Pyrotechnics – Ground illuminating Flares – who remembers them and the Para Flares (rockets) that could light up a Coire.

Ground illumination Flare 0n Creag Mheaghaidh call out.

I wrote a piece the other day of a Call – out at night on Skye and got a message from a pal about seeing the flares light up the Coire as we struggled with the stretcher and the steep ground. It reminded me how great to see them, the flares were heart warming and that we had help and could for a few minutes see our route down. It also reminded me how much we used Pyrotechnics in these days.

When I was with the RAF MRT being the military we had always carried a couple of metal boxes full of flares and parachute flares like rockets for use on call – outs. They travelled with us very weekend in our big 4 tonner wagons.They had proved vital over many years . These were well used before radios were reliable teams were often called back to base by the use of flares The famous book 2 Star Red by Gwen Moffat is where that title for the book came from.

Two Star Red

Nowadays the lighting, very powerful torches on the hill is so much better now. The helicopters also have Night Vision Goggles (NVG) what a change from these early years.

Pyrotechnics are and can be dangerous. We had to train annually with them on our Base and that ended up with a few epics. They were dangerous items in the wrong hands. Once the airfield was shut, aircraft diverted at Kinloss when a rocket we fired on a training season started a wild fire on the airfield. The Armourers on station or in the team who looked after the pyrotechnics got the blame. They were in charge.


We had to be extremely careful all the time. We also carried smoke grenades to mark our location with the helicopter and advise them of wind for landing. There was another time when training with them the Station Commander arrived as his car had driven into the thick orange smoke. He was not impressed. His car was covered in Orange smoke and my career gone again.

Smokes – Photo Dan Carrol

On Station and Call – outs we always told the Police and Coastguards that we were training with Pyrotechnics as they would get a few calls from the public. Occasionally many years ago a few Highland villages would if Nov 5 th fell at a weekend would do a demonstration with Pyrotechnics that were going out of date. To me they were a great addition especially on a windless night in a remote Corrie. When used properly at night it was like daylight when they were sent off correctly. As the light drifted down from the flare once the smoke cleared it was surreal. You had to get the wind right or your rocket could head of into the next glen or Corrie. They were brilliant at keeping you on the right route off the hill or showing you the nature of the ground you were on The Ground illuminating flares were superb at lightning a path or way off the hill with a stretcher for the few minutes they burned. They were so bright and showed route if placed correctly. Then as they burnt out it was dark again, they also gave many a casualty hope that we were in the area. Help was coming.

Para Flare Dan Carrol photo

It could be surreal in a big Corrie like on the Ben when you found out exactly where you were? Yet comforting if more folk were coming to help you with a steep carry off on dangerous terrain. We used them often especially in my early years in Skye, Ben Nevis, Glencoe, Creag Meaghaidh,the Cairngorms and North Wales. The big lowers on the Idwal slabs in Wales at night lighted up by flares and smoke will always remain with me. As will the wild corries and seeing where you were long before GPS. Then there was the mini – flares but that is another tale.

Sometimes very scary.

Steep Ground – Photo Dan Carrol.

Any memories ?

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Books, Equipment, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Munros, Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

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