated and credits will of course be given.




Roger Bigden"


The bottles of Pattern 5561A/5562A (old-type CDBA oxygen/mixture) rigged for Shallow Water Diving or Clearance Diving were charged to 3,000 psi (205 Bar).  If you can provide Roger with the full bottle pressure of the 110 m3 (oxygen) and 150 m3 (air) storage bottles and/or the charged pressure of old-type SABA (Swimmers' Air Breathing Apparatus), then please email me via my Webmaster address.  I have checked my copies of the BR 155 and BR 2806 Diving Manuals and the information does not seem to be available.  If memory serves me correctly, we charged our SABA bottles to 165 bar (2,400 psi).



Old-style SABA with 110 m3 oxygen storage bottles

on right at top of mining trials tank in HMS Vernon



Hand-operated booster pump


From ex-CD Jim 'Tommo' Thomson:


"Hi Rob,


The fully charged pressure of SABA was 2,410 psi (164 bar).  Breathing down one cylinder until breathing became difficult, then equalising from the other cylinder, surface after second equalisation.



The 150 cu ft air supply bottles were 164 bar.


SDDE bottles were charged to 3,000 psi (200 bar).



The 4012 reducer on SABA and SDDE, had to be serviced by the Tiffy Divers.  Complicated bit of kit.


The supply cylinder volumes for O2 and mix gas were in cu ft, NOT cu metres.  Supplied at 3,000 psi (200 bar) then booster pumped after equalising to 200 bar.


Breathing set twin O2 cylinders, were 1.84 litres, a single being 0.92 litres.


Old style CDBA volume 3.94 litres charged to 200 bar.


If I have made any errors, the head is getting older.


Best regards,




4 Dec 16

Happy 90th Birthday to William Lebeter



See entry for 3 Dec 16.


From Jim Bryce:


"Hello Rob,


On behalf of members of the World Naval Ships Forums, would you please pass on our good wishes to William Lebeter on his 90th birthday.  Those little ships were just as important as larger members of the fleet and the role they played ensured that the other members of the fleet, and support vessels, could operate safe from the danger of mines, in all areas of operation."


From Colin Newcombe:


"Happy birthday.  All the very best. "


From MCDOA member David Carey:


"Happy 90th birthday, Bill!  You and my father, Vincent, shared many wartime experiences and would have some very similar memories to recall over a tot or two: he was in HMS Valiant when you were both off the beaches at the Salerno and Anzio landings in 1943; then, when you were in the 7th MSF, he was in the 6th in HMS Lightfoot, on D-Day and the days directly after the landings: you were even in adjacent swept channels (5, 8 and the Spout)!


Then, when you served in HMS Rifleman, in Force 155, together you swept the same minefields off Trincomalee, Penang, Malacca Straits and Singapore.  My dad passed away in 2002, sadly, aged 82 but, like you, he was a lifelong member of the Algerines Association, so I’m sure you must have met each other at some time and I hope that this dit will bring back the happier memories of those days…"


From Terry Gosling:


"Happy birthday.  BZ"


From Ken Rutherford:


"Happy birthday, William Lebeter!  All the best."


From Terry McKinley:


"Happy birthday."


From Paul Cavanagh:


"Happy birthday, Bill.  Splice the mainbrace. "


From Russ Sellars:


"Have a great birthday, Bill.  Sippers, shippers."


From Chris Doonan:


"Happy birthday, William.  We appreciate your service.  Have a great day."


From Bob Dean:


"Happy birthday, William.  I hope you have a great day.  I know quite a few ex-Algerine men, especially those who run the association.  I will have a tot for you."


From Norman Thoroughgood:


"Happy birthday."


From Graham Charlton:


"Happy birthday, mate."


From John Harvey:


"Happy birthday."


From Mick Atkinson:


"Have a great day on your birthday, William, even if it's only to wet your lips.  Up spirits!"


From John Rawson:


"Cheers, Bill.  Up spirits!"


From Shaun Bailey:


"From an old Ton Class rating, happy birthday, William.  I hope you have a brilliant day!"


From MCDOA member Colin Dodd:


"Happy birthday and thank you for your service."


From Dan Archer:


"Happy birthday and best wishes, William.  Bottoms up!!!"


From Eamon 'Ginge' Fullen QGM:


"All the best on your 90th.  Enjoy your tot of rum on the day.






From Mark 'Simmo' Dugan:


"Happy birthday, William.  Have a great day."


From Ian 'Scouse' Fleming:


"Happy birthday, William.  Respect to you, Sir, from the Gibraltar Clearance Diving Element."


From John Crook:


"Many happy returns for the 4th, William."


From Robert Staniforth:


"Happy 90th birthday."


From MCDOA member Nick Stanley:


"Happy birthday, William"


From Terry Heald:


"Happy birthday, shipmate.  Have a good day.  Enjoy."


From Colin Hamilton:


"Happy birthday, matey!"


From Tony Ray:


"Happy birthday from an ex-HMS Jewel."


From Nick Lee:


"Happy birthday, Bill!  Make sure your tot is 90 proof on Sunday!"


From James Baxter:


"Happy birthday, Bill.  'Sandy bottoms!' to another great shipmate when I have my TOT tonight."


From Allan Brown:


"Happy birthday, Bill.  I will be drinking a tot in your honour on Sunday.  Up spirits!"


From Frank Robson:


"Have a great day with many more to come.  UP SPIRITS!"


From MCDOA member Phil Ireland DSC:


"Happy birthday, shipmate William.  Thank you so much for your service.  Hope you have a lovely celebration."


From John 'JJ' Forbes, member of the Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal Officers' Club (REBDOC):


"Happy birthday, William, from the sapper contingent diving school."


