Remembering Gosport's tower of terror | Nostalgia

John Regnard has sent me extensive memories of the landmark diving tank for submariners at Gosport which closed recently.

Saturday, 15th February 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Saturday, 15th February 2020, 6:00 am
The submarine escape tower at Fort Blockhouse was also used by civilians. Picture: Steve Reid.
The submarine escape tower at Fort Blockhouse was also used by civilians. Picture: Steve Reid.

He says it also played a vital role in many civilian careers too, including his.

John, 84, says: ‘We were not naval staff but were a major part of the submarine programme throughout the past century or so as civilians also had to use the tower.’

John explains that dockyard workmen and their civilian officers who worked in all HM Dockyards on submarine refits, whether on conventional or nuclear boats, also went to sea and had to go through training in the daunting escape tower.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

He says: 'This was to enable the civilians to go to sea. Naval crew operated the craft while the civilians assessed the problems which inevitably arose.

'The fear of going into the diving tank at varying depths – 30ft, 60ft and ultimately 100ft deep in stages, coming through a small airlock into the open tower of water – was terrifying at first. However, an experienced naval diver was on standby for everyone going through the airlock.

'Some civilians could not go through with the trial and abandoned the daunting task. Once through the airlock and into the open tank it was too late to go back. It was just another task the civilian workforce undertook to keep submarines at sea. The dedication of the civilians in support of the Royal Navy should never be forgotten,’ he adds.

John became a Portsmouth Royal Dockyard apprentice in 1951 and served 45 years in various capacities. He was promoted numerous times and served worldwide, always as a civilian. This included many years involved with the construction of the nuclear submarine fleet. He went to sea with them having to re-qualify in the diving tank as appropriate, despite advancing years.

John is delighted to note the diving tank will remain as a memorial to all who braved its depths.

• Alan Preston writes: ‘Being a confirmed admirer of your popular page, I feel the piece from Carol Breedon needs clarification.

‘The lord mayor’s chauffeur was actually Cyril Goater, not Gooter as mentioned. I know this as I went to school with his son Richard who lived at 1 Hillsdown Avenue. Tipner.

‘Mr Goater regularly took Richard and me to Stamshaw Primary School in the lord mayor’s car, either HOT 22 or BK 1.

‘Also, during the summer holidays, when it was the lord mayor’s cricket week at the United Services Ground, prior to taking the lord mayor to the match, Mr Goater took a van with all victuals to the lord mayor’s marquee. His son and I helped and thereby got free entry to the ground.

‘I managed to get the autographs of not only the Hampshire team but also Pompey footballers, notably Jimmy Dickinson.’

• Jane Smith found an article I wrote in 2016 on The News website about Port Creek regatta. I asked if the regatta marked the end of round-the-island sailing?

She says: ‘Having recently researched Portscreek I can now answer your question. Photographs from Sunday, April 19, 1970, show the official event which opened Portscreek to navigation between Portsmouth and Langstone Harbours after being closed in 1939 by the construction of a war emergency bridge.

‘The lord mayor unveiled a plaque on the bridge which commemorated both the opening and the small boats which rescued the army from Dunkirk in 1940.

'Unfortunately, the event marked the end of round-island sailing although not intentionally. Once Portsbridge roundabout was enlarged, only a very small boat could get through, so to all intents and purposes, it was not possible to sail around the island of Portsea – what a shame! The plaque, plus two others there, disappeared more than 10 years ago.’