Q: What is the monument for?
A: To commemorate all those who passed through “HMS Vernon” over the years, in particular those serving as Divers or Mine Warfare specialists or who worked with the teams in their various roles. By placing the momument in a conspicuous, public place, it will help raise awareness of the dangerous underwater ordnance disposal role that this community has fulfilled, and continues to perform, across the globe.
Q: Why build one now?
A: In 1996 the MoD sold what many knew as HMS Vernon to a commercial property company for the site to be redeveloped and rebranded as Gunwharf Quays, which then reopened in 2001 (see details at www.gunwharf-quays.com). Scattered in between the new luxury residential and retail property developments there are some original, Royal Navy-era relics that remind one of the nautical history associated with this famous site: some late-Victorian buildings; a few torpedo exhibits; a couple of famous figureheads from long-gone wooden-hulled warships; even the venerable red GPO telephone box has survived somehow… And there are two mines: a refurbished M Mk1 found recently under rubble during some building works and a Mk17. Yet thereare few memorials on the site. What of all the service personnel who passed through the gates of HMS Vernon, including divers and mine warfare specialists? The answer is the proposed Vernon Monument, a permanent, very suitable tribute to these and other select communities.
Q: Who’ll see it?
A: Over 30 million people have visited Gunwharf Quays since its opening in 2001. The proposed location for this particular monument will be in one of the most conspicuous positions in this very popular public site. The 29-storey tower of No.1 Gunwharf Quays, standing right next to the old Main Gate is an astonishing complement to the graceful Spinnaker Tower over by the waterside. The latest panoramic views of what used to be HMS Vernon can be seen at the property developer’s website at www.gunwharfquays.co.uk. Other recent views of the area are in the Gallery on this website.
Q: What’s the proposed design?
A: A bronze statue on a stone plinth. To demonstrate the active nature of underwater warfare and, as the final design depicts, especially clearance diving and minewarfare combat operations, the current favoured design is a bronze-cast statue of a diver, wearing CDBA diving equipment, dealing with a moored mine. Both objects are mounted on a raised stone plinth, positioned on a concrete, tripod-like, underwater structure. The scale will probably be 1.75 time life-size and the whole monument is likely to be illuminated to give greater visual impact.
Q: When’s it all going to happen?
A: As soon as can be achieved, but the recent global economic downturn is having a dramatic negative impact on many fundraising campaigns. There have been several commendable attempts in previous years to start such a project. The process thus far, defining the outline concept, gaining Association support and then various approvals, has taken several years but we now have the necessary endorsements from the key authorities. There is no significant anniversary to commemorate but we are researching various events should one happen to coincide with the project’s eventual completion date. Originally we had looked at 2009 as a target for completion.We have been forced to accept that it is taking us longer to raise the sums needed than previously hoped for: 2015 or 2016 may prove more pragmatic completion dates.
Q: Where’s it going to go?
A: In the middle of Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth. The current preferred location is in the western end of the “Vernon Canal”, near to the old crane, opposite what became the Customs House building (previously the “Captain’s Offices”). Health & Safety issues dictate that the monument must be installed in the canal, thereby providing a natural moat defence around a statue with spikey bits on it!
Q: So what happens next?
A: There are several critical stages we have achieved…
We have now secured outline approval for such a statue from both the Gunwharf Quays site owners (Land Securities Group) and Portsmouth City Council’s Conservation & Design planning authorities, so we know that what is proposed, although subject to formal approval, can indeed be build and is likely to get the necessary final approvals.
This statue will represent all those who passed through Vernon and especially, because of the final design, divers and minewarfare specialists. We are now inviting serving and retired personnel, from all ranks and rates of our extended community, to become involved as volunteers in delivering this monument. Whether part-time or full-time, in the Organising Committee or as a local fundraiser, all support is welcomed. For members of the three founding Associations, namely the MCD Officers Association, the Association of Royal Navy First Class Divers (AORNFCD), the Mine Warfare Association and all others for whom the monument represents their heritage, in the UK and abroad: there’s plenty to do in the planning and production process!
Fundraising and Good Causes
The Organising Management Committee have selected the sculptor, have practically finalised the design and will soon be ready to start the production process. These three criteria will determine most of the cost of such a monument: the current estimate is upwards of £325,000. Certain monies will need to be set aside for future insurances and maintenance but almost the entire sum will go towards the monument production costs. A strong case exists, given the proven capacity for RN/RNR and indeed all service personnel to raise money for worthy causes, that any excess funds from the project should be divided up between suitable related charities.
Our range of merchandise has expanded to include a range of monument miniatures to support the fundraising process, with almost one hundred items sold thus far. Further ongoing merchandising sales of limited edition artwork and associated project materials, plus support from our various Associations and their respective members, are all progressive, valued sources of funds. Please see the Purchases page for more details of our products.
Whilst the formal unveiling ceremony will offer a good opportunity to celebrate in true HMS Vernon style, one very enjoyable way to raise funds, as has been done so successfully to date, will be at the various Association social events scheduled for the coming months/years?
The Superintendent of Diving, currently Commander Mark Atkinson, kindly continues to act as the Prime Sponsor for the project, in his capacity as Chairman of the MCDOA. Lt Cdr Dave Carey RN (Retd) continues in his sterling work as the volunteer Project Manager, assisted by a growing team of both serving and retired volunteers.
Q: What can I do to help?
A: Register your support. Initially, please register your overall support or thoughts on line using the Contact Us page of this website. You may wish to give a donation now via the Donation page. You can make payments either direct via a bank transfer, by cheque or via PayPal, our chosen donation portal. We will need additional volunteer resources, particularly with fundraising and PR. This is when your time and energies perhaps could help in some other way, to ensure overall success of the project. All offers of such support will be warmly welcomed and gratefully appreciated.
So, that’s the outline plan for Project Vernon, the Monument: now we just have to pay for it, build it and install it……..