After I joined the RAF I was posted to RAF Kinloss in Morayshire. I immediately wanted to join the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team and went down to the section to meet them on my lunch break. I was at this time a small 5 feet five, very skinny about 7-8 stones, young lad. They took one look at me and told me to get lost. I was heartbroken but amazed how non – military they were, there seemed no rank but they all looked hard as nails. I later found out that I did not meet the Team Leader but some of the young full time Mountain Rescue staff who worked there. I vowed to join the team somehow. The team had just completed a huge callout in November the Cairngorm Tragedy where they were heavily involved in the recovery of 6 fatalities 5 that were children from the Cairngorm Plateau. This was Scotland worst mountain disaster. Naturally the team were very shaken by this tragedy and were fairly close like a family group and they did not want any other new members at this time.
None of this stopped me wanting to join and when I met the team leader when he came in to collect the team rations for the weekend exercise I spoke to him. Flight Sergeant George Bruce BEM was the team Leader. George was a small, laugh a minute man, he was as hard as nails, a Physical Training Instructor a Scotsman from Edinburgh, a teetotaler who spoke and led the team like the famous Bill Shankly the Liverpool Manager and Alec Ferguson he also had a sense of humour like Billy Connolly what an incredible combination. George immediately took to me and said come out this weekend we are going to Kintail on the West Coast and we will see what you are like. He had a charm and an amazing personality and when he spoke he was so authoritative, the team were all in awe of him, I was over the moon. He was also a fanatic Rangers man and loved the West Coast banter on football and religion which was lost on many of the team. He was also a very proud Scotsman and this is also another great bonus to me. George had a sign in his office “The mountains have no respect for rank” a phrase that was to get me into trouble in the years to come, but was to prove very true as most of Georges statements.
The RAF Mountain Rescue was founded during the Second World War to rescue aircrew that crashed in the mountains. In these days teams were very basic and proved their worth saving many aircrews from the mountains. It was decided after the war to keep the teams and they were six teams in the UK when I joined in 1972. The majority of incidents teams were used for were for civilian climbers. The RAF Teams at one point were the backbone and founding members of the Mountain Rescue Service within UK. They had a team Leader and 4 full –time personnel, a wireless operator, store man, a motor transport driver and deputy team leader. These were made up of any trade within the RAF and the Team Leader was usually a Sergeant or Flight Sergeant. The rest of the team was made up volunteers from any trade or any rank within the RAF, who in those days had to train with the team three weekends out of every 4 and be on callout apart from leave 24/7. There was no pay or time off for team members. To join you had to do a three weekend trial or you could be posted to a team for 21 days to see if you were up to the job. The majority lasted one day on the hill and decided it was not for them, it was an all-encompassing trial, not only fitness was essential but you also had to show a drive and determination to keep going and also fit in with the team personnel on the hill and socially. This was all after a full weeks work; The team left at 1800 each weekend for a different base camp in the mountains of Scotland. This was to ensure we had area knowledge of the entire mountain areas in the event of an aircraft crash. The time given to the team was huge and if you were married or in a relationship it was extremely hard to get the committeement right and work and many relationships fell by the wayside. We returned most Sunday night after a hard weekend usually about 2100 depending on weather and call outs, not an easy task for anyone or those with families. I was ready for the challenge despite the horror stories of the “Trial” I was told 95% fail so you have little chance by a few of the troops, they would see!
To be continued.