The first Instructors and first Senior Rates of the new teams

Who was the very first Clearance Diver? It’s a question I find very intriguing. For us to know that we have to determine when the branch first started and do we indeed include the first instructors. After all who were the men who trained the first Clearance Divers and what experience did they have? These are the questions that I try to answer in the next chronicles that I am doing. I don’t presume to have got it 100% right and I am very open to corrections but this is a very important and interesting period of the early Clearance Diving branch and one I wanted to try and get down on record whilst some of those very first Clearance Divers are still with us. I found it to be a rich history with the early instructors coming from the ‘P’ Parties, Standard Divers, and an RN Commando who landed on D-Day in the very first hours.
Much credit must go to those first instructors of Nick Carter, Jock Gribben GM, Sam Stanley BEM, Ron McKinlay CGM, Foss Fawcett BEM, and others I might have missed as they are truly some of the founding fathers of the Clearance Diving branch.

CPO Nick Carter

Nick Carter is mentioned in an excellent book called ‘Dive Navy’ by Harry Wardle. It says sometime in 1948 ‘He was requested to supply a Petty Officer and 10 newly qualified divers’. He sent; PO Carter plus 10 2nd class divers to qualify as a diver (P) from HMS Defiance in Devonport. Although PO Gribben GM is detailed later as the Instructor of the first official course on May 16th 1949 records do show there were 29 Clearance Divers before the very first course. Despite not being able to get his records I firmly believe Nick Carter was one of the very first Clearance Diver Instructors. Nick was the first Chief of the Far East Team in early 1951. There are photographs of him in 54 at HMS Vernon as an instructor again. One of the diving magazines in 1956 describes a diving incident in which he was awarded a Commander in Chief’s Commendation for saving a diver. The photo is of Nick Carter out in the Far East Team as the very first senior rate of that new team in 1951.
(Photo provided by Eric Gash’s daughter Angela)

PO Robert ‘Jock’ Gribben GM – The first instructor

All I knew about Jock Gribben early on was the information on Rob Hoole’s excellent website in the paragraph below. I dug deeper. I found out he instructed the very first official course on the 16th May 1949 and was the first CD1 of the Mediterranean Fleet Clearance Diving Team in February 1950. The OIC of the Med team Lt John Dickinson and PO Gribben were involved in the conflict in Korea in 1951 in Bomb Disposal roles and both Mentioned in Dispatches. They were possibly sent over from the Med team and this is likely the first awards of the new Clearance Diving branch. He left the Navy soon after that possibly in 1953. Despite my best efforts though I could not track down any of his family or when he died. As a non-relative, a death certificate is required to apply for personnel Navy Records which is a good source of information of course so not getting access to this was disappointing. There is more to the story of Jock Gribben GM and it is hoped to find out more in the future of the very first Clearance Diving instructor.
MCDOA website managed by Rob Hoole; As a Leading Seaman, he had been on P’ Party 1572 and on the 30th April 1946 had been awarded the GM. It was awarded for great courage, initiative and devotion to duty on 14th March 1945 in recovering an unexploded V1 bomb which had fallen into the Royal Sluice at Antwerp. This difficult operation was finally accomplished after many hours of strenuous work. As a Petty Officer on the 1st January 1952 he was MID whilst serving on HMS Tyne in Korea in recognition of Operational Minesweeping and Bomb and Mine Disposal services.
The only picture so far of the elusive PO Jock Gribben GM is from the Sphere magazine 18th October 1947. Found by Susan Leggett (a researcher at the National Archives).

