Items from The News, Navy News and Warship World are reproduced by kind permission of David Brown, Jim Allaway and Mike Critchley respectively. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge them.
29 Mar 2005 - Some Memories of HMS Vernon
The following letter from MCDOA associate member Doug Barlow was printed in today's Portsmouth News.
Like Doug, I was around for the first (1973/4) and second (1977/8) Whitbread Round the World yacht races, both of which were co-sponsored by RNSA and started and finished at HMS Vernon. The RN entered its Nicholson 55 Sail Training Yacht Adventure in both races and the Army entered its 59' Robert Clark ketch British Soldier in the first race only.
The first race was won on corrected time by Mexican millionaire Ramon Carlin in Sayula II although Chay Blyth was first across the line in his Alan Gurney 77' ketch GB II. Adventure was placed second and British Soldier ninth out of the 14 yachts completing the full course. Eric Tabarly in Pen Duick VI and Leslie Williams in Burton Cutter were among the five yachts failing to complete all of the race legs.
At the end of this race, several of us from Vernon were enjoying a party at about 0200 on board Eric Tabarly's boat Pen Duick VI in Vernon Creek when I noticed a commotion on deck. "What's happening?" I asked. "Oh, we are just sailing for Le Havre," was the laconic French response. I managed to usher the rest of the guests out and onto the jetty just before the yacht cast off and departed.
The second race was won on corrected time by Dutchman Cornelius van Rietschoten in his 65' Sparkman & Stephens ketch Flyer although Rob James in GB II won on elapsed time. Adventure was placed seventh out of the 15 competitors. Claire Francis came fifth in ADC Accutrac, John Ridgway came thirteenth in Debenhams and Leslie Williams & Robin Knox-Johnson came fifteenth in Heath's Condor.
The third Whitbread race (1981/2) started and finished at Camper & Nicholson's, Gosport because there was a South African participant and the prevailing political climate prevented the RN from becoming involved.
24 Mar 2005 - Disposal of Wartime Shell found in Solent
The following item from today's Portsmouth News describes the disposal (presumably undertaken by SDU2) of a wartime shell dredged up in the Solent.
21 Mar 2005 - Bertie Armstrong Appointed CEO of Scottish Fishermen's Federation
Congratulations to MCDOA member Bertie Armstrong on his appointment as Chief Executive of SFF and its wholly owned subsidiary company SFF Services Limited to date 25 April 2005. My thanks to fellow member Kev Stockton for this bit of news.
18 Mar 2005 - Awards for RN B&MD, MW, CD and EOD
To help in writing the definitive history of the MCD Branch and its antecedents, I have been compiling lists of decorations and other awards made for:
WW II RN Bomb & Mine Disposal, Mine Clearance and Diving
WW II RN Minelaying
WW II RN Minesweeping
Post-WW II RN Minewarfare, Clearance Diving and Explosive Ordnance Disposal
Results to date are available in the 'BRANCH HISTORY' section via the links shown above but more detail is still required. Please e-mail further information and corrections to firstname.lastname@example.org.
17 Mar 2005 - Update from Andy Ward in Canada
The Members' Updates pages of the Members Only area contain interesting news and photos (including some 'inflammatory' remarks about Darroch Woodward) from fellow MCDOA member Andy 'Sharkey' Ward, currently on exchange at DRDC (formerly DCIEM) in Toronto.
142 members have registered to access the Members Only area to date. Other bona fide MCDOA members can register by clicking the 'REGISTER' button in the navigation bar at the left hand side of the page.
14 Mar 2005 - Annual RN Divers' Reunion
Application Forms for the annual all-ranks RN Divers' Reunion at Portsmouth on 18 Jun 05 may now be downloaded via the 'Upcoming Events' page in the Members Only area. The cost of the event is £15 per head.
Mine Warfare Training Unit hosts Ton Class Association Members
Many thanks to MCDOA member Tom Russell and his staff at the Mine Warfare Training Unit of the Maritime Warfare School, HMS Collingwood for such an enjoyable visit by members of the Ton Class Association today at the end of our weekend mini-reunion at Portsmouth. Also, thanks to the CO (Lt Cdr David Lintern RN) and ship's company of HMS Middleton for hosting TCA members on Saturday.
Some pictures of the TCA visit to MWS are shown below.
Original 'Sooty Foot' men of the 104th
(6th from 1962) 'Blackfoot' Minesweeping
Squadron line up in the stair well
Tom Russell gives a welcoming speech
WO(MW) Tony Mulrain BEM
gives the brief
PO(MW) Steve 'Stirling' Moss explains
items on the Sweep Deck
TCA committee member Chris Green
presents a badge to Tom Russell
while TCA historian Bob Dean looks on
Now, all together, "Smile!"
Recent Personal Updates
The Members Only area contains new updates from MCDOA members Geoff Goodwin and Dave Ince (Look out, he's coming back from the States!).
12 Mar 2005 - Wartime Evacuation of HMS Vernon's Mining Design Department to West Leigh
The following messages have been received from Phil Hammond, Chairman of the Staunton Park Genealogy Centre at Havant. See towards end of item below dated 4 Mar for full context.
"6 Mar 05
Many thanks for your e-mail regarding the wartime use of Leigh Park House. We strive to get accuracy to our site because various parts are used in personal research and we have had two people, one in New Zealand and one in Australia in the past couple of years who have been involved in a thesis for their university course and have been writing about members of the Staunton family.
Regarding the [wartime Naval] 'vandalism' item, I can't remember now where that came from, but all our information for the English part of the site came mainly from two sources, the Havant Museum and the Portsmouth News. I have a feeling that I found it in newspaper cuttings at the Museum which were all about the Staunton Park as it is now, and in a second article they included some pictures and details of its original beauty and its occupation during the war. I feel sure that this is the most likely source and knowing the reputation for 'non-accuracy' that newspapers have, I am not surprised at the error, although you are the first person to pick it up, and thankfully we can correct it.
As you have included in your e-mail other details which I have not heard of before, may I reproduce them somewhere into the story under a separate heading to show readers how important the war usage was? [I have gladly agreed to this.]
