I was privileged to lead the 35-strong Plymouth Clearance Diving Team for a couple of years in the early ‘80s yet was frustrated constantly by being required ‘down the hole’ as a staffy for much of the time.  Apparently Mount Wise could not function without me, or so it seemed, and my protestations that there was a team of chaps down in HMS Drake desperately needing my leadership so often fell on deaf ears.  


No wonder some of my predecessors fell foul of the system.  The problem no doubt stemmed from the belief of more senior gentlemen that no subordinate should have more fun than they while getting regular diving pay, Group 5, subsistence and informal introductions to the ladies of the Reserve.  Even with my ‘Boss 2s’ (the irrepressible Nigel Art. Bruen and then the excellent Martin Nutt) invariably deployed to the Falkland Islands for much of the time I would still only be allowed visits to the Team approximately every other Friday.  Invariably I would find those present lined up to be reintroduced to the stranger or more likely desperate to have an accumulation of subsistence chits signed.


Most of the work was short notice stuff and there were often periods when everyone would be out on a job somewhere, yet there were other times when nothing much would be happening.  On these occasions mischief would break out and I well remember a certain elderly teenager taking great delight in making spurious phone calls to another team or to the office in HMS Vernon with an outrageous rumour concerning someone’s forthcoming draft or a reduction in diving pay.  He would then rub his hands and wait a few minutes for the inevitable return call from other teams passing on the rumour to which he would innocently disown any prior knowledge.


However, when there was work to be done I could always count on some of the best lads that I have had the pleasure and privilege to serve with.  I don’t need to remind the informed reader that the quality of our senior and junior ratings was and, I am sure, still is second to none.  Add that to character which has survived the training system’s best efforts to weed them out and a Clearance Diver is born. I remain indebted to these men whose ability, professionalism and dedication I shall admire always.  As to any less endearing qualities which may have surfaced from time to time, the occasional ability to lose a Land Rover, usually under at least two tides and a coating of mud comes to mind as does the perceived invincibility bestowed on any vehicle and its driver when the blue light and twin tones are operating.


Following changes that allowed senior ratings to be awarded the MBE, I wrote up an individual for consistent excellence over a number of years and presented the citation to my Chief of Staff.  I was asked whether there was any particular instance of hazardous duty or bravery that could be singled out as an example to be included in the application? I replied that I had discovered a total of 333 EOD jobs in the log that had been performed by this individual and if only half of these was particularly hazardous, would that do?  Unfortunately the said individual had at least four years more service to run and was not put forward at that time.  I am delighted however that the award was made subsequently although I understand it was totally unrelated to diving or EOD; you obviously can’t keep a good man down.


One busy day I was summoned from ‘the hole’ as the only operator available and despatched in my EOD red wing (you know, the ‘Economy’ Chevette with the vertical air brake) to Kingsbridge in Devon.  A pensioner had dug up a rusty No 36 Mills bomb (hand/frag grenade) in the back garden of his terraced house, the pin was missing and the handle was half-open on its spring.  Interestingly enough, I was not prepared to speculate as to the presence of a detonator.


Now let’s be frank, 90% of EOD consists of two thought processes; can I blow it up here or otherwise how can I get it somewhere where I can blow it up? As it was late in the day, I asked the policeman who had met me to arrange the use of a field nearby.  I placed the hand grenade in the crook of the car’s back seat cushions and, with the police leading the way, drove the car up a hill to the field.  Devon fields thereabouts are populated with earth and slate ‘fences’ which is convenient to a passing EOD Operator as they can be used as blast shields.  Meanwhile at the bottom of the field the traffic was allowed to flow again on the main road.


I briefed my policeman friend that the minimum safety fuse length I was happy to use was 2 minutes.  It would also be the maximum safety fuse length I was happy to use as well for any longer would allow for all sorts of unforeseen eventualities, like cows encroaching from another field.  Remember the Major’s daughter riding horse and then the helicopter at Borden ranges – it still haunts me?  Have you ever been tasked with blowing up a mine as a demonstration for STANAVFORLANT for example?  I have never trusted electrical firing on important occasions but using a ten-minute safety fuse can become very embarrassing as the previous clear range can get awfully messed up in ten minutes.


Although traffic was light we thought we should wait for a gap in the flow.  Even though the road was a safe distance away, it was a quiet evening and we did not want to alarm anyone. At last there came a lull; I lit the fuse, nipped smartly through a gap and hid with my blue suited colleague behind the slate wall.  Two minutes is an eternity with a fuse lit yet all remained quiet in peaceful oblivion as the seconds ticked by.  The reason then became all too obvious as a combine harvester came into sight on the narrow road with the last ten miles of holiday traffic accumulated behind it.  My only hope then was that the charge would go off before the queue passed the field - it didn't.  The combine harvester made it before an ear-splitting crack as my blob of P.E. 4 and the grenade exploded.  We peered cautiously over the wall to see three cars towing caravans, two vans and a coach stop.  The drivers got out, inspected their tyres, held a brief discussion and drove off. We waited until it was clear before we slunk away.  Personally, I blamed the lack of police traffic control.


And then there was the one about a flower shop, James Bond and the Commander (S)?



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