Lt Cdr William Filer

Lt Cdr William Filer
Lt Cdr William Filer

From broken bones to new beginnings

0
Have your say

Tributes have been paid to a medal-winning navy diver who died aged 93.

On January 15, 1942, 24-year-old William Filer disarmed an Italian torpedo washed up on the beach at Ras el Tin, near Alexandria, Egypt and was awarded the George Medal.

It was just the start of a glittering 45-year career for the naval diver known affectionately as ‘Uncle Bill’, who went on to develop new diving techniques in an era when the Royal Navy’s diving expertise was world-famous.

He won the prize as the best recruit of the year after joining the Royal Navy’s training school HMS Ganges aged 15.

His interest in diving was awakened while working the air pump for divers in Gibraltar – noting that they were paid extra for their dangerous tasks.

He applied and duly qualified as a diver at HMS Dolphin in Portsmouth.

He became the Fleet Air Arm’s first ‘flying diver’ in 1938 and was training with torpedo bomber planes. But he was ordered back to straightforward naval service when war broke out. He served on battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth and was serving in HMS Medway when she was torpedoed by a German U-boat on June 10, 1942.

He was rescued by HMS Hero and qualified as one of the only nine deep divers in the navy on his return home.

Promoted to Warrant Officer, he supervised deep dives down to 150 feet. He suffered his only case of the ‘bends’ in his shoulder which gave him occasional painful osteo-arthritis for the rest of his life.

In 1948, Lt Cdr Filer was technical adviser at the newly-commissioned diving trials vessel HMS Reclaim.

One of his missions was to search for the submarine HMS Affray which sunk in 1951, drowning all hands. Reclaim found Affray at 290 feet and Lt Cdr Filer was made an MBE.

He went on to the Admiralty Experimental Diving Unit and became involved with the development of diving equipment.

His tenure at the Diving Trials Unit saw some remarkable advances including deep dives to 1,000 feet.

After his naval retirement in 1962, he worked as the civilian officer-in-charge of the Deep Diving Unit in Alverstoke until the mid-1980s. He lived in Lee-on-the-Solent most of his life and was a member of the local tennis and sailing clubs.

His friend Rob Hoole said: ‘He was a tremendous character. He used to hold court at the tennis club at lunch times.

‘He was really well known around Lee-on-the-Solent and in the diving community. A lot of people have a place in their heart for Uncle Bill.’

Hundreds of people attended his funeral at Portchester Crematorium.

He is survived by a son, Richard, and daughter, Judy. His wife, Eileen, died in 2009.

Lt Cdr William Filer, MBE, GM, RN. Born on August 6, 1917, died January 31, 2011.