'It was just another training exercise': Burton Latimer man recalls diving down to Mary Rose shipwreck

A Burton Latimer man has recalled his memories of being one of the first men in the world to dive to the shipwrecked Mary Rose.

Wednesday, 27th July 2016, 5:02 am
Gordon Raku.

The pride of Henry VIII’s navy fleet sank in the Solent in 1545 in a battle with the French, but was recovered in 1982.

Now, 471 years after it went to ground, it has been restored and takes pride of place in the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth after a grand unveiling earlier this month.

One of the first men to dive to it was Gordon Raku - but he didn’t understand the magnitude of what he was about to do at the time.

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The Mary Rose being lifted from the seabed.

Speaking at his Burton Latimer home of 12 years, he said: “I was on the shortlist to be part of a three-month expedition in the Indian Ocean at the Chagos Archipelago.

“We were a team of 18 and as part of the team-building, the expedition leader [Alan Baldwin] took us down to the Solent.

“We were among the first few to dive down to the Mary Rose in late 1974 when they’d just located it.

“At the time, I didn’t realise how big the moment was. It was just another training exercise.”

A photo of Gordon Raku diving in his army days.

Lifting the remains of the boat from the seabed took just over 11 years, with the exact cause of the ship’s sinking unknown to this day.

More than 350 of the 400 crew on board during the battle died.

Mr Raku, 80, says there was nothing of note to see when he entered the water.

He said: “There were only about six to eight inches of the vessel above the seabed. We didn’t even know which way she was facing.

The Mary Rose being lifted from the seabed.

“There were no artefacts there when we went down. Interestingly, the first things they found were nit combs.

“We were down there effectively underwater vacuum cleaning.

“There was about 15ft visibility but the weather closed in so we weren’t there for that long.”

Mr Raku served in the Army Royal Signals for 27 years, travelling across the world.

A photo of Gordon Raku diving in his army days.

He did eventually go out to the Chagos Archipelago working in communications, with environmental campaigner David Bellamy one of those to join him in a trip which was aired on television.

But despite a career which took him to all corners of the globe, it’s one moment in the Solent which still interests him to this day.

He added: “I’ve always been interested in the Mary Rose since that day, it’s such an interesting piece of history.

“I don’t think I’ll be able go down to Portsmouth and see it, unfortunately.

“But when I saw that it had been restored and put on display last week, it brought back so many memories.”