Old and Bold – RAF Mountain Rescue just after the war! “The kit on the outside may have changed but underneath the heart and soul of the team remains the same”

Simple lower - scary

Simple lower –  simple gear and very basic and scary?

I am doing some research for a talk I am doing for Scottish Mountain Rescue who celebrate 50 years of the Organisation . In the early days there was little formal Mountain Rescue in Scotland the years 1925 -1945  as these are the Stats from the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal by a report by Ben Humble a great pioneer of Mountain Safety show this:


SMC Journal (Articles) the “Auchallader Accident” George Sang Volume 17, Page 179; The “Stob Ghabhar Incident” JMCS notes (18, 54) The “Cairngorm Disaster”; Professor Gregory (18, 162) “The Buachaille Etive Accident” Alex Harrison and Robert Jeffrey (19,197); “The Ben Alder Incident” JMCS Notes (19,300); “The Cairngorm Disaster” CW Parry (20, 40)  “Scottish Mountaineering Accidents” A Harrison (20, 290) “Accident Lists” (21, 290; 22,82; 22,213; 23,279) Further info on SMC Journal Vol 17 Page 179 and Vol 18 Page 162. SMC “First Aid Committee Accident Lists” Cairngorm Club Journal, Mountaineering Journal.   “Mountaineering Days in the Isle of Skye” J. E. B. Wright

1925 – 1945 – 90 call -outs , 45 Fatalities, 61 injured.

Glencoe had 20 call -outs with 7 fatalities.

Ben Nevis – 16 call -outs – 8 fatalities.

Cairngorms – 10 call -outs – 9 fatalities.

Southern Highlands -13 call -outs – 7 fatalities.

Skye 16 call -outs – 8 fatalities.

Northern Highlands –  1 call – out.

Western Highlands – 1 call out – 1 fatality.

Central Highlands – 10 call -outs – 4 fatalities.

Southern Uplands – 2 call -outs nil fatalities.

Island other than Skye – 1 call -out – 1 fatality.

1928 Search in Glen Einich

1928 Search in Glen Einich – local people and police great effort in the search


I found some old photos of the early days of the RAF Mountain Rescue and these were incredible days when kit was simple and there were few civilian teams about. After the war there was lots of old WD (War Department) gear surplus after the war which was used by the civilian climbers  and walkers to great effect.

Some of the kit issued to RAF MRT in the late 40’s

  1. Oilskin Trousers – Oilskin Sou’wester Hat – Very pistol! for communications
  2. Balaclava Helmet – Sea Boot Stockings
  3. Gaiters – Woollen mittens
  4. Khaki Battledress Top – Khaki Battledress Trousers
  5. Boots & ice axes – no crampons!
  6. Wind – proof smocks.
1951 The RAF Kinloss MRT at Beinn Eighe look at how basic the gear was?

1951 The RAF Kinloss MRT at Beinn Eighe look at how basic the gear was?

  1. Beret-Whistle-Signal Flag – Electric Torch
  2. Thermos Flask -Snow Goggles
  3. Ice Axe -Another best friend
  4. Knife, Duffle Coat – Used when travelling in the trucks.
  • Flying Boots –  Condemned for flying, Handy for us. Crampons   NOT ISSUED Two pairs hanging on the wall in the workshop, ex commando and to big for any boots in the team.
1951 RAF MRT Training manual.

1951 RAF MRT Training manual.

This amazing manual above was the first of its kind in the world in MR circles, was originally written by Mike Halton in 1951 for RAF MR. This 7th Edition has a preface also written by Mike Halton

Despite this the ex WD gear allowed many to go out into the hills with better gear and push the grades, the accidents increased and the RAF Teams got involved in many incidents in this era and were a huge influence.

From the RAF Kinloss MRT Call Outs from 1944 – 49 show that the team was involved in many aircraft incidents but the mountaineering incidents increased later on.



The  Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service (RAFMRS) provides land rescue over the mountain areas of the United Kingdom.  Teams (MRTs) were first organised during World War II to rescue aircrew from the large number of aircraft crashes then occurring on high ground. These were the days  of limited communications and it is hard to imagine the difficulties involved on rescues.

The mountaineering incidents now began to increase call – outs in Scotland at this time were carried out by local Police, shepherds Gillies and mountaineers, the Scottish Mountaineering Club would assist when asked. Huge changes were to occur from 1950 – 1960.


 1960 donald Duff Police

 The number of Mountaineering incidents are increasing from 1950 – 1960 and the need for Mountain Rescue Teams in various areas became a priority of the Police.   With more people out on the hills and transport improving the mountains were opening out.

Early first aid and basic sttechers.
Early first aid and basic stretchers old WD issue. No helmets and only one rope what would the Health and Safety Police say today?
Nowadays all the gear - what a change!

Nowadays all the gear – what a change!


The practice at the time was to organise ad-hoc rescue parties from station medical sections and other ground personnel.



Call out the early days

Call – out the early days.

These photos show how basic the gear was and if you read any history of Mountain Rescue in the UK the RAF Teams were heavily involved with locals and the early civilian teams. Incredible days.

Control vehicle with added room.

Ambulance/ Control vehicle with added room.

“The kit on the outside may have changed but underneath the heart and soul of the team remains the same.” Words from Wullie MacRitchie the ex RAF Lossiemouth Team Leader and how profound they are”

Two Star Red - Gwen Moffat

Two Star Red – Gwen Moffat – this gives a great insight into the early days of RAF  Mountain Rescue  what a book you may be lucky to get a copy if you look hard!

Nowadays there is only 1 RAF Team in Scotland at RAF Lossiemouth and two down South at RAF Leeming and RAF Valley in North Wales.

The Black Cloud.

The Black Cloud.

The Black Cloud provides an account of some of the Scottish mountain misadventures in the years 1928 – 1966. The book begins in the late 1920s when searches were made by shepherds, stalkers and as many able-bodied volunteers as could be mustered; it ends in the days when helicopters and trained mountain rescue teams had become available.

These were interesting times!

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Aircraft incidents, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Rock Climbing, Views Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.