The photo above is of the late great Colin Pibworth a man I took over from as Deputy Mountain Rescue Team Leader at RAF Valley! I was beginning my career in 1979 he was in his final years . Pib as he was known was a man who spent so many years with Desert Rescue in Aden Khormaksar, Sharjahs and Masirah! He was a true expert in Desert Rescue and Mountain Rescue! Once you got to know him what a man and a stalwart of Rescue in Wales for so many years! When I did the 14 peaks in North Wales that classic walk on one of my first weekend who met me on Drum but Pib with a brew!
This is from the Alpine Journal – RAFMRS as Black Easter, the Easter of 1951. At that time – and bear in mind this was before formal recruiting or training regimes had been installed in the Service – Pib was a 25-year-old airman at Valley, with the modest rank of SAC. He and FIt Lt Mike Mason, the station’s medical officer, were the two most experienced hillmen there. The only decent gear was that owned by enthusiasts like Pib and Mason; the Air Ministry, at that time, did not believe in posting mountaineers into MRTs
At this time, two of Pib’s frequent climbing companions were Professor T Graham Brown, Professor Emeritus of Physiology at the University of Cardiff, and Gordon Parish, an RAF officer. Graham Brown was the noted alpinist, most famous, with Frank Smythe, for first ascents on the Brenva face of Mont Blanc. His importance to this story lies in the fact that, as a senior member of the RAF Mountaineering Association, he had considerable input to the changes that were to take place to the MRS after the Lancaster crash on Beinn Eighe. Fast forward a decade, and Pib, having just obtained his team leader qualification, was sent out to RAF Khormaksar to lead the Desert & Mountain Rescue Team there. Back in 1943, a Bristol Blenheim bomber of 234 sqn the Royal South African Air Force operating out of Kutra Oasis had crashed, and the crew of six all died; they were buried on site. Twenty years later, on 30 November 1963, Operation Desert Blenheim was mounted by Pib, when a Desert Rescue Team from RAF El Adem disinterred the bodies of the crew, and took them back to Tobruk for burial in the big cemetery there. After a two-year break in the UK, he was back in the saddle again at Khormaksar in 1965, and supervised the move to Sharjah. At this time, relations between the British forces and the local population were, to say the least, edgy, but Pib had got to know them well. Just before Mad Mitch went in amongst the locals, three RAF mountain rescuers, including a visiting senior officer out from the UK, fancied’ a stroll’ from Tawela Tanks along the ridge of Jebel Sham San. Pib drove them to Crater, dropped them there, and drove back through the centre of Crater, his only protection armour-plated floorboards against land mines. In 1971, the Sharjah team was closed, as part of the withdrawal plan for the Persian Gulf, and its personnel went back to the UK. It had never been called to an aircraft incident, but haa been kept on its toes with such activities as arranging desert survival courses for aircrew. After a further short gap, a new team, under a delighted Sergeant Pibworth who had grown to love the Middle East, was opened at RAF Masirah, to provide cover for the southern part of the air route from Akrotiri to Masirah.
In 1972 he was awarded the BEM for services to mountain and desert rescue; and later that decade, was back at Valley, not as Team Leader but as a rank-and-file member. On 23 November 1979 two Jaguars were flying south-west down Glen Orchy, intending to turn west at the main glen towards Oban on the coast. Suddenly the cloud came down, and the leader told the No 2 to abort and pull up; this he did. However, on pulling out of the top of the cloud, he could not see his leader and could make no radio contact. The two Scottish MRTs, Leuchars and Kinloss, were called out, as were the helicopters and several civilian teams. The weather was atrocious, remaining so for the whole of the search. In the early hours the overnight parties returned soaked through to the skin, and soon had hung up their wet gear from every hook and nail in the Tyndrum Hotel’s hut, a pattern that was to be repeated time and again over the next three days. It was a civilian team, eventually, that found the Jaguar just over the north-west ridge of Ben Lui. It had impacted vertically and totally disintegrated, and it was not possible to tell at that stage whether the pilot had ejected or had gone down with it. With no further chance of searching that day, a massive sweep search would be required on the next. The team from RAF Valley was called in to provide extra manpower, and flew up that same night in a Hercules. The next day was another of vile conditions. All teams went on the hill, and attempts were made to get the accident investigation people to the wreck, but with their lack of climbing expertise this had to be abandoned for the time being, apart from the doctor and the photographer, Fit Sgt Alister Haveron, then the Team Leader at RAF Valley, remembers Pib at this time working like a Trojan in the base camp, taking the sodden gear off the troops as they came off the hill, supplying them with dry, and hanging up the wet stuff ready for their next return. Between times he was up on the top of Ben Lui in that appalling rain, snow and wind operating the radio link; and he was then in his fifties. It is this sort of background organisation, that neither press nor public see or even imagine, that can make the difference between success or failure.
Four years after Ben Lui, Pib retired from the Air Force. He settled into that tiny cottage at Moel Tryfan, and that is where he died on 28 June 2001. His funeral service was held at Christ Church, Pen y Groes, on 9 July 2001, conducted by the Rev Sqn Ldr Ken Wilson, C of E padre at RAF Valley. Part of the sermon was built on Pib’s own dark interpretation of some verses from Isaiah, revealing an unexpectedly pessimistic side to the private Pib. He will be remembered at every future Commemorative Service held in Silent Valley, Aden, at the same time and on the same day as Remembrance Day services in the UK. Aden veterans will read out his name and a wreath will be laid by the British Ambassador.
The sixteenth century Italian poet, Ludovico Ariosto, could almost have been thinking of Pib when he wrote: Natura ilfece, epoi roppe la stampa.
Nature made him, and then broke the mould.
What a man “Pib” From the Alpine Journal