CPO Bryan ‘Foss’ Fawcett BEM

Originally I thought Foss had transferred over to CD from a Standard Diver in late 52 and I knew little else but when I obtained his service records they told a very different story. Born in 1921 in Huddersfield Foss joined Ganges in July of 1936. Qualifying at HMS Excellent as a gunner he was pretty quickly promoted becoming an acting PO as early as 43. He soon did a diving course and qualified as D2 in 1946 and served in Haifa the following year on the small ‘P’ Party team with Buster Crabb in charge. He joined HMS Lochinvar on the 9th of November 1948 so would have been one of the originals and I hazard a guess was one of the main instructors there too. On the official date of the CD branch on the 7/3/52 Bryan became a CD1.
Records show he left Lochinvar at the end of 1950 and joined Victory Barracks in Portsmouth. I believe this was a draft to the Home Station Fleet Clearance Diving Team which didn’t actually find a ship until early 1952 onboard MFV 1567. His records show he did join MFV 1567 on the first February 52. He spent many years in Vernon but also had drafts to the Med team and the Far East team. He left the Navy in 1965. Everybody I have spoken to who knew Bryan speaks very fondly of him.
He was awarded a BEM in 1954 and was twice mentioned in Despatches. The first time in 1942 for bravery and resource. He was one of the few survivors on HMS Hollyhock that was sunk by the Japanese planes off Ceylon. The following is a description from a Captain of a nearby ship; Given the ferocity of the final moments of the Hollyhock it is a sheer miracle that there were any survivors at all, however of the ships complement a lucky few, 14 men in all survived. The rest of the ship’s personnel, 49 souls in total were lost.
The second MID was in 1949 whilst he was serving at HMS Lochinvar. I have no details what that was for but a couple of months early he had a Hurt Certificate recorded in his documents so maybe those are tied in together. Bryan immigrated to South Africa when he left the Navy in 1965. He returned to the UK for medical treatment staying with Tom Norman in Falmouth. He died in November 1984.

CPO Ronald Harry George ‘Ron’ McKinlay CGM

Again I got some great information about Ron McKinlay from the MCDO website. He was one of only two men to receive the prestigious Conspicuous Gallantry Medal for his brave actions on D-Day. The CGM was at that time the second-highest gallantry award after the Victoria Cross that the non-commissioned ranks of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines could be awarded.
RM Beach Cdo ‘Peter’ 29 Aug 1944. CGM awarded for gallantry, skill, determination and undaunted devotion to duty during the initial landings of Allied Forces on the coast of Normandy. Petty Officer McKinlay was put ashore between noon and 1400 hours on 6th June. Finding himself at some distance from his pre-arranged destination he made his way along the beach and took charge of a party of naval ratings and Army ranks who were bound for the same point. Single-handed, he silenced two enemy strong points on the way with hand grenades. Later, on an open stretch of sand that was under fire from enemy snipers, disregarding his own safety, he went to the rescue of a wounded man and brought him safely to cover.
Ron was also an instructor at HMS Lochinvar and was one of the very early CD senior rates. He served on many of the early teams.

CPO Sam Stanley BEM

Sam was one of the main instructors at HMS Lochinvar and at Vernon when it moved there at the end of 52. He taught many of the very first Diver (C) courses there and the first Clearance Diver courses at HMS Vernon. When the CD branch was formed on the 7th March 1952 Sam was immediately rated PO CD1 and would have been one of only a few senior rates in the branch at the time.
Sam’s navy records show he had been a Standard Diver during the war undertaking work with charioteers, salvage and deep diving. All his reports read of him having plenty of energy and being a highly efficient diver although one stated he was inclined to be quick-tempered and bombastic. His instructional capabilities were identified very early on and one can’t help thinking he was the best person for the job to train the new diving branch. On the 7th March 1952, he was made a CD1 (PO Diver) and would have been one of the highest-ranking Clearance Divers at the birth of the new branch. Already earning a MID (Mention in Dispatches) in 1940 he would be awarded the BEM as a Clearance Diver for his EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) work on the Malta Team. He had been a Standard Diver for almost 10 years and he would spend the next 10 years as a Clearance Diver.
On leaving the Navy Sam spent the next 20 years based at Marchwood home of the Royal Engineer Divers where he looked after the diving store, ran the diving chamber and took all the Army recruits through diving in standard diving equipment. It had been 118 years since the Army first trained the Royal Navy how to dive and now finally, a Navy diver was teaching the Army how to dive in standard diving equipment. Sam stayed in Marchwood after retirement and died in the early 90’s. (Thank you to Sam’s 96-year-old wife Mary for providing the photo here and giving me access to his Navy records and photograph albums) – Pictures show Nick Carter, Robert Gribben GM, Foss Fawcett BEM, Mac McKinlay CGM and Sam Stanley BEM