March 20 - 26, 2022: Issue 531


William (Bill) Fitzgerald OAM

William (Bill) Fitzgerald OAM

March 23rd, 1929 - March 4, 2022
Bill was the first Australian Clearance Diving Chief. He joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1946. In his  2017 Profile he shared stories of blowing up mines and massive ordnance, nuclear exposure, and fixing dams, submarines and ships. 

Wife Madge was the commissioning lady of Clearance Diving Team One at the turn of the millennium. Her photograph is prominently displayed outside the OIC of Team One’s headquarters down at HMAS Waterhen. They met as teenagers and were joined at the hip ever afterwards.

His first month in Clareville (The Pittwater Annex) was in October 1948. He was testing and maintaining torpedoes and trialling them in Pittwater to the 3000 yard target. 

Bill finished his full-time service as a chief instructor for all courses at HMAS Rushcutter and moved from the permanent service in 1966. He continued to serve as a reservist until 1984 – totalling 37 years, 138 days of total service.

His love of and interest in diving carried over into civilian life. He became a private diving instructor and helped to develop and establish the hyperbaric unit at Prince Henry Hospital in Sydney, delivering over 1500 therapies over four years. He was then asked to join the CSIRO to train and supervise their marine biologists in diving for a further five years.

In 1976, he took over a position with a prominent safety equipment firm and became their sales manager, discussing the safety equipment and breathing apparatus issues with managers in a wide variety of private and public industries, including the RAN, and supplying equipment to meet their needs.

In the Queen’s Birthday Honours List of 1999, Fitzgerald received an OAM for “service to diving, and to the development and training in the use of life support breathing apparatus” – you won't find that citation anywhere else.

He was held in high esteem by colleagues in the RAN who would attend Anzac Day Commemorations at Avalon Beach RSL in order to march by his side.

Bill is survived by Madge, Debra, Rebecca, Terry and Steven, sibling Gloria and six grandchildren, one of whom predeceased his grandfather.

Our sincere condolences and sympathies to his family at this time.

Thank you for your Service Bill - thank you for sharing your wisdom too.

Below runs Bill's 2017 Profile with much more detail of his wonderful life.

RAN Clearance Diving Association at Avalon Beach RSL Anzac Day Commemoration Service 2017. Photo: A J Guesdon.
Narrabeen resident Bill Fitzgerald is one of those legends among us you may not hear much about nor have seen too much of, simply because he has worked in one of the Royal Australian Navy's vital branches, that of Navy Clearance Divers that in itself can often be far from sight - or underwater, literally, as that's what they do - get things done, underwater.

In December 2016 Bill and members of his former teams attended the service for the late Commodore Graham Sloper RAN (Rtd.) and spoke, not only of their respect and admiration for the gentleman who steered the Avalon Tattoo for 10 years but also mentioned their long association with Pittwater;

"Bill started the Diving Training at Clareville, at the RAN's Pittwater Annex." one gentleman explained. 

As further tribute, and as a testament to the esteem Bill is held in, The Clearance Divers Association attended and Marched in this year's Anzac Day Service by Avalon Beach RSL and Sub-Branch, led by Russell Baker AM, President of the NSW Branch of the RAN Clearance Diving Association, and Vice President of the national association. Mr. Baker retired in 2007 as a Commodore in the Navy, and originally qualified as a Mine Warfare and Clearance Diving Officer in 1978.

Photo: A J Guesdon.

Clearance Divers (CDs) are the Australian Defence Forces' specialist divers. Their tasks include specialist diving missions to depths of 54 metres, surface and underwater demolitions, and the rendering safe and disposal of conventional explosive ordnance and improvised explosive devices.

Although diving in the RAN dates back to the 1920s when personnel were trained in the use of 'standard' diving equipment, the concept of a separate and dedicated diving branch of the Navy evolved slowly. The Clearance Diving Branch of the Royal Australian Navy was formed in 1951 with the primary role of "location. identification and disposal of Mines underwater". It's secondary role included "underwater maintenance, training of the Fleet in ship defence against saboteurs, beach reconnaissance and minor salvage".  [1.]

CPOCD William (Bill) Fitzgerald, OAM (Rtd) completed the first of the RAN's intensive Clearance Diving training programmes in 1955.

The CD's are also called in for getting the job done in civilian arenas - the Lake Eucambene dam is one excellent example; in 1961, the Snowy Mountains Authority had a major problem in the Lake Eucumbene Dam. A leak had developed in a temporary sealing device at the entrance to the Lake diversion tunnel and the only practical method of checking the trouble was by diver inspection. 

