OtH #22 – 2014

Front Cover

RAF MRA Committee Contact Details

Patron Air Vice Marshal RJ Honey CB, CBE, RAF Ret’d

President Sqn Ldr Tom Scudamore RAF Ret’d

Badges, ties etc Les Jones. ‘Tryfan’ 1 Morton Villas, Station Road, Whittington, SY11 4BH 01691 680662 ljones121@btinternet.com

Chairman Brian Canfer  Highmead, Old Roman Rd, Shrewsbury SY3 9AH  01743 352173 brican@talktalk.net

Deputy Chairman Alister Haveron 01766 830511 Mobile 07759 587922 aphaveron1@sky.com Dolawel, Rhiwbrydfir, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd. LL41 3HS

Membership Secretary  Dave Wood 11 West Park, Coundon, Bishop Auckland,DL14 8QR01388 602164 rescueranger12@tiscali.co.uk

Deputy Membership Secretary   Chris Shorrocks 10 The Old Laundry, The Millfields, PlymouthPL1 3NL shorrocks@primehome.com

MRS Ex-Officio Member WO Mick Morris. WOMRS MRS HQ RAF Valley, HOLYHEAD, Isle of Anglesey LL65 3NY Tel 01407 767750 SAR-MRSHQWO@mod.uk

Newsletter Dave ‘Scouse’ Hopper 22, Ifton Fields. St Martins. Oswestry SY11 3LU david.hopper5@btopenworld.com 01691 778968

On the Hill Editors Mick Womersley in USA mwomersley@unity.edu . and. Tom Taylor at UKMCC/UKARCC, RAF Kinloss, Forres, Moray  IV36 3UH Mob 07976 591788 Home 01343 850580 tom.taylor@mosstowie.demon.co.uk

Remembrance Day Parade  Chris Shorrocks as per deputy membership Sec

Reunions Terry Tomlinson 3 Lower Row, Southfield, Burnley. BB10 3RH 01282449165  Mobile 07903566082. hgvonetel@yahoo.co.uk

Treasurer Paul LeBon 39 Coronation Road Stafford ST16 3JR Tel: 01785 211890 or 07719 688718  rafmra.treasurer@sky.com

Website Editor Jim Morrison.- in USA jim_morrison_sts@hotmail.com

 Welfare, Wreaths and Standards Alister Haveron as per deputy Chairman


Mick Womersley


Brian Canfer


Michael “Dinger” Bell, et al


Diksha Chakravarti


Gordon “Gonk” Ballantyne


David “Heavy” Whalley


David “Heavy” Whalley


Mike Corner












Mick Womersley Co-editor, OtH

It’s a sunny morning in the early fall in Maine and I’m watching my wife of ten years sleep in the recliner with our three-day old baby girl.

This is, to say the least, a surprising situation to find myself in. Like a lot of former MR troops, I took a few years to decide on and establish a second career after my years of service, and then it took several false starts after that before I married. I’m aware that my choices as a young man – to climb and to hike and particularly to become an MR troop, are responsible for this delay.

I’m now 52 years old. As fathers go, I’m not much to look at, again mostly due to these old habits. I walk strangely, my gait far too extended for normal appearances, I’m grizzled and sun-lined, have not just one but two dicky knees, as well as two deformed feet, and my main line of songs available to sing a baby to sleep are either old MR folk songs or “blue” rugby songs. I’m not an obvious candidate to be a little girl’s daddy.

But if we learned one thing in RAFMR service it was to expect the unexpected and to be prepared for it. Accordingly, everything was ready, packed and waiting, for both the trip to the hospital and the arrival back home. The drive itself, after the waters broke, was another blue-light moment in a lifetime of occasional such moments. Traffic patrols are few and far between in this neck of the Maine woods, a very good thing. But the car was serviced, gassed up, and ready, and we had a Land Rover for back up in case of hurricane or other inclemency – probably overkill. The drive back with the baby, a few days later, at about half the speed and thrice the worry, proved less eventful, more of a “pub route” pace.

So, despite being within sight of my service pension, obviously needs must, and we take what experiences we have and adapt them to new circumstances. Obviously some of our training and experience applies. I expect The Manchester Rambler will do as well as any other tune, for singing to sleep, if you’re only a few days old. And my arms still work for holding purposes. Apparently I can even change a nappy. You’re never too old to learn a new skill.

Soon after the event I posted a picture on social media, and was happy to see, among the many congratulations from relatives, work colleagues, and former students, lots of happy notes from troops all over the world. We’ll be sure to come and visit some of you one day when we’re big enough and walk a hill or two. We’ll need to show her the mist-covered mountains of Britain. As a birthright British citizen, a daughter of both the great steel towns of Pennsylvania and Sheffield, and the great-granddaughter of a Kinder Trespasser, these green hills belong to her as much as any other Rambler, and we can all help make sure she knows this.

Mick Womersley
The Great Farm
Jackson, Maine



UK Editor: Brian Canfer, with responsibility for computerising/scanning any handwritten items and e-mailing to Mick; responsible for maintaining/updating the inside cover and team details.

Compiling Editor: Mick Womersley, responsible for receiving and compiling all items, editing format and basic English and then e-mailing to Chris at Beaver Press.

Hard copy proof readers: Brian Canfer and Tom Taylor, depending on respective workloads.

Printers &: Distribution Worldwide: Chris Cooper, Beaver Press, Witham.

Mailing Lists: Dave Wood

Cartoons: Pat Donovan, Terry Moore

All financial aspects: Paul LeBon

Editor (Medium e)/Compiler Wanted for MDRT Write Up

There were 3 Mountain Desert Rescue Teams within the MRS and one, possible two command DRTs that Troops may have served in. The information about these teams is patchy but has grown considerably in the last 18 months. I contacted as many e-mail-able MDRT Troops that I had details of about a year ago when I was trying to establish, once and for all, if Pib had driven the Khormaksar vehicles up to Sharjah. Given Pib’s background and his and the Khormaksar team’s proven MT servicing capabilities, a trip of that magnitude was possible, especially considering the various known fuel dumps along the coast through Oman up to Sharjah – a route I had personally done but at an altitude of some 38,000 feet courtesy of a Canberra B(I)8 when I was on 3 Sqn at RAF Laarbruch. To cut a long and interesting project short I finally resolved this when Alex Crawford sent me some personal letters that Pib had sent him and there is black ink, in Pib’s fair hand was a statement to the effect that the vehicles were driven onto a Beverly and they trundled up to Sharjah.

This is just one particularly good example of our need. We now have many photos from the 3 teams, various e-mails, letters and items but ideally they need stitching together with a light editorial finger, is this something that YOU could do?

If you feel that you can take this on or if you have any letters or memories of your time on any of these Teams please do get in contact, the usual lucrative rates apply but hey, at least it’s tax-free!!

Fingers crossed,




Brian Canfer

The time has come, the Walrus said, to speak of many things…. How right he was!! The MRA is now 21 years old and thus, by my mature way of thinking, has come of age. It has changed almost as much as the MRS in that time although thankfully we are not down to half our strength. We have been guided by a detailed Constitution, which itself has changed, but we have remained faithful to the Objects of the Association set out after the 50th Reunion at Bangor, and for the benefit of all repeated here:

  1. Maintain a contact with and foster an interest in the RAF Mountain Rescue Service (RAFMRS), its history and achievements

  1. Continue the comradeship that members found in it

  1. Compile a register of members of the Service

  1. Encourage, and where appropriate arrange, reunions and offer other events

  1. Record, and where appropriate publish, material about the Service past and present

  1. Support the continuance of the RAF Mountain Rescue Service

So what of the next 21 years? Sadly, the reality is that we will be faced with a falling membership, as was brought home by the sad demise of Mick Anderson recently. For a mere sprog of just 69, that was a shock. The committee continues to do an excellent job of looking after our various interests and responsibilities and I would ask them all to give themselves a pat on the back. Can all members just stop for a moment and ask themselves “Should I be offering my services”? I not suggesting wholesale or indeed any change, but do remember, anyone can volunteer to help and deputies are always welcome to share the load. I’m delighted to advise that Alister Haveron has offered to be Vice Chairman and I happily accepted! We could also do with another proof reader-interested?

Plans are afoot to spend a chunk of the association’s funds and as it’s likely to be greater than the £500 that the committee can approve it needs YOUR tacit approval, so do make sure that you read The Two Lochnagars articles and that you have your say if you feel so moved. Hopefully all will go as planned and we will see you in France next year?

Communications, easy or are they? Several times a year I receive what I considered to be unrealistic requests about ‘our’ MRTs. It happened again in June when an independent film company wanted access to ‘our’ MRTs; when I explained what the MRA was, she seemed surprised and I was surprised at her reaction! So I asked my oldest son-in-law, a civilian, what an association meant to him, quick as a flash he came back with “An overarching organisation responsible for that group or group of teams e.g. the FA or PGA”.


Ahh,” I commented, “of course!” The civilian meaning and the military meaning are quite different. Why had I not realised that before!! Still, these odd inquiries do sometimes have a direct benefit — witness Diksha Chakravarti’s article about being rescued off the Ben, which came from an e-mail inquiry.

We, mainly Jim and I, also get enquiries from non-Troops wanting access to the website and so far these have all been refused in accordance with the agreed policy regarding personal data. However, I have suggested, and the committee has agreed that we might well benefit from a ‘Friends of the MRS’ category of access to the website. They might be relatives of a living or deceased troop, someone associated with the MRS such as Gwen Moffat, or researchers and authors such as David Earl or Eddie Doylerush. To safeguard personal information, our member’s details will therefore be removed from the website, but will still be available electronically or in hard copy from any member of the committee. The intention is to create the new category this winter to allow members time to comment.

And finally, to date less than five per cent of the membership have written of their memories or exploits either for OtH or the website. Is it not time that YOU remedied this?

Take care,


3rd September 2014


Missing Team Diaries

Many team diaries have, over the years, gone ‘AWOL’ –perhaps to prevent their loss when a team closed – who knows? – but it would be wonderful if any diaries in private safekeeping could be loaned to the MRA for copying and then returned. This can, if necessary, be done entirely anonymously, with postal costs paid too. So, if you are the custodian of a team diary could we please borrow it for a week or three?

Fingers crossed,

Brian Canfer


Hints for Budding Authors

(Of articles for OtH, to reduce workload)

By Mick W.

  1. Use a compatible format and software. We use Microsoft Word. There’s also a freeware, NeoOffice, which can be downloaded and used in place of Word. Just Google NeoOffice and follow the instructions
  2. Keep all photos separate from text. We have to publish all colour photos separately in the centrefold. Black and white photos can go in the text but must be sized carefully and never “wrapped.” Please send all your photos as separate .jpg files
  3. Please don’t send .pdf files of material you want us to edit. We either have to publish them as photographs of the original text or convert them to Word, a clunky, time-consuming job, often involving retyping large chunks of text. If you’d ever seen how badly I type – all of three fingers – you’d know never to do this.
  4. Get everything to us by the end of August. In a good year we’ll start the paste-up at the beginning of September. It takes about a month to paste-up the journal.
  5. Although we know that we need to accept copy when and how it comes if we want to get the best of our members’ experiences and stories, the format editor still reserves the right to issue a good old-fashioned b*****king to anyone who ignores these suggestions. No whinging if this happens to you. After all, you were in the Royal Air Force.
  6. Enjoy the process! We do.



The Medium pocket badge is 48mm wide by 52mm high and woven. The clarity of this badge is almost photographic, the scans do not do it justice. It is a perfect discreet insignia sewn on the breast of a jumper, shirt, rucksack or beret, (as used on the RAFMRA berets). It also makes an attractive presentation item when framed, or as a decorative momento mounted on the wall. It is ideal for marking RAF MRT kit (duvets, casualty bags etc) on joint exercises with civilian Teams.

The large embroidered badge is designed as a blazer badge and is worn as formal wear by many RAF MR troops. It can be used similar to the Medium badge and is even better framed for presentations or wall plaques.

Both crests are superbly made in UK by an authorised crest manufacturer to the Royal Air Force. Compare them with others available on eBay, both woven and wire. On price, quality, clarity and design accuracy these items are superior. For that reason, I offer a money back guarantee, no questions asked, if not entirely satisfied.

Prices and postage.

£2 for the Medium and £6 for the large badge.

50 pence p&p or post-free on orders of £6 or more.

