1944. Claessens-Melis

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At first sight this helmet seemed to be a Siebe Gorman but since many details do not match a Siebe Gorman I initially contacted some friends in Italy to ask if this helmet could be of Italian origin: early Italian helmets are close copies of Siebe Gorman helmets. The answer was no, the helmet does not match any known Italian helmet neither.

When I had purchased the helmet early 2020 I was told by the owner that his father and grand father both had been commercial divers on Dutch rivers, mostly active around the Dutch towns of Maastricht, Maasbracht and Roermond and that this was the helmet they had used. A closer inspection learned that only the communications connector is English, all other parts were believed to have been manufactured here in the Netherlands. I posted an article at the homepage and asked for information, in december 2020 I received an email from Adri van Bekkum, owner of a diving company in Wessem, formerly located in Maastricht. Adri explained that Mathijs Melis, his crane operator could tell me more about this helmet and provided me with his phone number ...

Like the van Bekkums, the Melis Family is a typical Dutch family of divers which origines from around the Dutch town of Maastricht, a town called after the river Maas. The Melis family had several members who were working together as independant commercial divers since before the second world war and through the years, the older generation was followed up by sons and nephews. They remained in business under their own family name until the late 1950’s. Son Mathijs Melis, born in 1936, is still actively working with Duik- en Berginsbedrijf Van Bekkum as a crane operator today.

During the second world war the German Occupation Forces sank many ships to block the Maas waterways in an attempt to slow down the allies, so for the diving companies in this area there was a lot of work. Mathijs Melis told me that unfortunately the Siebe Gorman diving equipment which had been in use with the Melis family had been lost during the war and in 1944, the year Maastricht was liberated, it was nearly impossible to buy new gear. In the town of Roermond, 50 km north of Maastricht a family called Claessens was working since many generations as coppersmiths and Mathijs' uncle Hendrik Melis, one of the 2 Melis brothers who were running the diving company, ordered a new diving helmet from coppersmith Claessens. Mathijs Melis remembered visiting their workshop together with his father and told me that this coppersmith company was run by father and son Claessens at the time.

As an example they used a Siebe Gorman 12 bolt helmet which they had borrowed from ‘Rijkswaterstaat', the Dutch state owed company that maintains bridges, locks, waterways etc. and only 1 single helmet was built. The helmet was used with the Melis diving company until it closed in the late 1950’s and was then stored in a shed with the rest of the equipment.

Photo’s here above and below: In the early 1970’s a younger generation discovered the old equipment in the shed and decided to give it a try: dressed up the diver who dived under ...

... to discover that the suit had perished during the years in the shed: it flooded completely. The helmet found a new life as a decoration ornament at home with one of the Melis family members, where it stayed until they decided to put it up for sale at an online platform. I was lucky enough to be the first to react to the advert and drove to Belgium to collect the helmet the next day.

At first sight a ‘Siebe Gorman’ helmet but in detail different in many ways. The only British parts on this helmet are the external parts for the telephone connection.

With Many Thanks to Adri van Bekkum and the Melis family, especially Mathijs Melis.

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Chronology of Diving in Holland:

1605. Jan Adriaansz.Leeghwater

1832. Hugh Morton

1836. Deane

1839. Augustus Siebe

1839. Augustus Siebe (2)

1839. Augustus Siebe (3)

1841. Bikkers Rotterdam

1844. Heinke

1860. Rouquayrol Denayrouze

1860. Rouquayrol Denayrouze (2)

1860. Rouquayrol Denayrouze (3)

1890. Friedrich Flohr

1899. Drägerwerk

1912. Drägerwerk (2)

1942. Drägerwerk (3)

1945. La Spirotechnique

1945. La Spirotechnique (2)

1945. La Spirotechnique (3)

1945. Zock, Dordrecht

1955. E.P.L. de Hoog, Alkmaar

1983. Jan van Leest

1984. Pommec

1992. Henk Oostenveld

2002. Kees de Jonge

2004. Krul en Dekker

Alphabetical International Index:

The DiveScrap INDEX

2004. Krul en Dekker (2)

2004. Krul en Dekker (3)

2004. Krul en Dekker (4)

2012. Henk-Jan Vijn


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1944. Claessens Melis