The shallow water diving team consisted of PO Mills, LM(E) Simpson, LREM Brown, AB Bass, AB Seymour and, last but not least M(E) Lavender, who is the only member of the team who can survive 15 feet below the surface without air - this is most probably a contributory factor towards his tenure of the underwater speed record - he came up from 15 feet to zero feet in five micro-seconds. Mechanician McMordie was an invaluable member of the team and we were sorry to lose him because of a long series of coughs and colds, but he still retains an active interest in everything and anything to do with diving.
The diving team has been the envy of the ship's company during the commission, mainly because the waters of Bermuda and the West Indies are well suited for underwater sport; an additional factor is that one also gets paid for enjoying this pastime in working hours. Nevertheless, I hasten to remind you "Goofers" that life is not always honey, and diving in the murky, muddy, cold gloom of Portsmouth dockyard is not so enviable. Prior to coming out to the station we had been subjected to the usual diving attacks in Operation Awkward not only at Portland, but also during Exercise Dawnbreeze VI in February, last year, when ships of five navies were attacked in Quiberon Bay by a team from Portland (not a long swim - they brought their boat with them!). This was quite a startling atack because of the amount of phosphorescence in the water, almost every movement underwater could be detected from the foot of the accommodation ladder, thus causing rather a lot of false starts by the divers and even more grey hairs for the upperdeck sentries.
It is unfortunate that our diving periods have been mainly concerned with work on the ship's hull, our one diversion from this work being the search for the sunken MV Silver Arrow off Basseterre in St. Kitts. This vessel, an ex-naval motor launch, had foundered in the fairway normally used by the Harrison Line ships, and because it had been charted by a shore surveyor, the masters of these ships were wary of approaching its vicinity. We were asked by the Administrator to locate the wreck and destroy it with explosives; a considerable amount of gelignite having been made available, we got the job. We spent some five hours in our search and failed to discover the whereabouts of Silver Arrow. Our job was made easy by the loan of a launch, and also because although the depth of the water was some 56 feet it was clear enough to allow us to lie on the surface with a schnorkel mask and view the sea-bed below. One can only conclude that the wreck has been dispersed by the sea or has shifted into the fine coral sand forming the sea-bed. A disappointing day for us, and equally so for the TASO and TASI who had anticipated making a fairly formidable bang.
Night diving is always a gloomy affair, and when we developed a peculiar noise in the starboard propellor on passage from Puerto Madryn to the Magellan Straits, we had to put a diver down in Punta Arenas at 0200, the volunteer for this task being LM(E) Simpson. He completed the task in fairly record time and received considerable sympathy from the rest of the team who viewed his blue face and hands with a certain amount of awe - they hadn't seen the colour for so long.
Our hopes for completing more recreational diving during the South American cruise were dashed by a series of jobs on the hull and these days found us huddled under the lee of the port or starboard diesel generator exhaust, thereby completing each forenoon's work looking rather like the Inkspots. Anyway the next commission can look forward to happy diving, especially now that the portable air compressor has arrived; it is certainly a compressor but a strong team will be required to transport it anywhere, and visions of lying on the beaches of the Grenadines between long dives in the blue lagoons with someone like Lottie Hass will have to remain visions I'm afraid.
This page is dedicated to Chief Shipwright Peter Sothcott of HMS Vernon, who tragically lost his life whilst working with HMS Londonderry's divers alongside in Portsmouth Dockyard on Friday 3rd March 1961.