Gosport Heritage Open Days

Every October Gosport has a “Heritage Open Day” programme where local venues open to the public for free.

The Diving Museum participates in Gosport Heritage Open Days (GHODs) and this year a young media student from St Vincent’s College made a video of several of the venues. The Diving Museum was one of the venues she included in her video. We were delighted to help her.

Her film is now available on You Tube:

Bob Campbell bequest

In the last RopeSignal we recorded the sad news of the passing of Bob Campbell.  Now we learn that Bob has remembered the society in his will, bequeathing us his comprehensive collection of demand valves, many of them of great rarity, as well as a large quantity of spares, tools, handbooks, drawings and his personal diving library of some 300 books.  The bequest will form an invaluable addition to the society’s collections, providing rare items for the museum displays and a vital resource for research on the history and development of demand valves, now and for future generations.

Obituary: Edward John Towse (‘JET’) 1934 – 2016

jet-2016It is with great sadness that we have to record the passing of John Towse.

Edward John Towse was born on 15 April 1934 at 122 Castle Street, Portchester. He had been preceded by his two sisters Vera and Kath and they represented the third and last generation of the Towse family to live in that same house.

Perhaps John’s greatest claim to fame (of several) is that he was the man who first placed the marker buoy on the seabed under which the Mary Rose was hidden from view by some 50 ft of dark water and 10 ft of mud. It was his navigational skills and in particular his adeptness with the horizontal sextant that had enabled him to take his tiny dive boat Miranda to the exact spot where the Mary Rose had disappeared in 1545.

His education had begun at Castle Street Junior School where he first met his life-long friend Ray Le Pivert. They both passed the 11-plus and graduated to Purbrook Park County High School. They joined the choir at St Mary’s Church in Portchester where they remained until their voices broke.

John had an instinctive love of the sea and he joined Portchester Sailing Club as a Junior where he learnt to sail under the leadership of Cdr Bill Hammond DSC and Bar and DSO. Cdr Hammond had come to fame for winning his first DSC in WW1 and his second DSC with a DSO in WW2, and for having established the renown “P-Parties” – the divers who cleared the European ports of mines left behind by the retreating Germans. John was so well-respected at the sailing club that after the death of Cdr Hammond, his widow presented John with Cdr Hammond’s presentation ‘short-sword’ engraved with the signatures of distinguished members of the P-Parties.

John’s first job was at the Admiralty Experimental Works (AEW) at Haslar where he made good friends with Brian ‘BAT’ Taylor and Adrian ‘APE’ Worley. Together with Alan ‘ACE’ Corbett they had a common interest in snorkel diving and spearfishing and they set themselves up as the Haslar Aquanauts, winning National Spearfishing Competitions.

It was during this spell of his career that he famously spent some time on the Queen’s bed. To explain, it appears that the Queen’s bedroom on HMS Britannia was close to the engine room and it suffered from an unpleasant vibration. So the bed was sent down to AEW to be fitted with specially designed anti-vibration mounts. Needless to say, the technicians involved were obliged to personally test the effectiveness of the de-coupling of the vibration. That concludes the case for the defence.

In 1954, John was one of the first members of Southsea BSAC and he quickly became its secretary. He graduated to becoming the Diving Officer and under his enthusiastic leadership the club won the coveted national Heinke Trophy three years running. He also captained the club’s Octopush team. The game is like underwater hockey and having been invented by the Southsea club has now become an international game.

John transferred from AEW to the Royal Naval Physiological Laboratory (RNPL) in Alverstoke, Gosport where he chalked up many great achievements. He took the RN Ship’s Diver Officer course and came top of his class. He assisted the Superintendent Dr Val Hempleman in developing the RNPL decompression tables for the BSAC. He took over the running of the Deep Trials Unit (DTU) and supervised several world record deep simulated dives. Being his usual enthusiastic self, he also established the RNPL volley-ball team and the RNPL 5-a-side football team.

Around this time he became very active with the BSAC becoming the National Incident Officer and he developed the ‘Incident Pit’ theory which has become internationally accepted. He went on to take over as the BSAC National Diving Coach to run the newly introduced Regional Coaching Scheme.

He traded up from his small boat Miranda to Deo Volente and finally to
Mary Gloag in partnership with John Baldry, Jack Millgate and later Alan Lee. He made sure all the dives, approximately 500, on these two boats were meticulously logged from 1971 till 2005. On one dive in the Solent on the famous wreck of the Campador mined during WW2, he discovered that its toilet was not only of the same design as that on Deo Volente, but was also in much better condition. So he liberated the one on the wreck and changed it for the one on his own boat.

John dived many times on another well-known wreck in the Solent called HMS Velox, a torpedo boat mined during WW1. He was later very surprised to discover a photograph of his father standing on the deck of the very same ship.

Deo Volente was replaced by the motor sailor Mary Gloag which had been originally commissioned by the owner of Grouse whisky. Alan Lee was added as a partner and their diving days continued together with some adventurous cross channel trips.

Latterly, John helped establish and run the Diving Museum in Gosport with the Historical Diving Society, even designing and building a very popular interactive exhibit for children.

