Prince Harry praises 'fantastic' Royal Navy diving monument

Prince Harry lauded as "fantastic" a planned monument to recognise Royal Navy diving and mine disposal teams.

The prince, in his role as Commodore-in-Chief, Small Ships and Diving, met volunteers from the Project Vernon charity campaign at Trinity House, in central London.

The charity hopes to install a sculpture in Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth, where the diving and mine warfare training site HMS Vernon was once based, and has raised more than two-thirds of its £325,000 target.

Harry, dressed in black tie with four medals pinned to his left lapel, was greeted at the door by retired Royal Navy Commander David Sandiford, an ex-superintendent of diving who is now project manager for the charity.

As he entered, he joked: "It's warm in here. Is it even hotter upstairs?"

While speaking to some of the around 110 guests in a small room, decorated with paintings of great warships and commanders, Harry told one man: "I really hope it goes well."

He was shown a scaled-down model of the bronze and steel sculpture of a Navy diver and a mine and said: "That's fantastic."

The prince met Dr John Bevan, who worked in a civilian role at the Royal Navy Scientific Service and is now one of the trustees of Project Vernon.

Dr Bevan, from Gosport, said meeting Harry was "absolutely superb".

"I loved his enthusiasm and his general interest," he said.

"He asked if I'm still diving. I am just about, when the water's warm and clear."

Harry was also introduced to the sculptor, Australian Les Johnson, and asked him: "You really think you can make a bigger version of this?"

Mr Johnson, a fellow of the Royal British Society of Sculptors, said the prince was "impressed" with his design.

"He was quite amazed," Mr Johnson said. "He was looking forward to seeing it full-size.

"I explained to him it's going to be one-and-a-half times life-size.

"The diver will be 9ft long, and the mine 7ft tall, and he was quite surprised."

The statue of the Navy diver placing an explosive on a mine will sit on top of a platform in water and will be the first to commemorate HMS Vernon's history and the work of its present and past personnel, of which 23 won the UK's second-highest honour for gallantry, the George Cross.

HMS Vernon, originally established as the Royal Navy's Torpedo Branch to serve as part of its floating base, was moved ashore after the First World War.

The training base was home to the mining and torpedo schools and later the branches of clearance diving and mine warfare were developed, preparing a force of minesweepers, minehunters and dive teams. It remained in Portsmouth until 1996, when it was divided into different commands.

The reception took place before a charity dinner and auction in aid of Project Vernon, and to mark the 35th anniversary of the 1982 Falklands War.

Several veterans of the war, who led mine clearance dive teams, also attended the dinner.

The charity's head of communications, Rob Hoole, said he was delighted the prince could attend the 40-minute meet and greet.

He said: "To be recognised by our commodore-in-chief comes as a great tribute to the project.

"We're a small group of volunteers - nobody is paid."

Mr Hoole said he had abseiled the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth to raise money for the campaign, while another had swam the length of the River Dart, in Devon.