These badges are usually available on eBay (input Mountain Rescue Crest and they will come up) They cost more on eBay but quote RAFMRA and I will supply on the above discounted prices and you can pay by PayPal.

Tony Dunn Tel: 01562 824924

Email: tonydunn@supanet.com

Trading as maerhall on eBay



There have been a number of attempts to get MRS displays in Museums. If I hear you groan I will understand, this has not been one of our greatest success stories – despite the sterling & unrelenting efforts from the likes of Len McNab. However, there might be an opportunity to try again if people come forward and yes, that may well mean YOU!

At present the only museum displaying any MRS memorabilia is, I believe, Llandwrog as part of Air World http://www.airworldmuseum.com/history . About a year ago Arthur Helsby brought the Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre http://www.rafmontrose.org.uk to my attention and asked if we should have a display there, I contacted them, eventually –it took months- I got an acknowledgement then it all went quiet, so what I think it needs now is someone to visit them and see if they are interested in photos and or memorabilia to display but NB, we have no photos of the Montrose MRT!

And finally, and neatly as it gives us one per country, the RAF Millom museum is reopening – they contacted me as the closure had been acrimonious – but the original brains behind the museum is now back in harness http://millomdiscoverycentre.co.uk/RAF.html This was the last e-mail received from John Nixon on 13th April 2014 and the committee supported the idea of them displaying what they had & loaning them more items.

Brian !, great to speak to you the other day. To confirm our conversation, I am John Nixon and as a serving Prison Officer in 1992 I established the RAF Millom museum on behalf of the prison service and held an annual reunion each autumn for the veterans of RAF Millom as Haverigg prison now occupies the old airfield site. In addition I was able with the help of the Prison service to establish a station memorial at the Prison gate. Following family bereavement and due to family commitments I handed my museum over to a community team with a healthy sum in its coffers and enjoying satisfactory visitor numbers. Six years later I was called in to try and help as the museum had been made a Limited company and gone into liquidation for the scarcely believable sum of £250,000. Many artefacts were lost during the time between then and the liquidation sale, effectively stolen in what appears to have been a free for all. The local council has asked me to re-establish my Museum in Millom`s Discovery centre and I am currently doing just that having spent the last two years tracking down my photos and artefacts with variable degrees of success. One of the items which has been returned to me is the George Graham memorial plate, photo and medals which I am at pains to inform you is on display and safe in an accredited Museum. The town is extremely proud of the RAF`s Mountain rescue legacy and we would very much like the association`s permission to keep it here on display if you all consent. The first RAF Millom display annex will be open in a few weeks time and in the future we would love to play host to a gathering of your members ( catering available) should you wish to visit. The Discovery centre`s net address is www.millomdiscoverycentre.co.uk and telephone number is 01229772555. I am also the author of three books on our local airfields and you can find out more about me on   johnnixonauthor.com. Always glad to hear M/R news and would love a copy of On the Hill, I got my last copy from Frank Card many years ago. All the best…John. John Nixon [mailto: travelman737@gmail.com ]

So, if you would like to get involved in any of these three museums please contact me.

Brian Canfer



The Two Lochnagars:

A Great War Memorial Tribute in Three Parts



Michael Bell (Editors Note: The full version of Michael’s article is available on the website)

and the owners of http://www.lochnagarcrater.org /1

The largest crater ever made by man in anger is now a unique memorial to all those who suffered in the Great War. It is dedicated to peace, fellowship and reconciliation between all nations who fought on the Western Front.

  • The Lochnagar mine was the largest of the 17 mines that exploded on 1 July 1916.

  • Debris from the explosion rose some 4,000ft (1,200 meters) into the air.

  • The mine was packed with 60,000lbs (27,216 kilograms) of ammonal in two charges 60ft (18 meters) apart and 52 feet (16 meters) below the surface.

  • The explosions constituted what was then the loudest man-made sound in history

  • The mine created a crater 300 feet (91 meters) across and 70 feet (21 meters) deep, including a lip 15 feet (4.6 meters) high.

  • It obliterated between 300 (91 meters) and 400 feet (122 meters) of the German dug-outs which are thought to have been full of German troops,

  • The mine was blown at 7.28 on the morning of 1 July.

How did it get its name?

In the summer of 1915 the British troops took over the trenches from the French Army on much of the Somme. At La Boisselle there was a battalion – the 7th Gordon Highlanders, formed mainly from Deeside, with some soldiers former workers on the Balmoral Estate. An officer went round naming all the trenches after familiar landmarks and towns, with Lochnagar being the name of the mountain not far from Balmoral.

There are not so many who have heard of this other Lochnagar, which is situated on the French/Belgium border. This is certainly not a mountain. Actually it is the exact opposite, situated below ground level. This Lochnagar was formed at 7.28 a.m on the 1st of July 1916, at the start of the Battle of the Somme. It was created by the detonation of a huge mine placed beneath the German front lines and its aim was to destroy a formidable German strongpoint called “Schwaben Höhe”.

Close to a British trench called Lochnagar Street, tunnellers dug a shaft down about 90 feet deep into the chalk. They then excavated some 300 yards towards the German lines, placing 60,000 lbs (27 tons) of ammonal explosive in two large adjacent underground chambers 60 feet apart. Two minutes before the attack began, the mine was exploded, leaving the massive crater still visible today.

The reason that the crater is so large is that the chambers were overcharged. This means that sufficient explosive was used not just to break the surface and form a crater, but also enough to cause spoil to fall in the surrounding fields and form a lip around the crater. The 15ft lip created protected the advancing troops from enfilade machine-gun fire from the nearby village of La Boisselle.

Debris was flung almost a mile into the air, as graphically recorded by Royal Flying Corps pilot Cecil Lewis in his superb book ‘Sagittarius Rising’

“The whole earth heaved and flared, a tremendous and magnificent column rose up into the sky. There was an ear-splitting roar, drowning all the guns, flinging the machine sideways in the repercussing air. The earth column rose higher and higher to almost 4,000 feet.”

The Lochnagar Crater Memorial is now privately owned, having been purchased by Richard Dunning on July 1st 1978. It is supported by the superb Friends of Lochnagar organization, who give generously of their time, effort and money to help maintain it.

It is almost 300ft (91m) in diameter and 70ft (21m) deep and each year on the July 1st anniversary a Remembrance Ceremony is held there. A Medium, more informal Ceremony takes place on November 11th. The Friends’ aim is to preserve it for future generations. It is now a poignant Garden of Remembrance, created to commemorate the gallant men and women of all nations who suffered in the Great War.

No profit has, nor ever will be made from Lochnagar. Richard Dunning writes:

“The Lochnagar Crater is an awesome sight. I first saw it almost 40 years ago and even today, hundreds of visits later, it never ceases to take my breath away.

I believe Lochnagar plays a unique role for all those who are drawn to visit the battlefields of the Great War. People who stand on the lip for the first time, including the thousands of young people, instinctively understand the fearsome power and destruction of modern warfare and, in reading the many evocative memoirs of the soldiers themselves, the terror and vulnerability of those who experienced it.

And never forgetting those who suffered bravely at home – the wives, mothers and families who daily dreaded the telegram.

I believe that that war especially was a stain on mankind and in some Medium way, Lochnagar, whilst remaining a vast, open wound on the battlefield, symbolises the eternal pain, loss and sorrow of millions of grieving people throughout Europe. Lost generations of good, gifted and innovative young men whose loss we still feel today. I urge you to come and stand at Lochnagar and, in doing so, commemorate those who fell there. But to do so, not simply by remembering them, but by seeking to make the world that they were so cruelly denied a much more peaceful, forgiving and loving place. In their memory and in their honour.

That is the true and on-going legacy of Lochnagar. And possibly, if enough of us do that today and in the years to come, its creation may not have been entirely in vain.

Mining at La Boisselle

The British took over the Somme area from the French during July and August 1915. On 24 July, 174 Tunnelling Company moved to the Somme front and established headquarters at Bray, taking over some 66 shafts at Carnoy, Fricourt, Maricourt and La Boisselle. Prior to the takeover, La Boisselle had been the scene of much mining activity, even underground fighting. No-mans-land just south west of La Boisselle was very narrow, at one point no more than about 50 yards (46 meters), and had become pockmarked by many chalk craters. The French and German forces were constantly mining and countermining, and the area became known as the “Glory Hole.”

1# Used with permission

OTH July 20 2014 draft 5

OTH July 20 2014 draft 5.1

French Officers using a Geophone in 1917

Tunnelling was a dangerous business, each side doing its best to detect and destroy enemy tunnels. On 4 February 1916, two officers and 16 men were killed, burned or gassed when the Germans detonated a camouflet, a Medium explosive charge, big enough to destroy enemy workings, but not to break the surface.

Lochnagar Mine

The tunnel for the Lochnagar mine was started on 11 November 1915 by 185 Tunnelling Company, but was completed by 179 Tunnelling Company, who took over in March 1916.

The shaft for the Lochnagar mine was sunk in a communication trench called “Lochnagar Street.” It was probably the first “deep incline” shaft, meaning that it was not sunk vertically but sloped down1 July 1916 with an incline of between 1:2 and 1:3, to a depth of some 95 feet (29 meters). It was begun some 300 feet (91 meters) behind the British front line and 900 feet (274 meters) from the German front line. In the Lochnagar mine’s inclined shaft, at about 50 feet (15 meters) below ground level, a gallery was driven towards the German strong point called the Schwaben Höhe. The final depth of the explosives chambers was about 52 feet (16 meters).

As the tunnellers drew nearer to the German line, progress was slowed due to the need to be as silent as possible whilst working. Pick axes could not be used, progress was made by lumps of chalk being prized out with a bayonet, caught without hitting the ground and passed back for disposal. Miners worked without boots, walking on sandbags, and talking was limited to a whisper. They could hear the Germans who were working below them in a transversal tunnel.

OTH July 20 2014 draft 5.2

Crater Side Elevation
No contemporary elevation drawings of the mining activity at Lochnagar exist, but after close study of existing documents, the drawing above is as accurate a representation of the arrangement of shafts and galleries that can be produced at the present time. The drawing will be updated should more information come to light.
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert and Peter Reed © 2010

On July 1st, Captain James Young pressed the plunger at 0728 (local time). The two charges combined to form one massive crater. Spoil from the blast spread over a diameter of 450 feet (137 meters), obliterating some 300 to 400 feet (110 to 122 meters) of German line and nine dugouts. How many were killed? Who knows? However, it is said that it covered nine deep dug-outs, each capable of holding an officer and 35 men, an estimated total of nine officers and 315 men.

OTH July 20 2014 draft 5.3

Based on “The work of the Royal Engineers in the European War, 1914-1919,” in Military Mining, 1922

The crater left now measures some 300 feet (110 meters) across the highest point of the rim and 70 feet (21 meters) deep from the top of the rim. The Lochnagar crater is the biggest man-made crater ever made by a single aggressive explosion. Another WWI mine, at St Eloi (blown on 7 June 1917), contained 95,600 lbs (43,363 kilograms) of ammonal, some 35,600 lbs (16,150 kilograms) more than at Lochnagar, but the resulting crater was Mediumer.



Michael Bell, with Has Oldham, and the owners of http://www.aircrashsites-scotland.co.uk1

Lochnagar is a Scottish Mountain that many RAF Mountain Rescue Team members have either “bagged” as a Munro, or climbed its cliffs in summer and winter. The summit itself is named Cac Carn Beag, and at 3789 feet is listed as the 21st highest Munro. It is often classed as being in the Eastern Cairngorms, famously situated in the Balmoral Royal Estate. It has been praised in verse by such diverse figures as Lord Byron and Prince Charles.

One of the first recorded ascents of Lochnagar was by none other than Queen Victoria, who, together with her consort Prince Albert and a large supporting cast of guides, ghillies, and servants, reached the summit in 1848. The party probably included the man who long after his death would become the most famous ghillie of all, John Brown, to be played by actor Billy Connolly in the 1994 film Her Majesty Mrs. Brown.

The Royal Lady had the benefit of riding part of the way on a pony — whenever she became tired! Actually, this was her second Munro, because she had previously reached the top of Beinn a Bhuird, again with some assistance.

