Pic by Ginny Ware
Dave Bond tells By The Dart about his often perilous life as a diver.
Eyeballing a live 1,000lb mine as it rolled around his feet on the decks of a fishing boat was one of a string of adrenalin-fuelled events Dave Bond faced during his daring career as a Royal Navy diver.
In a vocation spanning 22-years, action man Dave has blown up hundreds of mines, dived to great depths, raised bodies and sunken vessels from the seabed, jumped from helicopters on perilous rescue missions and scaled the hulls of suspect ships in treacherous conditions.
Nicknamed Jim by his diving mates in honour of his daredevil 007 “The name’s Bond, James Bond” namesake, Dave aptly revelled in his action-packed work and was fearless in the face of the obvious dangers of being blown to smithereens, a trait he attributes to the unsurpassed training he received from the Royal Navy.
‘Looking back on it, undoubtedly there were risks because we got up to some pretty hairy things but there were only two guys lost in the whole 12 years I was in the Navy’s clearance diving branch, which is not a lot and is a great monument to show how good was the training we received.’
Dave’s first foray into the underwater world was aged 11 when his father Frederick, a founder member of the British Sub Aqua Club, took him diving at Cobham Lakes in Kent, near his Maidstone home.
Instantly smitten, Dave loved exploring the watery depths as well as flashing through its surface in local swimming competitions.
He joined the Royal Navy as a chef, following an uncertain few years after leaving school when he drifted between possible professions.
‘Frankly I was bored and fed up and I thought “I’m going to go in the Navy and be a diver”.
Unable to enlist as a diver, Dave became a chef for the aquatic force but was finally accepted to embark on a clearance divers’ course.
Once qualified, he worked on various minesweepers with the bomb disposal diving team. Sonar signals located possible metal objects on the sea bed and Dave and his fellow divers would dive to find out if the items were bombs - blowing them up if they were.
‘In the Second World War there were millions of mines laid all around our coast and only 50 per cent were ever accounted for as blowing up. The rest were still rolling around on the sea bed.’
Dave recalled the alarming day a fishing boat netted a 1,000lb WW2 German acoustic in the North Sea. He was part of the team dispatched to deal with the dangerous beast.
On arrival they found the ship apparently deserted and no crew to take their lines.
‘The mine was rolling about from one side to another and the crew had panicked and hidden in the stern. They thought they would be safe there but they wouldn’t have been because if the bomb had exploded it would have turned the vessel to matchsticks.
‘I needed to hoist it up and lower it over the side of the vessel but I didn’t know how to work the winches so I sent someone to find the crew.’
The team eventually managed to safely detonate the mine at sea, leaving the fishing boat and its crew to gratefully return to shore.
Dave also joined the deep diving team, recovering crashed aircraft and sunken submarines. One harrowing incident saw him help recover the bodies of a number of servicemen who died after the two military helicopters they were flying in collided in fog off the Isle of Wight.
‘You just have to close your mind to it. You can’t do anything about it,’ Dave said.
He also spent time working as a search and rescue diver, jumping out of helicopters to assist ships in peril and their stricken crew.
During this time Dave took part in 90-metre decompression trials where divers were fed a mixture of helium, nitrogen and oxygen in a bid to discover the safe combinations of gas for deep sea diving.
‘We were guinea pigs. They were trying to work the decompression tables out. Nobody knew about them in those days'.
‘Every day there were divers who had oxygen poisoning or minor bends which resulted in decompression sickness. With oxygen poisoning the person would turn blue and could easily die’.’
Dave returned to sea on board a minesweeper during the Cold War in 1982. ‘We were in the North Sea looking for mines and shadowing the Russians,’ he said.
By this time he had completed a two month course to become a diving supervisor.
During his career, Dave completed five tours in Northern Ireland, which including stints with the emergency diving team checking ships for limpet mines or other explosives that may have been attached to their underbellies.
He also took part in police and army patrols, boarding vessels suspected of carrying illegal cargo.
Dave often had to board questionable boats in stormy conditions, scaling their 40-ft hulls up a rope ladder in a tin helmet and bulky lifejacket carrying a sub machine gun, pistol and sometimes an alarmed sniffer dog.
‘We found quite a lot of illegal stuff, like weapons and illegal substances that would be used for explosives,’ he said.
In 1983 Dave became the chief diver in charge of the 16-strong Plymouth Bomb Disposal Unit team, clearing shore-based bomb ranges, dealing with trawled-up mines and, in a time of IRA terrorist threats, suspect packages.
His first job after completing the necessary Improvised Explosive Device course, was entering offices in Exeter where someone on the 11th floor had received a suspicious package complete with dubious-looking wires and a threatening note.
Dave was tasked to enter the evacuated building alone to deal with the risky situation. Luckily it turned out to be a hoax, to his great relief.
The last job of his naval career took Dave, his wife Cathy and their two children to Hong Kong where he spent two years doing bomb disposal work, ship maintenance and dealing with decompression cases among Chinese fishermen.
Then he retired. ‘I knew my next job was going to be not that exciting so I decided enough was enough. I would have been working in London giving lectures about national terrorism and security. I had always been an action man, jumping out of helicopters, off the sides of ships and running around.
‘I had bought four of five diving helmets in Korea and I started selling them, so I thought I could sell nautical antiques and I’ve been doing it ever since’.
The spills and thrills of bomb disposal remain in Dave’s life as he works as a bomb disposal adviser for a civilian company and recently oversaw the safe explosion of a large mine perilously near several oil rigs off England’s east coast.
The 65-year-old, who lives at the head of Warfleet Creek, keeps fit by surfing off Bantham Beach and swimming, often for charity including the Portsmouth-based Vernon Monument Project dedicated to the diving and mine warfare heritage of HMS Vernon.
First published March/April 2013 By The Dart