This job was in 260 feet and although the RAN CDs had only worked regularly to depths around 100 feet, these were the only divers capable of the attempt to solve the problem. A  team from HMAS Rushcutter, under the direction of Leut. Titcombe, and only after the procurement of special equipment and a short deep diving workup, went to work. That work was protracted and done in freezing conditions. To remove twenty 3½ ton racks from the side of the 230 foot intake tower and twenty eight 5 ton ‘stop logs’ sealing the tunnel inside the tower was a major evolution for men working in a completely new depth environment with new equipment. 

Their perseverance, even when faced with nitrogen narcosis and decompression stoppages (which lasted up to 1½ hours for a 15 minute task time) was nothing short of heroic. 

Bill is allowing us to share an insight into his long and brilliant career of Service as his record belongs among our own - he is one of our own.

William Terence Fitzgerald entered the RAN the 30th of May, 1946, and was posted to HMAS Cerberus before he volunteered for the three week long, RMS (Render Mines Safe) Course, held at HMAS Penguin, in Sydney. In September 1947 he was posted to the HMAS Tarangau, headquarters of the Papua-Nlew Guinea Division of the Royal Australian Navy. 

Bill spent 12 months in New Guinea extending his knowledge from WWII Bomb Disposal experts while working on the demolition of American bombs, and Japanese and British mines and other ordnance left behind in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. In September 1948 he returned to Australia.

When were you first stationed at Clareville (The Pittwater Annex)?
My first month in Clareville was in October 1948. I was testing and maintaining torpedoes and trialling them in Pittwater to the 3000 yard target. 

Commonwealth Navy Order 287 (1947)


The R.A.N. Torpedo Range is situated in Broken Bay, N.S.W., the firing point being on Taylor's Point, Pittwater, and the range extending from there in a northerly direction.

2. Transport of torpedoes is normally carried out by road from the R.A.N. Torpedo Factory, a distance of 22 miles, as no vessel with a draught greater than 12 ft. 6 in. can enter Pittwater. 3. The following firing guns are fitted:—

1—No. 21-in. above water firing tube.
2—No. 18-in. tubes.
1—No. 21-in. submerged firing tube.

There is also a launching cradle for use in running torpedoes not otherwise catered for.

Left: Recovered Torpedo at RAN Torpedo Range, Pittwater, 1949, courtesy Robert Curran.

4. The Torpedo Range workshop is capable of carrying out complete overhauls on all torpedoes.

5. Applications for torpedoes to be ranged should be made by signal to Admiral Superintendent, Sydney, repeated for information to Superintendent, R.A.N. Torpedo Factory.

6. Transport of torpedoes from the ship's side to the range and return will be arranged by the Superintendent, R.A.N. Torpedo Factory.

The Torpedo wharf soon became part of the local landscape, a landmark:

Pittwater: Good catches of mulloway have been made at the torpedo wharf and bream on the flats at Careel Bay. FISHING AND WHERE. (1949, December 4). The Sunday Herald (Sydney, NSW : 1949 - 1953), p. 14 Section: Sporting Section. Retrieved from

Taylor's Point and Torpedo Testing- Divers Training Annex in 1960's - photo courtesy Gary Cook.

You then moved over to Clearance Diving, how did that occur?
During our training the Torpedo Branch was responsible for Mining, Rendering Mines safe, Demolitions, as well as bomb and Mine disposal. So this was part of my trade to begin with.

In 1955 there was a requirement for the first Clearance Divers to be called up into the Navy. Of 90 volunteers 21 were accepted and 13 of these passed the Course. I was on that Course and subsequently one of the first Clearance Divers for the R.A.N.

Now, I was already an Instructor at the Torpedo School, in Mining, Demolition, and Rendering Mines Safe. After my experiences up in New Guinea for a year, pre 1948,  with the disposal of enemy ordnance as well as American and British ordnance, post WWII, I was considered worthy to be accepted for the Course, even though I was overage – I was over 25 years of age at that time. They wanted people under 25 years of age, of high intelligence, fit and healthy, with a ‘can do’ attitude, can do the impossible in other words, even if that does take a little bit longer. 

Commander Linton credits you with being an asset on that course, stating in an article available online, that you could liaise between the older and younger generations to the benefit of all- that you had an Instructor’s knowledge and could also speak to younger members of that first intake – what’s your take on that?

I was a buffer in some ways – a buffer between the old and the new. Even though I was a little bit older I was also interested in what was new in the Diving School. I’d used equipment in New Guinea to bring unexploded bombs out from underwater and under wharves and places like that. I’d used a modified standard dive rig up there without any trouble at all, so being experienced with that helped I guess.

I was born to dive really, I love it, love being in the water, I just became part of it.
So being on the first Dive Course allowed me to be the Instructor on the Render Mines Safe side, and the Mining and Demolition aspects. I used to do some other things as well.