Regarding your question about West Leigh Cottage, I don't know the answer to that and I would guess that the only person who does, would be the Havant Museum senior assistant who has a world of knowledge about Leigh Park from the year 'dot' it seems. He is not very well at the moment and so sometimes when I call in there, he is off sick, but I will chase up your query and come back to you when I can get an answer.
Again, thanks very much for putting us right about the Chinese Fort, and I will correct it in the next few days.
"8 Mar 05
I spent about an hour this morning talking to the Senior Assistant at the Havant Museum about Leigh Park topics, and I mentioned to him about West Leigh Cottage. There are no details about it at the Museum, but he seems to think it was apparently somewhere near where Colts now is, and was pulled down in the late fifties when the West Leigh Estate was in its infancy. They do have a photograph of it with some members of the staff, who we presume worked there, in front of it. While I was talking to him he came up with a couple of other sources of information especially about the history of the area before the first house was built. From what he was telling me, he is carrying out research of the period.
We expanded our web site recently, and as part of the package, we gained for free, another twelve-page site that we can link to the main one. I have been wondering what to do with site and came up with several ideas, but after talking this morning and with the information you have sent me, I have decided that it will be become a site dedicated to Leigh Park, the estate and all the families that lived in the Leigh Park Houses. Thus, I will remove the pages from the main site and transfer them to the new one together with all this new information. There is no dedicated site to Leigh Park on the internet other than our own, and with the help of the Museum staff, we should be able to make a very fitting tribute from the early 1600s to the present day.
So you can see that your initial e-mail to me has grown into something quite large, so I hope that it won't be too long before it will be up and running in its new format.
Thanks again for the info.
8 Mar 2005 - SofD Handover at Horsea
Our 'Not Quite the Last of the Summer Wine' trio's normal Tuesday routine was disrupted today because Barlow had gone somewhere skiing or, as he said himself, "...somewhere where they ski." These days, he doesn't see much point in all that unnecessary activity prior to the après ski partying.
In Barlow's absence, Holloway and Hoole took the opportunity to drop into Horsea Island and catch up with a few old friends. After a chat with CPO(D)s Kev Scargill, Jim Lynch and some of the Saudi divers Holloway trained ten years ago (now returned for their supervisors' course), who should they see but our beloved association chairman, Simon Nicholson. He appears to have made an early start on his handover as Superintendent of Diving to Chris Ameye who will also relieve Simon as MCDOA Chairman when he takes over on 23 April. Both were undertaking their SABA Mod 1 Conversion Course at the Defence Diving School (DDS) together with MCDO Dougie Bell and WO(D) Andy Brunton, all under the watchful eye of instructor CPO(D) Chris Christie.
SABA Mod 1 is fitted to an adjustable buoyancy jacket and has an oral-nasal mask. The mask contains a microphone and earphones for through-water communications to other divers and to the surface supervisor. A 12 litre main bottle and a 3 litre bailout bottle obviate the need to equalise. Both bottles are charged to 232 Bar and dual contents gauges are provided in a single rubber housing. A red light flashes in the mask when the pressure drops to 55 Bar. An octopus connection enables a buddy to plug in and share one's air. The pictures below show some of the proceedings including SABA Mod 1 as modelled by Dougie Bell.
Nicholson & Ameye Ameye Preps his Set
Chris Christie Andy Brunton
Course Pre-Dive Brief
Dougie Bell in SABA Mod 1
4 Mar 2005 - More MCD Heritage
In view of the current lull in MCD news and in the interests of our professional heritage, the following true tale is reproduced from 'Service Most Silent' by John Frayn Turner (George G. Harrap and Co. Ltd., London: 1955). It is rather long and over-dramatised but the events described really happened at 'HMS Mirtle' at Buriton (see item for 18 Feb below) and proved vital to the war effort.
The story starts after a suspicious German sea mine had been recovered on 27 Oct 1940 from the mouth of the River Ogmore near Porthcawl in South Wales. Note the reference to the location of 'HMS Mirtle' staying secret to this day - and that was as recent as 1955!
"What are we going to call the mine investigation range?" M [HMS Vernon's Director of Mining] asked Anderson, whom he intended to set in charge of the special party there.
"I don't really know, sir. Seems rather a mouthful, doesn't it, at the moment? And it's got to be a code name to cover its identity, M for Mine... I for Investigation... R for Range. MIR." Anderson repeated the letters slowly, deliberately. "We don't want it to sound too grim. A girl's name would be the sort of thing, I suppose, to cloak its purpose. Mir. Why, of course, Mirtle! H.M.S. Mirtle."
Thus the range became known. To this day, its location stays secret.
The mine was sent on from Vernon to Mirtle, set in a remote chalk escarpment, to be treated on the 31st [Oct 1940].
Walden [Admiralty civilian scientist in Mine Design Department, HMS Vernon] accompanied the dockyard driver (one of the many who risked their lives transporting live mines about the country from Vernon) in the lorry carrying the mine to Mirtle.
Not far from their destination, on a very steep hill, the driver missed his gears when changing down to negotiate the gradient with his heavy burden. With the sudden change, the vehicle shot forward - and the mine broke away from its lashings, crashed through the tailboard, and smashed a way down four feet on to a rough flintstone-encrusted road with a one-in-four-slope.
It careered downhill, and finally came to rest two hundred yards away. Somehow or other Walden, the driver, and a couple of ratings retrieved the mine and got it back on the lorry.
Relating the experience later to Anderson, Walden observed, "If ever a mine should have gone off - it was down that hillside."
On the 31st, too, the six-lead clock, the bomb fuze, and the primer release extracted at Porthcawl arrived at Mirtle. Examination of the primer showed that it had not been released owing to distortion of the top of the spindle. Otherwise, the whole thing would have gone off. The first impressions, together with the examination of the clock, suggested that the mine was a new type. Torrential rain hampered the work on October 31, but it cleared by Friday, November 1.
Anderson emerged from a caravan they used for work. Walden was with him, as he had been at Piddlehinton [where a similar mine had been booby-trapped and exploded while being rendered safe].
"Not going to take any chances this time, Walden, old boy," Anderson vouchsafed. "We'll stay here till we've rigged up as foolproof a way of unbuckling this thing as can be. I've a shrewd idea that we're going to find that the gear in the unit compartment will be different from anything we've seen before."