From Francis Frank Murphy:


"Happy birthday, William.  Up spirits!"


From Phillip Woodland:


"Happy 90th birthday on the 4th December, William.  Here's to your tot time and looking to your 91st."


From Stephen Baxter:


"Happy birthday, William.  Tot time I think."


From Jim McIntosh:


"Happy birthday for the 4th.  Hands to minesweeping stations.  Out sweeps..."


From Bob Maddison:


"All sweepers together.  Have a good birthday, William."


From Vernon Tubman:


"All the best, William, for the 4th from Tyne RNA, 90 years young.  I will raise a tot to you.  Salud!"


From David Michie:


"Happy birthday, William.  Splice the Mainbrace! "


From Mick Fellows MBE DSC BEM*


"Happy birthday, William.  From one old Algerine shipmate (HMS Acute) to another."


From Sam Cook:


"A very happy birthday, William Lebeter.  Thank you for all you did.  Have a tot.  You deserve it."


From Bernard Foster:


"Happy birthday, William.  I will have a tot of Myers rum and salute you on the 4th."


From Richard Conway:


"Happy birthday, mate.  Have sippers on me."


From MCDOA member 'Brad Vincent', author of Far from Breaking Waves:


"Happy birthday, William Lebeter.  Thanks for your service, shippers!"


From MCDOA Vice Chairman & Webmaster Rob Hoole:


"Hello William.  Many happy returns of the day on behalf of the Minewarfare & Clearance Diving Officers' Association.  You should be very proud of your daughter Sue." 


3 Dec 16 - 90th birthday of a Second World War minesweeper veteran


I have received this request via the website:


"To whom it may concern,


My dad, William Lebeter, is a member of the Algerines Association.  As he approaches his 90th birthday (4 December), I wondered if you would be prepared to send him some form of birthday greeting.  His sight is failing and he drinks very little rum nowadays but he chats animatedly about his time spent during the Second World War in SE Asia including Ceylon and Singapore.  He also speaks about the camaraderie and friendships he formed in the Royal Navy.  


I would be so grateful.  He lives in Nottingham and is also on Facebook under his name.


Yours hopefully,


Sue Lebeter (daughter)"


I have since ascertained that William served in HMS Orestes, HMS Acute and HMS Rifleman.


HMS Orestes - One of the Algerine class minesweepers in which William Lebeter served

© IWM (A 20671)


This partial account of the Algerine class minesweepers of the 18th MSF, including HMS Orestes, is taken from pages 141-144 of Fleet Sweepers at War by Jack Williams:


18th Minesweeping Flotilla


The second Algerine flotilla to be formed was the 18th MSF.  First to be completed and to work together were HOUND, HYDRA, READY (SO) and LOYALTY, sweeping in Lyme Bay in mid-1943.  All had had some experience working up with other flotillas (either Halcyon or Bangor).  In August they were joined at Harwich by COCKATRICE, ORESTES and ONYX, who had been sweeping with the Halcyon 1st MSF at Londonderry.  Also joining to complete the flotilla was RATTLESNAKE.


The first operation for the 18th MSF was Operation 'Starkey'.  READY, HOUND, HYDRA, ONYX, LOYALTY and COCKATRICE joined the Bangor 9th MSF (SIDMOUTH SO) to sweep in the English Channel in the hope that the Luftwaffe would be lured to attack, and the RAF would be able to have a go at them.  In the event it never happened and the operation was discontinued.  However whilst still engaged on 'Starkey' the flotilla came under fire from German coastal batteries at Griz Nez.  Several shells fell near HYDRA, one of which caused considerable damage to her bridge and wireless aerials on the mast and several of the crew were wounded including the captain... <snip>


Operation 'Neptune' - Normandy


After undergoing boiler-cleans and the necessary repairs after some months at Iceland, the flotilla began to prepare for the big event - the invasion of Normandy.  Exercises were held to accustom the flotilla to sweeping at night and working with landing craft.  Early in May the 18th took part in one of the main exercises, along with the Algerine 6th MSF, - Fabius II - for Assault Force G to which the flotilla had been allocated for the invasion.  Later in May HOUND (acting SO) led LOYALTY, ONYX, HYDRA, ORESTES, COCKATRICE and a newcomer STORMCLOUD, temporaily attached, on a sweep off Newhaven.  During the sweep an acoustic mine exploded under the stern of STORMCLOUD, causing considerable damage.  LOYALTY took her in tow back to Portsmouth where she remained under repair and took no further part in 'Neptune'.  For the invasion, the 18th MSF, with the danlayers DOON, EGILSAY, HORNBEAM and JUDE and three MLs, were allocated Channel Number 6 ahead of 'G' Force to Gold Beach in the British Eastern Sector.  During their sweep on the night of 5/6 June they swept 22 mines, one of the few flotillas to encounter any mines.


The initial sweep over, the flotilla remained in the Normandy area for several weeks, periodically returning to Portsmouth.  On 14 June RATTLESNAKE was damaged by a near miss from a mine exploding close by her port side and was retired to Chatham for repair.  Replacing her were two BAMs, PYLADES and STEADFAST, and a few days later both READY and HOUND had to leave the area because of defects.  In addition to sweeping during the day the flotilla were called upon to protect the anchorage area.  With other sweepers they formed a protective ring which became known as 'the Trout Line'.  On the night of 7/8 July an attack by human torpedoes was repelled by ORESTES whose Oerlikon gunners accounted for several of these, but not before the flotilla suffered the loss of PYLADES.  She was hit in the stern and sank very quickly along with a number of her crew.  The previous night two other BAMs, MAGIC and CATO of the 40th MSF, had also been sunk by the human torpedoes with heavy loss of life.  During the night of 20/21 July HOUND and ORESTES picked up survivors of the destroyer ISIS, sunk whilst on patrol in the western sector.


