A bronze monument has been unveiled at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth to celebrate the heritage of HMS VERNON and those involved in mine warfare, diving, bomb and mine disposal.
According to Project Vernon, over £250,000 was raised by a team of unpaid volunteers to fund the one-and-a-quarter life size monument, created by sculptor Mark Richards FRSS.
As of today, the Vernon Mine Warfare & Diving Monument is a reality at Gunwharf Quays, the former site of HMS VERNON in Portsmouth. #RoyalNavy #BritishArmy #Minewarfare #diving #eod #Portsmouth #sculpture #gunwharfquays #vernonmonument pic.twitter.com/Bg1SVzPQvR
— Project Vernon (@VernonMonument) March 17, 2020
“HMS VERNON started life in 1876 as a training establishment accommodated on board ships afloat in Portsmouth Harbour. In 1923, it moved ashore to the site that is now Gunwharf Quays and became a centre for training and trials of many forms of undersea warfare including mine warfare and diving. It closed in 1986 and the monument of a contact sea mine and two divers commemorates that part of naval history. During both world wars, Britain’s Armed Forces were heavily involved in locating the enemy’s mines, unexploded bombs and other explosive ordnance which, for the Royal Navy, involved dangerous operations both under the sea and on land.
Throughout the Second World War the use of sea mines increased dramatically, and scores of ships and submarines were sunk or damaged by them. Converted trawlers were pressed into service as minesweepers but for mines dropped by aircraft onto shoals and mudbanks the clearance tasks fell to personnel from HMS VERNON. In the hours before and during D-Day, Allied minesweepers operated off the coast of occupied France. In addition, 120 Royal Navy divers, including Reservists and Royal Marines, cleared 2,500 mines and other obstructions from the approaches to the Normandy beaches. This dangerous work, which was carried out under fire, significantly reduced the risks to Allied soldiers and sailors and was continued later to make the harbours of Europe safe.”
The important work of Royal Navy mine warfare and diving units has continued to this day in both peace and during the conflicts in the Falklands, Middle East, Afghanistan and Libya. Much closer to home, whilst preparing Portsmouth Harbour for use by the aircraft carriers HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH and HMS PRINCE OF WALES, these Royal Navy specialists removed some 46 tonnes of explosive ordnance from the seabed within sight of Gunwharf Quays and this monument.
PROJECT VERNON, initiated in April 2008, is the campaign to erect a monument at Gunwharf Quays (the marina, retail centre and residential development in Portsmouth) to celebrate the naval and military heritage of HMS VERNON which occupied the site in one form or another from October 1923, when it moved ashore from hulks, until its closure in April 1996. Gunwharf Quays has an annual footfall of 8 million and is home to the iconic Spinnaker Tower.