Yesterday I took the long drive to Lockerbie 250 miles to assist with a documentary that Channel 5 are hoping to finish in mid November. It is about the Lockerbie tragedy that I was involved in 1988. I was a Team Leader of the RAF Leuchars Mountain Rescue Team at the time.
I was away early as it is a long drive but the A9 was blocked by a accident for 5 hours at Calvin. I managed to go via a minor road but my journey became a long 8 hour one.
My interview was at 1600 and I just made it and had time for a break in Lockerbie. In the cafe I met some students and staff from Syracuse University in the USA that lost 35 students in that tragic night. I am part of a small group of 5 that will cycle to Syracuse in memory of those who died in late October . A great honour for me to be part of such an event !
This is the 30 th Anniversary of the tragedy this December and I am doing several interviews for them.
Why folk ask are you doing this ?
Lockerbie – 30 years on! A few thoughts about PTSD.
Many will know of my connection with the tragic Lockerbie Disaster where I was involved with the RAF Mountain Rescue Teams on the initial search from a very early stage.
Few know what the Mountain Rescue Teams, The Search and Rescue Dog Association and other Agencies did during this awful event!
Myself and my colleagues in the RAF Mountain Rescue Teams were only there for three days. That was enough for us all many friends in the civilian teams were there for months. At first light when it was safe we located hundreds of casualties mapped their location, found the Black boxes and drew maps of wreckage and casualty locations for the police in the time we were there. It was a scene of crime and casualties sadly were left in situ until the Police had photographed and their locations detailed for the huge investigation that followed. We passed the same casualties during each search and many covered them with jackets and clothes to give them dignity. We all have memories of each one. The surreality of the scene with presents for Christmas everywhere and the smell of fuel and burning, the damage to the town was awful. Yet sadly it became normality and we did our job as best we could.
The teams and search Dogs were out locating and seeing things that will remain with them forever. It was just before Christmas and among all the wreckage was Christmas presents and so many young folk. We were not in a war but this had happened in a small Scottish town just before Christmas . After it we were shattered Christmas was upon us and tried to get back to normality for our families sake! Lockerbie had the same they had lost 11 townsfolk yet life must go on looking back it is incredible how they coped. There are so many stories of how these wonderful people coped during this tragic period. Some are talking now for the first time . They are the true story of Lockerbie and how good local people
helped relatives from all over the world. There is no shouting it has been done for 30 years in privacy and with great human kindness that few understand .During our time at Lockerbie the townsfolk were magnificent to us. They the WRI fed us in the Lockerbie Academy 24 hours a day and looked after us all. They became our confidents, mothers, grannies who looked after our people. The teams and Searchers who were struggling to cope and the local
Folk were there assisting despite the tragedy to their Village and those they lost. I will never forget that care and love we received from ordinary local folk. We became their boys and girls they knew what we had to do yet they gave us kindness and love that I can never forget. The worlds media arrived in droves yet we were all looked as best as the conditions allowed. We stayed in the Academy gymnasium on the floor over 100 of us for three nights . I had little sleep there was so much to do. Yet we all worked well it was teamwork and what we trained for and I have huge respect for my fellow team leaders and troops.
At the time there was little knowledge of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ( PTSD) and when I was at the initial scene I asked our Control at Pitreavie if they could get us Physiocratic help after we completed our tasks!
To this day I have no clue why I requested this but what we saw for those three days were way out of anything I had seen in 15 years of tragedies on the mountains and aircraft crashes.
I was in the RAF as a Team Leader at the time at RAF Leuchars in Fife and in my prime. I was 36 and surrounded by an experienced but young dedicated team!
The other RAF teams there were made up of friends all the Team Leaders were used to working together and we were lead by a great man our Boss Bill Gault. He was the contact with the Police and a true leader one of us and worked so hard to ensure we ran the initial confused searches as best we could.
We were a tight group we knew each other’s strength and limitations. They from the team leaders to the newest folk were all excellent and worked so hard together. It took a toll though over the years.
In addition the civilian teams involved were all well known to us we had trained and worked together on many occasions. The same was with SARDA the Dog Association.
Yet from the early stages this was way out of all our understanding! The scene was a battlefield a horrific scene of fire and hell. We all saw things that will stay with us forever.
