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