During August the flotilla continued sweeping, mainly LL and SA for magnetic and acoustic mines.  On 22 August READY, HOUND, HYDRA, LOYALTY and RATTLESNAKE were sweeping on passage back to Portsmouth when LOYALTY's sweeps parted.  The remainder continued on passage leaving DOON with LOYALTY recovering her sweep.  Steaming at 16 knots to catch up with the flotilla, LOYALTY was hit by a torpedo fired by U-480.  Within four minutes LOYALTY capsized and sank with the loss of her captain and 18 ratings.  Replacing her was TANGANYIKA, and the flotilla continued sweeping off Le Havre for some more weeks, before re-forming at Harwich in the middle of October.


The next operation for the 18th MSF was to assist in Operation 'Cinderella' - the attack on Walcheren and Westkapelle by Royal Marines.  The task of the sweepers was to sweep a clear channel for the big guns of the battleship WARSPITE and the monitors EREBUS and ROBERTS, who would bombard Walcheren before the landings.  Following this operation six ships of the flotilla, READY, ORESTES, TANGANYIKA, HYDRA, ONYX and COCKATRICE, arrived off Ostend on 10 November to begin another sweeping operation, but because of bad weather were unable to anchor.  After six laps up and down HYDRA hit a mine and the explosion broke her back.  She was very badly damaged and all movable top weight was jettisoned.  Both the motor boat and whaler were lowered and unfortunately drifted away.  Sadly the five men in the whaler were drowned when the whaler capsized in the surf.  HYDRA was towed into Sheerness but was found to be beyond repair and became a Total Loss.


The flotilla continued sweeping throughout the winter of 1944/45 in spite of the fog and bad weather encountered.  Towards the end of April 1945 the 18th, with FELICITY of the 10th MSF temporarily attached in exchange for CHEERFUL, became part of Force C of Fleet sweepers and Auxiliary sweepers whose task it was to clear the channel into Hamburg and Cuxhaven - Operation 'Dropkick'.  The sweep completed on 4 May and CHEERFUL remained with the 10th MSF until the end of June.  After escorting the first convoy into Hamburg, ONYX, RATTLESNAKE, COCKATRICE and TANGANYIKA joined with the 10th MSF (COURIER SO) for Operation 'Fireball' - the sweep, mainly LL and SA for influence mines, to open up the port of Rotterdam.  This completed, the flotilla remained in the area for more sweeping, and in August moved to Harwich where they were joined by a newcomer, MANDATE, one of the first to be commissioned post-war.  The rest of the year was spent sweeping off the East Coast.


With the war in Europe now over the work of the flotilla changed to that of mine clearance and after necessary repairs and refits had been carried out the 18th MSF joined the Plymouth Command in March 1946 to begin the task of clearing the thousands of mines surrounding the UK.


HMS Acute - One of the Algerine class minesweepers in which William Lebeter served

© IWM (FL 142)


This partial account of the Algerine class minesweepers of the 12th MSF, including HMS Acute, is taken from pages 138 -141 of Fleet Sweepers at War by Jack Williams:


Operation 'Torch' - Invasion of North Africa


On 22 October 1942 the flotilla, without ALGERINE who had fouled her propeller with her sweep, sailed from the Clyde as part escort of Convoy KMS 1 - a slow troop convoy heading for the invasion of North Africa (Operation 'Torch).  ALGERINE followed a few days later and, with the Halcyons HUSSAR and SPEEDWELL, joined the flotilla at Gibraltar.  The flotilla swept ahead of the invasion force to Algiers, arriving there on 8 November, after which the flotilla were assigned to patrol and local escort duties.  Early in the morning of 15th November ALGERINE, whilst on patrol off Bone with ALARM, was torpedoed by the Italian submarine Ascianghi and sank with the loss of all her officers and more than 80 of her ship's company.


The 12th MSF continued working in the area; CADMUS being particularly active and coming under heavy air attack off Bougie, and later picking up 211 survivors from the bombed troopship Narkunda.  On 4 December CADMUS attacked a surfaced submarine off Djedjelli and rammed her as she attempted to dive.  However the submarine escaped.  ALBACORE was also heavily bombed but suffered only slight damage from near misses.  Early in January ALARM was damaged by bombs whilst alongside at Bone, and a few days later,after being beached, she was again attacked.  This time she received a direct hit and was written off as a total loss.  The following week ACUTE was damaged when a torpedo hit a propeller blade and she required dockyard repair at Gibraltar.  This left only CADMUS and ALBACORE, with the Halcyons SPEEDWELL and HUSSAR, to continue sweeping and escorting convoys along the North African coast.  On 29 January CADMUS assisted the antiaircraft ship POZARICA, torpedoed by aircraft, into Bougie after taking off many of her wounded.


Operation 'Antidote' - Sweep along N. Africa coast


In April CIRCE and ESPIEGLE arrived from the UK to replace the casualties of the flotilla, and shortly after the new Senior Officer ship arrived.  This was FANTOME under the command of Captain John Boutwood RN.  On 9 May the flotilla, including the attached HUSSAR, were joined at Bizerta by the Bangor 13th MSF (Cdr.L J.S. Ede in RHYL SO) and Operation 'Antidote' commenced.  This was the clearance of a passage through the Galita and Sicilian channels as far as Tripoli.  At the same time as previously described in the chapter on 'Bangors', the 14th MSF (CROMARTY SO) began sweeping westward from Alexandria to Tripoli.  Progress for the 12/13th MSFs was very slow, due to large numbers of anti-sweeping devices being encountered.  So bad were these that on one occasion every sweeper engaged had lost their gear whilst still in the minefield.  On 20 May the flotilla suffered another loss when FANTOME had her stern blown off when a mine exploded in her gear close under her stern.  CADMUS towed her into Bone, and after temporary repair she was sailed back to UK but was never repaired and was a total loss.  ACUTE took over as leader and by 7 June the sweep was completed, 256 contact mines having been cut and destroyed.  The 12th MSF's share was 166.  Also in June further replacements arrived from UK in the form of FLY (taking over as SO under Captain Boutwood) and MUTINE.