"I tell you what, Anderson. I would say for sure that there is another auxiliary charge similar to the Vernon mine [Booby-trapped mine recovered from Birchington in Kent; an auxiliary explosive charge had exploded in Vernon's mining shed killing five mine investigation personnel, thus the need for a place like Mirtle]. It seems that they still mean to stop us stripping it - for some reason or other."
"Yes. I think there might be a clockwork mechanism. Have to be careful of that." Then, in a rather more excited voice, as if he had only just appreciated the significance of what he had said: "Damned careful!"
"But at least there was no ticking when we listened yesterday with the headphones, was there?" Anderson asked.
"No, but we'd better try again now. Let's get alongside the pocket of the main clock," Walden suggested. "Should be about here. Now, dead quiet."
The rain had stopped. Only the wind whistled faintly over the hills. Mirtle lay inland. A sailor started to sing 'Begin the Beguine' on the other side of the caravan.
"Stop that singing a minute," Anderson called. "We're listening for ticking."
Again, only the wind. Then Walden cried out excitedly, "Can you hear that? Very high-pitched. But quite distinct. If it's ticking we're closer than we should be."
"My God, I think you're right!" agreed Anderson. "Yes... you... are," he added slowly, listening between each word, so as not to miss a murmur. "An irregular, high-pitched click."
"That's it," Walden said, with the eager enthusiasm of the scientist on the verge of a discovery. "Very faint, but no doubt about it - not a shadow." Then, in a cautioning tone: "Right. Let's stop a minute and take stock. We won't do the slightest good by rushing things."
They walked over to the caravan that served as an office. "This is the position as I see it," the Lieutenant said. "Stop me if you don't agree. The clock mechanism, we know, can be set for any period up to 6 days. It can be adjusted to make the either passive or active after that time - or to explode it on the spot when the clockwork has run down. Now that the main detonator has fired, and as far as we know or can guess there's no primer in the main explosive charge, if anything blows up it will be an auxiliary charge."
"I'm with you so far."
"Right. Now, the mine was laid on the night of Sunday the 27th to Monday the 28th. If this clock mechanism we've found has the same setting as we've met previously, and is used here to fire an auxiliary charge, then the unit will be destroyed some time before the night of Saturday, November the 2nd to Sunday the 3rd. In other words, we've only got a day or two to strip it and find out if it's an acoustic - or what it is. [N.B. No acoustic mines had been found to date but it was suspected that a new type of mine had sunk or damaged many ships including the new cruiser HMS Galatea] Take back what I said about there not being any hurry! And there's the other little point, of course: that blessed clock's liable to stop any second. You know what that means if we're both mucking about here!"
Walden had already realised this. "I suppose you'll get in touch with M?"
"I'll ring him right now."
Anderson put the facts to the Commander, who was getting used to rapid action by this time - and even thriving on it. "Number One [First Lieutenant of the Mine Design Department] and I will come up first thing in the morning, Anderson. You can't do anything tonight in the dark. Just get a good rest."
The First Lieutenant had recovered from August the 6th. Nearly three months had passed since that black Tuesday [when the booby-trapped mine had exploded at Vernon]. Now he was on his way to Mirtle with M to tackle the unknown all over again. More was known this time at least. They had a shrewd idea that the booby-trap was there. They would not walk into it, as poor P.O. Fletcher had done. Every minute counted now. They had Hitler's secret weapon number two in their hands, with the expectation of only twenty-four hours' life for it before it was liable to go off. Time was everything. And to stress it the clock went on ticking and ticking.
"It's certainly still going," declared M, bent double over the mine-shell with his left ear frozen stiff against the metal, "but it's not a normal ticking, is it? Well, here we go again, chaps. Let's bring out the disc-cutter and try and get at the booby-trap - and find out where that blasted ticking's coming from."
The trap had to be dealt with before the rear door could be taken off, and the secrets revealed.
The Piddlehinton process began all over again. Number One, Anderson and Walden clamped on the trepanner, got out of range, and cut a four-inch-diameter hole out of the shell over the auxiliary charge. Walden took the smallest-size glove - 6 1/2 - so got his hand in here and managed to swivel his wrist round till his fingers closed on the detonator to the auxiliary charge. With as tight a grip as he could muster, he clenched his hand round, and removed it cautiously, tensely. Each finger bit into the metal. He shut his teeth tight. Out it came.
"That's one stage," Anderson breathed in relief. "Listen. You can hear the clock more distinctly now through the hole." They cut a second hole where they hoped a battery might be - a battery which turned out to be mounted in the rim of the unit's frame. Walden had another go. The hole was well placed. The leads to the battery showed clearly as he peered into the neat little circle cut from the shell. His hands were tight, but he got them in. Rain was falling now. "Careful not to let any liquid on to the leads," warned Number One.
Walden successfully severed the leads. "Second stage over," he announced. "Now for the next one."
Before hole number three was cut over the clock they glimpsed its mechanism through the second circle. This third hole had to be in the rear door of the mine, the upright fitment at the end whose removal had caused the Vernon disaster. The place settled for the hole was between the fins on the door. Special adaptors had already been made to support the cutting-machine in this upright position. The party trailed away. Then the familiar whirr of the cutter. The disc came out. And two additional batteries came to light inside, one of which consisted of two small torch batteries. They disconnected all the leads.
1800, Saturday, November 2. It was dark. Rain had fallen relentlessly all day. They were all drenched. "Come on; let's call it a day," Number One suggested. "Perhaps the sun will shine for us tomorrow. We can't do any more in this pitch blackness."
"Agreed." Anderson and Walden joined him in a race to the caravan.
The clock went on ticking into the night. But they felt that they must have cut any circuit it might make when it stopped.
Sunday morning, November 3. The weather had improved a little, but rain still fell spasmodically. Down at R.N. Barracks, Divisions were being held, and the morning service was running its predestined course. One or two matelots were looking at their watches as they calculated the time of the 'liberty boat' ashore from the barracks. The hands of the watches moved round. 1000... 1015... 1032...
And the clock still ticked. "One more cut," Anderson proposed. "We ought to find any evidence of a mechanically operated destructive device - if there is one. We've cut the two electrical traps."
Back they trooped to the hideout.