OTH July 20 2014 draft 5.4The serious climbing history of Lochnagar really began in the Victorian era, with pioneers of Scottish climbing such as William Douglas and John Henry Gibson. As early as 1893 they attempted the winter Grade V gully which now incorporates their name. It was another sixty years before Tom Patey led a successful attempt!

Shortly after in 1895, the two Williams, Tough and Brown, made a summer traverse across the cliffs in a climb that now bears their name. Likewise, Raeburn’s Gully, a Grade II winter climb, is named after Scottish pioneer Harold Raeburn, first climbed in 1888. Black Spout is a straightforward Grade I, and is probably remembered by many RAFMR troops, particularly the Leuchars Team, as being their first winter gully climb – in the case of the less ambitious, their only such climb.OTH July 20 2014 draft 5.5

William Douglas (1863-1932)

Forever remembered in name of the Douglas Gibson Gully. Photo SMC

The next breakthrough was arguably achieved by W.H “Bill” Murray, who in 1939 partnered another S.M.C. stalwart, Doctor J.H.B. Bell, on the first summer ascent of Parallel Buttress. The good doctor is celebrated for making the following memorable statement as a tribute to this climb, “Any fool can climb good rock, but it takes craft and cunning to get up vegetatious schist and granite.”

A few years later, after being captured by the Germans in the western desert, Murray was made a prisoner of war for three years. While imprisoned, he wrote the draft of “Mountaineering in Scotland ” from memory on scraps of prison paper. He went on to write many fine books in later life, and even dabbled in mystic religions.OTH July 20 2014 draft 5.6

W.H. Murray (1913-1996) – far right mountaineering pioneer/author. Photo SMC

It is often said that the “jewel in the crown” of Scottish climbing is Eagles Ridge, a Summer Very Severe and Winter Grade V. It was another doctor, this time the indomitable Tom Patey, who with fellow Aberdonian Gordon Leslie managed to make the first ascent. At this time Lochnagar was very much seen as an Aberdonian mountain, with many of the winter ascents being made from climbers from the Lairig and Etchacan Clubs from the Granite City. As well as Patey himself there was Bill Brooker, Graham Nicol, and many others. Sadly Patey was killed in an abseiling accident in 1971. In more recent years the nearby cliffs of Creag Dubh Loch have been explored and many climbs of a high standard of difficulty have been created.

The RAF Mountain Rescue Service has had a long and complex history with this great mountain. Leuchars MRT were involved in many callouts in the local area, and indeed so once was an entire Winter Course. Has Oldham remembers an incident in 1969 which involved everyone on that year’s course helping to retrieve 2 bodies from Eagles Ridge. Braemar MRT Has recalled, asked for assistance to locate 2 missing medical students. The Winter Course was staying overnight in the Balmoral ATC hut and so the whole complement was seconded to assist.

John Hinde, scanning with binoculars, first found one victim, then the second. The leader had tied him off injured near the crux on Eagles ridge and had then soloed to the top for help, unfortunately succumbing to hypothermia and exhaustion in the atrocious conditions on the plateau. Kas Taylor was lowered down to attach the bodies to ropes, and the joint teams commenced to pulling both up. Things did not go well, at least not immediately. Due to a large cornice the ropes effectively cut back five or six feet to bedrock, which temporarily halted progress.

Another troop (whose identity those involved unfortunately cannot recall) was lowered to assist Kas. The pair rearranged ropes and placed day bags for protection, allowing the ropes to run safely over the rough rock. This was effective. Attempts were also made to cut away the cornice but this unfortunately brought large chunks of ice and snow down on Kas and his assistant and was therefore curtailed. The amount of hauling power required was considerable and the efforts caused further damage to the casualty. As I was working at the edge I could hear and see an arm being broken, a fact later mentioned to the coroner. A classic MRS photo (below) shows the scene quite evocatively:OTH July 20 2014 draft 5.7

Eagle Ridge body recoveries by the RAFMRS Winter Course – February 1969

An earlier incident on Lochnagar, in 1954, involved both Kinloss and Leuchars Teams searching for a missing Canberra from No. 50 Squadron RAF. The pilot was Flying Officer Redman aged 20, with Flying Officer Mansell aged 24 the navigator. They were detailed to fly WJ615, a Canberra Mk. B.2, on a night exercise.

At 18:02 hours on the 22nd November, 1956, the aircraft took off in good weather from RAF Upwood, Cambridgeshire, England, received clearance from Air Traffic Control, and set course for RAF Kinloss in Scotland. At 19.00 hours the aircraft made radio contact with Kinloss. The crew made a normal descent and then a pass over runway 26, then climbed away. Kinloss ATC passed on some weather information. Flying Officer Redman then replied “Thank You. Good night,” the last transmission heard from the aircraft. The aircraft was then seen to climb away, presumably for return to Upwood.

Witnesses in Braemar were next to catch sight of the aircraft. One saw the tail navigation light, and the outline of the aircraft as it passed on a straight course flying south, with the engines sounding normal. But a few minutes later there was a flash as the aircraft struck Carn an t-Sagairt Mòr, west of Lochnagar.

It was a clear night with a Medium amount of scattered cloud. About 30 civilian volunteers, guided by Police, the Queen’s gamekeepers from Balmoral, ten men from the Leuchars team, twenty-two from Kinloss, and a helicopter were all engaged in the search for the wreckage. At 03.30 hours on 23 November 1956 three search parties from the Danzig Shiel2 (OS 50/201905) were sent out in a SE direction. Party ‘B’ was just approaching the wreckage when the helicopter sighted it at 08.40 hours. The subsequent Court of Inquiry was unable to determine the cause of the accident.

Lochnagar remains a popular day out for hillwalkers and climbers, as well as a great training ground for the Leuchars and Kinloss teams. If you are planning a visit, there are several routes to the summit. The most commonly used is a path from the “Spittal” to the gap between Meikle Pap and Foxes Well, continuing up to the plateau and then the summit.

Another route, which particularly appeals to Munroists, starts at Glen Callater opposite Auchallater Bothy. This building has a long association with the RAF, being used both as a base camp by the teams and for expeditionary training by other personnel. From Loch Callater, the way follows a path over Carn an t-Sagairt Mòr, a very enjoyable summer route over springy turf, bagging no less than three Munros along the way.

So there we have it, a fine mountain, surely in the “Premier Division” of British Mountains, which will continue to give pleasure to everyone who sets foot upon its slopes. Lord Byron should probably have the last words:

Oh England thy beauties are tame and domestic
For one who has wandered the mountains afar
Give me the cliffs, so wild and majestic
The steep frowning glories of Dark Lochnagar


By Brian Canfer

Way back in the spring of 2014 Michael Bell advised that he intended to write an article about the existence of the Lochnagar Crater. Has Oldham heard about this, and, remembering many ‘happy’ hours spent training and searching on said mountain, he suggested that, as the nation is commemorating World War I, it might be appropriate if the MRA took a piece of Lochnagar granite, suitably engraved, across to the Somme – and so this project was proposed.

We first obtained the green light from the owner of the crater. Next the Royal Estate at Balmoral agreed to a piece of granite being removed from the mountain and ‘D’ Flt 202 Sqn at Lossiemouth agreed to lift said stone to the nearest road and, most importantly, Lossiemouth MRT(LoMRT) agreed to do the donkey work. The picture in the centrefold shows Micky Coombes DTL, LoMRT, with the selected stone. It was recovered to Kinloss together with a Mediumer “spare” this summer. They were driven to Valley by LoMRT in mid-September from whence they will be moved to Shrewsbury asap. The ultimate ‘design’ is intended to be a flat monolith of granite, eight inches thick at the top end, tapering to four inches at the bottom.

The project was informally discussed at this year’s reunion and a group of four, Paul Duckworth, Has Oldham, Alister Haveron and Brian Canfer volunteered to transport the finished stone to the crater over the weekend of 5th-8th June, 2015. This will involve an overnight ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge, then 36 hours on site to dig a pit, and pour cement into which the stone, complete with ground anchors, will be fixed.

At this stage the estimated total cost of the project is £2045, which breaks down as follows:


    • Cutting and engraving stone with a trilingual message: £1100
    • Ferry & diesel for one van: £845
    • Fuel North Wales to Hull, return £100

(Vehicle use and cement to be donated by Paul Duckworth)

Private funds to the sum of £575 have already been offered, so this leaves £1470 to be granted from RAFMRA funds. If you do not feel that this is an appropriate use of these funds, please contact any member of the committee to voice your concerns.

The owner of the crater, Richard Dunning has agreed to the stone being unveiled and dedicated as part of the 99th anniversary celebrations to be held at 0730 (French local time) on Tuesday 1st July 2015. Bob Honey has kindly agreed to do the unveiling. A chaplain will be in attendance and we also hope to get a piper. All RAFMRA members are welcome to attend, but do note the roads get very congested, so the advice is to get there at least 45 minutes early, i.e. 0645. There are links on their website (http://www.lochnagarcrater.org/) for local accommodation but again, please note, prices are high!

If there is sufficient demand we can organise a coach for this event. Quotes are being obtained and will appear on the website.

Inscription Details

This is the text, which will be repeated in French and German, with the MRS crest in colour at the top, the final layout will be decided by the stone mason.

This rock from Lochnagar mountain in Scotland has been brought here by the R.A.F. Mountain Rescue Association in remembrance of combatants of all nations who made the ultimate sacrifice in WWI

1st July 2015



A Guest Article

By Diksha Chakravarti

Easy wasn’t a word I had entertained when I decided to scale Ben Nevis, the country’s highest mountain. There was no doubt that it would be a tough challenge. I had climbed Mt Snowdon and jog-walked the Reading Half Marathon 2 years’ ago and had undertaken a carefully considered fitness programme in preparation for the climb. So, when I woke at the Old Pines Bed and Breakfast in Fort William on Saturday 12 July, I felt confident about success.

We were a team of four middle-aged women and our aim was to get to the summit, not to try and compete with the mountain goats. It was raining. The sun had come out to play the day before (and was to come out again the day after), but, just to mock us, had decided to remain in purdah this day. After a hearty Scottish breakfast, our guide drove us to the bottom of the mountain and we commenced the climb using the pony track.

It was a busy day, and at several points we had to stop to allow other climbers right of way. To start off with we encountered no problems – it appeared to be a climb as predicted, tough and demanding, but not insurmountable. About midway, when we stopped for a snack break, our guide recommended we turn back. His reason? One of our team members, an asthma sufferer, had been stopping frequently to get back her breath. When he suggested his recommendation to her, she declined. A professional responsible woman, she knew her limits and was confident about carrying on. Faced, with such strong-minded women our guide felt lost and, from thereon, basically left us to our own devices.

Soon we began to feel the strain, some more than others. The rain and wind were relentless. We weren’t stopping frequently enough for fuel breaks and therefore running out of energy and our bodies were tiring. But we kept encouraging each other, putting one foot in front of the other. Our team camaraderie was magnificent: we had agreed, it was one for all and all for one. But there was no getting away from it, we had undertaken a relentless trek. From time to time, as we peered up through wet eyes and runny noses to catch sight of other climbers, like black ants far away, our hearts just sank… but we plodded on, chanting our mantra.

Then, just as I thought I couldn’t muster any more energy, we rounded yet another bend and the sight of snow, resplendent as a pearl choker round an arrogant woman’s fine neckline, came upon us. What an awesome sight to behold! We whooped with delight. Well, we tried. We thought we had arrived at the summit, only to be told by the guide there was more climbing to be done. Momentarily buoyed by this wonderful sight, however, we carried on, trying to negotiate the snow and ice as carefully as our tired legs allowed. Finally, we summited! After a few moments of somewhat muted rejoicing and without a much-needed break to fuel up, we began the descent.

Twice I slipped, but managed to contain myself. Not so lucky the third time, about half way down the mountain. The fall was minor in terms of kinetic severity, but the angle at which I twisted my left knee, it appears, wasn’t helpful. Brushing it off as a mere slip, I carried on. The pain began and grew steadily. First, I ignored it, then tried changing my gait to accommodate it, even to the point of attempting to climb down sideways with a straight knee. Very soon I discovered this wasn’t possible. The searing pains shooting through my leg every time I bent my knee signalled matters weren’t right.

The guide noticed something was wrong. He tried to help me down in various ways but by the time I had limped to the wooden bridge, my pain and exhaustion had taken over. Legs shaking, throat like sand paper, hyperventilating, and disorientated, I clung to the bridge for dear life. Not wanting to be the weak link in the team, I gritted my teeth, and helped by the guide, continued trying to descend, but could only manage a few desperate steps before finally giving up. The guide then suggested we contact the mountain rescue team.

