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  • Writer's pictureShaun Lewis

John Mould GC GM - An Australian hero of WW2

One of the inspirations for my highly-acclaimed novel on WW2 mine disposal operations They Have No Graves as Yet, was an Australian, John Stuart Mould. Mould was actually born in Gosforth in 1910 and emigrated as a child to Australia. He volunteered to return to Britain in late 1940 as one of a contingent of Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve personnel. After initial training, he became a member of the RN’s Rendering Mines Safe units. These units had as their prime responsibility the defuzing of huge magnetic mines dropped by parachute on cities to create terror and panic. The work was extremely dangerous as these mines were often dropped on such key installations that the loss of the life of the defuzing officer was considered acceptable rather than destroying the mine on site. Once the clockwork fuze started, the unfortunate officer concerned had up to 17 seconds to run 400 metres to safety.

Like many RMS officers, Mould was sent all over the UK to deal with magnetic mines. He spent Christmas 1940 in Manchester and in January 1941 was sent to Cardiff. There he had an unfortunate reception from the locals. Unable to defuze a mine in a school yard next to the telephone exchange, he was instructed to ‘burn it’, ie burn off the explosive inside so that if the fuze detonated, the mine would cause less damage. Part way through the process, the mine exploded and not only nearly killed Mould, but destroyed the nearby buildings. He was warned by the Police to clear out quickly as an angry mob of residents was on its way to beat him up.

As the RMS teams became more successful at defuzing the German mines, the German scientists developed ever more ingenious methods to prevent the mines being defuzed and booby traps both to kill the disposal teams and scientist, and to discourage other teams in attempting to deal with such mines. One of their most ingenious inventions was the Type ‘G’ mine. It contained several secret devices and a fiendish booby trap to ensure the secrets were not discovered. Within the mine were light sensitive cells that would fire the mine if its insides were exposed to light. Mould was one of the first to defuze such a mine (unaware of the deadly, but thankfully for him, damaged booby trap) and as a result of his experience, such mines were thereafter always defuzed at night or using ultraviolet light in a tent. Mould was, also, one of the first RMS officers to be trained to work on mines underwater. By then, the Germans were deploying acoustic mines and the noise of a diver’s bubbles was enough to trigger them. Mould, thus, worked with scientists to trial and develop a diving suit with an integrated air supply system that would not release bubbles.

For all his valour and dedication, Mould was awarded the King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct, the George Medal and the George Cross. Sadly, and despite surviving so many near-death experiences during the war, he died at the age of 47 of peritonitis back in Australia.

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