Rising out of the water at the Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth, the Vernon Monument – named after the spiritual home of mine warfare, HMS Vernon, which occupied the site for nearly 75 years – was formally dedicated.
The £250,000 statue was installed and unveiled in March 2020 – preventing an official service of thanksgiving and dedication until now.
The monument features a one-and-a-quarter scale British Mk17 moored mine, armed with ‘Hertz horn’ contacts – chemical fuses – which two divers wearing clearance diving breathing apparatus are attempting to deal with.
Several dozen serving personnel from the Royal Navy’s Mine Warfare community – which includes crews of two squadrons of minehunters, plus specialist explosive ordnance disposal/clearance divers – joined VIPs, former divers, minehunter/sweeper crews, family and allies.
Guests travelled from all over the world – the USA, Canada, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong among others – to attend the ceremony with naval chaplain the Rev Ralph Barber, fittingly a former mine warfare rating, conducting the dedication and former mine clearance diving officer Rear Admiral Paddy McAlpine giving the key address.
He reminded all present that one-third of all mines laid in the Second World War were not cleared at the conflict’s end, and today’s divers are still called out to deal with around a dozen rendered safe or blown up around the UK each year.
He said: ‘This monument honours you, your forebears and successors yet to come.’
The divers have recently been reorganised under the new Diving and Threat Exploitation Group while the two minehunter squadrons (No.1 based in Faslane, No.2 in Portsmouth) will in time be replaced by the Project Wilton autonomous mine warfare systems.
Able Seaman (Diver) Andy Waller is among the hundreds of people who raised money over a 12-year-old period to bring the monument to fruition. He made a round-trip from Suffolk in a day to see it dedicated.
He said: ‘It looks fantastic – to see it come to fruition, after all the hard work, in this setting. It’s been well worth it.’