Operation 'Husky' - Invasion of Sicily and Operation 'Avalanche' Salerno


The flotilla were soon in action again, this time for the invasion of Sicily Operation 'Husky' - which took place on 12 July.  In appalling weather conditions FLY, MUTINE, CADMUS and ESPIEGLE swept the approaches to Beach 'West' while ACUTE, CIRCE and ALBACORE joined with Bangors of the 14th MSF to sweep the eastern sector.  The initial sweep being successfully completed, the flotilla remained in the area for a couple of weeks carrying out A/S patrols and escorting convoys to Malta or Bizerta.  From Tripoli the flotilla, joined by the 13th MSF, sailed to sweep ahead of yet another invasion force - Operation 'Avalanche', the first landings on the mainland of Europe at Salerno.  Although the Italian Government had surrendered on 8 September, the invasion the next day was met by heavy bombing by the German Luftwaffe.  The sweepers also came under heavy fire from shore guns, but there were no casualties.  In his report the Senior Officer, Captain Boutwood, drew attention to a number of problems encountered by the minesweepers, and this report formed the basis for the future success of the biggest minesweeping operation of the war - at Normandy.  The 12th MSF remained in the area until 18 September by which time they had accounted for 135 mines. 


This was the start of a long association between the 12th MSF and the west coast of Italy which continued through to the middle of 1946 when the flotilla finally left the Mediterranean.  Next area for sweeping for the flotilla was the Bay of Naples, the port falling to the advancing Allies on 1 October after which the flotilla were based at Capri.  Sweeping in support of the army and for the bombarding British and American cruisers and destroyers kept the flotilla very busy during the following months.  More often than not the sweepers came under heavy fire from shore batteries, particularly in the Gulf of Gaeta area, and also from regular visits by the Luftwaffe.  CADMUS suffering slight damage from a near miss on one occasion.  By the end of December 1943 the flotilla had swept a staggering 770 mines since their arrival in the Mediterranean just 13 months previously.


Operation 'Shingle' - Landing at Anzio


January 1944 saw the flotilla preparing for Operation 'Shingle' - a landing at Anzio ninety miles north of Naples and about 30 miles south of Rome.  Assisted by two Algerines of the 19th MSF - RINALDO and WATERWITCH - and two Bangors of the 13th MSF - BUDE and ROTHESAY - the flotilla swept the main channel for the invasion force during the night of 21/22 January 1944.  The invasion sweep completed the flotilla returned to their base at Naples.  From Naples they were to continue sweeping northwards from Anzio up as far as into the mouth of the River Tiber for the next few months.  In addition to clearing channels the flotilla were often engaged on particular operations in support of the bombardment warships.  During the period January to May, the flotilla were augmented by the loan of sweepers from the other Algerine flotilla which had entered the Mediterranean in December 1943 - the 19th MSF of RINALDO (SO), ROSARIO, WATERWITCH, BRAVE and SPANKER.  When not working with the 12th MSF, the 19th flotilla, joined in March/April by three more - the Canadian built ships ARIES, ANTARES and ARCTURUS - were engaged in mine clearance around Malta.  On 11/12 April ACUTE (acting SO), ESPIEGLE, CIRCE and SPANKER (from the 19th MSF) carried out a sweep over known enemy minefields south west of Anzio and cut five mines.  The following week the same sweepers extended their sweeping northwards into the mouth of the River Tiber.  So close where they to the shore that it was possible to see vehicles along the promenade at Lido di Roma from the sweepers with the naked eye, and which brought German mobile guns to fire at the sweepers.  The sweepers then retired for a time but then returned to continue sweeping.


On 20 April the same four sweepers, with the attendant trawler danlayers ST KILDA and HORNPIPE, left Naples to again sweep the western approach channel off Anzio, which again took them into the Tiber area.  Sweeping began the next day and continued on 22 April, the sweepers carrying out anti-submarine patrols at night.  On Sunday 23 April - St.George's Day - more mines were swept and at 1400 the sweepers finished for the day.  As they got their sweeps in, an explosion occurred at the stern of CIRCE.  She had caught a mine in her sweep and had hauled it inboard.  Several of the crew were killed or injured and her stern compartments were flooded.  ACUTE and SPANKER raced to help her and it was decided to tow her the 100 miles back to Naples.  With ACUTE and SPANKER secured on either side and ST KILDA towing at three knots and ESPIEGLE escorting, the crippled CIRCE eventually arrived back at Naples.  Subsequent repair at Taranto took seven months.  On 11 May FLY, CADMUS, ACUTE, ESPIEGLE, ALBACORE, with SPANKER and ROSARIO (of the 19th MSF) carried out a night sweep off Gaeta in support of the final offensive mounted on Monte Cassino and the 30 mile front of the Gustav Line, which for some months had held up the advancement of the Allied armies.  During the next two days the sweepers swept close inshore off Gaeta in preparation of a bombardment by the the British cruiser DIDO and American cruisers BROOKLYN and PHILADELPHIA.  During this sweep the flotilla came under heavy gunfire from coastal batteries at the eastern end of each lap as they came to less than a mile from the shore. 


