A visit to a gentleman who tried to help us during these dark days of Lockerbie.

Today I visited Gordon Turnbull who lead the team of psychiatrists after the Lockerbie Disaster. He was in hospital in Inverness. He was at the forefront at that time of treating PTSD. When I arrived at Lockerbie I was asked what we needed. I said we would need help with our mental health. I will never know why I asked for this as this was still an era where we never spoke about mental health. I was so heavily criticised by the powers that be for daring to ask for this. Also many in the RAF Mountain Rescue teams were not happy it was seen as a sign of weakness. Things are a lot better now but without Gordon’s help it would have been a lot worse.

I was the Team Leader of the RAF Leuchars Mountain Rescue Team. My first stint as TeamLeader and I had a great young team. We were involved in so many Call outs all over Scotland. There was a good blend of experience and youth. We coped with so much and I was extremely proud of them all. Yet that night thing changed and it has had a huge effect on my life and those I love.

I was there at Lockerbie with the RAF Mountain Rescue Teams and many other Agencies! It took a huge toll on many of us and still does. What we saw and did was a like a memory from hell and something I never want to be involved in anything like that again. It was a scene of a battlefield with such trauma in a small Scottish town your mind could never take it in. Add to that so near Christmas and we could do little but locate the fatalities and map the wreckage. There is much more to the story we were there for 3 days then returned to Leuchars. The local teams, SARDA and Army and others were there for a lot longer.

This year it seems for me personally better but sadly another one of my friends who was with me at the time is not well .

These were to me and many others a few days of hell and he has just recently been effected by PTSD! It like many others has take years over 30 to manifest itself in him! This is a common occurrence most years I get the similar calls.


This is the time to keep an eye on those who were involved ! Few have got away unscarred and many just need a hug or a bit of family love at this time! Or even time out.


As always later on in the year the 21st Of December is a hard day for those involved in the UK’s worst terrorist murders and shame on the UK that no one has been held responsible for it!

In 1988 I asked for assistance with our mental health . To even ask at the time was not accepted by the powers that be. In these days you were in the military and told to “man up”.

We did get some help and the tale is told in other Blogs. Professor Gordon Turnbull was then a young medical officer in the RAF and formed a small team to try and help us. His book Trauma explains part of the story. These were difficult times for me as the help I got and my team was limited.

It was in my mind even worse for my friends in the Civilian Mountain Rescue Teams, SARDA and other agencies like the Army and Police. Dark days indeed. There was little help for them and their families.

The author recognized Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD) as a serious clinical condition from the start of his career as a psychiatrist in the RAF. This book describes how he treated them, how this treatment often flew in the face of accepted ‘knowledge’, and how it was, at times, several steps ahead of current scientific discovery.

In 2018 I took part in a cycle to Syracuse in the USA . This was where over a week we met many of the relatives of the Students who were killed in the crash. It was in a physical and physiological journey for me. Yet I got great comfort from the families who I met. It was also comforting to speak to many and tell them what we all did. How many of those involved were very young and how it effected them. In the end it was a journey I needed to do. Thanks to Colin, Brian, Paul and Dave for there support.

Meeting the relatives in the USA

I thought back then I was at my invincible phase in 1988 I had a strong young team and many years of Mountain Rescue. I had dealt with so many tragedies in the mountains and plane crashes. Nothing in my experience was like Lockerbie. It changed my life and I still live with it.

A few tips on looking after those involved.

Keep an eye on those who were involved. They need you now ! 

They deserve it and they gave so much!

With thoughts for :

The People of Lockerbie 

Those on the Flight.

The Police, Fire and Ambulance Services

Mountain Rescue RAF and civilian  Teams.

SAR Helicopters  

SARDA – U.K.  Wide 

The Military especially the Army

The Coastguards 

The Volunteer Services and all those other incredible Agencies involved WRVS etc. 

I have been privileged to talk to many about my insights and hope to be able to speak about what many of these unsung heroes did during these dark days in 1988. It was not easy doing it but it’s as they say #goodtotalk

These were the only chance to tell the tale of the efforts of so many and how it still effects them . As the years go on there are there are few who know about in what happened in Lockerbie Scotland or the UK about Lockerbie!

From A pal

“It’s strange how much it has affected us. I was asked about Lockerbie just the other day and could feel the emotions welling inside of me. It’s been 4 years since I was struck with PTSD from this event and despite all the help I am now realising I will never be cured, none of us will. We just find ways to deal with it.”

Another comment 

“Hi Heavy, tomorrow will be a difficult day for many people, touched by the Lockerbie disaster on the 21st of December 1988. Small comfort, I know but MR are that happy few that have shared the misery and in doing so shored up the spirits of those profoundly affected by much of what we have seen. Together tomorrow, in spirit if nothing else. Memories of times shared with people we trust.

This is why every year I write about it. None of you are forgotten.

Stay safe and well it’s good to talk. If you need help seek it and remember “ we all did our best”

So I wish Gordon a speedy recovery and hope he gets home soon. I still suffer from dark periods poor sleep and nightmares. I have like many learned to live with it. Yet I will always push and be there for the many folk who contact me. A few have no problems later on in life yet many do. Thinking of you and yours.

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 Aircraft incidents, Books, Friends, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, People, PTSD, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A visit to a gentleman who tried to help us during these dark days of Lockerbie.

  1. I bought Gordon Turnbull’s book on your recommendation and was pleased to read his insights and the story of how support evolved. Key to the success of his initiative was negotiating the support of senior officers to overcome the resistance of other senior officers. As I learn now of how training courses are used in RAFMR for driving, cooking etc, I reflect how ad hoc it still was in 1979 when I left Leuchars. I found out that there had been discussion and reversals between my boss, OC Admin and the CO about my promotion recommendation, and that would probably have been about my time in MR. My next posting was ADC to the Chief of the Air Staff, so I landed OK! Many officers resented the time away spent by MR troops; I wonder how much that is still a factor?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Brian Canfer says:

    The MRS introduced Trauma Risk Management TRiM some time ago and as I understand it counselling is now routine for anyone who either requests it or their TL or other feels they would benefit from it.
    Gordon is recovering from Covid19 followed by a ?heart attack

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tony B says:

    PTSD hit me in the 1970’s after I had left RAFMRT KINLOSS , fortunately a local GP recognised the symptoms and I got help from Elgin Hospital , and social services , 3 years ago it slowly came back , but the help from the NHS is in short supply, I have been offered meds but I would prefer CBT , and an understanding therapist. Sadly handing out antidepressants is a quick fix and cost effective for the NHS but not the answer for the sufferer….. any advice would be greatly received . Cheers Tony

    Liked by 1 person

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