Don Hodge - A Tin Head and a Cork Head's story - By Ginge Fullen
A story of the experimental and trials team
Don Hodge – Intro
A Tin Head and a Cork Head’s story -– We followed the goats
This is a unique story about one of the relatively few men who spent time both as a Standard Diver and a Clearance Diver in the Royal Navy. Someone who saw the end of an era but also was part of the beginning of another. This is Don Hodge’s story, one of the last men to qualify as a Royal Navy Standard Diver. An ex D3 and CD1 who first put on a standard helmet in 1957 whilst on his Shallow Water Diving course and said to himself “this is it, this is magic”.
Standard divers were a tough breed of divers who had been around for over a century before the Clearance Diver arrived on the scene. The Seibe hard hat and equipment was heavy, the work dangerous and the diving pioneering. In the Royal Navy they had the qualification known as QDD (Qualified Deep Diving) and were also known as tin heads, copperheads, steamers and hard hat divers. After WW 2 the last of the Port Divers served in the Fleet as Clearance Divers for some time but were gradually phased out or transferred to the CD Branch which officially began in 1952. By the early 1960’s Standard Diving had nearly run its course in the Royal Navy and they too had the option of transferring to the CD branch before their branch was also disbanded around the mid 60’s although some held the rate in training roles for a number of years I believe. Equipment was advancing and the role of a diver ever changing. History was overtaking the Royal Navy standard divers and the baton, so to speak, was changing hands. Very soon those QDD had moved into memory.
After qualifying as a D3 in 59 Don became a CD3 in 62 and for the next decade and more was mostly on the trials and experimental teams. He took part in oxy-helium deep dive experimental tables in the early to mid-60’s in open water on HMS Reclaim and in the chambers at RNPL (Royal Navy Physiological Laboratories) achieving depths of 600 feet and 800 feet respectively. Don himself had 8 bends during this period which he dismisses as no more than any of the others divers on the trial and with a bit of a laugh said “we followed the goats!”. He was one, if not the first and only Navy diver to dive to 1000 feet in the JIM atmospheric suit in the 1970’s, a job he worked briefly on after he left the Royal Navy. Don was part of teams that no longer exist and an era long past but with a few hardy others took part in trials that ultimately made divers safer.
Don is clear to point out there are other ex-Standard divers still about but this is just another story about how remarkably varied the job of a Navy diver can be. Don spent nearly his entire life in diving something all of his three sons seem set to do also. Whatever type of divers we were and are now and whatever equipment we dive in (and there has been many) we all share the same experience of going below the waves. Yet, even in this modern era, the old Siebe Gorman standard diving helmet epitomizes what many people still see as the bench mark of what a diver should be like. Today the Clearance Diving badge still bears the print of the side view of a Siebe Gorman helmet and every man and women who passes the dive course wears the badge with pride.