Fortunately for me (although not so for the victims) there had been a few accidents on the Ben that day already, so the Lochabar Mountain Rescue Team were about. As I sat on a rock, barely aware, wet and limp as a rag, I vaguely heard our guide mention my state to a passer-by. Soon, Ian from the rescue team came up to attend me. He gave me some NSAID and paracetamol and a vial of pure glucose. After about 20 minutes, the glucose took affect and I livened up enough to suggest trying again. Ian humoured me but I failed. It was clear I needed a stretcher so Ian contacted his officer in charge and we waited.

When surrounded by the wilderness and space on a mountain, all sense of time is lost. This is compounded by battling disorientation, as well as by trying to maintain some semblance of dignity in the face of embarrassment and sense of failure.

So I don’t know how long we waited before the RAF mountain rescue team arrived, but what a sight for sore eyes (or knees in my case). They were courteous, professional and efficient. The party leader, Stuart Obree, added a large dose of compassion and humour. The respect he commanded from his team was clear to see in the clockwork manner with which they responded to his control of my descent on a stretcher.

Once Stuart had checked me over and the equipment set up, they carefully transferred me onto a stretcher that looked like an oblong, wired fruit bowl with raised edges. There I lay on a clean, warm blanket which they zipped and pumped up like an air mattress, fixing me in position like a corpse (thankfully I wasn’t one just yet).

Stuart informed me that the swaying might make me feel nauseous and should this happen I was to let him know immediately and we would stop. Then we were off. Stuart stayed at my head, always mindful of my state of comfort and mind, constantly updating me on the various happenings.

The teamwork was astounding. Parts of the route were just wide enough for one person, but carrying me meant three people needed to be accommodated, so the carriers had to walk on uneven and insecure rocks and boulders on either side of the path, placing one foot higher than the other, whilst at the same time trying to keep me steady and level. Their vision of the descent was blocked, leaving them entirely dependent on the continuous and detailed commentary from the guide in the front. What a responsibility! But they endured and succeeded, not once slipping or jarring or making me feel nauseous.

As I lay there looking up at the beautiful blue sky and blinking to avoid the rain from getting into my eyes, the sense of helplessness was overwhelming: here I was, a middle aged woman, old enough to be the mother of all these hard-working young men and women, being borne downhill with such care and caution. Not once did I feel anxious or frightened, not even when we got to the fence, which I remembered I had struggled to climb over. Their transition of me over this obstacle was seamless, much better than I had managed on my own during the ascent.

When we arrived at the bottom I was placed in the RAF vehicle. In response to my shivering, Stuart put his rather expensive jacket over me without a second thought and, when it arrived, transferred me to the ambulance to be taken to hospital, waving me off with a smile.

Brace! Down! Brace! Lift! These words will remain with me forever as a reminder of the professionalism, care and dignity with which I was rescued off the highest mountain in the country by the hard working RAF Mountain Rescue Team on a cold, wet, windy day. As we townies sit in our warm, comfortable lounges, sipping wine and watching mountain rescues on our large plasma screen TVs, we should pause a moment to toast the courage, professionalism and selflessness with which the rescuers undertake their perilous duties, often putting their own lives at risk. Like the mountain they patrol, steady, strong, fearless and relentless are words they epitomise.




Gordon “Gonk” Ballantyne

The KMRT were dossing at Coirieshubh bothy for a February weekend 1967, between Loch Quoich and Kinloch Hourn. This was before Tony Bradshaw burnt it down along with the cooking tent during a cooking bomb incident!

As I’d already done the Quoich hills, the notion was to explore Knoydart. The grand plan was to do Ladhar Bheinn, Luinne Bheinn and Meall Bhuide, then drop down to the head of Loch Nevis and doss for the night in the Finniskaig bothy. Then, depending on how the party had faired, either do Sgurr na Ciche & Garbh Cioch Mor or just walk out through Glendessary for a Sunday pickup at the end of Loch Arkaig.

So after erecting the cooking tent and downing a couple of mugs of greasy tea – somehow we never seemed to get the polythene mugs decontaminated properly after they’d been used for soup – we organised ourselves.

Spoons and I had plotted this foray, so we asked for “volunteers” to accompany us. ‘Hammy’ Anderson and Davey Loch were up for the trip, so we loaded up for the weekend and were dropped off at the end of the road at Kinloch Hourn, where, nowadays, one phones for the boat pickup for Barrisdale, or the isolated hostelry of Skiary, a couple of k’s up the lochside. There was no boat this time for us however, so we walked in along the south side of Loch Hourn (Hell’s Loch) to Barrisdale to find a doss for the night.

Loch Hourn looking every bit like “Hells Loch ” from Beinn Sgritheall. We reached Barrisdale about one am, after being dampened by a heavy shower of rain on the way. Not wanting to wake up the resident keeper, we sneaked into the gun room of the un-occupied Barrisdale House and settled down for what was left o’ the night.

Next morning we were slow off the mark, so had a cold breakfast and headed off up Ladhar Bheinn. We’d chosen to go up the ridge of Creag Bheithe on the east side of Coire Dhorrcail so that we could park our bags at the top of Stob a Chearcaill and make a quick scoot for the summit round the head of the corrie. Bad plan! As we approached the top of the ridge, we were faced by a steep grassy slope covered by last night’s new snow, which looked a bit dangerous for the abilities of our party. It was decided that, since our start had not been too sharp and we’d made slow progress up the ridge, we’d miss out Ladhar Bheinn and traverse round to Mam Barrisdale and ascend Luinne Bheinn.

We dropped down to the bealach and toiled up Luinne Bheinn in the new snow and summited in a watery February afternoon – following the tracks of a mountain hare to the top. The view down towards Inverie over the Dhub Loch was breath taking.

We breathed in the views, but when we saw how far it was to Meall Bhuidhe, we realised we’d have to descend into Glen Carnoch to try to find a bothy while there was still daylight. The descent to the glen was fairly straight forward, but when we arrived at the ruin of Carnoch Bothy we found it had no roof and was pretty wet and uninviting, so we elected to head for Finiskaig, which someone had mentioned to us was at the head of Loch Nevis, and set off in the gloaming.

By the time we got round to the head of Loch Nevis, it was dark, so we started scouting around for the bothy. Although we did what we thought was a wide sweep search, we couldn’t find it, so elected to doss down in one of the old cottages vacated during the clearances. This is probably near where Sourlies Bothy is now. The walls at that time were about a metre high, which would have given us some shelter from the wind – if there had been any. After supper, we dossed down. I hadn’t brought a sleeping bag, so emptied my sack, stepped into it, pulled the lining up and tied it round my waist – à la pied d’éléphant.

We’d agreed to do the penguin trick of taking turns at sleeping on the outside, but every time anyone stirred, I snored and pretended to be asleep. It was the coldest night of the winter! I’d forgotten to put my boots inside somewhere, so when I got up in the morning, they were frozen stiff. Also, when I stood up and had a pee over the wall – there it was – about 100m away on the other side of the river – Finiskaig bothy in all its glory! We must’ve walked quite close to it a couple of times the previous night during our fruitless search. Oh well, nobody’s perfect!

We went over to look at Finiskaig and found that although one of the gable ends had collapsed, there was ample room under cover and a wooden floor with a fairly even covering of sheepshit, offering the prospect of a relatively warm bed for the night! Decaying animal dung produces an exothermic reaction, which is why dung heaps steam in winter and Tibetans slept on Yak dung in the old days.

The head of Loch Nevis must’ve been quite a thriving community before the clearances and there were plenty of herring in the loch. There were quite a number of ruined houses and fanks around the area. A drove road still exists which allowed the locals at the head of Loch Nevis to get their herring and cattle to market at Spean or Fort William.

Having decided that we’d suffered enough hardship for one weekend, we stuffed our feet into our boots as best we could and shuffled up the old drove road towards the sunlight until our boots thawed out and we could put them on properly.

At the bealach at the head of Glendessary, we came across an isolated iron gate across the path, presumably erected during the time of the “Parish shilling”, when starving, out of work local men were hired by the church to erect parish boundary fences. The fence, now long gone, had left the gate, still working, alone, as a tribute to those hardy cheils who had toiled to put them up all these years ago. Hand drilling holes in the rock and setting the iron gateposts in with lead melted on a fire. It must’ve been a hell of a job to light and maintain a fire in the hellish weather experienced in this area!

The walk back down the glen to the waiting Land Rover was uneventful, if you consider rambling through such spectacular scenery as uneventful! There were no trees around in Glendessary at this time though.

As a hillwalking weekend, it was not too productive, (one Munro) but walking in such fantastic countryside was really awe-inspiring. The bivouacs, although uncomfortable (when is a bivvy ever comfy ? ) just added to the atmospheric experience of this area and we soaked it up big time.

II. Meall Bhuidhe 1983

I returned to Knoydart in summer 1983 with Donald, my elder son, by which time the Mountain Bothies Association had built the fantastic five-star Sourlies bothy (complete with resident vole) and did Meall Bhuide. We shared the bothy with an old, deaf trekker who was passing through on his way to Skye with a dog that snored loudly. It decided that Donald’s feet were a comfy bed, so kipped there for the night, much to Donald’s chagrin. In the morning, Donald and I returned over Sgurr na Ciche & Garbh Cioch Mor, back to Strathan. Another fantastic weekend….and somewhat more comfortable than our previous visit those years ago, thanks to the MBA.

III. Ladhar Bheinn 2004

Ladhar Bheinn was saved for my last Munro many years later and was attacked by boat from Arnisdale (skippered by the postie’s son). My sons, who had arrived late due to that long term disease – work, had to bribe the boatman with some beer to make another trip in the semi-darkness.

The local keeper at Barrisdale came with his land rover to help us with the “supplies” in return for an invitation to our post ascent ceilidh. The atmosphere was quite carnival, and the reminisces and jokes got us in good form for the following day.

Next day, the ascent was a bit of a grunt for me, as I hadn’t been on the hill for several years. Preceded by twenty-odd years of driving a desk, this was not ideal training for a west coast hill that starts from sea level. Living near the Monadh Rhuadh is ok, but with a 3-500m start on most hills seems to be a wee bit of a cheat and we get found out when we travel west!

On the way down, as we passed over Stob Coire Odhar, my stomach suddenly decided (unusually) that it wasn’t ready for the dram that I’d consumed on the summit, so I yarked it up. Shortly afterwards I heard my son Donald remark to the person behind him “that’s my dad – he never even broke stride during a honk!”. He seems to have acquired an MR type of humour.

This time we used the walkers bothy at Barrisdale and had a great wee ceilidh after the ascent, with the local keeper and his wife, who related hilarious stories about the locality, while we supped some beer along with “the fumes” to celebrate the event.

Three epic weekends in Knoydart – the good news is that I’ll have to make some more trips in there to do the Corbetts – bring it on!!



By Heavy Whalley

One of my first aircraft searches was for a missing Viscount aircraft from Glasgow airport that crashed on Ben More (Crainlarich) in the winter 1973 (19-23 January). The aircraft was on a short air test from Glasgow. The two engineers involved requested that an air test be performed so that they could examine the aircraft controls in flight. The aircraft was flown by a standby crew led by Captain Walter Durward, and left from Glasgow Airport. 

The aircraft then proceeded north from Glasgow, and was about to return to the airport when it vanished. It was located two days later about 600 feet northeast of and about 100 feet below the summit of Ben More (3,852ft). Wreckage was widely scattered on the hillside and down a gulley. Some of the wreckage rolled downhill to Ben More Burn, at the western base of the mountain. This Ben More is east of Crainlarich, only about 56 km (35 miles) north of Glasgow. Poor weather conditions were prevailing at the time, with rain and heavy snow persisting.

At the time, I was a young member of the RAF Kinloss MRT. This was my second winter in the team. It was an epic callout taking two to three days to recover the four casualties. It was a scary, long drive down, and the hills were plastered with snow. I remember the wild drive from Forres in Morayshire, a Police escort from RAF Kinloss, and snowploughs on the A9 in front of the convoy. These were the days before the snow gates were put on the A9. It was a long five to six hour drive. We arrived in the dark and prepared for a first light callout, the weather that night being too bad, and we having few clues where the plane may be. The heavy snow and huge area to search in wild conditions made for a call-out that stayed in my mind for years.

