The following Eulogy was read by ‘Woody’ Woodyatt at the funeral of Jim West on Friday 16th Feb at the Methodist church, Station road, Bentham Lancs
In the last few hours of Jim’s life, he requested that his funeral was to be nonmilitary, and that two people should present a eulogy, Joe Gore and myself, both were PS at Leeming team in the early 70s when Jim was team leader.
This is what I had to say: –
Jim West – RIP
We are here today to celebrate the wonderful life of our dear friend Jim. Let’s try to celebrate and not mourn, it’s what he would have wanted.
Now there are many aspects and parts of Jim’s life, that I know little of, our long and deep friendship began as members of the RAF Mountain Rescue Service, and revolved mainly around climbing, mountaineering, and of course RAF mountain rescue. I am going to attempt to paint a picture of this extraordinary man’s life, through our friendship together.
Jim was more than just a mountaineer, he was also a father, a grandfather, a husband, a life partner, a cricket lover, a Dales man, a senior NCO in the RAF Regiment and a very proud Yorkshireman.
I first met Jim in February 1969, so we didn’t quite make 50 years of friendship, I was a young man, a member of the RAF Mountain /Desert Rescue Team based in the Persian gulf, a pupil on the RAF MR winter course, based near Aviemore in the Scottish highland. The winter course brought together experienced winter mountaineers, from all the RAF MR teams, and younger less experienced team members. The objective was to improve knowledge and skills, to enable rescues to be carried out in the harsh winters of the highlands and other mountainous areas.
Also on the same course, was a group of aspiring team leaders, one of which was Jim, he was relatively new to mountain rescue, and was a member of the St. Athan team based in South Wales, and rumours were already spreading of this amazingly fit “rock ape“ doing all the long walks in Wales with ease, and a pretty good climber too.
It was clear that this team leaders course would be extremely demanding, standards are high in mountain rescue, and this course was being run by a man with a fearsome reputation, he is an extremely highly regarded mountaineer and mountain rescuer, who expected and always got the highest standards from his troops, his name is Pete McGowan, and he’s here with us today.
I can still recall that evening, most of us were back off the hill, had eaten, we were lying in our sleeping bags relaxing. The prospective team leaders were still out with Pete having a long hard day, suddenly the doors burst open and in they came, eyebrows and hair still frosted up, they all looked completely shattered, only one still had a spring in his step and a smile on his face, you guessed Jim West.
As part of their course, these future team leaders were required to deliver a lecture about some aspect of climbing, mountaineering or mountain rescue, Jim’s subject a short history of rock climbing in the Lake District, it was fascinating, Jim’s depth of knowledge and enthusiasm came to the fore, Jim of course had played quite a part in Lake District climbing history and it showed.
I did not get to climb with Jim that winter course, in fact I ended up with frostbite and was on my way back to the gulf, the only member of the RAF serving in the middle East with frostbite.
Our paths soon crossed again, the following summer, I was now a member of the RAF Leeming mountain rescue team based in the vale of York, I was selected to attend as a pupil on the RAF MR summer course in North Wales, similar to the winter course, but this time the emphasis was on rock climbing and crag rescue, the team leaders course was also present.
Now RAF mountain rescue is quite different from what would be the “norm“ in most aspects of military life, the normal service system of ranks were not used, everyone used Christian or nick names, your status on the team was based upon your ability, your experience as a mountaineer, as a mountain rescuer, not on your service rank.
One bit of status was very important to some people, their status as an instructor, the instructor would decide, where you climbed, the crag, and the climbs you did, the pupil always carried the rope, at the end of each days climbing, the instructor wrote a detailed report on the pupils progress.
My turn finally came to climb with Jim, I said to him “where are we climbing Jim”, his reply “Where do you fancy? Where would you go“. I thought this is different, I suggested going to Tremadoc, a roadside crag in southern Snowdonia, where it never rained, (so it’s said), a crag with a reputation for hard climbing, for those days anyway, Jim replied “That sounds good to me“
Another surprise waited me as we walked to the landcover, ”You drive” said Jim, “I hate driving and I am an hopeless driver”. Very few people would ever admit that, especially a man, it said a great deal about his honesty and modesty.
