Filming in Lockerbie yesterday – trying to explain what I am trying to achieve and make people aware of PTSD and mental health.

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 ?

The lovely memorial window at Lockerbie Town Hall where we filmed yesterday it was so poignant for me to be in this room with the window as a back drop.

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.

My team at RAF Leuchars like all involved civilian Trams and Search Dogs great people who mean so much! We did our best!

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!

An engine in the road images that stay with you!

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”

John Muir

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.

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, Articles, Charity, Cycle to Syracuse Training, Cycling, Enviroment, Family, Friends, Health, Lockerbie, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, PTSD, Views Political?. Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Filming in Lockerbie yesterday – trying to explain what I am trying to achieve and make people aware of PTSD and mental health.

  1. Julie liddle says:

    This is so well written, so informative and so heartbreaking. For me the event was a news story, close to home as we spent that Christmas up in Kielder Forest. But no real thought was given to the effect on those closely involved with the aftermath. You are right to speak out about PDSD and mental health issues. How else does anything ever change. I wish I could get to hear you speak, but I just live too far South. Take care of yourself. Don’t get too stressed by this 30th anniversary and the many interviews you will be asked to do. And good luck with the cycle ride. You are one amazing, inspirational man xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ptsd17 says:

    Well done Heavy for doing what you’ve done. I’ve met a few of the lads from the Army who stayed on long after we left. They had a really difficult time, and suffered quite badly. Unfortunately for them trying to get help was extremely difficult as they had to go through their Regimental organisations who didn’t recognise Lockerbie as a combat zone.
    I hope you’re cycle goes well and you make lots of good friends on your travels.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Secret Squirrel says:

    Brace words and I hope you can help others. I knew a few guys who were in the civilian and police responders at Lockerbie and it affected them all profoundly, nothing could prepare you for that, even experienced MR guys and cops who had seen the worst of murders

    Liked by 1 person

  4. angelashiells says:

    I am a former medical advisor to London Fire Brigade. I now live in Dumfries and Galloway. I know a bit about PTSD after seeing it in firefighters. You are brave to talk about this. I salute you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Gerry says:

    You undertook a difficult and demanding mission and you have suffered the consequences of being exposed to the suffering and extreme trauma of other members of the human race while having to return to an ordinary family life at Christmas.
    I am retired from Psychiatry where I worked for 40 years and have experienced PTSD myself. I am also in Mountain Rescue.
    The relief from symptoms of PTSD during activities such as cycling is similar to my personal experience. Swimming and walking can also do it for some people too. The reason for this is that it distracts you from the intrusive thoughts that lead into uncomfortable symptoms but also because you breathe in a more normal manner which does not set off the alarm system in your brain that triggers the flow of adrenalin and starts the fight or flight mechanism. Among the things I did to try to help myself, I practiced very slow and shallow breathing exercises at times when I detected the early onset of symptoms in myself and I still do this today when necessary. The focus needs to be on relaxing the small muscle twitches in the lower part pf your abdomen and consciously dismissing the overwhelming thoughts that something major is wrong. You have to remind yourself that this is extreme anxiety and will pass.It does take a long time to get some control of this condition and you seem to be on the road to recovery too.
    Best wishes for the future and thank you for your selfless willingness to help others in distress and difficulty.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. pearlg3301 says:

    As a Lockerbie lass, living in Park Place at the time, all I can say is thank you. Thank you for working so selflessly to help us. Thank you for holding the unsung heroes amongst the townsfolk in such high regard. Thank you for being so brutally honest about your PTSD – nobody, whether Lockardian, relative of passenger or crew, driver on the A74, or part of the massive team of rescue services that came rushing to our aid – was ever quite the same again.

    People like you will always be heroes in our eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many ,many thanks my debt to your people to my team and others was and is a forgotten story. To me it was one of Scotland’s saddest days but in the events that followed one of Scotland’s finest hours. Our humanity care and kindness opened so many hearts and did so much for so many.
      I love your words and I am sure that all the Agencies involved will be helped by your thoughts.
      Thank you for taking time it does mean so much!
      God bless you and yours.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Jane Gibson says:

    Radiographers from Dumfries & Galloway Royal Infirmary were asked if they could volunteer to x-ray the victims to help with identification and bomb fragments. I was one radiographer in one of three teams working every day, including Christmas Day, under difficult circumstances to Hogmanay (New Years Eve) when we were stood down.
    That evening I was asked if I could go in again the next day to help set up teams of other radiographer volunteers from other hospitals who then continued for another few days.
    Forensic radiography has now become a recognised field of study but back then it had never been considered.