The first basic demolitions course was conducted in 1955; the instructors were POUW Bill Fitzgerald with Lt. Ron (Bud) Hillon, and the students were:
POUW Bill Fitzgerald (Qualified).
LSRP Hall Porter (did not complete)
LS Tom Mosely (Qualified then relinquished rate)
AB Jake Linton (Qualified)
AB Charlie Wendt (back classed)
AB Reg Green (Qualified)
AB Col Thompson (Qualified)
LS Colin Carr (Qualified)
AB Carl Errey (Qualified)
AB Len Freeman (Qualified)
AB Norm Jeffress (Qualified)
AB Trevor Knight (Qualified)
LEUT Ron Titcombe (Qualified)
AB Charlie LeSueur (back classed)
AB Bob Short (back classed)
AB Doug Plunkett (back classed)
AB John Still (withdrew)

The theory was conducted at HMAS RUSHCUTER and the practical took place at Holsworthy Army base. The underwater component was conducted in Taylor's Bay(Mosman), Sydney harbour (Mosman), on a sunken steel coaler barge called the “Centennial”. [1.]

CD3's course, HMAS Rushcutter 1961.
Rear: Peter Boettcher, Harry Brankstone, Rod Richardson, Ken Richards, Ken Chinnery.
Front: Stan Beckingham, Bill Fitzgerald, Mick Shotter, Dr. Rex Gray (UM - also qual. as CD3), Jim Riddle.

When did the Pittwater Annex change from being a Torpedo Testing range to a Diving School?
In 1968. The Dive School shifted from being in Rushcutters Bay, where we were from 1948 to 1968, and under the same umbrella as the Torpedo School, to HMAS Penguin. They commissioned HMAS Penguin in 1942, so this year is the celebration of the 75th Anniversary of HMAS Penguin.

You are still held in very high regard by those who have served or are serving as Clearance Divers, a great looking group turning up to March as part of the Avalon Beach RSL Anzac Day Commemoration Service this year representing the Clearance Divers Association – who were these gentlemen?

Some of these were on that first course, on Team One while others are serving Australia in the RAN currently, on Team One as well. My wife Madge was the commissioning lady of Clearance Diving Team One at the turn of the millennium. Her photograph is prominently displayed outside the OIC of Team One’s headquarters down at HMAS Waterhen.

The Eastern Area Mobile Clearance Diving Team was formed up in 1956-1957, I was the chief of that team. That team eventually became Clearance Diving Team One, which it remains today. We had 12 people in Clearance Diving Team One in the late 1950’s; they now have 60 people.

Fleet Diving Team.
Helo jumps from HMAS Melbourne (28.12.1962 to 5.6.193), Singapore Basin 1963.
rear: ?, Pincher Martin,  Mick Currie, Ken Monk,
front: Bill Fitzgerald, Pilot - Lt Day & Lt  Lenny Graham.

The R.A.N. Clearance Divers have also worked in a civilian context, one instance being when a Viscount plane tragically crashed into Botany Bay in November 1961…

Yes, this work was done by the Navy Clearance Divers and police divers – they recovered all of the aeroplane parts and the bodies of those who had been killed and laid them out in a hangar and tried to put what matched back together. 
At the time this occurred I was on deployment in Darwin recovering a Sabre jet that had crashed and the pilot who went with this. So this and the pilot had to be recovered as well.


Kimbla raises the undercarriage of the Ansett A.N.A. Viscount airliner which crashed on Thursday, from the bottom of Botany Bay. Salvage crews have recovered four tons of wreckage so far in an effort to establish the cause of the crash, in which nine Canberra people died. WRECKAGE OF AIRLINER (1961, December 5). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 1. Retrieved from 

Pilot Dies In Sabre Crash
DARWIN, Wednesday.— An R.A.A.F. pilot was killed instantly when his Sabre jet plunged into Darwin Harbour, about 7 ½ miles offshore late to-day.
The Sabre was one of 40 jets in Darwin's biggest post war exercise.
The pilot was Pilot Officer D. Irvine, 22, single, of Murrumbeen, Melbourne.
The Sabre was engaged in bomber - fighter interceptions when it exploded and crashed into the sea. Army and Navy crash boats went to the crash area and a Hercules bomber circled above. Pilot Dies In Sabre Crash (1961, November 2). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 1. Retrieved from 

Darwin Jet Crash Reiner Investigated
The R.A.A'.F. will reconstruct a wrecked Sabre jet fighter plane which crashed into Darwin Harbour earlier this month. The Minister for Air, Senator Wade, said yesterday the reconstruction was expected to show the cause of the crash, which killed the pilot, Pilot Officer R. D. Irvine of Melbourne. Eyewitnesses told officials after the crash that the Sabre exploded while flying at between 3,000 and 5,000 feet. Darwin Jet Crash Reiner Investigated (1961, November 16). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 11. Retrieved from 

Another instance many would find interesting, and historic for those who weren’t there, is the Eucumbene project…

That was a very interesting job. In 1962, I was one of the Team involved in the Eucumbene Dam project to free the sluice gates at a depth of about 260 feet: A job that took nearly six months to complete.