"Don't you notice anything?" Number One shouted with glee. "The clock's stopped." And so it had. Their calculations were correct. A six-day clock. They had beaten it - and were alive.
The rain came down. The grass on the hills seemed deeper green. The mine-shell glistened as the rain poured on to it, streaming around the circumference and into the chalky grass beneath. And it rolled down the the men's oilskins, soaked their faces, dropped off their noses, blurred their eyes.
So to the final operation. The rear door could come off. But they were not going to be caught. A special contraption was rigged up to hold the door firm while the nuts were unscrewed one by one. The last spiralled off on to the sodden ground. Once more from a safe distance, they crouched down expectantly. Number One jerked a lever and the door was wrenched free, dragging its rubber jointing-ring with it. Peace. No bang. All over. The clouds burst over the hill towering above them. Sheets of water fell across the range. The whole mechanism was withdrawn from the compartment, got into a lorry, and sent to Mine Design Department. Accompanied by the inevitable question: "What is it?"
The mechanism was all mounted on a disc fitting in the fore end of the compartment - with the exception of a microphone mounted on a bar welded across the dome to the rear door of the mine. This was the clue. Mine Design Department pounced on it to produce the solution - an acoustic mine, actuated by the sound of ships' engines pulsing through the water.
"This is second in importance only to your magnetic mine," M told Ouvry when he saw him at West Leigh [West Leigh House - see below]. "Now they can really get on and devise a sweep. It could have developed into a situation as serious as last November. Let's pray we never have to face anything like that again. Somehow, I don't think we shall now."
Soon after this, British minesweepers were being fitted with Kango vibrating hammers in watertight containers under the keel of the vessels. These made enough noise - at the right pitch - to detonate acoustic mines at safe distances. But the mines responded only at a certain sensitive pitch, so it was not until the microphone had been analysed from the Porthcawl specimen that the antidote could be introduced.
The following is an extract from Rear Admiral Edmund Nicholas 'Nico' Poland's book, 'The Torpedomen - HMS Vernon's Story 1872-1986' (Published privately: 1993).
Although it was officially under Armitage, Ouvry also kept an eye on Buriton which was a hive of activity. From late October, mines came there for stripping but soon a purpose built X-ray machine, costing £10,000, was installed. German mines began to come in at such a rate that at any one time there were over 150 on the site. The mines and their stripped carcases had to be kept well separated so as to avoid the tremendous explosion that would have caused serious damage and casualties for miles around had one detonated. The call eventually came for empty mine shells and work began to empty the carcases by boiling the explosive from the mine case allowing it to escape from the access plug through which it had originally been inserted. The explosive, freed from the confines of the mine shell, could now be safely burnt on site. The initial steaming out went on over one intensive week as the establishment was invaded by 'numbers of unearthly machines and teams of busy enthusiasts.'
The massive quantities of explosive being disposed of made Buriton a dangerous place. Security was good but not perfect. Ouvry was alerted to this danger by a serious breach of security which involved a number of schoolboys from Petersfield. Six Italian mines had been received at the range and had been placed apart from the German mines ready for stripping, but the activities of the range personnel had been observed by these young miscreants who, on the following night, climbed down on to the range, removed the explosive from the Italian mines in the manner in which they had observed and proceeded to burn it. Hitherto, the range had been locked at night but guards had not been mounted. Henceforward, guards remained on duty at all hours.
I have been given immense help by Doug Jones, the webmaster of the Buriton Heritage Bank at www.buriton.org.uk. He has given me a fascinating taped interview with the late Cdr David Bird RN who lived locally and ran ‘HMS Mirtle’ during the final part of the war.
West Leigh House and West Leigh Cottage, Havant
HMS Vernon's Mine Design Department’s Trials and Scientific sections were evacuated to Leigh Park House near Havant. This house, now demolished, stood in what is now the Staunton Country Park. The ornamental lake in the landscaped gardens is still a feature of the Country Park and was used for experiments involving German mines and the design of British mines and other underwater explosive charges. Unfortunately, the ornamental Chinese Fort built by Sir Frederick Fitzwygram on one of the lake’s islands was destroyed in the process, described on the Staunton Park Genealogy Centre's website as a "piece of vandalism carried out by the Royal Navy".
The picture below is from Pamela Mitchell’s book ‘Chariots of the Sea’ and shows a detonation in the ornamental lake during trials of explosive charges used by the Chariot two-man human torpedoes against the Tirpitz in Norway and, with far greater success, against the Japanese in the Far East.
The main Mine Design Department, including the Enemy Mining Section, moved into West Leigh House and West Leigh Cottage which is described as being inside the park's grounds at the end of a winding drive down from the house but I have yet to look for it.
1 Mar 2005 - Navy News Items
The following MCD-related items from the March issue of Navy News include: an atmospheric photo of HMS Penzance; Advanced Driving qualifications for members of NDG; the rescue of a civilian diver off Oban by FDU3 (featuring CO Chris Bowen and PO(D) Jess Owen); a charity cycle ride by HMS Dulverton (featuring CO and MCDOA member Peter Laughton); a calendar produced by HMS Brecon; and diving aspects of the Exercise Long Look exchange programme involving RN, RAN and RNZN personnel.
27 Feb 2005 - Lt Keith Jenkins RN
The following message has been posted on the RN CD website's Message Board:
"Some of you may remember or have known Lt Keith Jenkins? I have just recently learnt that he passed away peacefully on February 17th at Blandford Community Hospital and his service was held at Poole Crematorium on Friday 25th February.
I last saw Keith about 10 years ago and he was my boss in 1970 when I was on the Portland FOST diving team which was his last job before leaving the Navy.
Nigel (Knocker) White"
26 Feb 2005 - MCDOA Northern Dinner
Last night's dinner at Faslane was another resounding success thanks almost entirely to Bob Hawkins who organised it and presided.