    It left all of us with memories we would like to forget but we will never forget how everyone, Police, Mountain Rescue, search teams, WRVS, and locals all pulled together.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Lockerbielass says:

    I am crying…. Not even sure what to say just needed to say something. I am also a Lockerbie lass who remembers it as if it were yesterday. Thank you is not enough, its an odd world we live in as even though talking about mental health has come along way its still not OK as a townsperson to openly talk about what happened that night and the months and years after but you have. As I say I don’t know the right words to express the feelings reading your words, they throw up so many different emotions. I long for the day everyone feels able to tell their story, and there are so many, equally as important as the next.

    So I will say thank you but know that I don’t feel that is enough

    Liked by 1 person

  9. JANE B. GIBSON says:

    I remember raising funds for SARDA with one of my paintings. Such a good cause. The poor dogs paws were so badly damaged on that night.
    Everyone involved that evening and the many days and months to follow…. Heroes all of them!
    I had a heart wrenching commission from the D&G CONSTABULARY [ nobody ever talks about ]as it’s too sad.
    It’s a painting of the Remembrance Bothy at Tundergarth. Now hanging in the Dept. of Justice Building in Washington, DC. presented to Janet Reno.
    I shed many tears painting this memorial to all those who were lost on that tragic night and I hope when relatives visit it in Washington, it brings them closer to Lockerbie as some cannot travel the distance anymore. It took me a long time to recover from painting it and a lump comes to my throat just thinking about it.
    My sister and brother in law lived in Lockerbie at the time of the tragedy and my family and I were so grateful they were safe from harm.
    Both of them helped the community that night and I remember Michael saying….’You must do it as so many innocent people lost their lives and we could have been victims too on that night….you are doing it for them! ‘.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jane Maxwell says:

    As a Radiographer I spent 3 weeks of shifts undertaking forensic radiography in each of 3 sites, the Town Hall, Ice Rink and disused factory. I wrote about how things were for us, my husband was a Firefighter there too, and has only recently admitted to suffering . I delivered this story to a Conference of Radiographers, to BAHID and a conference to plan the future of the response to critical incidents. I was glad to ensure that local staff will not be put in that position again, with no experience in that type of situation and no back-up. We have also recorded our story at the Universities of Syracuse and donated any papers we had.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wendy says:

    That night I was at work in the Cairndale hotel in Dumfries when the news came in. The emotions that went through many of us, especially those with family and friends in Lockerbie, is difficult to describe. My dad often went there and I went from scared to thinking it’s ok, it’s not his night for being there to a realisation when I got home that he had in fact been stood in Lockerbie in front of the town hall and was still very shaken by the experience of the sound and not just him but the car lifting from the pavement. He never really spoke of it beyond that night.
    One family friend lost his sister and brother-in-law and another friend’s house was the last one left standing next to the crater. It was often difficult to know what to say, how to be there for them.
    What was initially going to be a quiet Christmas for me at work became the busiest period with the hotel fully booked for several weeks with various people from the media and many of the staff doing some overtime.
    I hope the awareness of PTSD keeps rising so more people get the help they require when they need it. My best wishes to you sir in all your endeavours. Thank you for sharing and allowing us to share some of our own memories and thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Linda says:

    Raising awareness of PTSD is a very difficult task to undertake, this is probably due to “Stigma” and the fact that many do not recognise it, either in themselves or in others, self denial and the huge variations in levels it affects them. Sadly even after 30 years, some may never find themselves able to talk about the events of that fateful night, nor the never healing wounds in their memories that can so easily be triggered by a sound, smell, news report or just sneaking up on you when you least expect it. Leaving the area doesn’t help, when you’re asked where you originally came from, one of the first questions that follows your reply (no matter how generalised you make it), is usually along the lines of “Really”?! “That’s where that plane came down isn’t it, did you see it, were you there, what was it like, it must have been awful” ? Just when you thought you were doing ok, back it all comes just like it was all happening all over again, flashbacks so vivid you can hear the roar, feel the ground shake and smell the fuel. People don’t know your story, your part, or your secret suffering, and there’s no way they could unless you speak about it, recognising it is one thing, dealing with it is another,no matter how many times you brace yourself for the questions, or tell yourself “I’ve got this ” it still happens time and again. That’s why so many of everybody involved may never be able to speak about it, you spend your life trying to block it out, bury it in your mind, and in one single moment, the wounds are open and raw once more. Wishing you every success in both your cycle and your raising awareness of PTSD.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Stella Hughes says:

    We all owe you a debt I was a mother of 4 I was a member of the red cross and was told to report to the town hall where a feeding station was set up little did i know that the next 6month my children would see very little of there mother or father my husband worked for the council I did lots of little jobs working in that feeding station then washing all the victims belongings so they could be returned to the families at Christmas I always spare a thought for the families of the victims

    Liked by 1 person

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