The photo above is of two incredible men. John Hinde and Johnnie Lees both in RAF Mountain Rescue. Johnie Lees was a legend who I finally met in 2001 we had a great chat and I will never forget it this was after our Everest trip.
He was a powerful mountaineer a very talented rock climber and Team Leader within RAF Mountain Rescue. Johnie Lees was awarded a George Medal for a rescue in Wales.
On 3 January 1958, Major Hue Robertson, a climber from the Army Mountaineering Association, was climbing Amphitheatre Buttress on Craig yr Ysfa in Snowdonia, when he fell 30 ft fracturing his skull. He lay trapped on a ledge high up the ice-covered cliff. When Flight Sergeant Lees and his party arrived at the peak and lowered themselves down to him it was pitch dark and Robertson had lain delirious in freezing temperatures for six hours. It was obvious that Robertson had severe head injuries and would not survive if the lengthy process of evacuation by stretcher were implemented.
Speed was a matter of life and death. Using a cradle of ropes Lees improvised a Tragsitz harness and with the 14 stone soldier strapped to his back and struggling in delirium, was lowered hundreds of feet into the vertical darkness to the foot of the cliff. The speed and efficiency of the rescue, in bitter conditions, undoubtedly saved Robertson ‘s life. The operation was a triumph of teamwork, and for his part, Lees was awarded the George Medal. Robertson made a full recovery and after obtaining the admired harness from Austria, he presented it to the rescue team.
After the Beinn Eighe Lancaster crash in 1951 , there was great pressure on the RAF and MoD to act. Although Lees had scant knowledge of rescue techniques, his reputation and record as a climber with the RAF Mountaineering Association brought him an invitation to help organise the first training course for the rescue service in Snowdonia, later that year. In 1952, aged 24, he was posted to RAF Valley on Anglesey as Mountain Rescue Team Leader there. It is no exaggeration to say that the entire modern edifice of mountain rescue – both service and civilian – owes its sophistication and rigour to that appointment.
Lees’s excellence at training rescuers was not achieved at the expense of his own climbing career. He qualified as a mountain guide in 1955 and became one of the very few to receive the guiding qualification in winter mountaineering issued by the Association of Scottish Climbing Clubs in the same year.
After retirement in 1985, Lees was made an “honoured guide” by the British Association of Mountain Guides and remained keenly involved in the work of the British Mountaineering Council. For three years he had been chairman of its safety committee and remained a long-term member of its Peak area committee. In 1962 his services to mountain rescue were acknowledged with the award of the British Empire Medal. He also received in his later year’s many awards from within the mountaineering, mountain rescue and guiding world. He received these with his customary wry grace. Sadly he passed away in 2002.