That morning we did our first ever climb together, graded as a very severe climb, it’s called “one step in the clouds“. Jim led the first pitch, as I arrived on the ledge, where Jim was belayed, he said to me “Do you want to lead through“, I thought this is so different, he’s letting me do the lead climbing, when we arrived at the top, Jim’s words to me were “Forget this instructor /pupil nonsense, we are two friends out for a days climbing together”. I knew then that Jim and I would get on together.
We had a great day, the sun shone, we drank lots of tea, Jim was very fond of his tea, we did lots of climbing, Jim only taking the lead when it was too hard for me.
When it came to writing my progress report, Jim was rather blunt. ”a handy lad on the rock“ was his only comment.
Jim of course passed the team leaders course, the very first member of the RAF regiment to do so.
Then came some great news, Jim was to be posted as team leader to RAF Leeming, the very team where I was now employed as a full time team member, I was over the moon.
So far, I have spoken of Jim, the mountaineer and climber, but Jim was also the father to three young lads, bringing up children is never easy, but bringing up children in the military, with its many demands, the frequent postings, and in Jim’s case the very demanding role as mountain rescue team leader must have been incredibly difficult.
Soon enough Jim, Jean and the boys moved from St. Athan and settled in to a married quarter at Leeming.
I recall Jim’s first weekend exercise, he wanted to see what the troops were made of, so we based that weekend at Ennerdae in the Western side of the Lake district, Ennerdale has no road running through it and to traverse right around the dale is quite demanding, about 26 miles with a lot of ascent and descent, I recall that Jim put on his running shoes and ran around it, the troops did well and Jim was quite impressed, there was one thing Jim was not impressed with, the standard of cooking, Jim really liked his food and demanded good food, to use the modern terminology, Jim was “foodie“. I learnt quite recently that when Jim did his national service in the Army he was a cook, is that where he got his high standards from?
On one occasion the team was sent to RAF Biggin Hill to do a public relations display, so the team set off in convoy down the A1 heading for London, now one of the team members was a Londoner, and he offered to navigate us through the city, we crossed the river once, then back over another bridge, then we crossed it again, over the radio came Jim, ”how many more times are we crossing this beck “
I recall the day Jim and I went to do the Yorkshire three peaks, now when Jim did the three peaks, he insisted you walked back to where you stared from, none of this up Pen Y Ghent, Ingleborough, Whernside and finish, doing it Jim’s way made it quite a long day, we set off from Ribblehead, heading for Pen y Gent, the weather was honking, horizontal rain, within ten minutes we were soaked to the skin, this was long before Gortex jackets and other so called waterproof clothing, I wanted to say to Jim, this is madness, let’s go to the pub, but I said nothing, Jim looked at me and with a wry smile said “ happen it will get to raining later “, needless to say we finished the three peaks and it rained all day.
Apart from weekend exercises to the lake district and the Yorkshire dales, Jim was active mid-week, training the troops climbing on the local crags of the North York moors. many classic and hard climbs were done by Jim and the troops.
There were team call outs of course, but I do not want to discuss them, each and every call out is someone’s tragedy, Jim handled them all extremely well, I will just mention one call out when our dear friend Simon crashed the aircraft he was flying (not his fault), rather ironic, as just a few days earlier he had to give me a stiff “telling off “ for crashing a land rover. During this period there were several holiday (?) trips to the Alps for Jim, and the family, often accompanied by several team members.
In 1972 Jim led a very successful expedition to America, with most of the troops climbing Mount Rainer. No mean feat.
Another vital role, which all team leaders had to perform was to soothe troubled waters when the troops got themselves into a spot of bother, not sure just how Jim managed it, but he always did.