Even though the Snowy Mountains Authority was doing a big big job there, we couldn’t see our way clear to get helium to help the divers do the work. To go that deep breathing on air, 4000 feet above sea level, posed some challenges. 

Because of the cold the Navy obtained two of the French, Cousteau Constant Volume suits to keep us safe. These, together with the Porpoise Demand valve’s free flow mechanism, allowed a diver to go to extreme depth on air without fear of drowning should he lose consciousness. These are fully enclosed suits, so if you did lose consciousness, and your mouthpiece fell out, you still had air to breathe within the suit as the airflow still kept coming in.

Although this was a step forward of sorts, we shouldn’t dive to depths where the air is toxic – people may not be aware that between 200 and 270 feet air is toxic, CO2 retention is paramount in the body and nitrogen narcosis creeps in on you, as I found out. I was narked out of my brain on one dive there; I didn’t even know what day it was, let alone the question asked of me; ‘did I have my eyes open?’ – I couldn’t see in pitch black water, with all that leaf mulch, even though I had two one thousand candlepower lights; what a stupid question!

Lake Eucumbene - Snowy Mountains. Diver dressed in French constant volume suit.

The next question, and I was only told this after I came up, was ‘were you conscious?’ – according to the records my reply was ‘how the hell would I know if I was conscious or not?’ – and then found I was on the ladder and dropped back to do my decompression. This is just an example of what you encounter when you’re doing the job.

Preparing for a 260 foot dive on air. Lake Eucumbene.

You have also served as the President of the National Clearance Divers Association?
Yes, I was. I originally was the president of the Clearance Divers Association then we discussed a change to the actual name from ‘Clearance Diving Association’ to ‘RAN Clearance Divers Association’ and that made it more personal to the people themselves. The RAN brought in Team Four operating out of Western Australia.

Team One operates on the East Coast and Team Four the West Coast. When deployment is required they take some from One and some from Four and call them Team Three.

Quote from  Australian War Memorial webpage:

"Whenever Clearance Divers are deployed overseas in a combat zone, they form a unit called Clearance Diving Team 3, or CDT3. In March and April 1991, in the aftermath of the First Gulf War, CDT3 went into action for the first time since Vietnam. Twenty-three Australian divers cleared several Kuwaiti ports, a naval base, and a number of beaches.
From March to May 2003, 32 divers were deployed to the same region, this time operating in Iraq itself. One of their early tasks was clearing the port of Umm Qasr. Working in muddy water with zero visibility, they located a sunken minelayer with live sea-mines aboard. They also worked on land, checking port buildings for booby-traps and helping British commandos clear unexploded mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades from the town.
Later they moved north to clear another port at Khawr Az Zubayr and, demonstrating their versatility, also conducted mine clearance patrols on the Al Faw peninsula, along the shores of the Khawr ’Abd Allah waterway. Finally, the divers helped clear sea-mines, anti-submarine mortars, and other ordnance from a major storage area attached to the Iraqi navy’s mine warfare school."  


I did. 
The author of Australian Naval History Ian Pfennigwerth, a Retired Navy Captain, who was commissioned to write the Honours and Awards of all Naval Personnel since 1900 is including this in Volume 2. He has already completed one edition of this up until the year 1974 and is now extending this to 2014.

The citation in his forthcoming work, which he has given me permission to share with you, reads;  

‘'William (Bill) Fitzgerald was awarded an OAM in 1999 for his Service to Diving and the Development and Training in the Use of Life Support Breathing Apparatus’. 

It is an unusual citation for an unusual person. Born in Chatswood, New South Wales, Bill, the son of a World War Two Navy Veteran and survivor of the Nestor sinking, joined the RAN in 1946 and trained as a pump hand for a standard diver. He participated in the clearance of unexploded ordnance in New Guinea and then joined HMAS Murchison for Service in Korea. 

In HMAS Hawkesbury in 1952 he was involved in the recovery of the items from the Monte Bello Atomic Test Site in Western Australia. He completed the first RAN Diving Course as a Petty Officer in 1955 and went on to become a Diving Instructor at Rushcutter. His exploits included diving on the wreck of USS Peary in Darwin to remove weaponry. He participated on the famous dive to clear the unit tower on the Eucumbene dam in 1962 and joined Melbourne as the Fleet Diving Chief.