At the end of May the flotilla completed the Naples to Anzio channel through the Gulf of Gaeta, cutting 89 mines.  After the fall of Rome on 4 June the flotilla with Bangors of the 13th MSF and the 28th Motor Launch Flotilla swept the approaches to the port of Civitavecchia which fell to the advancing Allied troops on 13 June.  The flotilla then carried out the sweeping of the anchorage area for magnetic and acoustic mines. Gradually the flotilla moved up the coast, in a race against time for the sweepers to keep up with the Allied advance, but so successful were they that at one time the flotilla were actually ahead of the advancing troops.  On 14 July the 12th MSF joined forces with two other flotillas - the 19th and the 13th MSFs - to clear a channel to the port of Leghorn (Operation 'Lobster'). On 25 July the channel was declared cleared and the port was open to shipping.  The operation to clear the Anzio to leghorn channel had taken six weeks, involving three flotillas of Fleet sweepers, numerous danlayers, MMS, BYMS and MLs, covering a total area of 234 square miles and accounting for 250 mines.  During the early part of the sweeping the flotilla had come under the fire of 'Anzio Annie' and in the latter stages under the fire of 'Leghorn Lizzie'.  For the next couple of months the flotilla continued sweeping off the west coast of Italy and raised their total of mines swept to 1013, which occasioned the congratulations of the Supreme Allied Commander (Mediterranean).


On 22 October the flotilla were ordered to Greece to assist the Algerine 5th MSF which had suffered the loss of two of that flotilla through mines.  ACUTE, ALBACORE, ESPIEGLE and MUTINE were joined by two of the 5th MSF, SKIPJACK and TRUELOVE, and began sweeping on 1 November off Skiathos and into Salonika.  During this sweep the flotilla had their first encounter with German 'Oboe' mines - designed to explode shortly after being cut and reaching the surface, usually just as the following sweeper was passing.  This often resulted in minor internal damage and both MUTINE and ACUTE received some damage.  The flotilla continued sweeping in the area for the next few weeks, often working with the 5th MSF (WELFARE SO), with periodic visits by individual ships to Malta for repair or boiler-clean.  On 17 December FLY, ALBACORE and MUTINE joined with six of the 5th MSF to sweep through the Dardanelles to ensure a swept channel for a fleet of major warships carrying Sir Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt to a meeting with Stalin at Yalta.  Because of bad weather sweeping was held up and Christmas was spent at Mudros.  When the sweep restarted on 1 January 1945 ACUTE and ESPIEGLE replaced FLY and MUTINE.  During the next few days a channel 19 miles long and two miles wide was swept and 52 mines accounted for.  The weather during this sweep was described as 'stinking' but because of the importance of the operation it had to continue.  There was an interesting occurrence when ACUTE went aground on the Turkish coast, but fortunately she was towed off before an international incident could arise.  The 12th MSF continued sweeping off Greece for the next couple of months; in four and a half days accounting for 187 mines when clearing the Thermia and Doro channels, and a few days later clearing a minefield which yielded another 131 mines.  On 23 March, after a brief respite for repairs and rest at Malta, the flotilla - ACUTE, ALBACORE, CADMUS, CIRCE and ESPIEGLE - returned to Naples and then back north to Leghorn.  At Genoa the 12th relieved the Algerine 8th MSF and on 9 May ACUTE became the first major warship to enter the anchorage at the port. 


With the war in Europe now ended, the flotilla was engaged in mine clearance mainly in the Leghorn/Genoa area until leaving for Malta in March 1946.  In April ESPIEGLE left the flotilla to join the 5th MSF, and the remainder FLY, ACUTE, CADMUS, ALBACORE, CIRCE and MUTINE returned to the UK.  During their time in the Mediterranean the 12th MSF had accounted for 2,395 mines and 320 obstructions - a magnificent achievement indeed!


HMS Rifleman - One of the Algerine class minesweepers in which William Lebeter served

© IWM (FL 18071)


This partial account of the Algerine class minesweepers of the 7th MSF in the Far East, including HMS Rifleman, is taken from pages 149 & 150 of Fleet Sweepers at War by Jack Williams:


...The ships of the 7th MSF spent most of December and January 1945 at various dockyards, undergoing repairs and refits as part of their preparation for service with the British East Indies Fleet based at Colombo (Ceylon).  By mid-February all the flotilla were at Falmouth or Portland ready for the passage out to the Far East.  On 17 February the first to leave - PINCHER, RECRUIT, RIFLEMAN and PLUCKY - sailed from Falmouth escorting a convoy of LSTs bound for Gibraltar.  At 0855 on 23 February as the convoy was in sight of Cape Trafalgar, a lookout in PINCHER reported what he thought was a periscope.  The Asdic confirmed the contact and PINCHER turned and headed towards the enemy at full speed.  As PINCHER neared the expected position the conning tower of a submarine appeared and to everyone's astonishment the crew came pouring out and leaping into the sea.  By this time PINCHER had opened fire with her 4-ins and RECRUIT was joining in the shooting.  However the U-boat (later found to be U-300) was already sinking and the sweepers, including RIFLEMAN, began to pick up survivors.  Four officers and 37 crew were rescued and put ashore at Gibraltar.  Subsequently it was learned that U-300 had been damaged two days earlier by the Armed Yacht EVADNE and her captain had decided to scuttle her when confronted by the sweepers.