Guests included Cdr James Leatherby (Cdr of HMS Neptune), Lt Jim Masson GM late of the Argyle & Sutherland Highlanders and the Highland Light Infantry (Bob Hawkins' father-in-law) who sat next to our own Ken Kempsell GM, and Mr Gilbert MacKechnie (Oban Hotelier). Capt Colin Welborn RN (MCDOA President) was the main speaker and Paul Jones provided the jokes to accompany Bob Hawkins' speech. Other attendees included Bertie Armstrong, Jim Bagshaw, Alan Bayliss, Ian Berry, Don Crosbie, Tony Griffiths (MCDOA Secretary), Paul Henke, Rob Hoole (MCDOA Vice Chairman), Paul Jones, Peter Laughton, John Law, Mike Loane, Keith Mabbot, Bob Officer, Matt Offord, Chris Flaherty, Richard Osbaldestin, Harry Parker, Keith Riches, Kev Stockton, Soapy Watson and Frank Ward (MCDOA Committee Member). Photographs of the event are now available in the Members Only area.
The next MCDOA Northern Dinner will be held at Faslane on Friday 24 Feb 2006 and will celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the founding of the MCD Branch.
24 Feb 2005 - AGM Minutes
The minutes of the MCDOA's 12th AGM, held at HQ FDS Horsea Island on 5 Nov 04, are now available in the 'Members Only' area. Of particular note, e-mail will be used in future to send any correspondence to members for whom a current e-mail address is held. This will save considerable time, effort and expense in administration and postage. Off-line members will still receive their correspondence by 'snail mail'.
23 Feb 2005 - Millennium Spinnaker Tower
The latest update about the construction and opening of the Millennium Spinnaker Tower at Gunwharf Quays (formerly HMS Vernon) can be seen via the 'HMS VERNON' web page.
19 Feb 2005 - Stop Press: Presentation about Trafalgar 200 Celebrations
On Thurs 3 Mar, my branch of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) will host a talk in Portsmouth Naval Base about the Trafalgar 200 (T200) celebrations. Pre-booking is necessary and attendees need to arrive at Unicorn Gate by 1815 to clear security before the talk starts at 1845.
The speakers will be Commodore Duncan Ferguson (Director of T200 and a fellow term-mate at Dartmouth) and Captain Malcolm Farrow RN (Director of the International Festival of the Sea (IFOS) and of the St Paul's Cathedral State Service of Commemoration). A buffet will be provided after the presentation (2000 approx) and the cost is £8 for CMI members and £10 for non-members. If any MCDOA member or other colleague would like to attend the talk, please contact me via email@example.com before Thu 24 Feb.
T200, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, and IFOS are closely associated with the Sea Britain 2005 campaign to celebrate Britain's relationship with the sea and help overcome national 'sea blindness'.
18 Feb 2005 - A Bit More MCD Heritage: 'HMS Mirtle' Today
On 5 Aug 1940, part of a booby-trapped German mine exploded in the mining shed at HMS Vernon killing Commissioned Gunner (T) Reginald A. Cook, PO Cecil H. Fletcher, AB William B. Croake, AB William J. Stearns and AB Alfred E. Stevens and injuring several others. Attempts were made immediately to find a safe site for stripping bombs and mines and steaming out their explosive content for burning. According to Rear Admiral Edmund Nicholas 'Nico' Poland in 'The Torpedomen - HMS Vernon's Story 1972-1986', this site had to be "remote from vital service installations and the general public yet within easy reach of Portsmouth". There were a few false starts including a large bunker at the Portsmouth end of Hayling Island golf course, the yacht club at Sandy Point and the chalk pits at Paulsgrove. Admiral Poland then goes on to say:
"Finally, Ouvry found the best site yet, a disused lime works near the little village of Buriton. It had the advantage of having only one entrance and being sufficiently rugged to dissuade most prowlers from making any unauthorised entrance. It came into use in October 1940 and was unofficially christened HMS Mirtle after the initials for Mine Investigation Range (MIR)."
As most members will know, Commander John Garnault Delahaize Ouvry RN had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order for being the first to render safe a German magnetic mine discovered on the mudflats at Shoeburyness. This feat, performed on 23 Nov 1939, enabled members of the Mine Design Department at HMS Vernon to investigate its secrets and develop appropriate mine countermeasures. Ouvry was presented with his DSO, the first Royal Navy decoration of the war, by King George VI on the parade ground at HMS Vernon on 19 Dec 1939. See the website's 'HMS VERNON' history page for more details.
'HMS Vernon 1930-1955', published by the Wardroom Mess committee in 1955, shows two photos of 'HMS Mirtle' in operation as shown below (larger scale photos available on the website's 'HMS VERNON' history page). Confusingly, the book gives the location of the quarry as Havant.
'HMS Mirtle' in operation during WW II
Buriton is about 10 miles north of Portsmouth to the east of the A3(M) at the Petersfield turn-off. As the result of a query from a former MOD civil servant called Chris Ransted who has written a book about WW II Bomb Disposal casualties, I visited Buriton today (with wife and two dogs) and managed to find the actual quarry used by 'HMS Mirtle'. Initial access was made from halfway up Kiln Lane on the left. Parking was available across the road where the South Downs Way crosses Hangers Way. We descended a steep curving footpath leading towards the village and discovered the approach to the quarry itself about 150 yds down on the right. It is now quite hilly and overgrown with secondary growth forestry, currently being thinned by woodland conservators. The chalk sides are covered with lichen and leaf mould and no evidence remains of the narrow gauge railway line that led into it during the war as shown in one of the photos above. The photos below show the approach path and the site itself as they appear today.
'HMS Mirtle' as it is today
Some fascinating local recollections of the goings-on at 'HMS Mirtle' can be found in the 'Buriton Wheelbarrow' website's Heritage Bank (Info Sheet 15 - Wartime in Buriton), maintained by village historian Doug Jones. The site is referred to as 'HMS Myrtle' but I have since told him the correct spelling.
P.S. Buriton has two good pubs called the Master Robert and the Five Bells.
9 Feb 2005 - FDU3 Rescue Diver
The following item from today's Portsmouth News describes the rescue of a civilian diver by FDU3 off Oban.
2 Feb 2005 - Gentlemen Who Lunch
Continuing the MCDOA website's occasional Good Pub Guide, our 'Not Quite the Last of the Summer Wine' trio of Barlow, Holloway and Hoole visited the Sussex Brewery in Emsworth yesterday.