When we returned to our RAF camp just before Christmas I spent a day writing reports about the tragedy. Some of my team though-many lived off camp came and spoke about what they had seen. A few could not speak to their partners about it. Others coped and many did not want to discuss it! Then we had to get on with life accidents in the mountains were still happening lots of trauma and life had to go on.
When a medical team arrived a few weeks later to brief us many in RAF and MR felt I had broken a confidence. It was a time when few spoke about things and it was a hard time as PTSD was not accepted at the time by the majority in the military!
Many will know how badly it effected me over these years. I became a different person. All the signs were there to many to list nightmares, broken sleep, aggression, limited concentration, drinking yet I still had to lead a team into the worst that a Scottish winter could throw at us. In the end I was ill for several months burnt out but the team looked after me as did my family! Yet it took nearly 25 year to come to terms with it! I still suffer at times but it’s a lot better but I have to live with it. A few years ago I was ill and received several operations when under the anaesthetic I had terrible nightmares. That was not what I was expecting and have to tell the doctors that this may happen. I still dread things like this happening.
Over the years many have spoke about the effect Lockerbie had on them. I have openly and how it changed my life and effected those I love! I cannot go back and change that but I maybe I can help others to come to terms.
30 years on and Lockerbie is again in the media and I am getting asked to speak about how it effected me!
Many say “do not do it leave it let it go “but I feel I cannot PDSD is a huge thing nowadays especially within the Emergency Services and the Military.
Yet many in authority still do not accept this so the way forward is to speak about what happened to us. This is not for personal gain, publicity but to improve things for future generations . It is not easy for me to speak but I feel I must for all those out there who still suffer.
Hopefully they and future generations will learn from our mistakes and the organisations will learn to cope better?
If you were involved in Lockerbie and will speak openly could you contact me. It may help you as it does me to open up and share what we did and how we cope? Would you be prepared to talk or write about your experiences? This may help others in the future ! This year I gave several lectures two locally in the Borders team veterans from the civilian teams spoke openly to me about the tragedy and how it effects them!
I apologise if I have opened old wounds but if you were involved we are all part of a unique bunch of people who experienced an extraordinary time in your life.
Sadly there is still so much to do! Money is tight within the country and no matter who is in power there will never be enough to help with mental health. It is a huge problem within society yet at last we are speaking about it and how to seek help!
When I left the military in 2007 I was given a medical at home by a doctor to assess my pension!
At the end he said “ I see you have said you may have PDSD ? How did you get that as a Caterer ? “
“I said I think it’s time you left”
I could not face any more of that lack of thought by someone who should have knowledge of my medical history by a so called medical professional. I did not have the capacity to go through it all again it is not easy .
I was not after compensation but to get help when times get hard as they still do.
Sadly many things still trigger it off. Yet I find getting out on the hills on the bike are great therapy and I can speak to good friends and family who now understand a little of what happened in 1988.
There is still so much to do and so many who still suffer.
As I drove to Ayr yesterday in the rain after a long interview in Lockerbie my head was still on fire. I stopped near the old mining village where Glenbuck was and took a few minutes. Then I drove into the stunning evening light to Ayr. The light was blinding on the sea and Arran was peaking out as the rain cleared. My head was clearing and life goes on we all
have to live with experiences some harder than others. Yet nature is the best cure as is true friendship and understanding.
This is why I try to speak about my experiences and I hope this article gives you an appreciation of some of what happened to myself and my friends in December 1988.
Few will understand how we all felt yet we tried our best and I pray we learn from the past for the future!
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul”
Comments welcome !
If you can could you if you can and are on Facebook could you go to the Ride to Syracuse page and like it please.
It is worth noting two years later we flew into another hellish scene when the Shackleton aircraft crashed on Harris killing all the crew. I was again very early on scene with this time the RAF Kinloss MRT it was a hard time.
In 1994 I was again into another tragedy on the Mull of Kintyre when 29 died in the Chinook crashed. As we left the helicopter I said to my team mates please watch me as this is to like Lockerbie for me.
Yes life has been tricky at times but this was our job. The RAF Mountain Rescue was formed to recover crashed aircrew.
It was hard at times and I could not have been with better folk who mean so much to me!
Thank you for all the comments they mean so much and for those who are only speaking now be brave . There is help out there!
And let the light come in.