Lucky dip as photos resurface of scuba pioneers

PHOTOGRAPHS that had been hidden away for decades on the other side of the world have helped scuba divers in Yorkshire remember how they pioneered the sport 60 years ago.

Bernard Wilding pictured in his early scuba diving days.

The pictures of members of the York branch of the British Sub Aqua-Club (BSAC) were discovered by the daughter of one of its founders at her home in Wellington in New Zealand.

Tom Allinson, who died in 2004, emigrated with his family to New Zealand in 1971. But his daughter Wendy has been able to revive his links with the club after finding a batch of photos of the divers in action. She found a contact for the club on the internet and emailed the pictures.

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She said: “I was searching through old papers when I came across the old photos from the club, all with notes on the back about where they had been taken – they were fascinating. I am so pleased to be able to share them after all these years with others.”

Denis Moor pictured in his early scuba diving days.Picture: York Sub Aqua Club

The images have brought back happy memories for founder members Bernard Wilding and Denis Moor who helped set the club up in 1956 along with Mr Allinson. Both men, who feature in some of the photographs, had lost contact with Mr Allinson when he moved to New Zealand four decades ago with his wife Noreen and their two young children.

Mr Moor said: “It was a great surprise to hear that Tom’s daughter had been in touch and even more of a surprise when she sent the photos over. It really brought back a lot of memories for myself and the other club members. Tom was one of the first members to become a professional diver and worked on all sorts of dives.”

He added: “For me, scuba diving was an exciting thing – it was the early days of the sport, and an adventure. I’d always liked swimming and wanted to give it a go, so I joined the club. I was 30 at the time, and married with children, so it became a social club for me and my wife Jean as well. Tom’s photos really took me back to the early days when the equipment was very basic – things are so different today. Then it was just fins, a mask and a snorkel, without any weights. The breathing tanks were initially just small oxygen tanks, like the ones that pilots had on planes, which we refilled each time.”

For fellow club founder Mr Wilding, a grandfather-of-three from Dringhouses, the old photos brought back memories of the early days when the club was known as York Underwater Research Group.

He said: “We needed 10 members to become a branch of BSAC and finally we got people to put the money up – and so we officially became the 50th BSAC branch.”

The arrival of the photos has given them a chance to remember their old diving partner, who was born in York in 1922 and owned Lake Cottage at Elvington. The cottage was next to a fish pond that became a regular scuba diving spot for club members, and even a training base for police divers. A photo from the early 1950s shows Mr Allinson and fellow club founder Derrick Simpson trying a dive experiment in the lake, using converted gas masks for breathing air from a tank, 15 feet under water.

Another, published in the Yorkshire Post in 1958, shows Mr Allinson on skates on an iced-over lake, with notes on the back showing they had to cut through 10 inches of ice to reach the water, so they could practise diving in freezing temperatures.

Mr Allinson was already a seasoned diver when the club was founded in 1956, according to his daughter. She said: “Dad was always a bit of an adventurer, and ran away from home at the age of 14 to join a travelling choir.

“He started out in the old suits and there’s a photo of him in Scotland, working for Overseas Divers Ltd. Dad moved back to Yorkshire and worked at Flamingo Park Zoo on the marine tanks, looking after them and then he moved on to training animals, especially the dolphins. On his passport from about 1952, he crossed out electrician’s mate as his occupation and replaced it with dolphin trainer.

“My parents met at York SAC, although there was a big age gap – Dad was 44 and Mum was 24 when they married, so I suppose it was a bit scandalous.

“They even had toy divers on top of their wedding cake and we still have them, stored away – they are part of the family history.”