The others of the flotilla sailed singly or in pairs at various times in the last weeks of February, in company with others as part of convoy or escort.  FANCY and SQUIRREL had the enviable task of towing an Admiralty Floating Dock which foundered in the Bay of Biscay and damaged SQUIRREL so that she had to return to Plymouth and couldn't leave again until mid-April.  On arrival at Malta FANCY left the 7th MSF and was re-allocated to the 19th MSF in the Mediterranean.  By 14 April PINCHER, PLUCKY. RECRUIT. CHAMELEON, VESTAL, PICKLE (SO) and RIFLEMAN were at Colombo and a few days later sailed for Akyab, Burma.  On 29 April the flotilla with the 37th MSF (Royal Indian Navy Bathursts) and a host of auxiliary sweepers and danlayers (the whole minesweeping force known as Force 65) sailed to take part in Operation 'Dracula', the assault to recapture Rangoon from the Japanese.  Sweeping began on 1 May of the approaches to Rangoon and the big warships and troopships arrived the next day.  Rangoon was recaptured without any fighting and the battleships and cruisers were not required.  In fact the Japanese had already left the city on 29 April, but of course this was not known to the invasion force.




During May and June the flotilla took the opportunity for essential repairs and minor refits to take place in the delightful surroundings of South Africa, at Durban or Port Elizabeth.  This meant that the only available ships on 19 July were PLUCKY (acting as SO), PINCHER, VESTAL, SQUIRREL and RIFLEMAN, and they sailed that day to take part in Operation 'Livery', an offensive sweep off Phuket Island, Siam, supported by the battleship NELSON, the cruiser SUSSEX, two carriers AMEER and EMPRESS, and four destroyers.  Acting as danlayers for the 7th MSF were the RIN Bathursts PUNJAB and DECCAN.  Sweeping began on 24 July and having swept eleven mines in the previous three laps, the flotilla were about to start their fourth lap.  As they began this lap a mine exploded in PLUCKY's sweep causing her to haul out of line.  SQUIRREL following was unable to get into clear water and hit a mine which exploded under her forepart.  She was very badly damaged and obviously sinking so the order to 'Abandon Ship' was given.  The others of the flotilla took on board survivors and one of the destroyers sank her with gunfire.  Seven ratings were killed or died later and fourteen ratings and three officers were injured.  Sweeping resumed the next day and continued on 26 July.  A further 24 mines were swept.  During the morning a group of Japanese 'kamikaze' planes attacked the force, and slightly damaged SUSSEX and AMEER for the loss of three aircraft.  This was the first such attack on the British East Indies Fleet.  Later that day the planes returned and this time obviously intended to press their attack.  Despite heavy fire from the supporting warships, the planes made for the minesweepers, busily minesweeping and keeping a straight course and unable to take evasive action in the minefield.  One of the aircraft made straight for VESTAL and there was a tremendous explosion as the plane crashed onto the upperdeck, amidships aft of the funnel.  The order to abandon ship was given and PUNJAB went alongside to take off survivors and the wounded.  More than twenty men were killed or missing, and many others injured.  VESTAL was sunk by gunfire and a torpedo from the destroyer RACEHORSE.  In just three days two ships and many shipmates had been lost and it was a sad return to Trincomolee a few days later.  VESTAL and SQUIRREL were the two transferred from the 6th MSF.


On 15 August 1945 PLUCKY, RIFLEMAN, RECRUIT and PINCHER joined Force 155 (6th MSF and RIN Bathursts), left Colombo and swept through the Malacca Starits ahead of the British East Indies Fleet, the first time for a British warship since the tragic loss of PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE.  On 30 August they swept the approaches to Penang for the cruisers CLEOPATRA and LONDON and the battleship NELSON on board which the surrender of Penang was signed.  On 4 September the flotilla swept the cruiser SUSSEX into Singapore for the surrender.  The war in the Far East was now over and the 7th MSF spent the next few months clearance sweeping in various areas, mainly Penang and the Banka Straits.  There were several changes to the flotilla during that time - newcomers MICHAEL and MINSTREL joining in February 1946.  In July the original six of the flotilla sailed for home and by September all had paid off and the 7th MSF was disbanded.


I have alerted certain people about Sue's request but it would be wonderful if other readers of this website participate too.  Send me your greetings via FB message or my MCDOA Webmaster email address and I will publish them for William and his daughter Sue to see.


2 Dec 16 - More ordnance dredged up off Portsmouth


The Portsmouth News contains this article describing today's disposal, presumably by members of Portsmouth-based Southern Diving Unit 2 (SDU2) of a six-inch shell dredged up off Portsmouth.


1 Dec 16 - Funeral of Lt Cdr Ian Morton RN


It was good to see so many naval uniforms, all worn by RNR personnel including a Captain, at Ian's funeral at the Oaks Crematorium in Havant yesterday (see entry for 17 Nov 16 in News Archive 56).  Other attendees included MCDOA past-Presidents Chris Massie-Taylor OBE and Colin Welborn, MCDOA founding Chairman David Sandiford and his wife Pauline, MCDOA members Doug Barlow and his wife Jill, Roger Davies (who joined BRNC Dartmouth with Ian as a fellow SD officer), Brian Dutton DSO QGM and his wife Audrey, Dougie MacDonald and your humble Vice Chairman Rob Hoole with my wife Linda as well as Mine Warfare Association (MWA) Chairman Dixie Dean MBE.  Other familiar faces included Cdr Paul 'Paddy' Murnane MBE, Cdr Kevin Kinsella QVRM and Lt Cdr David Ranger.  Paul 'Yorky' Tudor, who served with Ian in the Portsmouth Area Clearance Diving Unit (PACDU), was the only non-MCDO Clearance Diver present.  The congregation was completed by members of Ian's extended family and their many, many other friends.


Mourners entered the chapel to the sound of The Skye Boat Song sung by Laura Wright before the casket was borne in.  The Rev'd Colin Noyce, Chaplain to the Ton Class Association (TCA), then welcomed attendees and led the prayers of penitence.  We then sang the Naval Hymn (Eternal Father) before Colin read from John, Chapter 14, verses 1-6 (In My Father's House are Many Mansions).  Ian's younger son Michael then delivered a brief tribute to his father before his elder son James, a former serving Royal Marines officer, delivered this eulogy:


A Eulogy to Dad

(by James Morton)


On behalf of Dad and the whole family, thank you all very much for coming to say goodbye to my father, celebrate his life and wish him well as we send him on his way.


