Yorky Wilkinson - The Suez Crisis of 56 - by Ginge Fullen
Yorky Wilkinson - Intro
The Suez Crisis of 56 - 'One of the last of the underwater knife men'
These chronicles cover a mostly forgotten War and little-known period of the Clearance Diver’s branch history, the Suez Crisis of 1956. At the outbreak of what was also known as the second Arab-Israeli War the Mediterranean Fleet Clearance Diving Team were immediately mobilized and sent to the Suez Canal to check and ensure excess to the inner ports were free of mines. The canal had been closed with the sinking of dozens of ships. As the conflict continued, the smoke still rising and the bullets flying overhead the team continued to check for ordinance, booby traps, the possibility of enemy divers and also carry out surveys of the locations and extent of the damage of the sunken ships. This is the story of those 12 men told by one of the few remaining Clearance Divers alive who was there, Yorky Wilkinson and the diaries of Dinah Shaw a fellow Clearance Diver.
There is more to this story than just the Suez Crisis though. When I first contacted Yorkie to ask for his course details and some information about the early days of the diving branch he commented “well I’ve not much to tell you really, but I would be happy to meet you if you like”. I met him at his home in Hastings early one Saturday afternoon and didn’t leave until that evening. ‘Not much to tell you’ is a bit of an understatement. Qualifying in 1955 Yorky only spent 5 years in the branch, but I think few Clearance Divers could have had a busier and more diverse 5 years then him.
Drafted to the Mediterranean Fleet Clearance Diving after his course he is one of only around 60 people awarded the General Service Medal for Bomb and Mine Clearance; Mediterranean. The fight for the control of the strategically important Island of Malta during the Second World War saw the island being one of the most bombed places on earth. The Med team were kept very busy disposing of numerous and sometimes very sensitive ordnance. In 1957 the team was asked to act as stand-ins for the British and Italians frogmen in the movie Silent Enemy based around the exploits of Buster Crabb. They operated chariots, prised limpet mines off ships and undertook knife fighting scenes underwater. Mostly filmed in Malta Yorky was the only one to go onto further shooting being done at Gibraltar and Shepperton/Pinewood studios as an advisor.
After the best blag of any Clearance Diver ever! Yorky then was drafted to the Acceptance Trials team on HMS Deepwater and carried out some trials which Health and Safety would have a fit about if anything like it was attempted now-a-days. Finishing his time on HMS Brearley one of the early mine hunters Yorky left the Navy in 1960 and after a spell in the Police force would end up back in the diving game in the North Sea in the 1970’s, a pioneering and dangerous time for any diver. In later years he would take up his passion for sailing, both for work and pleasure. This is Yorky Wilkinson’s story, one of the few men in the Royal Navy to have taken part in a knife fight underwater, been injured, and survived!