Both Kinloss and Leuchars MRTS were tasked and we camped overnight in Lochearnhead Village Hall and there were fifty or sixty of us there. A lot of locals helped out too. There was no local team in those days of limited resources and communications. It was very tight in the village hall and the hill gear was always wet and very basic in these days.

As always all the teams worked well together and the locals could not do enough for the team during such a tragic event. Lots of people searching for victims they never knew – an incredible feeling. I remember the information we had was terribly vague. No one had heard much, but we had a few leads from people who phoned the Police saying thought they had heard or seen something.

In the early morning we had a briefing in the Hall by “Taff Tunnah,” the Leuchars Team Leader. I have a photo of the briefing that was used in the press on that first day. We all look very young. George Bruce was the Kinloss Team Leader. He was speaking to the Police, getting and trying to sort out all the reports from the general public. I had an awful day searching in the Trossachs in the area between Glen Gyle (West Loch Katrine) and the Balquidder Glen, with the late John Hinde in charge -another MRT Legend.

The original plan was for the teams to split into five groups to search the main ridges. The high ground is the priority on an aircraft search with otherwise limited information. Each party was made up so that it had the capability of splitting into smaller groups of two, with a radio in each sub-party. In the event the snow was very deep – knee deep in places, with very strong southeast winds, and clouds above 1500 feet. My party stayed together for the whole long day.

I have recollections that this became a survival exercise both on and off the hill. Snow chains and shovels were essential, as were the Land Rovers, to get to the road heads. Snowshoes would have been good to have too. It was a long hill day. Even after forty years’ experience on rescues on the hill in winter, I still remember this as a hard callout. The teams had no clue where the aircraft had crashed and so we covered as much ground as possible in the conditions, in hopes of striking some clue.

On the first day of the search Leuchars found pieces of wreckage from the Viscount very early in the day a few miles from Ben More Farm. This from one of the Leuchars Team, Steve Brooks:

“Just checked my diary. It was around six pm when Leuchars arrived, having had a puncture on the three ton truck along the way. It was 10:00 am next day at 1500 feet that documents from the aircraft were found on Ben More, [I] think it was John Coull’s group, the search was then more concentrated and by evening more wreckage had been found along with two seats and four casualties.”

Communications were very poor in these days, no mobile phones and we just kept going unless we heard different. In a rescue you always hope to find people alive but it is very rare in an aircraft crash in the mountains. Even after these finds, most of the RAF Kinloss team were not recalled due to the poor communications, and completed their search area in desperate weather.

I was exhausted when we got back, soaked, to the village hall where we were received an update. The others had moved into the new search area, along with some SAS troops, and a civilian party, who had had an even worse day “in desperate conditions”. These were words rarely used by George Bruce and Taff Tunnah, our Team Leaders.

Small parts of wreckage and papers from the aircraft were found, then the four bodies of the crew. They had died instantly. The crash had obviously been unsurvivable. The snow was falling very heavily and they did not have an easy time. The avalanche risk would be high in the Ben More corrie and it was going to be a difficult recovery of all the casualties. The weather was still very bad and the teams had to pull out as darkness and conditions had got even worse. The aircrew sadly had to be left in situ on the hill for another night.

It was a long night in the village hall, with everyone busy planning next day’s recovery of the crew. Even as a very inexperienced young troop, I was told I was on the body recovery next day. I hardly slept.

Day two was Sunday 21st January, 1973. The weather included fresh snow, cloud down to 2000 feet, a steady wind and cold wind-chill. RAF Kinloss and RAF Leuchars divided into recovery and search parties. It was a long haul up the hill, carrying ropes and stretchers in deep snow to a height of 2800 feet. I was in a long line of troops that left from Ben More Farm in the morning, meeting heavy going exacerbated by weighty hill bags. The weather was misty above 2,000 feet and still very cold.

The rest of the teams and 23 Regiment SAS carried out a search for more aircraft wreckage further up the very steep West Face of Ben More. They swept at fifteen yard intervals up and down the face, not easy in the conditions. The “black box” flight recorder was located about 150 yards north of the summit by the SAS. A rough map was drawn after the search, of which I still have a copy.

When we located the casualties we had first to extricate them from the heavy snow that had fallen overnight and I remember digging them out, not easy for a young lad. In these days it was always the young lads who were used to handle and dig out the casualties. I remember it well – a hard and difficult job. It was a steep learning curve, but these were real people: husbands, fathers, and sons, and we had a job to do. We put each one on a stretcher and took them down the hill. It was more hard work in the deep snow, but we used the stretcher skids to good effect and a couple of ropes to ensure they moved swiftly but safely. We were soon down in the Glen where a BAE helicopter lifted them out. It was then back to the village hall for some food. No showers were available. Our kit was by now completely soaked and we were all running out of dry gear. I can still remember how strange I felt but positive that we all had done our best.

Day three was Monday 22nd January, 1973. The weather was colder, with a freezing level of 2000 feet, and cloud base of 2800, rising later. The wind was a strong westerly, decreasing later. After a briefing, it was back up the hill to the main wreckage site, digging around the cockpit area and looking for other wreckage.

Search parties were flown in by threes by the small BAE helicopter. Various sweep searches were carried out. A pair of parties from Kinloss and Leuchars climbed all the gullies on the SE Face of Ben More, locating no wreckage. More searching was carried out on the northeast ridge and southeast face of Ben More, the parties searching upwards to the summit. On the summit, assistance was given to the Ministry Air Investigation Officer, using sweep searching in heavy snow. The lowest wreckage was located, a fuel tank. The rest had been thrown westward, across the summit ridge and down the west face. It was another long day and I was glad to be off the hill.

The next day we travelled back to RAF Kinloss, where I received a “bollocking” from my Boss in my workplace for being away so long. That upset me deeply. I was very lucky to have George Bruce as my Team Leader, who went and saw him, and told him in a “few words” about what we had experienced, but even so, I was a “marked man” forever after.

I learned so much from this sad incident. It came back to me in my future years as a RAFMRS Team Leader. George Bruce, John Hinde and Taff Tunnah, who are now sadly gone, discussed this callout with me a few years ago, and detailed the lessons learned. They were real characters, each a different person entirely, but each led strong teams and knew what they were doing.

One of the key lessons from this tragedy was getting the correct information as soon as possible. Members of the general public often respond to media reports asking for sightings of the aircraft or other help. To get the right information to the searchers is very hard to do. In this case, I am sure that the local shepherd on the hill had notified the Police of seeing or hearing something on Ben More at the time the aircraft went missing. This information was lost early on in the search. The crew unfortunately died instantly, so it would not have made a difference to the outcome.

I dedicate this article to the teams and the crew of the Viscount aircraft that sadly lost their lives.

David Whittick, engineer Bob Elrick and Wally‘s son Mike organised a Memorial service for all the crew of the Viscount, and held, a service at Crainlarich Church on January 19th 2005 to dedicate an inscribed cairn, which has been installed in the churchyard in memory of the crew. The service was attended by more than seventy ex-colleagues and family members, who subsequently retired to the local village hall to exchange some memories and to enjoy some Scottish Hospitality. There is a memorial to the crew in the churchyard at Crainlarich which I went to on the anniversary of the crash. Meeting the family and locals friends whose relatives lost their lives is a humbling experience for all and how they appreciate what all the teams did to try to find their loved ones. All these years later it still has a huge effect on many.

In the hard winter of 1987 I was heavily involved in a RAF SAR Wessex helicopter crash on Ben More. Sadly a good friend Harry, the Team Leader of Killin Mountain Rescue Team, was killed and two good friends very badly injured. After the rescue as a Qualified Team Leader I guided the Air Investigation Branch team (AIB) for a week on the search on the steep NE face of the mountain. This was a difficult task as it was full winter conditions and a big AIB team to look after on winter climbing terrain. The lessons learned from my early days in 1973 were well used on this tragic accident in the mountains. None of the AIB team were mountaineers and we had a huge task looking after them safely and helping locate the first impact point on a steep winter cliff. It is never easy as these teams of experts just want to get on with their job but in a hostile environment it is not easy to try to keep them safe whilst they do their job! The RAF teams have many aircraft engineers and their aircraft knowledge is invaluable locating and identifying wreckage for the ongoing inquiry.  This was where many lessons from the past from my early days in 1973 were well used on this tragic accident in the mountains.  Many forget that this remains the primary task of the RAF MRS, the search and recovery of missing aircraft in remote and mountainous regions. Every few years an aircraft goes missing and the lessons of the past are worth remembering, you can learn  much from past incidents and even with today’s technology it  still needs boots on the ground in bad weather and the correct skills both off and on the hill to get the job done. It is always worth remembering this.


If you have enjoyed reading this far why not consider volunteering to help proof-read On the Hill before it goes to print, it’s a rewarding task that only happens once a year; if you’re free to do this please contact Brian Canfer.

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More memories and lessons learned from Heavy Whalley

(From his blog: http://heavywhalley.wordpress.com )

Last time I was on the Glen Roy hills in winter we were blown off the summit. It was winter, mid-March in 1997, and the annual RAFMRS winter course had just finished. This is a hard two-week period where newer members of the RAF MRS are trained in all aspects of winter mountaineering. With only one day off, you are quite exhausted afterwards.  We always went out regardless of the weather. After all, this is the weather we operate in on call – outs.  The following week the team were at Roybridge for a normal training weekend.

The weather was especially wild that particular winter and big winds and white-outs were forecast daily. I wanted an easier day, and a few Corbett’s in Glen Roy would be fine. A good navigational area, a relief from carrying climbing gear, an easy day with some young team members, and back to work the next day. Or so I thought.

Most of the team members were taking it easy at Roybridge Village Hall, but one group went to Creag Meaghaidh for a look at the snow and ice climbing. Glen Roy, though sheltered, was still wild. The Land Rover rocked in the wind when we arrived, and though our Corbett was small by comparison with the surrounding Munros, we were battered constantly by the wind. There was no shelter on our hill, and even at only just over 2500 feet, we were really struggling! It was a great battle to keep the hill party together, a crawl to the summit and getting worse by the minute. This was a serious as it gets.

After only four hours on the hill we were still exhausted when we arrived back at the wagon. The newer members of our group were impressed and frightened by the forces of nature. They had to experience such conditions. Such is our job; you have to train in it all. But it took all my experience to get them off the hill safely; a very close call at times.  

I was sure there would be call outs this day. When we got back down and back to Roybridge Village Hall, most of the team were back. Few had even ventured out. After a bowl of soup, I asked if anyone had heard of the party out on Creag Meaghaidh. There had been no communications all day.

As it was nearly 1600 hours, I took a wagon to try to get a radio message to them. Their wagon was the only one in the car park. Soon I got a message back by mobile phone that one of the group had been blown over the edge on the summit plateau, while the other two were now in hurricane conditions.

It was the leader that had been blown over a cornice. The remainder of the party still on the plateau were two relatively new troops, now fighting for their lives. The helicopter had been called from RAF Leuchars, but in my mind I wondered what could it do in these conditions. We called the police, Lochaber MRT, and the Leuchars Team was already on their way.

Our two strongest mountaineers, Dan Carroll and Rusty Bale, now headed up the hill to see what they could do. It was still getting worse by the minute and then we heard that another group out walking had been blown off the neighboring Beinn a’Chaorainn. I was told to stay and brief the teams and Police as they arrived. Crazy thoughts were going through my mind. So began the longest two hours of my life.

The wind was gusting to sixty or seventy miles per hour and there was a total white out above 2,500 feet. The radios in the Mountain Rescue Control wagon were going nonstop, not unlike the voices in my head.

Still, there was a lot to do. The helicopter was airborne from RAF Lossiemouth, and as always the rest of SAR Force were pulling out all the stops to help us. I wondered about the aircrew’s safety. The weather was as bad as I ever remember it.  I called in all the Kinloss team members that were having a weekend off and we soon had another 20 arriving in a few hours. Leuchars MRT had also arrived and I was just giving them an area to search, when another incident came in. Lochaber MRT was diverted to the other incident at Beinn a’Chaorainn (in Glen Spean) where two more walkers were reported missing.