John produced some notable publications of special local interest including an annotated reproduction of a “Narrative of the Loss of the Mary Rose”, “Portchester Historic Plaques” and “Portchester Lake and Sailing Club”. He was also a co-author of “Portchester” in the series ‘Images of England’.

John was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2014 and he died of pneumonia on 21 July 2016 aged 82, at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth.

John Towse will be especially remembered for:
• his passion for diving which dominated his life;
• his generosity to a fault in assisting others, both in sport diving and in his professional capacity;
• his sense of humour – he was an avid reader of the book “Catch 22” which features an anti-hero named Yossarian with whose quirky character John had an uncanny resemblance;
• his technical competence – he was a perfectionist in his scientific role and he was utterly reliable and dependable;
his modesty – he never boasted of his achievements. I had to bully him over a period of several years to get him to record his pivotal role in finding the Mary Rose, which he said was the thing he was most proud of.
(Dr. John Bevan)

John’s funeral service will take place at St. Mary’s Church, Castle Street, Portchester, PO16 9QW on Monday 8th August at 11.30am.

HDS Australia change their title

The Historical Diving Society in Australia, formerly known as HDS SEAsia & Pacific, has changed it’s title to HDS Australia-Pacific , to better reflect the society’s spread and activities.  The website adress remains unchanged as www.classicdiver.org

Mike Watts laid to rest

Mike Watts, long time society member and former Working Equipment Oficer and Membership Secretary, was laid to rest next to his wife’s grave in the cemetery of St. Peter’s Church, Lodsworth, the lovely Sussex village that had been their home for many years.  Mourners included a strong contingent of society members, including Adrian Barak who read Henry Scott Holland’s poem All is Well.

Mike Watts

It is my sad task to record that Mike, one of the society’s earliest members, passed away on the 29th March.  Mike was the society’s Working Equipment Group Officer from 1995 to 1999 and also the Membership Secretary from 1996 to 2002.  Although from a non-diving background, Mike’s enthusiasm, business skills and great personal charm were of immense value to the society.  A full obituary will appear in Historical Diving Times, but perhaps the most fitting epitaph for this brief notice is that he was ‘One of Nature’s Gentlemen’.

Mike’s funeral will take place at Lodsworth Parish Church (between Petworth and Midhurst) on Monday 15th April at 2.30pm.

Films Evening

Films Officer Adrian Barak has just informed us that the first of this year’s meetings, scheduled for this coming Saturday (16th March) has had to be cancelled, due to the venue, the Coach & Horses in Barnes having re-booked the room for rugby fans!

Adrian is prepared to run the event the following evening (Sunday 17th) if demand is sufficient, otherwise it will re-scheduled to Saturday 6th April.   In either event the projector will start rolling at 8pm, but he suggests you make it an hour earlier if you wish to sample the pub’s excellent menu.

Adrian promises an interesting programme.  The main feature will be the 3-part 1989 BBC drama/documentary ‘The Darkness Beckons’ about the history of cave diving.  This includes interviews with Graham Balcombe and a reconstruction of his standard dress dive in Wookey Hole in the 1930s, through to the post-war period and formation of the Cave Diving Group.

The ‘cartoon’ feature is a 12 minute film titled ‘Kamikaze’ – how to set about diving without any instruction!  He also hopes to put together a short tribute to the late Jim Hutchison.

Please let him know if you will be coming and your date preference.

T: 01424435905 or [email protected].

Farewell Jim Hutchison

Family, friends. old comrades and many from the society gathered at the Garden of England Crematorium, Sittingbourne to bid farewell to Jim.  The cortege was led by 4 flag bearers and the packed congregation joined in a service celebrating a remarkable life, which will be recalled in full in a future Historical Diving Times.  Jim was born in Bedfordshire in 1922 to a family with no connections with the sea.  Nevertheless, he lied about his age to join up, training at HMS Ganges, where he became a ‘button boy’, climbing to the very top of the Ganges mast and standing on the truck (diameter 2-3 feet) at a height of 140 feet.  No safety aids in those days, of course!  On ceremonial occasions he would have been rewarded with a shilling for this feat!

He became, at 16, the youngest diver in the navy and his war service included Arctic and Malta convoys and D-Day.  Subsequently he served on HMS Belfast in the Korean conflict and retained a close connection with that ship, now moored in the Thames as a museum.

Back in civy street he set up Medway Diving Contractors in 1970, running it successfully for many years before handing over the reins to his son, Peter.

Jim’s display commentaries, willingness to answer questions, whether on diving or his navy career and infectious grin will be sorely missed by the society and public alike.

Jim Hutchison’s Funeral

Jim Hutchison’s funeral will take place at midday on 7th March 2013 at the Garden of England Crematorium, Sheppey Road, Bobbing, Near Sittingbourne, ME9 8GZ.

Afterwards, there will be a reception to celebrate his remarkable life in the Commissioner’s House in the Historic Dockyard in Chatham. (Main Gate Rd, Chatham, Kent ME4 4TZ). The Dockyard was his home port and it is a fitting location for his final send-off.

Because of admission arangements at the Dockyard, attendance at the funeral is by invitation.

Peter Hutchison, Jim’s son, will be sending invitations to everyone who would like to come.

If you would like to attend, please email Peter and let him know who will be coming.

Peter’s email address is [email protected]

Thank you.