Born in 1948 in Irvine, Ayshire to Betty and Jon Morton. Dad was the eldest of three children, his brother James, and sister Josie.  His parents told him at 15 that he should join the services; just pick one they said.  Of course he chose the Senior Service, the Royal Navy.


Tragically, his brother James was killed in a road traffic accident at the tender age of 18.  He would decide a number of years later that I should be named after him.  His parents struggled to cope with the loss and chose to make a fresh start in New Zealand, taking his younger sister Josie with them to Auckland.  Their plan was that Dad would transfer to the New Zealand Navy.  However, by this time he had met Elizabeth Margaret Anderson at the Pavilion Dance Hall in Ayrshire.  Dad was 20, and Mum was 18.  She was a trainee sick children’s nurse whilst Dad was now a communicator in the Royal Navy.  The problem was that he was based in Portsmouth.  Every weekend without fail, he would jump in his Mini Cooper and make the 12-hour trek to see mum, driving through the night and sleeping in his car.  If the Matron hadn’t given Mum a pass, she would often have to sneak out through the window to see him.  


Mum lived in West Morton St.  She went to Morton Academy, and got married on the 2nd November 1972, in Morton Parish Church to Ian Morton – surely that was fate.    They could only get married on a Thursday, as Mum's parents owned a small shoe shop and it was half-day opening every Thursday. Typically Scottish, they didn’t want to lose any trade!   They moved at the end of the month to Portsmouth, where they built a life and made many new friends.  Aunty Jacqui and Uncle Steve, John and Di.  They had myself and younger brother just 18 months apart.   


Although away a lot with the Navy, he was a great father, and we both have very many happy memories growing up.   Things that I will remember: fantastic holidays, teaching us to swim, sail and windsurf.  Watching him on his windsurfer; pretty easy to spot, not just his size but the large mickey mouse sail that he had got from somewhere – no one else had one of those?


Although he was given elocution lessons in the Navy, his Scottish accent would always come back after a couple of drinks, Burns night and when he crossed the border back into Scotland.  He also had a particularly strange Indian accent when he ordered a curry.  Painfully deaf – most of it I’m sure was selective …watching him frustratingly blue tooth his iphone to his hearing aids   His cycling lycra, a joy for all to see   All of the things a Dad to should help with – our education, the clubs and sports events he took us to – fixing bikes, cars, houses, advice – he always had something valuable to add and worth listening to.


One father’s day dinner after the port had gone round – he challenged 30 Royal Marines Officers in their 20s to mess rugby – Dad was 55.  Not in peak physical condition, but game nonetheless.  Great family BBQs.  His love for whiskey, but reluctance to share the good stuff.   The strange surprises over the years that he arranged for Mum: 40th - a block of kitchen knives, 50th - a chimenea that he proudly wheeled up from the bottom of the garden.  Popping out for milk and coming back having bought Mum a small sports car


But his best and crowning moment, after a couple of whiskies one night in the Plockton hotel, near the Isle of Skye – he bought a house.  Naturally, Mum was furious but, actually, this became a fantastic holiday home where they shared many special memories and made many more new wonderful friends – such as Ian and Mary.  


He was my inspiration and mentor for joining the Royal Marines and making it as an officer.  I only found out recently that when I was in Iraq and Afghanistan he visited the Chapel every day – something he never shared with me.  


Everything he did, he did not for himself but for Mum and for the rest of the family.  A great grandad or 'Grumps' to the children, he loved his grandchildren Chloe, Maddie, Evie, Annabelle and Sammy.   A truly great character: kind, patient, compassionate, loyal, sincere and many more.  I hope that between us we have inherited just some of your wonderful qualities.   


Devoted to mum and the whole family, you spoilt all of us and I know that you were Immensely proud of all our achievements.   We will all miss you so very much, but I know that you will be walking alongside each and everyone of us, but especially Mum.  


God bless you Dad.  We love you always,


I then provided these words about Ian and his time in the Royal Navy:


Ian Morton – The Navy Days

(by Rob Hoole)


Funerals can be daunting, sombre events but naval funerals tend to be uplifting occasions, leavened with joy and humour because we are not just friends but family, reunited to remember not only bad times but also great times with one of our own who has gone on ahead of us.  I can think of no other profession outside the military, and especially the Navy, where so many people stay in touch with each other from the day they join a particular service or branch, in the flower of their youth, until the day they die.  Even after years of separation, they can pick up comfortably from where they left off.  That’s true family and it’s a wonderful thing.


This quality applies particularly to the close-knit Minewarfare & Diving community that I, and others here, shared with Ian.  Perhaps it is because of the small ships in which we rubbed shoulders while bouncing around the oceans of the world, or the diving & bomb disposal teams in which we relied on each other for our very lives.  Ian’s passing will certainly leave a yawning gap in our family photograph as evidenced by these tributes on Facebook.  There are seven columns of them from those who knew and served with Ian, and some from those who didn’t but share in our grief anyway.


James has already said what an outstanding family man Ian was at home.  He also referred to Elma’s parents’ stereotypically Scottish parsimony.  This was not a trait shared by Ian who was a cheerful optimist and generous to a fault.  I will testify to this later but in the meantime, think of a male version of Sandra Bullock in ‘Miss Congeniality’.  Ian got on with everyone.