During his Service he made repairs to a submarine at sea , allowing it to dive (that was the Tabbard), patched the hull of a US Navy ship alongside the Hobart to stop it flooding, and helped to destroy the wreckage of a crashed RAN aircraft near the equator.

He finished his full time Service as a Chief Instructor for all courses at Ruschcutter and left the permanent Service in 1966.

His Service as a Reservist continued until 1984. This is 37 years, 138 days and 28 minutes of Service.

His love of and interest in diving carried over into civilian life. He was a private diving Instructor, and helped to develop and establish the Hyperbaric Unit at Prince Henry Hospital in Sydney, delivering over 1500 therapies over four years. He was then asked to join the CSIRO to train and supervise their Marine Biologists in diving for a further five years.

In 1976 he took over a position with a prominent safety equipment firm and became their Sales Manager, discussing the safety equipment and breathing apparatus issues with Managers in a wide variety of private and public industries, including the RAN, in supplying equipment to meet their needs. 

Both Nationally and Internationally, his involvement in the industry has continued, along with his close association with the RAN Diving community, where he is an honoured guest at Diving Force Graduations.’'

That company referred to was Siebe Gorman and Company, the original inventors of the hard hat. I was their manager here in Australia and also had to travel overseas for them as well.

I still go down to every graduation of new divers and nothing has changed as far as I’m concerned, they look exactly the same as we did over 60 years ago.

What was your dad like Bill?

He was originally on the Tingara as a boy seaman in 1920. His twin, Ernie, went into Midshipman school but unfortunately Ernie was killed in Singapore in a car accident in the 1920’s.

Dad, Sydney William Fitzgerald, stayed in the Navy and met my mother in Southhampton, United Kingdom, when he was transferred there, to the London Depot for Submarine Service in February 1926 and was subsequently posted to HMS Dolphin for Submarine Training. They married in 1927. He came back to Australia and she followed him, naturally, and I was born here, March 23rd, 1929.

He was drafted to Barrow in Furness to ‘stand by’ HMAS Oxley, one of the two submarines, the other being the Otway, that Australia had for a few years.

He returned to Australia via the SS Mooltan in June 1928 and was posted to the Penguin (Otway), Anzac and Platypus and then drafted top HMAS Penguin in 1929 and was “Discharged, Engagement Expired’, on November 29th, 1929.

My father re-entered the Navy at the outbreak of the 1939-1945 war. He was a bit deceitful about what was going on there as he went to work for nearly a week and during all that time he was actually getting ready and getting kitted up. I remember he came home on a Friday evening and knocked on the door, which dad never did.

I answered the door and here as this bloke standing there in a Petty Officer’s uniform. He said, ’get your mother’.
He was a torpedo man, a torpedo gunners mate my father, did the same sort of work, Demolitions and Mines.

Mum came to the door and said ‘what are you doing?’
He said, ‘Oh, there’s a war on now Flo’, I’ve joined the Royal Australian Naval Fleet Reserve again…’ and then ‘ we don’t expect the war to last longer than four or five years.’
“but, what’s happening?’ mum said.
“I’m going to the Australia.’ Dad answered, the Australian heavy cruiser.
“how long are you home for?’ mum asked.
“I’m sailing on Monday.”

So he left on the Monday and we didn’t see him again for two and a half years. 

He went over to the U.K, escorted the convoys, then transferred from the Australia to the Nestor. The Nestor was sunk in the Mediterranean by super dive-bombers. He then went into Alexandria and they kitted him up, the Salvation Army gave him clothes. 

Survivors from HMAS Nestor onboard HMS Javelin with their salvaged ship's bell. Photo courtesy RAN archives.

He was commissioned then as a Gunner T. they put him to work in London during the Battle of Britain in bomb and mine disposal during The Blitz.
He eventually came back to Australia after two and a half years; his Cdr., Cdr. Rosenthal (Cdr. Alvord Sydney Rosenthal, DSO and Bar, RAN), brought the longest serving members of the ship back with him.
Dad then went to the Warramunga, another destroyer, Tribal class destroyer.
So his continuation, of not only loyalty to the RAN but the fact that he was doing torpedos, firing torpedoes, Demolitions and that work, is a continuation in me.

So it was inherited in fact.

Sydney William Fitzgerald, born November 5th 1904 – my Irish grandfather decided to call him ‘Sydney’ because he was born in Sydney. There was a few quirks about my grandfather. There’s three pictures – Warrant Officer Fitzgerald, Army, Senior Commissioned Gunner T Sydney William Fitzgerald, and Chief Clearance Diver, William Fitzgerald, in the Avalon Beach RSL’s Memorabilia Cabinet.
To me this is not only my heritage but a heritage of men who believe in their country, believe in defending their country and love living in their country.

The RAN Clearance Divers have been front and centre in every conflict since being formed. How many lives would you estimate the Clearance Divers have saved? 