The Sussex Brewery is situated on the old A27 (now A259) Portsmouth to Chichester Road. While it no longer brews its own beer, the pub has become renowned for its range of spiced sausages. It serves a variety of keg and cask beers in its only bar. We found the 'Winter Warmer' delicious if a bit pricy at £2.80 a pint. Barlow bought the first round, mostly in coins, and his body language reflected his reaction to the cost as shown below. Note the anguished facial expression, difficulty in unclenching his hand and the need to support himself against the bar. (Only kidding, perhaps he was just collecting his change). Mind you, it's some time since the old King died, not to mention the moths in Barlow's wallet. It was just as well that Holloway was donating blood afterwards and only drank Coke.
The pub has a reasonable variety of home cooked food including its extensive range of sausages with mash and onion gravy and 'specials' that often feature freshly caught fish. Meals are slightly more expensive than in most pubs frequented by our intrepid trio so we settled on a packet of crisps... each (We're not that 'piso' - see Rick Jolly's Jackspeak for definition if required).
Sussex Brewery is well worth a visit for its traditional pub decor,
open fire, friendly atmosphere and local characters. Just watch out for Barlow who lives
virtuously [Hah, blinking spellcheckers!] virtually next door.
1 Feb 2005
Navy News Items
The following few MCD-related items from the February issue of Navy News include: HMS Atherstone winning the Soberton Cup for her Fishery Protection work; charitable work by OM(MW) 28 under the supervision of Course Officer Alan 'Dolly' Parton; the deployment of HMS Albion (XO MCDOA member Richard Hill) for trials in the Western Atlantic; and the creditable achievement of Marine Cadet Sarah Reynolds in being the first female awarded a Sea Cadet Diving Badge after completing the SCC Naval Acquaint Course at Horsea Island.
MCDOA Website Statistics
For anyone interested, January 2005 saw the heaviest use of the website yet. Internet surfers in 49 countries (ranging from Belarus to Tuvalu) made 2,640 visits and registered 57,119 'hits' on individual pages. During the past 12 months, the site has been visited 18,719 times with 439,203 'hits' registered on individual pages and 7.8 gigabytes of data downloaded.
31 Jan 05
Captain Colin Welborn RN Appointed as New CMFP
Congratulations to MCDOA President Colin Welborn on his well-deserved appointment to relieve Nick Stanley as Captain Minewarfare and Patrol Vessels, Diving and Fishery Protection (CMFP) to date 18 March 2005.
Dan Nicholson to Give Presentation on RNLI
MCDOA member Dan Nicholson will talk to members of the Nautical Institute (NI), Royal Institute of Navigation (RIN), the Southampton Master Mariners and their guests about the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), from which he retired in Dec, at the Warsash Maritime Centre (WMC) at 1930 on Wed 16 Feb. WMC has a well-stocked bar and the beer is cheap!
Other forthcoming NI presentations include:
Wed 16 Mar at 1930 - Ship Design and Performance by Stephen Payne (Cunard), David Barber (P&O) and Prof Tony Molland PhD FRINA of the Southampton School of Ship Science - WMC.
Tue 19 Apr at 0830 - Collision Regulations (COLREGS) in Practice - Joint-seminar with the Royal Institute of Navigation to include contributions from a fisherman, a ferry master, a high-speed vessel master, the RN, a yachtsman or yachtswoman, a tanker master, the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) and Penny Hare, the Head of Sail Training for the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) - HMS Collingwood.
Forthcoming RIN presentations include:
Thu 24 Feb at 1900 - The History and Future of GNNS (Global Navigation Satellite System) by Air Cdre Norman Bonnor, RIN President - Ordnance Survey, Romsey Road, Southampton.
[By Webmaster: Ah, yes... but will it ever replace the Decca Tartan Plot?]
MCDOA members who wish to attend any of these events are requested to e-mail the firstname.lastname@example.org.
30 Jan 2005
Update from Dicky Hill
The Members Only area contains recent news and photographs from Richard Hill (XO of HMS Albion) in the 'Members' Updates' pages.
Navy List for 2004
It is amazing what one occasionally stumbles across in the course of naval historical research. For example, did you know the 2004 Navy List is now available on a public domain website?
29 Jan 2005
MCDOA Northern Dinner 25 February 2005 - Last Call
Over 30 members and guests have already booked to attend the Northern Dinner at Faslane. The Guest of Honour will be MCDOA President Captain Colin Welborn RN and he will be in illustrious company.
The Booking Form, Menu and List of Attendees to date is available via the 'Upcoming Events' page of the Members Only area of the website.
New Book about Bomb and Mine Disposal
Lt Noel Cashford MBE RNVR has written a new book called All Theirs!. Whereas his previous book All Mine! describes his own six years as an RN Bomb & Mine Disposal officer during which he rendered safe over 200 devices, All Theirs! contains vivid, entertaining and informative stories about the activities of other (mainly naval) EOD operators including MCDOA members Ken Kempsell, Brian Dutton, Colin Churcher, Martin Jenrick and Dave Welch. The book is well supported with illustrations, sketches and photos and is thoroughly good value.
All Theirs! costs £7.95 (plus £2 P&P) and is available from:
Mr N Cashford MBE
21 Castle View Drive
All Mine! costs £7.95 (plus handling charge and P&P) and limited copies are available via Amazon.co.uk.
26 Jan 2005 - Iraqi Coastal Defence Regiment
The following item from today's Portsmouth News describes the revitalisation of the Iraqi Coastal Defence Regiment and features MCDOA President Captain Colin Welborn RN. It speaks volumes that the two Captains selected to oversee this task (Colin and his predecessor, MCDOA member John Murphie) were both MCD Officers. I am sure all members share my admiration for their achievements.
25 Jan 2005 - Members Only Area
The Members Only area contains recent news about Jack Birkett and MCDOA member Bill Scarth in the 'Members' Updates' pages and fresh additions to the 'Funnies' pages.
20 Jan 2005 - MoD Rejects Archerfish
The following item from today's Portsmouth News describes the MoD's rejection of BAe Systems' Archerfish 'one-shot' mine disposal system.
20 Jan 2005 - Captain Arthur Checksfield Royal Navy
The following announcement has been received from Robert, elder son of Arthur Checksfield. 'Big Arthur' was the first CD officer to be promoted to Captain RN, a particularly momentous achievement for someone who joined up as a Boy Seaman.
