Timing the raising of the Mary Rose

20th October 2020

One of the diving team who helped raise the Mary Rose is hoping the sale of the watch he wore to time the hours spent working on the wreck will fund his dream diving trip.

Sergeant Major Mick Burton was one of the team of Royal Engineer divers brought in to put in place the now iconic yellow cradle that lifted the Tudor shipwreck from the bed of the Solent.

“We were brought in because the sheer physical labour and engineering skills required at that stage were beyond the archaeology diving team and the volunteer divers who had been helping out,” explained Sergeant Major Burton. “I can only describe it as being like underwater mining. The bed of the Solent is hard chalk and the water was pitch black; we were 60 or 70 feet down, at times having to hang on to things because the tide was so strong. The work is not only physically demanding but mentally exhausting in those conditions.”

Now the Army issue diving watch that Mick Burton wore at the time is being sold at auction in Salisbury where it’s hoped to make upwards of £20,000, along with the logs which detail his time spent working with the famous English shipwreck.

“Your watch is one of your key pieces of equipment when you’re diving,” said Mr Burton. “You’re given a set duration at the start of the dive (for safety as much as anything) and in the bad conditions we experienced in the Solent you’re looking at your watch constantly. Any diver would be lost without it.”

The watch is a rare steel Omega Seamaster 300 Edition watch (lot 337), of which only a small number were made for military use between 1967 and 1970. It was issued to Sergeant Major Burton in 1974 and accompanied him on some 180 hours of diving time around the world, including several years in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. When it stopped working in 1983 the Army intended to destroy it but the Sergeant Major was allowed to keep it on the understanding he would try and get it repaired himself. Six years later, when stationed in Germany, Mr Burton found a Jewish clockmaker who managed to repair the watch, which Mr Burton has worn only for social occasions ever since.

“I had no idea that the watch had any real value,” said Mr Burton. “At the start of the year I happened to see an article about a Rolex diving watch that had sold for a lot of money, so I thought I’d Google mine. I was stunned when I saw what it could be worth! I just sat there pointing at the screen.”

The watch was taken to Woolley and Wallis in Salisbury where it was valued for auction at £20,000-30,000 by specialist, Jonathan Edwards.

Despite his sentimental attachment to the watch, Mr Burton decided that he would be foolish not to sell. “A year ago I would never have dreamed it could be that valuable,” he said. “Had anything happened to me then there’s every chance it would have ended up in a charity shop. But now I can use the money to help my three children and hopefully go to Australia and dive the Great Barrier Reef, which is something I’ve never done and would love to.”

Mr Burton’s watch is being sold in the Fine Jewellery auction on 9th December, along with his Army Diver’s Logs and a certificate for his work on the Mary Rose.

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