Scottish Mountain Rescue 1950 -1960 – big changes start to occur.

It must be remembered that the Police are responsible for land Rescue but in no way have they have the capability in manpower or organisation n this area to run rescues in every area. Yet the Police were the backbone of many a rescue yet they had very limited gear or training. The letter below shows the basic equipment that the RAF Rescue gave the Police, the gear was lengths of rope, ice axes and wind – proof suits.

1951 Letter from the Police thanking the RAF Rescue for basic gear!

1951 Letter from the Police thanking the RAF Rescue for basic gear!

The increasing numbers taking to the mountains and the rise in incidents led to some changes more people were rock-climbing and problems were occurring as standards were raised. Some climbing gear failed, a few ropes broke after falls and rock climbing and winter climbing protection was fairly limited at this time. These were the days of the leader must not fall! So much was happening in Scotland this was the” Golden Age of mountaineering” with many of the great of the day pushing standards. Just have look at the guide books to see what was being climbed with basic gear at this time. Look at the names of those climbing: Patey, Smith, Marshall, Murray and so many more this was an incredible time. Roads were better and the Highlands were easier to access there was so much virgin climbing for those who wanted adventure.

The Golden Years 1950 -1960

The Golden Years 1950 -1960

1950 Scottish Climbing Accidents from SMC Journal

30 incidents – 9 Fatalities ( 4 Rock climbing/scrambling, 4 hill walking, 1 possible heart failure)

1950 advert for ropes!

1950 advert for ropes!

As incidents increased more local people got involved in rescue and it was not unusual for other local climbers and Climbing clubs to help in Rescue. One of the incidents above was to a SMC Member who broke his leg skiing in Glencoe on Meall A Bhuiridh. He was brought down to the road by hand transport. Leg x rayed and set in plaster next day and returned to business afterwords! No Rescue party, No Press and No publicity. Everything was done by his own party and no one else inconvenienced.

1950 more gear!

1950 more gear!

It also states “An example of how such a matter can be dealt with by a competent party, “SMC Journal 1950

By 1960 the Accident rate was very similar with:

32 incidents – 9 fatalities ( 5 rock scrambling – 4 hillwalking but a steady rise in climbing incidents in technical areas, Clachaig Gully Glencoe and Archers Ridge.) The 1960 Journal thanks both the RAF Teams and Hamish McInnes , Dr Catherine McInnes and Police Constables Whillians and Dunn for their work in Glencoe. Mountain Rescue was a small world in these days.

1953 Stretcher carry

1953 Stretcher carry.

Incidents began to spread out and to assist the RAF MRT had Sub Units in various places where simple kit was available to help in a rescue in these climbing areas. This was mainly for Aircraft crashes nut the idea was taken on by clubs including the SMC.

1955 May Sub Units Medi

1955 May Sub Units Medical Post.

“The avoidance of accidents in mountaineering depends on observing the advice given in the first part but even more on maintaining at all times an awareness between the party climbing , the state of the mountain being climbed at the time and the weather. It is from this that safe climbing springs”

SMC journal 1955 still very relevant today!

Braemar MRT the early days

Braemar MRT the early days

5/3/50 Buachaille Etive Mor. Glencoe.


Climber fell whilst glissading in D gully.  Fell 250ft and sustained broken leg.  Carried off via the summit, took 24hrs.  This was  first time morphine was used.
1955 - list of medical Posts

1955 – list of medical Posts.

Medical Post were set up all over Scotland and the list is above, there was still no organised committee purely for Mountain Rescue it was a group of like-minded mountaineers and clubs and the Red Cross were early players after the war. As Bob Sharp states in his History of Scottish Mountain Rescue ” it was an amalgam of 27 representatives  from Organisations as diverse as the Youth Hostels Association , Tourist Boards not surprisingly  resulted in massive bureaucracy that achieved nothing.” Harsh but true as I have spoken to several players in this period!

1955 Rescue Boggie - Ben Nevis

1955 Rescue Boggie – Ben Nevis

In these early years as stated before in Lochaber the local Lochaber Climbing Club was heavily involved in Rescues in the Ben Nevis Area as were many of the locals in Glencoe and other places. Incredible people, every area has it tales of these early days and the outstanding work by locals.

Avalanche Ben Nevis

Avalanche Ben Nevis early days – the probe was home made by workshops at RAF Kinloss and became very popular as a probe but very heavy.

1 /04 /53 Ben Nevis

South Castle Gully

Six-day search for two avalanched climbers. They left kit in CIC hut and not returned. Team climbed N&S Castle, 2, 3 & 4 gullies. Casualties found when snow melted below N&S Castle gullies. 2 Fatal.  Massive search by local climbers and RAF Kinloss MRT – located on 19 April !
1954  – Ben Nevis

NE Buttress


5 Royal Navy from Lossiemouth was killed in a glissading accident descending the Carn Mhor Dearg Arete.  This was one of the reasons behind the abseil posts, put up by the team. A tragic event that was to lead to a safety initiative at the time!
1955 Glencoe

The Chancellor

Rescue of 2 fallen climbers.  Probably the most difficult rescue carried out by Kinloss and Glencoe locals  up to that time. 

Donald Duff Memorial Expedition Poster

1958 Ben Nevis


3 missing climbers found at the foot of Zero Gully.  Fatal.  (Tech). Belay failed, ice axe, recovery party included Hamish Mc Inness and Tom Patey


04/01/59 Glen Doll Disaster

44/ 235775

Joint search with Leuchars MRT for 5 missing walkers.  Only one body was recovered from the snow.  The other four bodies were recovered over the next three weeks. See 2 Star Red- 5 fatalities

These were just a few of the incidents attended by RAF Kinloss MRT  1950 – 1959 ! Things were changing with an increase in rock and winter climbing incidents.

1951 RAF MRT Training manual.

1951 RAF MRT Training manual.

The Duff Stretcher designed by Doctor Donald Duff Of Lochaber and the doctor at the Belford Hospital and who led the local team made up of local climbers in this period. It was designed by him in North Wales in 1944 . Below is a letter asking the RAF Rescue to look at the stretcher.

1950 letter ref stretcher

1950 letter ref stretcher from Doctor Duff.

The famous Donald Duff with his stretcher.

The famous Donald Duff with his stretcher.

1954 Radio on hill

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 Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Scottish winter climbing.. Bookmark the permalink.

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