Jimmy Clethero RIP

Sadly I missed my friends Jimmy Clethero’s funeral. I have been told it was a great tribute to the man that so many attended. Jimmy was a great mountaineer very cool in any emergency and never sought the limelight. He was also a great member, party leader and Team Leader of the RAF Mountain Rescue Service. He was greatly thought of by all. As always our thoughts are with Chrissie and family.

Jimmy on Diran Expedition.


Mention the name Jimmy in the RAFMR world and everyone’s mind skips to the tall, skinny, quietly confident young Graham Clethero who arrived on the Stafford team in the early 80s.  Recognising his potential early on, Jimmy was made up to PL at the tender age of 19, a lot of responsibility for a young guy.  One can say it was fortunate that Jimmy found MR so early in his career.  I’d actually say it was MR who were the lucky ones as for 22 of the next 25 years he became the backbone and one of the driving forces of the 3 teams he served with, Stafford, Kinloss and Leeming as well as being a regular instructor on the numerous annual MR courses where troops from all the teams benefitted from his experience and mentoring.

A talented climber, both Summer and Winter, Jimmy always pushed his grades, teaming up with the other top climbers around the system where and whenever possible.  Quickly becoming an accomplished and competent mountaineer, he was as fit as the proverbial butchers dog, invoking many extremely painful memories of trying and failing to keep pace with the scruffy guy in the Ron Hills, Helly Hanson and red Troll rucksack.  Never one to showcase his achievements, with one exception, he was proud to hold the course record for the infamous Snowdon Bike Race, a fact he dropped into polite conversation on a number of occasions.  Jimmy was universally popular, his unassuming manner, laid back approach and unflappable nature endearing him to all and his calm, composed leadership ensured he became a role model and inspiration for many, myself included. Jimmy was always there for the troops offering support, advice, instruction, whatever was required and wherever necessary.  Never a chore.  

Mountain Rescue allowed Jimmy the opportunity to indulge in his lifelong passion for the mountains and crags.  He took advantage of the opportunities afforded to him, taking part in numerous successful overseas expeditions – many to the Alps, the Karakorum mountains in Pakistan, Denali in Alaska to name but a few and I would hazard a guess there are very few hills and crags within the UK which Jimmy hasn’t bagged or completed quality routes. However, he very rarely spoke about his many achievements preferring to look forward to his next list of challenges.  Others, like me, do talk of what he has accomplished, partly through envy, not having the skill or ability to copy the man, and partly sheer admiration.  I don’t believe there are any troops present today who can’t recall exceptional adventures with Jimmy and marvel at his ability to make it look so annoyingly easy!!  I always smile at the memory of Jimmy perched comfortably on his belay stance at the top of Great North Road, a quality climb at Millstone in the Peaks, it was sunny, rope in one hand, ciggy in the other, looking very much at one with the world.  That was Jimmy in his office.  In the 3 year period outside of MR, in Cyprus, Jimmy took it on himself to write a Cyprus climbing guide for the benefit of others to use – one of routes had the most interesting of approaches  If done mid-afternoon in summer it takes you straight down a popular tourist beach complete with many sunbathing half naked ladies That was a tough day.  

On the rescue front, Jimmy attended over 400 callouts, wide ranging from urban searches to some of the biggest aircraft tragedies this country has known – Lockerbie, East Midlands Airport, the 2 x American F15 jets on Ben Macdui and many others.  He also played a major part in the successful locating and rescue of Army personnel in an unexplored gully on Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia, his practical, no-nonsence approach proving invaluable for its successful conclusion.  Once again he very rarely talked of these events, choosing to process them privately, despite having seen things nobody should really have to.

I’ve probably built up a bit of a ‘St Jimmy’ image so far but there is another side to him.  He loved a social and the odd beer or 3 with the troops or his family or both and he possessed a dry, thought out sense of humour which coupled with a mischievous side it was perfect for instigating misdemeanours.  If there was skulduggery going on, Jimmy was not far from it, normally orchestrating from the rear.  A damning drag race video using MR landrovers at an aircraft crash site appeared in the section – I knew who’s idea it was for the drag race – the voice behind the hidden camcorder confirmed the operator as being one of the same!  The instigation of troop swimmings, Clethero was always there; the kidnapping OC Regt’s wayward dog, which began to go awry when the station postman forgot to deliver Jimmy’s ransom demand, Jimmy the criminal – arrested for scaling a public building in Stafford after a few beers, antics with a retro carriage wheel, space hopper and a lack of clothing in a pub in N Yorkshire, comical sheep rescue from half way down a crag in the Peaks including the best rugby tackle one is likely to see.  There are plenty of stories shattering the ‘not so innocent’ image of Mr Clethero.  However, looking at the rogues gallery of troops present today, there are some far more qualified than I to elaborate later today.

I spoke with Jimmy a few days before the Stafford Reunion when he let me know that he wasn’t going to be present this year due to a hospital appointment.  Whether he knew the extent of his condition at this time I don’t know.  What I do know is that in the days and weeks that followed and as his condition worsened, Jimmy was surrounded by the people he loved, Chrissie, of who he was such a devoted partner, Kirsty and Maddison, who made him a proud father and whom he loved so much, his extended family and his friends of old.  The response to the initial facebook message was fantastic and only served to reaffirm everything I knew about Jimmy Clethero, he was one of, if not the most, loved, respected and inspirational of TLs, and always a great troop. The heartfelt, sincere messages which were all read out to Jimmy gave him the reassurance that the MRS family he was such a big part of, will be there for his family.

Thank you Jimmy for allowing me and many others to be part of your life. It has been a privilege to have served with you and an absolute honour to be your friend.  From the whole of the RAF MRS past and present, to Chrissie, Kirsty and Maddison please accept are profound condolences.  And Jimmy “you were and always will be the best”

Rest in Peace Mate.

It’s a privilege to read this dedication today and it was of particular resonance to Jimmy – It was written by ‘Anon’ – RAF Kinloss – February 1995 – And it was dedicated to all members of the RAF Mountain Rescue Team – With a message….Keep up the good work guys.

The Mountaineer

It takes a noble brand of man…. to be a mountaineer

No petty minded person ever found his pleasure here

But he who’s never climbed a hill…. for fear of aches and pains 

Has never felt adrenalin… surge madly through his veins

When safety is a toe-hold…. and your faith in finger tips 

And every breadth is like a prayer…. escaping from your lips

It isn’t just an urge to reach… the topmost craggy shelf

Its stretching nerves to breaking point…. to riseabove yourself

Nor is it tossing coins…..with life and death on either side

Its Courage, Caution, Commonsense,…. And ‘how to do it’ pride 

It’s Teamwork. And the best way is the best – No ifs and buts……

You learn to pull together… and to share each other’s guts

You reach the peak…. You’re handing round a flask…..A bite…..A smoke

While soaking up a scene… unseen by ordinary folk 

A no-man’s land of awesome splendour…. Beautifuland bare

And this is because you climbed a hill … purelybecause it’s there 

Wives and friends of Mountaineers … case hardened to their fate

Will tell you that they also climb….. Who stay at home and wait

A hill’s a burning heartache…. you just hope he can’t detect

That makes you pray the next one… will be climbedin retrospect

Jimmy on Great Harry.

Thanks for your input troops comments and photos always welcome .

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 when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Alaska, Friends, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, People, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Jimmy Clethero RIP

  1. Carol says:

    Thank you for the beautiful words for my brother Graham never called him Jimmy lol we are so proud how much he was loved his big sister Carol


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