SINGLETON resident Commander Neill Bell may have retired from the Royal Australian Navy but the time he spent as a member of the organisation’s specialist diving branch is a part of his DNA.
The RAN diving branch of the Australian Defence Force is an elite group of specialist divers who are trained to perform a number of dangerous tasks including explosive ordnance disposal or as Commander Bell describes it, being able combine his love of the sea with the exhilaration of taking bombs apart.
Neill recalls with excitement and amazing accuracy the experience of being deployed to Papua New Guinea to take part in one of the largest mine-hunting operations undertaken by the RAN.
The operation involved clearing land mines laid by Australian forces during World War II in the Bootless Inlet near Port Morseby.
“They needed to be cleared so a telecommunications cable could be laid safely between Port Moresby and Cairns,” he explained.
Many would consider this a dangerous proposition but Neill said he relished the opportunity.
“It took two months to remove 14 mines but the diving conditions there are amongst the best in the world, we were having a ball.”
He said being a part of the branch is like belonging to a ‘brotherhood’ as you rely on each other to survive.
The deep connections he made with his fellow clearance divers are reflected in his current level of involvement in the RAN Clearance Divers Association; he is the President of the New South Wales Branch and Vice-President of the National Clearance Divers Association.
The association was initially formed after the Vietnam War to support the small group of divers that had experienced the intensity of being involved in such a conflict but today it has grown into a much larger organisation with broader objectives.
These objectives range from the cultivation of social activities amongst members and maintaining contact with distant members to the rendering of assistance to members as deemed necessary and marching as an association on Anzac day.
Mr Bell said he was filled with a deep sense of pride on Anzac day this year when at least 200 of their members marched together on this very special day.
“It was a lot more than last year, there were only 30 to 40 people marching,”he said.
However what he did fail to mention was that on the very same day he was awarded the honour of Fellow of the Royal Australian Navy Clearance Divers Association in recognition of his ongoing dedication and commitment to the Diving Branch and the Clearance Divers Association.
The award was presented to him by former Chief of Navy Vice-Admiral Russ Crane AO, CSM, RAN (retired).
In awarding the plaque of Fellowship Vice-Admiral Crane quoted from a message from the National President of the association, Larry Digney, in which he said our congratulations are extended to NSW Branch President and National Vice President Commander Neill Bell on his induction to the Fellowship of the RANCDA Roll of Honour.
“He is a very worthy recipient who has been a stalwart of our Branch and Association for decades,” he said.
Mr Bell joined the Navy in 1969 and qualified a mine warfare clearance diver in 1974.
His first job in the diving branch saw him join Clearance Diving Team 1 (CDT 1); from here he rose through the ranks taking on a number of other positions from the Commanding Officer of HMAS Snipe to spending two-and-a half years in the United Kingdom in a teaching capacity.
He said the only drawback of having such an exciting and unpredictable occupation within the Navy was that he had to spend a lot time away from home and he is grateful to his wife of 42 years for holding the fort on the home front when he was away.