I am told that Horsea lakes, even now, sends shivers down the spine of many service divers, this was the Royal Navy Diving School where many would be Military divers were “Beasted“…… an Army expression meaning physically pushed to the point of, and sometimes well beyond, breaking…… I remember my own “Introduction to Basic Fitness“, back in 1986, an unassuming term one could be forgiven for thinking might be quite fun, educational even……….No………. just 4 hours of constant sprints, star-jumps, sprints, press-ups, sprints, sit-ups, jogging on the spot….. sprints…… burpees…….sprints…… more sprints…... screaming PTI’s (Physical Training Instructors) and people around you breathing their last, or being sick on the floor….. “did you just puke on my beautiful shiny floor you disgusting PoS…..take off that fcuking shirt and wipe it up then….get on with it….don’t look at me…..you don’t deserve to look at me you sack of sh1t…... ” Now we were only joining the REME, not the SAS, but that didn’t seem to matter to the resident PT Corps “Staff” (You call me staff…..I don’t belong to your unit and I don’t answer to your OC…..I answer to God….and he works in Aldershot…… so shout loud if you want him to help…….) They had a million of these, for every occasion, and I guess those trying to get their “Hard Hat” Divers quals on their sleeves heard different, but just as chilling, shit that their PT staff thought just as funny to shout…… as they watched us all die
Horsea was originally Two Islands, Great and Little Horsea, they were joined to form a torpedo testing lake in 1889, using chalk excavated from Portsdown Hill, 1 km to the north, by convict labour. A narrow-gauge railway was constructed on the site by the army to distribute the chalk. Although the lake length was increased from 800 yards (730 m) to over 1,000 yards (910 m) in 1905, rapid advances in torpedo design and range had made it all but obsolete by World War I (Wikipedia) It had become the home of the Royal Navy & Royal Engineer Diver Training Facility Portsmouth. I had suggested we try to dive at Horsea having heard that, years before, the club had been allowed in, as one of the units had an Engineer E.O.D diver attached. The guy enjoyed scuba as much as he did hand over hand searches along steel ships hulls, looking for mines or covert devices whilst docked in foreign ports, and crawling up drains looking for IED’s before Royal visits. It seemed like getting “in” was a bit of a challenge, and I was up for a challenge. I telephoned the Horsea Admin office from the directory number we had at our unit in Tidworth, and spoke to a clerk who promised to send me a form to fill out….etc… That usually meant you would never hear from them again, and they’d been “transferred to another unit” if you asked for the bloke you’d spoken to last week…….Par for the course….. But, on this occasion, he was as good as his word! I received a “request for access” form and had to get various permissions, including a visit to Major Andrews Adjutant, who reluctantly signed to say I was who I said I was, and the unit could call and verify that at will…….. Everything seemed positive and I gave our intended visit dates, suitably a weekend, which pretty much guaranteed “usual” activity would be minimum, if anything, at the lake itself as even PTI’s don’t like working weekends………..
I settled on the 15/12/1991 as it was a couple of weeks off and it was before my Christmas leave, in fact I was on leave the weekend after so it was perfect. I had a word with our DO, Norman, and he was surprised but made-up that we had an opportunity to go back there, Norman had been with the club for years, he was a bloody good DO and a great bloke all round, he and Joy, his (ex-Major QRANC) wife had forgotten more about diving than I know, even now. I think even Joy, taciturn as she was, was chuffed to be going back to Horsea, who knows, maybe I earned a Brownie point for this one…… Norman suggested we make a job of the dives and did some underwater work whilst we were there, which was another tick in the box for me, I had never thought of really “doing” anything whilst diving! So we decided there would be some cutting (Hack-saws) and some assembling, basic nuts and washers with simple metal plates to bolt together, sounded like a plan to me and I set about getting some kit from the unit to make it happen, we would add to that some simple surface and under water navigation exercises to round off my 21st dive, and close the day!
I recall the gate guards looking at our paperwork and my I.D card with suspicion on our arrival, they rarely saw visitors, especially with “civvies” in tow, being allowed in. But after some odd looks and a phone call to the admin office, we were in, and directed to go a mile down the lake to the office blocks, and behind them to the car park…….brilliant….it was a “go”! We briefed the dive, kitted up quickly, as if at any moment this could all be called off, and I found myself on the quayside and rolling forward into the water………it was cold, 4′ cold and even I took a sharp breath as water hit me and was forced into my semi-dry Icelandic suit, but it was clear, and I signalled OK and in came my buddy Burnie and Norman after him. We had decided to have a general look about, the depth was never going to be an issue being between 6, and occasionally 9m, we had all day on 12l cylinders and there was plenty to see……dummy torpedoes, inert pieces of real torpedoes, shoals of tiny jelly-fish….seemingly pretty much everywhere, and other pieces of kit, metal plates, odd looking metal parts, (perhaps naval pieces), every ten meters or so there was something new to puzzle over
Norman hadn’t forgotten the task he’d set and we settled on the bottom to take out the metal bar I’d already drilled, and between us both we hack-sawed it into Two halves and then each set a bolt, a washer either side, and a nut to bolt the Two bars we had created together as One. Sounds easy, not in thick rubber gloves, necessary because of the cold, and practically feeling-less due to numb fingers………but with a sense of what I can only describe as exaggerated delight, we had achieved our goal! The second dive Norman took us up under what was, to all intent and purpose, from the outside, just a building, perhaps a work shed? From the lake, as you went under it, it became something completely different. You could surface inside it and look round what was indeed a workshop, of sorts, one where surface fed divers might have exited, or divers carrying out covert entry and exit drills, perhaps navigating in and out without being seen from the surface by patrolling guards? The imagination could easily run away with you, once you had surfaced inside and looked around at the benches and equipment contained within….it was great, something truly different and I loved it!