"Arthur embarked on his final voyage on Sunday 16 January from the entrance to Portsmouth harbour on a falling tide in glorious winter sunshine. His ashes were scattered at sea, in accordance with his expressed wishes by his immediate family; Astrid his wife for over 28 years; his two sons Robert and Peter; his daughter-in-law Katrina and his grandchildren Charlotte and Jonathan.
Arthur touched many peoples’ lives throughout the multi-facets of his illustrious and eventful life. We all have fond and personal memories of this very special man. Please thank the members of the MCDOA for the many kind tributes and for sharing their special memories and adventures with us. These have been a great comfort to us all.
Now that Arthur has finally been laid to rest this chapter in his life is closed."
18 Jan 2005 - A Bit of MCD Heritage: HMS Volcano, HMS Firework & Eskmeals
Sheila Cartwright of Gosforth in Cumbria has drawn my attention to a fascinating website describing the RN's little known WW II Bomb Disposal Training Establishment HMS Volcano at nearby Holmrook Hall, Ravenglass. HMS Volcano was commissioned on 31 January 1942 as an independent command with accounts held at HMS Clio (Barrow-in-Furness) and was paid off in October 1945. RN BSOs (Bomb Safety Officers) were trained at HMS Volcano while RMS (Rendering Mines Safe) officers were trained at HMS Vernon. Eventually, the two branches combined under the auspices of the Clearance Diving Branch.
By 1939, concurrently with the formation of Royal Engineer Bomb parties, the Admiralty and Air Ministry had set up their own separate and distinct Bomb Disposal organisations, each with an exclusive responsibility to its parent service. In August 1940, the UK Joint Service Bomb Disposal Charter was raised to outline and establish inter-Service responsibilities for UK Explosive Ordnance Disposal. Naval Bomb Disposal Teams were set up under the Directorate of Naval Ordnance under the Director of the Naval Unexploded Bomb Department (DUBD) to discharge the Royal Navy’s responsibility for dealing with unexploded bombs on its own property. By 20 September 1940 there were Naval bomb disposal teams at 27 shore establishments. Each team was led by a BSO (Bomb Safety Officer) who was normally a Sub Lieutenant RNVR or Commonwealth equivalent of the RNVR.
According to Major Arthur Hogben in Designed to Kill:
"During the early part of the war it had been considered that the disposal of bombs was distinct from and in no way related to the disposal of mines, miscellaneous missiles and projectiles. This was totally disproved following the invasions of Italy and Normandy and the subsequent port and harbour clearance tasks undertaken by the Royal Navy referred to in Chapter 9. In early 1944, the Director of the Naval Unexploded Bomb Department (DUBD), Captain L E H Llewellyn RN, expressed the view that it was seldom known what was buried after an attack, particularly in an attack where Naval bombardment was combined with bombing. He was sure that certain fundamental precautions and methods of disposal were common to all forms of unexploded weapons and that it was only in particular fuzes and fitments that the differences and difficulties really arose.
For the above reasons, and in view of the almost total cessation of bombing of the United Kingdom, it was proposed that the duties performed by DUBD and his staff should be taken over by the Department of Torpedoes and Mining (DTM). This amalgamation took place in September 1944 and the duties performed by DUBD were taken over by DTM, the new department thus formed being known as DTM (Bombs and Mine Disposal Section); it was directed by Commander E O Obbard GM DSC RN. This new branch thus controlled the BSOs [Bomb Safety Officers], the Rendering Mines Safe personnel (who were already an integral part of DTM) and the Land Incident Section.
Thus, at the end of the war all the Royal Navy explosive ordnance disposal sections (although this term was not yet in use) were under one command. HMS Vernon continued to exist and maintained a centre of knowledge on all aspects of Naval underwater weapon disposal, although in 1946 it was said that no instructional courses would be required for some years. From here the Royal Navy followed the same path as the Army and Royal Air Force but, as in the other Services, it was quickly appreciated that just because no one was firing or laying weapons it did not mean that these weapons would not turn up in the most inconvenient places. Thus the Mine Clearance Diving Officer and his Clearance Divers were established as the Naval ordnance disposal units. As recommended by Captain Llewellyn, the Royal Navy Clearance Diving Teams can today deal with all aspects of explosive ordnance disposal whether on land or underwater."
HMS Volcano was not the only naval establishment in the area used by forerunners of the MCD Branch. According to Waldron & Gleeson in The Frogmen, a shore establishment called HMS Firework was formed as an administrative base for 'P' Parties prior to D-Day. Command was given to Commander F L de Spon RD, RNR, an old "West Coaster" who entered active service in this war after many years in the Nigerian Marine. He was one of the few merchant seamen left who went round the Horn in square-rigged ships. According to Lt Cdr Ben Warlow in Shore Establishments of the Royal Navy, HMS Firework (Barrow-in-Furness / London / Dartmouth) was the base for 'P' Parties (NP1571-1575 & 3006). "08.1943 teams were at Vintry House [Upper Thames Street, London], then to 81 Ashley Gdns, SW1 [London] - teams at Forest Gate [London] - then teams to Barrow-in-Furness when London came under flying bomb attack. Commissioned 01.04.1944. Task to Brixham - Transferred to Vernon (D) 27.10.44. Practical diving aspects at Dartmouth."
This photograph provided by Sheila Cartwright was believed to show 'P' Party Training at Barrow-in-Furness but it turns out it was taken at HMS Vernon(D) in Brixham harbour.
There is also an amusing tale in Service Most Silent by John Frayn Turner about sea swell data and ship pressure signatures being gathered in 1943 from offshore sensors at nearby Braystones. The data, recorded on film strips in a little wooden hut on the cliff, was used to help develop a British pressure mine and research countermeasures against German 'Oyster' pressure mines. These film strips were collected and replaced each week by a member of the naval mine scientific staff from West Leigh House (an off-shoot of HMS Vernon at Portsmouth) who was accommodated overnight at a farm run by a family called Parsons. The three beautiful Parsons daughters (Elizabeth 14, Rose 16 and Fiona 20) are described as vying to serve him his dinner courses.
