Wednesday, 9 September 2009
Death of the Droggy. OBITUARY for Rear Admiral Sir David Haslam, Royal Navy
Rear-Admiral Sir David Haslam
Rear-Admiral Sir David Haslam, who has died aged 86, was for 10 years Hydrographer of the Navy, responsible for the charts and nautical publications used by the Royal Navy, Merchant Navy and others worldwide.
As "Droggy", he commanded a fleet of a dozen survey ships while supervising, from his headquarters at Taunton, a staff of more than 1,000 civilians and retired hydrographers. These drew on the most recent information from the sea as well as an archive dating back to Captain Cook, maintaining 4,200 charts and 150 publications which are distributed by agents in 130 countries.
In Haslam's first few years chart sales earned some £3,300,000 and books a further £600,000, winning his office the Queen's Award for Export Achievement – a unique honour for a government department. But his success encouraged accountants to turn the Hydrographic Office into a self-funding, revenue-earning department which, unlike those of other navies, guarded its copyright jealously. As demand grew for ever more charts for yachtsmen and deeper draft ships, Haslam found himself fighting what were to become increasing demands for privatisation.
David William Haslam was born at Derby on June 26 1923 and educated at Bromsgrove School. He joined the Navy as a special entry in 1941 and spent two terms at Dartmouth before training at sea as a midshipman in the cruiser Birmingham, and the destroyers Quickmatch and Vivien. During Operation Ironclad, the British occupation of Madagascar, he was local control officer of a battery of three six-inch guns in the battleship Resolution.
Specialising in hydrography in 1944, he sounded the unexplored estuaries of Burma and Malaya from the survey ship White Bear (formerly Sir Thomas Lipton's steam yacht Iolanda) in preparation for the aborted Zipper landings.
When consulted 50 years later by the Burmese government about deep-water routes for tankers, he said that the charts which bore his signature were still the most up-to-date available, but cautioned that he had produced them for shallow-draft landing craft using a leadline at night behind Japanese lines.
In 1946 Haslam surveyed other routes in the South China Sea to ensure they were obstruction-free, and a year later commanded Survey Launch 325 in locating wartime wrecks in the North Sea for clearance by explosives. Over the next 30 years he served in or commanded the survey ships Scott, Dalrymple, Dampier, Vidal, Owen, Hecla, Hydra and the Australian Tallarook in the Great Barrier Reef, the Indian Ocean, the West Indies as well as the Pacific and North Atlantic. Often he spent weeks in small boats away from his parent ship and sleeping under canvas on shore.
His work was not without incident. In 1957 he was responsible for security at the meeting between Harold Macmillan and President Eisenhower on Bermuda. While commanding Owen seven years later he found evidence on the sea floor for the theory of continental drift. In 1964 he evacuated women and children from Zanzibar after a coup. In command of Hecla in 1969, he landed a party which hoisted the Union flag over Rockall to reinforce Britain's claim to the island and its surrounding seas.
Five years later he was awarded the Royal Geographical Society's medal for finding shorter sea routes through the previously uncharted seas off the Solomon Islands. He also discovered a series of coral pinnacles in the Persian Gulf, known as Haslam's Patches, and an underwater mountain north-west of the Seychelles, Haslam Seamount.
He was loaned to the Royal Australian Navy from 1947 to 1949, and returned 18 years later as its hydrographer to draw, print and collect more than 300 charts as well as to represent Australia at the International Hydrographic Conference in 1967. After retiring as Hydrographer of the Navy in 1985 Haslam was, for five years, president of the directing committee of the International Hydrographic Office based in Monaco. He was president of the English Schools Basketball Association, president of Derbyshire County Cricket Club and chairman of the international committee of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
Although he never married, he had numerous nephews and nieces as well as 32 godchildren. He was devoted to Bromsgrove School, serving as chairman of governors from 1991 to 1996. Recently he took the salute at the CCF passing-out parade, a ceremony in which he had participated more than 70 years earlier.
As an admiral Haslam eschewed the trappings of high office, rejecting his official car to be driven to functions by his PA in her purple Mini or to travel second-class by train, when he might meet sailors and discover their concerns. He was an inveterate pipe smoker who always seemed to run out of tobacco at the start of any official visit, and his flag lieutenant was well advised to have acquired a tin of Three Nuns beforehand to forestall the inevitable crisis.
David Haslam was appointed OBE in 1964, CB in 1979 and KBE in 1984. He died on August 4 with his pipe in hand while watching sport on television.