RAF mountain rescue has consistently turned out many wonderful people, it should be remembered that many of us joined as quite young men in our formative years, team leaders did more than lead, they spent time teaching the skills needed, they were a great influence on us in so many ways, so many personal skills, their influence was huge and Jim’s influence was fantastic, how to deal with people, how to achieve, how to overcome setbacks, his leadership qualities were second to none. There are many people in this world today and many of us in this room who are better people as a result of Jim’s effect on our lives.
The years passed, Jim and I eventually left the RAF and mountain rescue, we kept in touch and saw each other quite often, Jim back here in his beloved Yorkshire Dales, I settled in Nottingham, on several occasions I would call in to see Jim, and Jean on my way up to the lakes, the boys were growing up and leaving home by now, I always received such a warm welcome.
Jim and Jean were totally devoted and when Brendan was very seriously hurt while serving with the army in Germany, following a hit and run accident, they were dark and difficult days, but how proud of him they were when a few years later, Brendan was selected to take part in a round the world sailing race, for the first time ever with a crew composed of people with a disability, their concern and relief when he was finally on dry land following a very serious accident on board, must have been incredible.
A few incidents spring to mind over the next few years, a memorable weekend when Jim and Jean paid us a visit to our home in Nottingham, the highlight was to be going to hear a performance by the Diva from Doncaster, Leslie Garret, sing at the Trent Bridge cricket ground, the most wonderful part for Jim was not the wonderful singing of “one fine day“ from Madam Butterfly, or when a sudden gust of wind lifted Leslie Garrets dress over her head, NO!! for Jim it was sitting there on that cricket pitch, very fond of his cricket was Jim.
Jim later developed some mobility problems, the doctors said it was the result of years of running over Fells and mountains, he was told no more climbing, no more mountains, imagine how devastating that must have been, however on Jeans insistence further tests were carried out and Jim had a double hip transplant, after a long recovery Jim could climb again.
Now for some years a group of mainly ex RAF mountain rescue friends had travelled out to France or Spain, on an almost annual basis, to climb on the sun kissed limestone crags, and Jim and Jean joined us.
Climbing in some parts of Europe is a little different to climbing in the UK, it’s called sport climbing and involves clipping karabiners into pre placed metal clips and belaying from below, it’s called sports climbing, and this was all new to Jim, so I was now in the unfamiliar situation of being the apprentice teaching the grand master some new skills, it did not take him long to master these skills.
What will always remain in my memory was how much Jim enjoyed the climbing, he had clearly missed it so much, from the moment he stepped onto the rock his face was a picture, a grin from ear to ear.
Our last climb together was on that trip, how Jim and Jean enjoyed themselves, great friends, lots of climbing, sunshine and good food.
Not long after this trip came the tragic news that Jean was very ill and then passed away, of course the family were devastated, Jean was a wonderful mother and wife, once again Jim’s courage, bravery and practical approach helped the family through this terrible crisis,
A year last January a very dear friend of ours, Dan Drew, may he rest in peace, passed away, the funeral was in Inverness, Jim and I agreed to travel to the funeral together, I drove to Bentham and stayed overnight, and this was the first time I met Jean, the lovely lady that Jim now shared his life with. It was so apparent that Jim and Jean had something very special together, each of them had lost loved ones to this terrible disease cancer, their futures could have been one of solitude and loneliness, their love and devotion to each other was so obvious.
During the long drive to Inverness and back we caught up on the events in our lives, it was during that journey that I really discovered what a socialist Jim was, it was always there of course, Jim’s concerns for others, his caring nature, his concern for the communities and society we live in, and his great respect for the NHS and those who worked in it,
I can see that many of us abided by Jim’s wish and as he requested are wearing red, thank you for supporting Jim’s ideals.
Now my days of doing the three peaks are long gone, a serious climbing accident, old age and poor health has slowed me down, but not totally curtailed my activities, but I would think there are many in this room today who will plod the slopes of Ingleborough in times to come, it will often be raining, listen carefully and above the wind, you may well hear a whisper from the old grey wolf ‘Happen it will get to raining later “
Thank you for listening and sharing with me my memories of a truly wonderful man, our thoughts and wishes go out to all who knew him, especially Jean and the boys