No one could rightly answer that, but our Honours List is astronomical. From the four Australians that worked in BND in the U.K, who all received the George Cross and medals right through to 2001 we have been very highly decorated and honoured. Since then we’ve had both Gulf Wars, Kuwait, Afghanistan and members are still deployed overseas even now. So the Honours, Awards, Letters of Commendation would be some indication of the great service these people of the Clearance Divers Branch have done. Many of these still working cannot be identified in the current climate but if people were aware of what their Navy has done and is still doing I think they’d be justified in giving them more than a long applause.

The USS Peary – what was involved there?
The USS Peary was  a Clemson class destroyer of the United States Navy. She was commissioned in 1920 and sunk by Japanese aircraft at Darwin in February 1942. She was a four stack destroyer that, in 1942, and had been sunk in 89 feet of water. She was the first destroyer of the Asiatic Fleet to be sunk in World War Two and 88 officers and men were lost that day.

Suffered Five Direct Hits
PERTH. April 8.— The U.S. destroyer, Peary, suffered five direct hits in the first Japanese raid on Darwin on February 19, survivors said here. . .
A Washington communique last Saturday announced the loss of. the Peary (1,138 tons) at Darwin. Fifty-three Injured members of the Peary's crew are in a Perth military hospital Laurence T. Farley, 28, of West Virginia, who was foreman watertender on the Peary, said that before the Peary went to Darwin she had Buffered casualties, but little damage, in Jap raids in the Philippines. 

'One or the bombs that hit the Peary at Darwin struck a galley passage in which a shipmate and I were,' Farley said. 'I was badly burned, and my eyes were affected. With my' companion, I went on deck and dived, overboard. I swam towards the hospital ship Manunda, but, as I neared her, I saw the Japs attack her. I turned and swam back. My burned legs and arms and shoulder were greatly troubling me. As I swam I saw Jap planes machine-gunning men in the water. Some were shot as they swam. Others sank exhausted. Bullets smacked the water all round me, but I was not hit. By then a bomb blast had so affected me that I could not see. A lifeboat from the Manunda picked me up and took me on board. As a result of treatment here, I have made a wonderful recovery.' I half expected to be a cripple.' LOSS OF U.S.S. PEARY (1942, April 11). Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1907 - 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from

There were six torpedo tubes on each side of the vessel, each warhead consisted of about 810 pounds of high explosive fitted with vane-type contact pistols. When moved by the tidal stream, these pistols would be screwed into the detonator by the incoming tide and back out again – we hoped! – with the ebb flow.

Armed with book references on American ordnances that we read prior to the dive, we decided that they must be safe and proceeded to clear a majority of the USS Peary's ordnances that hadn’t become deteriorated by salt water or corrosion.

During our next dive onto the deck of the USS PEARY, we opened the rear door of one of the torpedo tubes and I said, with the 5561A you can just spit your mouthpiece out and talk into the full face mask, “Get in and feel if the propellers are still there.” 

The other diver wriggled head-first into the narrow torpedo tube to feel for the propellers. While he was doing that, I picked up an old guard rail stanchion and gave the torpedo tube a bloody great whack! The diver swam backwards out of the tube like a cork out of a champagne bottle!

What was the best part about being at Pittwater for you?
Well, clearly it’s a beautiful place and we did good work there. Training exercises still occur at Pittwater – swimming on pure oxygen, they have to be able to run and run and run, and do and do and do; physical fitness is very high for this branch of the Service. This is a very hard course to complete, and they have to be tested in this way. That’s why the camaraderie is so strong in the Clearance Diving branch of our Navy. We are United and we’re Undaunted.
Clearance Divers have to be extremely fit, highly intelligent, that is have above average intelligence, and have it within them to do and do.
Once you’re a Clearance Diver you are always a Clearance Diver, even when you go to God.

We have our own prayer:
Oh God in Heaven, hear our plea, 
for Clearance Divers ‘neath the sea, 
While in the ocean’s dark embrace, 
Keep us, Thy sons, within Thy Grace.
And hear us Lord, 
O Thou who saves, 
For us They servants, 
‘neath the waves

I think that originated with the Padre aboard the HMAS Perth when that was serving during the Vietnam conflict. 

In the Clearance Divers Roll of Remembrance is:
When called by God to report for the last time, no better rely could be given by any man to His question “What did you do with your life?” than to be able to reply; “I was a member of the RAN Clearance Diving Branch.”

Now the crucifix that I put in that was a Franciscan crucifix that I located, through computer systems, and had been lost in the Caribbean in a ship in the 1600’s. So that crucifix, being Franciscan, is for all denominations. There are 125 Clearance Divers who have gone to God since 1955.