Incredibly, just as the helicopter was arriving on scene, our two team members arrived down in the glen. They were both okay, but had experienced a fight for their lives to get off the plateau. They had done a great job to get off safely in these conditions, although they had both aged visibly. I must admit I shed a tear when I saw them.

Then the leader who had fallen through the cornice walked off to meet another of our parties above the A86. I was happy, as we all were. I was fearing for the worst result, but someone up there was looking after us. The helicopter now headed straight for Beinn a’Chaorainn, where we were also re-tasked to assist. It was a quick turn round. Everyone was soon ready to go again, but you could see by their strained faces that this day had taken its toll.

As we arrived at the new search HQ, the helicopter was already on scene. It quickly located the two walkers. Unfortunately, they were both killed in a fall of over 1000 feet. They had been attempting to lead a large party of eight in a white out and gale force winds when they went through the huge cornice north of the notorious top, the scene of many accidents.

How the helicopter did that body recovery in those conditions I will never know. Ground teams would have certainly had another epic in these conditions.  What a job by Rescue 137!

When things finally calmed down we got the full story. The party of three had walked into the corrie of Creag Meaghaidh. Unlike my party on another nearby hill they were out of most of the wind. They decided to climb up Easy Gully to the plateau, where they were met by incredible winds and white out.  The leader fell through the cornice whilst trying to navigate off. He fell some considerable distance, suffering severe bruising and abrasion. He managed to climb back up to the plateau but had lost his radio in the fall and failed to relocate his party. In the meantime, they had struggled off. There was no way they could assist him and they needed to get help. In the end it we were all very lucky, unlike the unfortunate walkers on the nearby Beinn a’Chaorainn.

We all learned many great lessons from this near-disaster for our team. Yes, we have to train in all weathers to be able to cope with any situation, but we are not invincible, and we must bare this in mind when training.  Some mountain rescuers have a bravado, perhaps a notion that “it will never happen to them”. I used to be one of them. We have to learn how to cope with such weather but at times common sense has to prevail. When out on the hill as a rescue party more than one radio per party is needed. This incident did help us get provision for more radios and phones.

Always be ready when you come out of a gully in wild weather to be ready to navigate. If it is blowing a gale on the top, time and conditions will not allow you to “faff” about!  All members of the party must be able to navigate. Roping up in a white-out is well worth thinking about. It’s certainly pointless not using a rope if you are carrying one. How few of us ever do this? Sometimes you may even have to abseil back down a climb due to weather conditions.

Goggles are an essential piece of winter mountaineering equipment and on this day definitely helped the two on the plateau get off safely, as did their navigational skills and self-control. I have since learned that one of the otherwise inexperienced members in the rescue team was qualified as a winter mountain leader at the time and, although not up to the RAFMR level of training and experience, this preparation undoubtedly made a big difference. Qualifications are a great way of improving your knowledge in the mountains. Whatever your experience, holding it all together after a near disaster is never easy.

The last word is from the man who did the “cornice walk”:

The helmet came in handy, glad I kept that on. Ice axe leash stopped me dropping axe and helped me climb back up to plateaux. Belated thanks to all Troops involved, D Flight crew and Belford A&E. Oh, and Wee Ed for driving me home via Ft Bill McDonalds.”



Playing Dummy for an RAF Mountain Rescue Team

By Mike Corner

(Courtesy of The Northern Echo, Tuesday January 15, 1963)

Mountain Rescue teams from RAF Leeming lowered a broken back “stretcher case” down the sheer face of a 150ft cliff –and the practice patient strapped helplessly in was me. For the RAF men it was a training session, for me it was a terrifying climax to meeting the North-East’s mountain rescue team.

In the toughest weekend I have ever been through – spent in 18 degrees of frost on the North York moors – the two words “guts” and “service” came to mean a lot more than they did. Guts to plough through aching miles of thigh-high snow and sleep two nights on a wind lashed moor; service to the RAF as a first priority. To the public, to each other – each man’s life may depend on his mate.

Through it all runs a diamond-hard team spirit which should be impossible under the conditions, but which keeps bubbling through. Like Cpl. Ray Tweedle leading on a fast two miles through three feet of snow with six foot drifts and then ordering “Hands up all those we’ve lost.” It was 6p.m. on a Friday night when our 18-strong party moved out from RAF Leeming in a three-ton truck, ambulance, and Land Rover convoy, bound for a camping site on Fadmoor above Kirbymoorside.

Icicles Inside

Tents pitched by the roadside – after strenuous snow-clearing – because the moor route that was “Unsuitable for motor vehicles” was blocked and the usual site could not be reached. A guard was left on the camp, and all others went down to the nearest pub – many of them for a glass of water or lemonade. Soft by nature, I slept in the back of the ambulance with the team leader Sgt. George Bruce, a 26 year-old Scotsman from Prestonpans. Eleven of the present 25-strong team are English, the rest, Scottish. You sleep in your clothes and a sleeping bag but it’s still cold. In the morning there are tiny icicles INSIDE the ambulance. What it must have been like in the tent goodness knows. Coffee in bed was followed by bacon, eggs, sausage and beans cooked by SAC Dan McDermott, a 35 year old airframe fitter. Then an early start for the 11 of us going “out on the hill”. By a roundabout route – caused by blocked roads – we drove to the “drop off” point at Glaisdale. The orders? Walk back. You learn quickly how to walk in knee deep snow. Your foot must go down exactly where the man in front put his, and just as he takes it out, before the snow falls back into the print.

Keep Going

The rhythm becomes monotonous. But if you slow, a boot cracks on your heel because the man behind is walking the same way. You plod on. This is really “Pick your feet up” The boots weigh a ton each. The snow gives way and you plunge into a hidden crevice, snow two feet above your head. Nothing matters, but keep going. Halt, eat an orange and a bar of chocolate, just time to let you get cold. On again. It’s snowing now and the fog is coming down. Only a few hundred yards to Rosedale Head road which should be clear. It is not. Where roads have been slightly cleared it means only two feet of snow with miniature mountains on each side. Coming into Farndale Cpl. Ray and I stop to take down the aerial of the walkie-talkie in case of overhead cables. The other nine go on. We follow, and 50 yards on turn left, not right as the rest of them did. Half a mile down the road and the most wonderful sight in a freezing cold and dripping wet world is Sgt. Bruce with the Land Rover. He picks us up and goes after the other party. They get a sharp object lesson as the first climb in “It may interest you lot to know,” says Sgt. Bruce. “that you were on the wrong road. Use of compasses would have ensured you took the right turning.” But then everyone is happy again and we head back to base, broth (Scotch of course) and a hot meal. The night is again spent at the nearest pub and then back to bed.

Nineteen Calls

In the ambulance, Sgt. Bruce talks of the team, of mountain rescue work. In the 18 months that he has been on the team they have had 19 “callouts.” Their area extends from just south of Edinburgh to Bradford and across to the Lake District. “We reckon that four hours after the Tannoy has said ‘Mountain Rescue, callout’ we can be in the hills south of Edinburgh and setting up camp,” he said. There are five permanent team members and 20 volunteers at present. Few are married, but Sgt. Bruce is and has two children. He leaves to head the Cyprus team in Nicosia in March. Whenever there is a call-out he rings Pitrievie Castle – the Northern Rescue Co-ordination Centre- who give all details they have. Before moving to the search area he alerts one of the 13 civilian teams in the area and by the time the RAF experts get there the civilian team – with RAF equipment- has gathered volunteers and is ready to go. In all there are 30 known good camp sites in the area and each is visited during training so the team gets to know all areas. Their most recent call was to search in November for the two shepherds lost on the Cheviots. The call came on a Wednesday afternoon, and four hours after starting searching, the RAF team found the first body.

Huge Supplies

The ambulance carries enough medical kit for any doctor on the spot to perform a minor operation, an amputation, a blood transfusion. The team carries enough food to last over a week without aid, enough ropes to tackle anything in Britain. A signals truck is normally with them, in touch with search parties, with Pitreavie and with any helicopters also searching. There are only six permanent RAF teams in the country – At Kinloss and Leuchars in Scotland, Valley (Anglesey) and St. Athan in Wales, and Leeming and Stafford in England. At bank-holidays they swap areas. The last time Leeming went to Wales they had three calls in a weekend. Other recent jobs have been searching for two missing cadets in the Grassington area, a missing girl in Teesdale. Seven of the 19 calls have been to Providence Pot near Kettlewell – such a frequently visited spot that several of the team have made it their business to know it well. “The attitude of people amazes me.” Says Sgt. Bruce. “Once valley made a treacherous climb up Snowdon to a man and his two daughters who had wandered off the track. It was icy and dangerous. As the leader reached the man he said ‘It’s about bloody time you RAF men showed up.’ On the other hand when I was in Kinloss we took a man off Ben Nevis who had been there two nights. He had terrific frost-bite, but two days later in hospital he wrote to thank us with a pen clutched in his fist. He must have suffered agony to do it.”

150ft cliff

So on to Sunday morning when Sgt. Bruce and I are first up and take coffee to everyone else. (“Put that in“ insists Sgt. Bruce). The team leave for Sutton Bank to look for a place to practice stretcher lowering. Sgt. Bruce and I meet photographer Paul Hines in Kirbymoorside and head after the team. They find a 150ft cliff. A rope is slung between two cliff-top trees, and three hitches put in the rope. From one of these Sgt. Ron McKail lashes himself on and takes one rope of the stretcher. Cpl. Harry Wilson, a 24-year-old air frame fitter, takes the other rope. In the centre is Colin McCrae taking the rope for the guide – Cpl. Ray Tweedle. As I am lashed to the stretcher Sgt. Bruce says to me “The last three on this stretcher were dead.” Cpl. Wilson adds “We guarantee only to get you to the bottom, one way or another.” I complain that the straps are too tight and McCrae says: “Once we forgot to strap the sleeping bag to the stretcher. As soon as he went over the edge he slipped off.” I didn’t think any of them were funny. Now, it’s too late, Ray is dragging the stretcher towards the edge. Sgt. Bruce takes up position to give instruction. Ray drops over, the stretcher bumps, and follows.

Crash Hat

Thousands of feet below us tiny dots of men wait to help at the bottom. To get over the edge Ray smacks down on the stretcher handles and it tips, throwing me towards the straps. You slip as the straps take a strain. I wish I was dead or at least unconscious. “Slower on guide.” Calls Ray as he starts to beat me to the bottom. He is there to stop the stretcher spinning and me clattering my face against the rocks. Normally a crash hat is worn on the stretcher in case of falling rocks. If the patient has head injuries a member of the team lies across the top of the stretcher. “Are we half way yet?” asks Ray, talking to keep me happy. “About,” I gasp and clench my teeth again. At last, three weeks after we went over the cliff edge it is all over. Unstrapped, I go back to the top. At this I left the team practising stretcher lowers, abseiling – the technique of going down fast on a rope, and prussicking – the technique of climbing with a thick fixed rope and a running thin one. They practised all day, and then went back to camp. Down to the mess, into bed, and up early to get on with normal work. “Tough?” I’ll say they are. The toughest, roughest, gayest bunch I’ve met. Next time there is a man on the mountain, my sympathies will be divided between him and the tough time these volunteers will be having – possibly through someone’s foolishness. No matter, they go. Through snow and ice, up cliff and crag, flogging on and on until a life is saved. I know, I was part of the way there, and along with dog Tango I am a team mascot. It couldn’t be for a better crowd.




(Taken from SAR Force’s 2014 Newsletter with permission)


VMRT is currently undergoing a large turnaround in manpower, in which we have lost several experienced troops. We say goodbye and good luck to Flt Lt Paul Wright, WO John Roe, FS Jocky Marr, Sgt Iain Kirk, Cpl Danny Dunbar, Cpl Mark Freestone and Cpl Luke Watts and hello and welcome to WO Morris and Flt Lt Pattison. Despite losing many of our experienced troops, we continue to recruit new personnel and have had several new faces join in recent months. Welcome all! The Team continues to remain focused on its primary role of Aircraft Post Crash Management (APCM), successfully running a small APCM training exercise at RAF Valley, delivering a briefing at the RAF Cosford APCM seminar and an APCM exercise at RAF Shawbury. Weekend deployments continue as usual with troops engaging in mountaineering training throughout the UK. This month we have deployed as far south as Pembroke and we are going to Roybridge near Fort William in Scotland for the late May bank holiday. Looking ahead, the MRS Summer mountaineering course, and Intermediate IEC courses are just around the corner, with many troops looking forward to receiving further training. The Team will also be hosting members of the PSNI in June and members of the Icelandic MRT’s in July.

