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Trevor HamptonA Hero Just Down The River
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Trevor Hampton ladder
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Trevor Hampton mask
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Not many people in Dartmouth appreciate the remarkable characters it produces. As you travel back through the history books, seemingly wherever you turn there is an inspirational or surprising character jumping out at you.
Not least amongst these was the incredible Trevor Hampton - who was one of a kind.
‘Skipper’ Trevor Hampton, who died at the age of 89 in February 2002, was a pioneer of the use of the aqualung in Britain after its invention by Jacques Cousteau.
He set up the British Underwater Centre – the first school of its kind - in the town and taught thousands to dive.
But ‘Skipper’ as he was known, had much more to him than that – and seemed to have a knack of being good at whatever he tried and becoming successful in whatever field he wanted.
Born in Warwickshire in 1912, he left school early to be employed as a worker at carmaker Austin at the age of 17. Whilst working there, he raced motorcycles as a hobby, and even raced on the Isle of Man before deciding to go travelling.
He bought a collapsible canoe and merrily travelled down the Thames and across the channel with a friend. After doing this, seemingly on a whim, they were both surprised to learn this was the first time anyone had achieved the daunting feat. They canoed up the Seine to Paris before going their separate ways. Trevor walked across the Pyrenees and ended up in Barcelona.
On his return from travelling around Europe he tried to join the RAF but when he was refused he became a motorcycle designer and ended up as Works Manager for the OK Supreme Company.
He tried to retire and sail round the world in a 27 foot Gaff Cutter with his first wife – but her seasickness put paid to their plans before they had even got past the Isle of Wight.
He then reapplied and joined the RAF – though he is quoted as saying “they didn’t tell me there was going to be a war, the rotten perishers”.
His quick reflexes and calmness under pressure saw him become a test pilot, and his 3,000 flying hours through the war aided the development of the Spitfire, Lancaster, Wellingtons, Beaufighters and many more – he was awarded the Air Force Cross.
He then became a marine surveyor – where he gained his interest in diving. He had actually experimented with his own underwater breathing equipment – made from items he found around the cockpit of the planes he was flying - but had been dissatisfied with the results. He then saw a programme on TV featuring Jacques Costeau and his newly invented aqualung.
Trevor contacted Siebe Gorman, a company who made diving equipment in Britain, and signed up for their training. Bringing his new equipment back to his home in Dartmouth, he took it for a dip outside the Royal Dart Yacht Club - and became the first man to dive with an aqualung in British waters.
He started to teach others, and set up his diving centre in the early 1950s and by the end of his career he had trained 3,000 divers to go into the world’s most hazardous diving situations – especially in the mining and oil industries. He himself was a successful commercial diver, and had some amazing stories to tell: such as when a group of divers were searching for a lost item and getting nowhere after hours of frustrating, exacting search. Trevor asked casually whether he could have a look and found it immediately, directly under their boat.
During his career, as well as becoming a much-loved part of the Dartmouth community, he taught some amazing people to dive – among them Arthur C Clark, Richard Dimbleby, David Attenborough and Tony Soper – and made a documentary with the famous Johnny Morris called “Master Diver”.
He wrote a number of books, including his autobiography, entitled Wheels, Wings, Water, in which he gave the perfect illustration of his personality: ‘I’ve had a wonderful life, and been lucky beyond my expectations. I wouldn’t have my life one bit different and only wish I would do it all again.’
He was yet another remarkable Dartmothian…
First published May/June 2013 By The Dart