Finally, those with memories of conducting range clearances at nearby Eskmeals on the Cumbrian coast may be interested in the Vickers Photographic Archive of the Barrow-in-Furness Dock Museum's website.
If you can contribute any further information or photos regarding wartime naval establishments in Cumbria (formerly Cumberland and Westmoreland), please e-mail Sheila Cartwright.
3 Jan 2005
BG Spirit Finishes Leg in 3rd Place
BG Spirit with MCDOA member Mark Benians (LMCDO '80) on board finished the Buenos Aires to Wellington leg of the Global Challenge yacht race today in 3rd place having been in the lead for much of the previous 48 hours. Warm congratulations to Mark and all the other competitors on their fine achievement.
OM MW Course Digs Out
The following item from today's Portsmouth News describes voluntary work performed by a course of Mine Warfare ratings from the Maritime Warfare School, HMS Collingwood under the supervision of Course Officer MCDO Lt Alan 'Dolly' Parton RN. Well done to all concerned.
2 Jan 2005 - Douglas Bruce-Jones BEM
The following message has been received from the Secretary of the Association of RN First Class Divers:
"I have to report the sad news of Douglas Bruce-Jones' death. He died of cancer. The cremation will be a family only affair but a church service will be held at Holy Trinity Church, Cookham High Street, Maidenhead on Monday 10 Jan at 1400.
Douglas Bruce-Jones was one of the founding members of the Diving Branch. He was a 'P' Party member during World War II and served with P.1574 and P.2443. He was awarded the BEM for his service in 1945.
The family would prefer donations to cancer research rather than a floral tribute."
Douglas Bruce Jones was awarded the BEM for "gallantry and skill in the work of mine clearance" on 15 May 1945.
According to Rear Admiral Edmund Nicholas 'Nico' Poland in The Torpedomen - HMS Vernon's Story 1872-1986, 'P' Party 1574 started off as an element of divers commanded by Lt W Bailey RN which landed on 'Sword' beach in June 1944. While under fire, the group transported its equipment to Ouistreham at the mouth of the Caen Canal and performed an examination of the lock gates that controlled the water level inside the canal. They discovered the Germans had connected a number of demolition charges to the underwater sections of the gates and had wired them to explode when the gates were opened. Small drifters loaded with explosives were positioned at each end of the lock and arranged to detonate at the same time as the underwater charges. With only minutes to spare before the enemy started to shell and mortar the area, the party removed all the charges. They were then obliged to abandon the area and take shelter in some army slit trenches. When the enemy onslaught had died down, the party removed booby traps from vessels in the captured ports.
After a short period of leave in the UK, the group returned to the fray as 'P' Party 1574. The party helped clear the ports of Caen, Boulogne, Calais, Brest, Dieppe, Le Havre and Rouen before moving on to Antwerp, Terneuzen, Zeebrugge, the South Beveland Canal and Flushing.
According to Lt Noel Cashford MBE RNVR in 'All Theirs!', Douglas Bruce-Jones had volunteered for special duties on 2 May 1944 having joined the RN from his job with the Inland Revenue. After passing tests wearing the Davis Submarine Escape Apparatus in the tank at HMS Dolphin and at HMS Vernon, he underwent a 6 week training course at Stockheath Camp in Hampshire before reporting to the 'P' Party training Unit at Forest Gate, London. In August 1944, he was sent to France to join 'P' Party 1574 (commanded by Lt P R F Britnell RNVR (Mentioned in Despatches) supported by Lt G Casey SANF (Mentioned in Despatches) and newcomer Lt K Kidder RCNVR) where he helped complete the clearance of the Ouistreham-Caen Canal before moving to Antwerp. Lt Casey, a brave and competent officer, was greatly missed when he was killed driving to Bremen from the British Army HQ at Minden.
Douglas rendered safe and recovered a large UXB in the docks at Antwerp while under fire from both sides and later helped clear dozens of other 'nasties' in the area. On one occasion, he dived for 80 minutes and used two air bottles in four dives. On 7 November 1944, 'P' Party 1574 sailed in a Landing Craft to Walcheren Island off the coast of Belgium where they cleared the port in atrocious cold and wet weather as the ground shook with gunfire.
According to Grosvenor and Bates in 'Open the Ports', 'P' Party 2443 was formed in June 1945 to clear any suspected residual bombs and mines in British ports and was based at HMS Vernon, Portsmouth under the command of Lt W Jackson RANVR supported by Lt R Blyth RNVR, Lt E D James MBE RNVR and Sub Lt A D Russell MBE RNVR. It was not until 22 May 1946 that Douglas joined it at the Anti-Aircraft Training Centre at Weybourne near Cromer in Norfolk where he dived on an RAF Beaufighter that had crashed in shallow water. He helped to locate and recover its torpedo for disposal in deep water. The 'P' Party also located and recovered a demolition charge that had dropped from the pier head. On 4 June, three young soldiers were killed and four wounded when a land mine exploded very close to the hut used by the 'P' Party. The divers called ambulances and Lt Jackson and Lt Blyth then rendered safe other land mines exposed by the explosion in an area that was previously thought safe.
In September 1946, Douglas was embarked in a mine detection vessel off Peterhead and identified two controlled mines during three dives.
Further details about Douglas Bruce-Jones, including a photograph, can be found on the BBC Berkshire website.
1 Jan 2005 - Navy News Items
The following MCD-related items from the January issue of Navy News include: a two-page centrefold spread about the Fleet Diving Squadron featuring MCDOA members Paul Jones (CO FDS), John Law (CO NDG), Kim Godfrey (CO SDG), Ben Stait (CO FDU1), Andy 'Shakey' Stevens (CO FDU2), John Herriman (CO FDU3), Justin Hains (CO SDU2) and Mark 'Doc' Savage (XO HMS Montrose); a visit to the Defence Diving School by the Second Sea Lord, the final visit to Inverness by HMS Inverness (CO and MCDOA member Dave Bence); the decommissioning of HMS Inverness; a photo of HMS Shoreham's final mine detonation in the Baltic; and HMS Shoreham's return from a four month deployment with MCMFORNORTH (strangely featuring CO Dave Bence again - he was appointed to Shoreham from Inverness on 6 Dec 04).
Back to Top
Back to News Archives