RAF Leeming MRT

Over the last months we have started to introduce the mirrored system in Technical Rescue, going through all scenario’s from vertical lowers and two man horizontal raises; the team appreciate the less complex method and people are enthused to learn all systems to their entirety. We have had some great training with the helicopters from RAF Leconfield, and even taking advantage of RAF Boulmer’s helicopter while training in the lakes. We have been involved with 5 callouts utilizing skills including stretcher carries and IEC skills. The team are effectively recruiting new people from station, with three new part timers completing their three week trials successfully. SAC Dobson has become Part Trained and Cpl Marshall has reached Trained status. Lastly, Sgt John Hopwood had a good send off with many people including Alan Hinkes attending a BBQ at the section.

RAF Lossiemouth MRT

LosMRT continues as the RAF Lossiemouth MRT but remains based at Kinloss Barracks. This is not the best of situations and has seriously affected recruitment onto the MRT. But not all is lost and hopefully in the near future LosMRT will be in a position to raise its ‘footprint’ at RAF Lossiemouth. This is all due to unseen efforts of the MRS and LosMRT MRTLO to make this happen. The LosMRT Permanent Staff (PS) has seen a fair few changes. Sgt Ed Jones, the Deputy Team Leader (DTL), has been posted down to MRS HQ at RAF Valley. Also off to Valley is SAC Gemma Cox, promoted and posted into 22 Sqn ‘C’ Flt as an Ops Assistant. Cpl ‘Micky’ Coombes, initially posted in as the Training Co-ordinator, has had a swift promotion and is now the new DTL. SAC Ben Thynne has also been promoted and has moved from being the IEC Co-ord to the Training Co-ordinator. New in as the Supply Manager is SAC James ‘Caffers’ McCaffery, an ex-RAF Leuchars troop. We have been very fortunate in getting him released for the PS.

This year so far has been quiet on the Callout front. The prolonged period of severe weather and very heavy snows kept many people off the mountains during what is normally a busy time. Inevitably we had to respond to an avalanche with a fast party deploying with R137 to Ben Nevis. As always, troops performed brilliantly. First on scene, they dealt with the one known casualty, organised the search for a possible further three casualties, utilising some PSNI MRT who were training close by and liaised closely with Lochaber MRT to bring to bring the job to a successful conclusion.

MRS Media Equipment: Thanks to Cpl Pete Devine’s persistence in the face of the MOD procurement system, we have at last managed to obtain sets of GoPro “Hero” cameras and a range of mounts. These are all destined for the 3 RAF MRTs and OC MRS staff will shortly be announcing details of the roll-out and training programme for these new cameras. These were trialled and evaluated by RAF Valley MRS HQ permanent staff, so we know these cameras are good and fit for purpose. Happy Snapping!

Editor’s Note: let’s hope that we can persuade the teams to share these photos with us?



Hi Mick,

Please find below an extract from a letter sent to me by John Norrie when I queried possible duplication of his database entry, it is the first time I’ve seen an explanation of what I thought were 2 separate teams i.e. Wig Bay and West Freugh!


2 -3-14

 Dear Brian,

Many thanks for your enquiry regarding my time with West Freugh MRT. I replied to an exchange posting to RAF Swinderby, where I had been stationed for nearly a couple of years.  So I arrived at “The Freugh” in October 1953. I shortly joined the MRT under Sgt Andy Anderson (of manual fame) then Sgt Tug Wilson who had just qualified as an ML. Until Tug arrived the organisation within the team was non existent, partly because the permanent staff and equipment were stationed at Wig Bay, while we volunteers were at the “Freugh” 14 miles away.  However Tug got us all organised by firstly having us all billeted together in the same hut and he occupied the “bunk”, then by having regular varied exercises, specific duties within small units, etc, and generally raised the morale of the team.  The officer i/c at that time was the M.O.Doc Gibbs mentioned in the acknowledgements of Frank Card’s “Whensoever”. I finally was demobbed from the “Freugh” in October 54.

 I joined the Forfar & District Hillwalking Club in 1966 and have been deeply involved in the running of the club ever since.  In the early 70’s I was awarded a certificate from the Scottish MLTB, and became a PT Instructor.  Also at the same time I was asked to help with the initial training of the new Angus Police MRT. In 1976 after a tragic accident in Glen Doll, I joined the newly formed Tayside MRT and served in the team for 14 years.

All my original photographs related to West Freugh are slotted into one of the official Leuchars albums, as Leuchars was just a continuation of West Freugh.
Yours Aye,
John Norrie

PS I still keep in touch with a former member of West Freugh MRT – Les Goudie, who lives up in the Shetland Isles.


Dear Brian,

Going off at a bit of a tangent, as one does, here’s a little story.

Having finished (successfully) our wireless operator course (5 months as I recall) we were lined up outside the Compton Bassett orderly room to be told our postings.   Out comes the orderly sergeant with his clipboard.  He gets to the C’s:

“You a Scot, Card?”
“No, sergeant!”
‘Ard luck.   Montrose!”

(Frank Card)

Dear Brian,

I would like to ask you for one “longshot”. In his reminiscences Mr. Zeleny mentioned for period 1960 -1961 amongst members of Land Rescue Team at RAF Eastliegh:

One corporal was in the Signals, a very strong man decorated with the BEM for his action in the riots of Singapore

Unfortunately I am not able to identify him due to lack of information. Would you be able to help me somehow identify him or give me an advice what I can try to search for?

From different sources I have a list of possible members of LRT in 1961 but again no luck.

Cpl Lampery
Cpl Wood
Cpl T. Vickers
Cpl Bird
Cpl Dodd
Cpl Todd

Many thanks in advance

Paul Vancata
Prague, Czech Republic



Blind Veterans UK supports ex-Service men and women in their battle against sight loss

When someone loses their sight, it can be devastating, and the whole family can find it difficult to cope. Many people feel isolated as they feel unable to do things that most people take for granted. Without the help of specialist support and services, many find it hard to overcome the challenges of blindness.

Blind Veterans UK believes that no one who has served our country should have to battle blindness alone. The charity provides vital emotional and practical support to any ex-Service men or women who are now experiencing severe sight loss.

It doesn’t matter when someone served or how they lost their sight, Blind Veterans UK can provide free, lifelong support to help them adjust to life with sight loss. It could be that they did National Service and lost their sight later in life or that they served more recently and lost their sight due to a lifelong condition.

93-year-old RAF veteran Eric Radford lost his sight over 22 years ago due to age related macular degeneration. Before losing his sight, Eric loved to paint and thanks to Blind Veterans UK’s support and equipment, Eric has been able to pick up his paintbrush again.

Eric says: “I had heard of Blind Veterans UK, but I thought it was for totally blind service people. I never thought they would be able to help me. Another fellow, who is supported by the charity, told me what Blind Veterans UK does and told me to contact them. I’m so glad I did. They have done so much for me.”

I didn’t think I’d be able to paint again. I never even gave it a thought but Blind Veterans UK has helped me give it a go again.”

If you, or someone you know, served in the Armed Forces, including National Service, and are now experiencing severe sight loss, Blind Veterans UK could help. To find out more, call 0800 389 7979 or visit www.noonealone.org.uk.




You will recall that in OtH 2013 page 67 it was recorded that Alister Haveron was going to produce two more standards so that there could be one in each country. This he has now done and they are being held by the following custodians

Arthur Helsby
1 Beechwood Avenue,
Ashton-in-Makerfield, Wigan, WN4 9LZ
Tel 01942 723485

Ian (“Jugs”) Jones
7 Castle Grove. Longforgan,
Dundee DD2 5HZ
Tel 01382 360225

Alister Haveron
Dolawel Guest House,
Blaenau Ffestiniog, LL41 3HS
Tel 01766 830511

Whilst the standards do not require the level of care and recording of a squadron or unit colour all members are asked to respect the standards, treat them carefully and observe the tradition of standing when the standard enters a room or church. To date the standard has been used at reunions and funerals but other uses will be considered. If you would like to borrow a standard for such a use, please contact your nearest custodian. You will be responsible for collecting and returning it, as well as the harness and stand, as appropriate.




May 9th 2015

The charges for the “do” are the same as this year, as follows:

The accommodation charges will be £50.00 Single/£56.00 Double or Twin on a Bed & Breakfast basis per room, or £65 Single/£72.00 Double/Twin. On a Dinner, Bed & Breakfast basis per room it is the same rate for Fri/Sat/Sun.

If you book D/B/B for 2 or 3 nights, on the Sat you will pay the B/B rate as you will be paying for your meal in the evening.

The meal will be £23:95 each, as per the menu (below)

Don’t forget RAFMRA members get a £5:00 reduction on the meal. Cheques payable to RAFMRA, sent to me by the end of March please, including your menu choices – see below.

Terry Tomlinson.
3 Lower Row, Southfield, Burnley BB10 3RH

To book phone the Hotel and quote RAFMRA or RAF Mountain Rescue. If you wish to use your caravan or mobile home please phone the hotel direct to request a parking space. Phone no. 01257 455000

If anybody that is attending needs a lift from a railway station, then please let me know when you send in your cheques and menu choices, or call nearer the date, and I will sort something out.


RAFMRA Dinner Menu 2015

Starter Options

Carousel of chilled melon presented with a compote of spiced forest berries garnished with mint


Chicken liver pate served with a fruit chutney and croutes


Blended leek and potato soup finished with Chablis cream


Main Course Options

Roast loin of Pork studded with garlic, rosemary and root vegetables

carved and served with its roasting juices


Cod tail fillet


Pan-fried breast of chicken with fresh garden herbs

served with a White wine and mushroom sauce


Roasted Peppers filled with tabouleh finished with minted yoghurt

All main courses are served with chef’s selection of seasonal vegetables and potatoes


Sweet Options

Lemon sponge with custard


Chocolate crunch – crisp chocolate base topped with sumptuous chocolate and

Seville orange mousse with white chocolate shavings


Fresh fruit salad with pouring cream


Tea/coffee with chocolate mints



RAF Mountain Rescue Teams (Scotland)

2014 Reunion

1 August 2014

Hi Troops,

Time to come out to play again. The 2014 reunion of the RAF Mountain Rescue Teams (Scotland) will take place in Newtonmore on Saturday 1st November 2014. This year is the 70th Anniversary of the formation of RAF Kinloss MRT.

130 troops and their ladies attended last year. From whatever era you belong you are almost certain to know somebody. The reunion will be in “The Highlander Hotel” Newtonmore, Highland, PH20 1AY. Tel no. 01540 673341. Email: reservations.highlander@bespokehotels.com

Prices for accommodation:-

Bed & Breakfast (on any night): £25.00 per person.

Dinner Bed and Breakfast (Friday or Sunday): £35.00 per person.

The price of the reunion dinner will be £27.00 and should be booked through me. Due to changes in banking I have had to change the reunion account. However, it remains a separate account. Cheques for the dinner should be made out to Mr Ray Sefton MRT”. Accommodation arrangements should be booked and paid for through the hotel. Just mention RAF Mountain Rescue Reunion. Heavy will give a presentation, for those who arrive early, in the lounge at 1700hrs.

Dinner is at 1900 hrs for 1930 hrs. Because very few people dance I have not booked a band. I am sure we can make our own entertainment. For any updates please check our web site www.rafmountainrescue.com

Best wishes




Mick Anderson


David “Heavy” Whalley

(From his blog: http://heavywhalley.wordpress.com)

Mick was a helicopter winchman – one of the best. He was an RAFMRS team member, and also worked as a controller in the ARCC. He was an outstanding winchman and was well-known throughout Scotland by all the mountain rescue teams.

These to me were the “Golden Years of SAR”, the helicopters would regularly night stop with us after a rescue, no night vision glasses in these days, and we got to know the crews so well. Famous nights in Glencoe, Fort William, Cairngorms and the west and east coasts, a time to wind down after an epic rescue and meet the people who flew these great aircraft. There were so many real characters. If they could do it would be done. There were a few fewer rules in these days.