The camaraderie is evidently very strong - you are clearly a team that plays and stays together. As another instance, that water polo photo on the Association's website - what's that about Bill?

We won that for years in a row - I had them training in full suits so by the time they came to play they could literally run across the water! 

Standing: Bill Fitzgerald, Phil Kember, Sergeant, Vic Rashleigh, Peter Hermans, Rip Kirby.
kneeling: Hank Egberts, Wally Kolas, Doc Robbie (medic), Denis Appel, Noel Stewart, Mick Cook.
Loraine Crapp waterpolo trophy.

Lorraine Joyce Thurlow, AM (born 1 October 1938), née Crapp, is a former Olympic swimming champion representing Australia. In world swimming history, Crapp earned a place as the first woman to break the five-minute barrier in the 400 m freestyle. Born in 1938, as a young girl Crapp lived with her parents at Jervis Bay where her father was with a Royal Australian Air Force Air Sea Rescue Unit. By the age of five she was a competent swimmer. When the family moved to Mortlake she joined the Cabarita Swimming Club and by the age of 12 was the winner of all her age events in freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke.

In 1952, Crapp was selected in the New South Wales team for the Australian Championships in Melbourne, where she came second to Olympian Judy Davis in the senior 880 yards. She won the junior 200 yards and she was still only 13 years old.

In 1956 Crapp broke 17 world records and by the end of the year she was the world record holder for 110 yards, 200 m, 400 m and 880 yards. She was the first Australian swimmer, male or female, to hold world records in all freestyle distances at the same time. On 25 August 1956 at the Australian National Training Camp at Tobruk Pool in Townsville, Queensland, she became the first woman to break the five minute barrier for 400 m freestyle; along the way she broke three other world records – 200 m, 220 yd and 440 yd. Although she improved on all times later in her career, her four world records in one swim (she slashed 18.2 seconds from the previous 400 m record to clock 4 min 47.2 seconds), made headlines around the world.

She competed in two Olympic Games — the 1956 Summer Olympics and the 1960 Summer Olympics. She won two Olympic gold medals and one Olympic silver medal in 1956 and one Olympic silver medal in 1960.

During her career Crapp set twenty-three world records and won 9 Australian championship titles.[6] In 1972, she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, and in 1986 into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. On 8 June 1998, she was named as Member of the Order of Australia for "service to sport, particularly swimming at national and international levels, and to the community through the promotion of sport and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle."

On 8 February 2000, Crapp was awarded the Australian Sports Medal in recognition of her and team mates efforts in winning the 4 × 100 m freestyle relay at the 1956 Olympics. The same year she was one of the eight flag bearers at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. On 1 January 2001, Crapp was awarded the Centenary Medal for "service to Australian society through the sport of swimming."

Lorraine Crapp is one of nine "Legends" of the Path of Champions at Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre.

It sounds like you have done what you love Bill, all your life - are you happy with what's been done?

My life has been a life I would live over and over and over again. My wife says to me quite often, ‘all you love is the Navy’. I reply, ‘that’s not quite true, you my dear, are equal first!’.
I first met Madge in 1948 but had to wait until August 1st 1949 before I could marry her; we’ve been married – we’ve been married 67 years now, soon 68 years.

Bill and Madge, earlier years

The Clearance Diving Branch of the Navy is a very special branch band of brothers. 
If you are United and Undaunted nothing is impossible.

Bill and Madge Fitzgerald - 2016 - just prior to a RAN function  - photo by and courtesy Rebecca Fitzgerald

History of Demolitions training. Researched and compiled by Russ Cronin. RAN Clearance Divers Association webpage:

The RAN Clearance Divers Association - website at:

The Royal Australian Navy

Clearance Divers Now 25. December 1976 edition of the Naval Historical Review. Retrieved from the Naval Historical Society of Australia webpage:

Bravo Zulu: Honours and Awards to Australian Naval People 1900-2014
Volume 1, 1900-1974 - available now
Work on preparing Volume 2, covering honours and awards to December 2014, is well underway with anticipated delivery in late 2017.

Australian War Museum (AWM)
TROVE - National Library of Australia
Lorraine Crapp. (2017, April 26). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopaedia. Retrieved from

Previously - as per request by Mr. Fitzgerald:

IFR of 2013 insights pre arrival of the Fleet

Royal Australia Navy Clearance Diving Teams

Clearance Divers (CDs) are the Australian Defence Forces' specialist divers. CD tasks include specialist diving missions to depths of 54 metres, surface and underwater demolitions, and the rendering safe and disposal of conventional explosive ordnance and improvised explosive devices.

