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Royal Navy divers pay tribute to WW2 ‘human minesweeper’

P Party 1571 with an Oyster mine in May 1945
2 September 2021
The last surviving World War 2 bomb disposal diver was honoured during a visit to the Diving Museum in Gosport.

John Payne, now 96, was on the first ‘P’ Party 1571 group - a select team of divers who cleared mines and unexploded bombs from harbours and ports in occupied Europe.

He was on the Normandy beaches following D-Day, helping to secure the Allied bridgehead and, along with others, saved many lives.

Mr Payne, who was presented with a commemorative frame honouring his work, said: “The equipment was very comfortable. You could dive for hours but that was unnecessary.

“Anything is dangerous if you don’t take care. You had instructions of what to do and that’s all.”

To look at what he dealt with on the D-Day beaches, it’s absolutely unbelievable

WO1(D) Si Crew

Mr Payne, who attended the event with wife Jill, started training as a clearance diver in 1943 and was one of up to 100 P Party divers. He left the Royal Navy in 1946 and now lives in West Sussex.

The P or Ports Parties – who were effectively human minesweepers, making harbours safe before troops went in - paved the way for the modern-day Royal Navy mine clearance divers.

Members of the Fleet Diving Unit, led by Warrant Officer 1 (Diver) Si Crew, joined Mr Payne at the museum.

WO1 Crew said: “I looked at the equipment that he was wearing, a canvas suit, a mask with really limited visibility and a diving set that I probably wouldn’t even have used in the bath.

“To look at what he dealt with on the D-Day beaches, it’s absolutely unbelievable.”

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