It was magic seeing Mick on the wire. You knew there was chance of maybe a lift home after a long rescue. These were great days and Mick knew his mountains so well. He was a mountaineer in his own right, but most of all he loved the characters that made mountain rescue so special. The RAF at times is very rank-conscious, but Mick had none of that. You were who you were, not what your rank was. He was blunt. “Grumpy Mick” was his nickname. He smoked a pipe everywhere. He was far too intelligent for us but we had some great callouts together. He was a very intelligent man and read the Telegraph and the Guardian, which we used to wind him up about.

I had met him on various callouts. As a very young airman he would help me clean up the bothies each winter. What a great trip that would be: He would organize a training exercise in the Cairngorms bothies and then up to the northwest, then back via the CIC hut, the helicopter full of bags of rubbish.

We had very scary flights showing the new crews the area and the great cliffs and climbs. His great area knowledge was epic, not just of one area, but the whole of Scotland’s climbing areas. He even dropped of some of the food for my three week “Coast-to-Coast” walk across Scotland in 1977, flying out to meet us on an epic day midweek in Glen Affric – bringing us a fresh meal high on the hills!

During the blizzards of 77 we were accommodated in the Inverness police cells for a while as part of a huge helicopter support operation. Mick sorted us out with hotel accommodation and tickets to the nurses’ dance! This operation went on for nearly a week, as we supported 10 helicopters. On my return to camp, I was dropped off by Sea King at RAF Buchan, where I was stationed. I was put on a charge for being AWOL, but I put in a quick call to Mick and Ray Sefton and they sorted it out, so I was a hero again! Mick always had a way with words and always looked after us.

Memories: Epic rescues many at night with incredible flying and professionalism by the crews in the wild cliffs. I was in Kintail trying Tranters North and South Clunnie ridges, when he came and picked us up to help on an incident on Pinnacle ridge on Skye. The weather was wild. With just Mick and the pilot, we tried to get in to the hill in the bad weather. We ended up in the gorge and had an epic flight, actually backing out, and then we came back a different way and were dropped on the third pinnacle — with my dog, Teallach. We helped the Skye team bring the casualty off into the Corrie. The helicopter took us to Mallaig for a night stop, a wild night. Mick made sure the dog got fed first. We needed accommodation for six, plus a dog!

Mick was on the Wessex that crashed on Ben More at Crainlarich in 1982. He was very badly injured in the crash, along with a great friend Ian. Sadly, Harry the Killin Team Leader was killed. I was at RAF Leuchars on exercise at the time. It was a winter’s night and we were on our way home. Mick buzzed our convoy at Tyndrum with the Wessex and told us we were needed to help at Killin for a fallen walker.

We watched the aircraft hit the hill. We knew all the crew and the Killin Team. It was a night I will never forget, but within two years Mick was back.

We went to the Alps most years, Mick organised it and drove the whole way, smoking his pipe, and not sleeping. These were crazy days but great fun and trips we will never forget. He never took authority seriously, and we had some fun run-ins with various police, campsite owners and others. The team was always in the odd bit of trouble, but Mick being aircrew was well aware of how to handle such problems, and many times he pulled us out of bother from the military authorities. He was a member of Greenpeace and had their badge on his flying suit. We were both interviewed by the SIB (RAF Police) for this breach of rules. He told me to be quiet, and after they had their say, he said, “What have you got against Dolphins and Wales.” He was real character and a great friend to us all.

Mick was involved in many Rescues but one that stays in the memory was the epic of a Jet Ranger helicopter that crashed in the middle of winter, 11th January, 1977. It crashed in Loch Avon, a real epic call out. Mick was part of the 22 Sqn. Whirlwind complement that rescued the Ranger’s crew. In the words of Ray Sefton. the RAF MRT Team Leader who was onboard, “I have 20 years’ experience and in that time have been involved in, and witnessed, numerous mountain evacuations by helicopter. This operation was achieved over a lengthy period of time, at night, in the most severe weather conditions and over hazardous mountain terrain. The skill and professionalism of the aircraft captain and his whole crew resulted in the saving of two lives. I cannot praise the crew too highly. It is a rare privilege to have flown with men of such calibre.”

Many will write about Mick and his helicopter days who know far more than me about this part of his life. He brought so much to the job and was a big first aid improver, bringing in things like “velcro frac straps” simple ideas but sensible. With Hamish MacInnes, he introduced the use of the “high-line” for evacuating casualties from the hill.

To me he was a larger than life personality, who had this unique bond with the MRT as well. He was aircrew but also very proud of the RAFMRS and the civilian MR Teams. MR was in his blood. We lost touch, as you do over the years but I am glad we had a long chat recently. He led a full life, left the RAF and travelled extensively but we managed to get in touch. Mick stayed single all of his life but was a real hit at times with the lassies. During his University days in Dundee as a mature student, he was surrounded by lovely women who took this pipe-smoking man who was not politically correct to their hearts.

Mick was a real character from the” Golden Age” Of SAR, he was “Grumpy Mick,” controversial, intelligent, a superb winchie, but also a man who loved the mountains and the people of Mountain Rescue. As someone said the Highlands will mourn his passing. What an epitaph!

Bill “Angus” MacEachern

(A Partial Obituary)

Compiled by Brian Canfer

Bill MacEarhern died in February 2014. He joined the RAF as a boy entrant in 1953 and then the St Athan MRT. He was at one time a stalwart member of the team’s skiffle group. Bill was posted to Scotland in 1958 and in those days, as shown (centerfold), Troops were issued with a certificate of membership.

The O i/c at that time was Tony Newbould and in an e-mail exchange he wrote “Bill McEachern rings bells, Brian. Don’t remember the Angus tag though. The kit is authentic for the 1950s, yes, and the skiffle group with a little negotiation was our passport to free faggots and peas for all the team at the local hostelry wherever we went on exercise! I think the first 2 pictures come from his earlier years as a Boy Entrant at St Athan, both from the youthfulness of all of them and the characteristic “funny walk” where the Boys marched in single file tight behind each other. He would probably have overlapped more with Bill Brankin – interesting to hear what he says. I was keeping really well until close to my recent 80th, but the last 4 months brought a rare and terrible autoimmune disease myasthenia gravis. I have survived it after a close run, but be advised don’t go there! The kit that Tony refers to is shown in the photos kindly supplied by Bill’s sister who wrote to Dave Hopper after receiving the Spring Newsletter to advise us of Bill’s passing (see centerfold).

Bill Brankin also responded, saying, “Thank you for your E-mail. I apologise for the delay in replying but I have been hospitalised with a wedge fracture of my lower spine and it is extremely painful. I have had X-rays CT scans and a bone density scan at the Nuclear Medicine Clinic and I still cannot walk more than 50 yds.

I was TL at St Athan from 1955 to 57. I took over from Des Cook, an admin F/S who was very helpful to me in my first TL post. There was no skiffle group in my time but I did know “Angus” McEachern as a team member. He came from the Isle of Lewis where his father was lighthouse keeper at the Point of Lewis. He was a solid Scot, great humour and first rate team member.

Thank you for all your efforts with MRA, It is fantastic as an 84 year old to hear all the news about the teams and a recent picture of the team vehicles in a national newspaper made me very envious when I think of my open topped Land Rover and how we held a cigarette lighter at the windscreen to see our way over Rannoch Moor in freezing temperatures. Not to forget the lads also freezing in the back of the 3 tonner. It is quite sad to hear of all the team closures.

I was sorry to hear about Tony Newbould’s problem. Please give him my best wishes if you contact him.

Bill apparently acquired the Angus moniker due to too many “Bills” in the system. After St Athan he went to Leuchars and Kinloss, but we do not know in what order, enquiries made to Ray Sefton were passed onto Danny Daniel who responded thus, “Hi Ray, I remember an Angus MacEachern at Leuchars 62/63 time. Sounds like the same guy. Danny

After he left the RAF in 1965 he became a marine engineer and was a Chief Engineer until he retired. At some stage he moved to Alness in Ross-shire. It would be fascinating to know if he ever worked on the MCU based there, can you answer this question?

This is the sum of our knowledge of Bill’s life, the photos above and a few others have been added to our Flickr gallery and can be viewed at:


If you can add any more details we would love to hear from you.

Brian Canfer,

19th April 2014

John Ellis Roberts

(Adapted from The Times, August 29th 2014)

John Ellis Roberts, MBE, mountaineer and mountain rescue expert, was born on August 6, 1943. He died on July 17, 2014, aged 70.

Mountains create their own custodians, individuals who risk themselves for the safety of others or to ensure that the areas around them remain attractive for the thousands who visit for adventure and recreation. John Ellis Roberts fulfilled that role for Snowdon, the most popular high point of Wales.

For 30 years he was head warden of the Snowdonia National Park and for 40 years a leading organiser in the area’s volunteer mountain rescue service. His death in a climbing accident in the Llanberis valley, where he led the rescue of hundreds of injured or lost climbers and walkers, was especially poignant. He fell from a buttress above a legendary cleft on Dinas Cromlech, known as Cemetery Gates.

Roberts became the recognised voice and expert on all questions connected with Snowdonia as the region became a magnet for outdoor tourism. His combined role as park warden and rescue specialist proved increasingly useful. Responsibility for dealing with gruelling and often technically difficult rescues was delegated to civilian teams of active climbers by the police, as such rescues demanded skills and training beyond the average bobby.

Few people knew the area in such detail as Roberts, and after working with the neighbouring Ogwen Valley mountain rescue team he moved to Llanberis, where a mountain rescue post was later established in Nant Peris under his leadership. His conviction that the rescue service should become professionally trained and equipped was supported by evidence on the hills as the number of walkers in the region grew each year. Rescuing an injured climber from a cliff demands speed, risk to the rescuers, skilled engineering of ropes and a constant battle with gravity — over the years Roberts received six commendations for bravery.

He devised clever methods for rescuing injured climbers and his inventiveness extended to ways of rescuing crag-fast sheep, a frequent problem in Snowdonia. The harness he devised for this is still known as the Roberts bag. He recognised the value of training dogs for search and rescue after watching a search dog working in Scotland, achieving in minutes what could have taken laborious hours for a human search team. The first rescue dog in Snowdonia in 1966 was handed to Roberts as a gift by Hamish MacInnes, the Scottish mountaineer. The German shepherd dog, named Bonn, quickly proved her worth by finding alive a woman lost in the winter hills above Beddgelert. Roberts extended his support for the use of dogs for search and rescue by cheerfully appearing in a television advert for dog food, perhaps to the surprise of the park authority.

John Ellis Roberts grew up in Blaenau Ffestiniog in a community of quarrymen, a life divided between hard work and the chapel. It was a family pattern he was determined to resist. After education at the local grammar school he became a junior draughtsman at the Trawsfynydd nuclear power station, which allowed him time to pursue his passion for mountaineering.

A better job with the Welsh Water Authority opened the prospect of more distant hills. He became a competent skier and professional guide on alpine tours in France and Switzerland. In Snowdonia he worked with volunteers building, repairing and marking paths across the mountains to lead occasionally lost, ill-equipped or mist-bound wanderers along the safest route. A kindly-natured man, always willing to share his immense knowledge of the Snowdonia hills, Roberts won the admiration of the neighbouring RAF mountain rescue service based at Valley on Anglesey. He is survived by his partner, Tracey Evans. A first marriage, to Bronwen, ended in divorce.

Roberts was appointed MBE and retired from the National Park Authority in 1998 after serving for 32 years. The British Mountaineering Council said Roberts had been for decades the backbone of the Llanberis team, his practical contribution and knowledge of the mountains proving priceless on many occasions. Moreover, he was always respectful of the dangers and served the team in many roles. He was nominated president and last year made an honorary team member, 40 years after the rescue centre opened at Nant Peris.

50OtH 2014 P50

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RAF MRS Key Personnel

OC MRS:            Steve Foulkes

Flt Cdr MRS:    Gareth Pattison

WO MRS:          Mick Morris

Team Leaders

RAF Lossiemouth FS Willie McRitchie

RAF Leeming        FS Paul Millen then Marcus Littler changes mid Sept 2014

        RAF Valley             FS Lee Wales

Here if YOU Need Us” MRA Honorary Chaplains

RAF Leeming           Padre Stewart Shaw

RAF Valley                Padre Chris Lawrence Tel 01407 762241 Ext 7037, or christopher.lawrence983@mod.uk or sclawrence2000@yahoo.co.uk

RAF Lossiemouth         Padre Sheila Munro Tel 01343 817598 LOS-CSFCChaplain@mod.uk