During their careers, CDs will be rotated through the following sea and shore positions:

Huon Class Mine Hunter Coastal (MHC) Vessels
Employment for CDs posted to these ships includes upper deck Seaman part-of-ship duties during sea service within Australia and overseas. Specialist diving duties involve the use of self-contained mixed gas equipment for mine-counter measures tasks. Mine-counter measures missions focus on the prosecution and disposal of sea mines. These ships are based at HMAS Waterhen in Sydney.

Clearance Diving Teams (CDTs)
Clearance Divers (CDs) can be employed in the following operational CDT elements:

Expeditionary Reconnaissance and Clearance (ERC)
ERC delivers overt and clandestine mine counter measures diving in shallow water and littoral environments. This encompasses reconnaissance, rapid environmental assessment and mine/obstruction location, identification and clearance where required. ERC missions include diving on oxygen and mixed gas closed and semi closed re-breathers and the employment of specialist reconnaissance equipment in the littoral environment.

Underwater Damage Repair (UDR)
UDR missions include diving on surface-supplied and self-contained air equipment, primarily for rapid deployment to conduct emergency ship repairs. UDR also assists in repair and maintenance of ships' underwater fittings, underwater survey, repair and salvage. These missions can involve the use of underwater electric, explosive-power, hydraulic and pneumatic tools for major repairs and salvage operations, and provide a suite of skills and equipment that can be applied in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief scenarios.

Maritime Explosive Ordnance Disposal (MEOD)
MEOD missions include the rendering safe and disposal of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), Military Ordnance and obstructions in the maritime environment – including: on land; wharves; ships internals and hulls; and underwater installations. These missions can involve the use of Remote Positioning Vehicles (RPV), Portable X-Ray devices, bomb suits, high powered disruptors, and various diving sets and underwater tools.

Tactical Assault Group (East) (TAG (E))
CDs are employed in Special Forces roles at the TAG (E). TAG (E) is part of 2 Commando Regiment. TAG (E) maintains a short notice capability to conduct special military operations, using a variety of specialist skill-sets that include the extensive use of small arms.

Instructional and Support Roles
CDs are also posted to the RAN Diving School, located at HMAS Penguin in Sydney, for instructional duties. RAN Diving School staff instruct all category and non-category diving and demolition courses. Besides the RAN Diving School, there are several administrative support positions for CDs around Australia.

Team                         Commanding Officer
Diving Team One         Lieutenant Commander Alastair Walsh
Diving Team Four         Lieutenant Commander Michael Kerrisk

Australian Clearance Diving Team One
Australian Clearance Diving Team One (AUSCDT ONE) is one of two commissioned Clearance Diving Teams in the Royal Australian Navy. The first Clearance Diving Team was established on 18 March 1966 at HMAS Waterhen to support the Eastern based fleet. Australian Navy Clearance Divers have always been the Australian Defence Force's (ADF) specialist divers and have, since the inception of the Branch in 1951, operated all in-service diving equipment to the full extent of its operational capability.

Clearance Divers perform Expeditionary Reconnaissance and Clearance (ERC), Underwater Damage Repair (UDR) and Maritime Explosive Ordnance Disposal (MEOD). AUSCDT ONE is structured into four elements of ERC, MEOD, UDR and a Command and Support element. Through the use of some or all of these elements, AUSCDT ONE is capable of performing Improvised Explosive Device Disposal (IEDD), Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), Very Shallow Water Mine Counter Measures (VSW MCM), reconnaissance, Mine Counter Measures and Surface Supplied Breathing Apparatus (SSBA) diving for the use of underwater electrical, hydraulic and pneumatic tools including welding, ultra-thermic cutting, chainsaws, grinding, jackhammer and lift bag operation.

AUSCDT ONE personnel have been involved in numerous operations including; Vietnam, Gulf War One and Two (through the formation of AUSCDT THREE) and as part of ADF responses to humanitarian and disaster relief operations both domestically and within the region. AUSCDT ONE is regularly involved in major international exercises such as RIM OF THE PACIFIC (RIMPAC), TRI-CRAB, TALISMAN SABRE and BERSAMA LIMA.

Australian clearance divers from Australian Clearance Diving Team ONE and FOUR conduct a practical insertion as part of their training for Exercise RIMPAC 2008.

All sailors joining the Diving Branch must undergo acceptance testing and complete the arduous requirements of the Clearance Diving qualification course. The Basic Clearance Diver Course spans 37 weeks whilst the Advanced Clearance Diver Course and the Clearance Diving component of the Mine warfare and Clearance Diving Officers course spans 41 weeks. The demands placed on potential applicants for this category are some of the most rigorous in the Australian Defence Force.

AUSCDT ONE Battle Honours include Vietnam (1966-71), Kuwait (1991), East Timor (1999-2000), Persian Gulf (2002-03) and Iraq (2003).

Information and photo courtesy Royal Australian Navy