Of course there is proper family and Linda and I have had the privilege of knowing Ian’s devoted wife Elma through her work as a children’s nurse at QA.  So many were the occasions we committed our children into her care, particularly our son Gareth after he had suffered yet another greenstick fracture after being karate-kicked by his little sister Carolyn, that we were worried about Social Services taking an interest.  I’m sure we have Elma to thank for the fact that our children are now enjoying healthy adulthood as well-confirmed 30-somethings.  Ian, with justifiable pride, also brought his sons James and Mike to our Association’s annual dinner where my own son Gareth warmly greeted Mike with whom he had worked in the past.


Junior Seaman Ian Morton joined the Royal Navy at HMS Ganges, the Boys’ Training Establishment at Shotley Gate near Ipswich in Suffolk, as a 16-year-old in 1964.  He went on to specialise as a Tactical Radio Operator, or what we call a ‘bunting tosser’, versed in communicating by voice, signal flags, semaphore, flashing light and morse.  He must have gained his love of small ships from serving in the TON class minehunters HMS Gavinton (1968-70) and HMS Bossington (1971-73) and it is particularly appropriate that Colin Noyce, the Chaplain of the Ton Class Association, is conducting this service because Ian didn’t stop at those.


Ian’s potential for greater things was recognised while he was a rating.  When he became a Signals Communications Yeoman, a Petty Officer rate, he was selected for training at BRNC Dartmouth to become an officer in 1978.  After service in HMS Maxton (1978-79) and a brief period at HMS Mercury, the RN Communications Training establishment near Petersfield, Ian qualified as a Minewarfare & Clearance Diving Officer at HMS Vernon in 1981 with Martyn Allen, George Cairns, Tom Chambers, David Hilton, Rennie Miller, Simon Nicholson, Nick Stanley and Royal Norwegian Navy officer Geir Gade.


Commodore Nick Stanley, our National Military Representative at SHAPE, sent this message the day before yesterday:


 “RIP Ian.  I very much regret I won't be able to escape commitments in Belgium to attend the funeral of my LMCDO '81 course-mate.”


As an MCD officer, Ian went on to serve in HMS Brinton (1982), at HMS Vernon as DIVO2 (1983-85), in HMS Hurworth (1986), Captain Weapons Trials & Assessment based at HMS Vernon (1987-88), HMS Quorn (1989-90) and he was OIC of the Portsmouth Area Clearance Diving Unit based at HMS Vernon (1991-93) before training Royal Saudi Naval Forces personnel to operate their Al Jawf class minehunters at sea (1994-96).  He served at HMS Drake in Plymouth (1997) before leaving the RN but he was later employed in Full Time Reserve Service as the Support Manager at HMS King Alfred, the RNR unit in HMS Excellent (1999-2005).  He was then employed in the same post for a number of years as a Civil Servant.


Ian seemed to be everywhere I went, whether it was Portsmouth, Falmouth, Weymouth, Portland, Rosyth, Faslane or Kyle of Lochalsh.  One night in 1991, we even took cover from Iraqi Scud missiles together in a requisitioned airport terminal at Riyadh in Saudi Arabia at the start of Operation GRANBY, the first Gulf War.  Ian was on his way back to the UK after taking a ship-keeping crew out to Bahrain to look after a minehunter for a short spell while I was headed in the opposite direction after being pier-head jumped to join the Senior Naval Officer Middle East’s staff on board HMS London somewhere in the Gulf.


We had many a yarn together, often over a beer or two, and I particularly remember empathising with him about training certain foreign students when he visited HMS Osprey at Portland where I was a liver-in at the time.


Like Doug & Jill Barlow and many others here, Linda and I have enjoyed the company of Elma and Ian at various social events including mess dinners and balls at local naval establishments.  In more recent times, Ian has even joined our 'Not Quite the Last of the Summer Wine' trio for the occasional sail (or bar opening while moored to a buoy in Fareham Creek).


As I promised earlier, here is a story that illustrates how Ian wasn’t stereotypically ‘careful with money’ like Elma's parents but was, instead, generous to a fault and incredibly optimistic.  It was about 25 years ago.  I was in the Kings Arms in Weymouth with some other members of our MCD community.  I can’t remember whether they were officers on LMCDO course, an Advanced Minewarfare Course or a bunch of divers.  It doesn’t really matter.  Ian happened to join us and everyone bought a round until it came to his turn.  We all looked at him expectantly.


Ian said he hadn’t any money on him but told us to carry on and order our drinks while he went off to draw out some cash.  We subsequently ordered a round and it came to about £12. 


On Ian’s return from the ATM, the barmaid asked him for his money.  “Fiddlesticks!” said Ian (or words to that effect).  “I didn’t think it would be as much as that.  I only drew out a tenner.”


That, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call optimism!


Five Bells, old friend!  Your work here is done and it’s time to rest.  I hope I’ve done you justice.


We then reflected while listening to Shania Twain's From This Moment On.  Colin Noyce then provided the Words of Comfort and Prayers before a Royal Marines bugler playing The Last Post and Reveille with a minute's silence in between.  Colin then delivered the Commendation before family members touched Ian's casket for a final farewell.  This was followed by the Committal and Final Blessing after which we left the chapel to the sound of Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman singing Time to Say Goodbye.


 Most of us then repaired to HMS Nelson's wardroom to raise a glass in Ian's memory and enjoy a buffet lunch.


Lt Cdr Ian Morton RN
(25 May 1948 - 16 Nov 2016)


From Capt Colin Welborn RN, MCDOA past-President:


"My dear Rob,


What a splendid turnout to-day for Ian and his family.  James, Michael plus you, hit the mark with your very fitting reflections of a husband, father, grandfather, Yeoman, RN Officer and 'one of us'.  Thank you - the RM bugler rounded off a perfect send-off.


Take care.


Warm regards,






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