Ray Sefton (Sunshine) was and still is one of the best people I have met. He joined the RAF in 1956 when National Service was still going. The RAF Mountain Rescue Teams were full of characters, many who were excellent climbers from civy street. He was involved in so many incidents all over Scotland and has a huge area knowledge of the walking and climbing areas. He was one of my early Team Leaders at Kinloss. He seemed to know everyone involved in Mountain Rescue at that time.
Sunshine was part of a hard core bunch of climbers including Ian Clough that climbed new routes on Ben Nevis. They in his own words were “a bunch of bandits” but hard guys. They formed a big part of Mountain Rescue in the early days and working with the new era of helicopters learning all the time.
Many years ago I heard Sunshine have a great chat in Aviemore. He was talking about not just the Rescues but the history of the Cairngorms, the bothies many now gone and many local stories that make this wilderness unique. It was an eye opener time what tales.
I have known Ray since I was a crazy youth in the Kinloss team. 1977 he was my Team Leader and mentor and despite more than a few disciplinary problems by me in my early days in Iran we have always got on so well. He taught me so much and sorted me and a few others on several occasions. Once during the Great Blizzards of 1978 when he had so much going on he handled it in his own calm way. The roads were closed and we rescued lots of folk stuck on the Rannoch Moor and the A9 There was also a helicopter going down on the Laggan road. This we had to walk in to it from Tulloch in waist deep snow and climbers missing on Creag Mheagaidh. Then trains got stuck up North that we had to assist.
For a week I was stuck with the Team in Inverness with 12 helicopters I was at RAF Buchan at the time and Sunshine got me a lift back in a helicopter. I got back to a rollocking from my Boss. Luckily Sunshine sent a signal to sort it out. How he managed to remember that I could be in trouble in all the things that were going on. That is his measure of what is going on.
I got to know his wife Myrtle a local beauty who he met at Glenmore Lodge in the late 50’s (some things do not change) she used to regularly come on the hill with me. Ray preferred a more leisurely day! Myrtle and myself did some huge hills day including the Big 7/6 Braeriach – Cairngorm plus Carn A Mhain in really poor weather and I hope she does not mind me saying that was not a spring chicken then! We could hardly keep up with her and Myrtle joined us on many an adventure once her children grown up. I will never forget setting of in the rain a dark getting across the Braeraich plateau and down to Devils point and then Corrour bothy. I had a broken ankle pinned a plate and had one boot and a running shoe on. It was still raining I was all for going home over the Larig Gru but not Myrtle up went on to the plateau.
She also has a unique knowledge of the Cairngorms based on a life where with her family she studied wild life on Ben Mac Dui for many summers, what a lady. Again I was
On that talk many years a ago we were given a chat about the early call outs in the Cairngorms. Ray started with the Baird and Barrie call-out of New Year 1928 two men from Glasgow University who set out to explore the Cairngorms during the Christmas holidays.
The story is well told in the book aptly named “the Black Cloud” A sad but interesting read and may put you off mountaineering for life! They set off from Whitewells in Glen Feshie where Myrtle was brought up and still loves dearly. Ray had some wonderful photos of the search parties that went out in 1928, local keepers Ghillies and the Police incredible days. I had never seen such early shots of mountain Rescue and it was a wonderful night in the Rothiemurcus Tennis club. We were taken back in time and how similar to that early story in 1928 were some of the recent Cairngorm tragedies.
How things repeat themselves. Many years later in 1978 myself Ray and the RAF teams and the Cairngorm Team were bringing two other fatalities of from the Coire Bogha – cloiche on Braeraich in wild weather. Again I was in trouble after a Christmas escapade but Ray said get up that hill and we will sort it out.
From my diary “ we lowered Ray into the gully on a single rope it was very dangerous but Sunshine coped with it in his own low key way.” The avalanche risk was extreme but we brought the climbers home.
Over the years I became his Team Leader at Kinloss where Ray was now Officer in charge he kept me right on many occasions. He was wise council and helped us on many big searches with his incredible area knowledge. He was so well thought of by the hierarchy at Kinloss and was always firefighting on our behalf.
After he left the team he digitalised all the photos from the Kinloss photo albums. We now have a unique record of the Team call-outs and training from 1944 – to 2007 a great insight into the past. Few teams have this history on tap.
Ray is still on the go on his electric bike cycling most days and still taking visitors for his unique tours of Rothiemurcus. I left the RAF in 2007 and I had a few pounds to spend on Resettlement. I hired Ray to take me on one of his tours of Rothiemurcus. I sat on the front of the land rover and opened 18 gates on that day. His knowledge was exceptional and his insight into the forest and animals was unique.
I learned so much from Ray he introduced me to Hamish and many other characters. He is still well thought of throughout Scotland.
Hw wrote a great article on his days in the RAF which is attached below.
The Way it was Ray Sefton
I was posted to Kinloss in 1956 as a fresh faced 17 year old straight from training. The journey from RAF Yatesbury in Wiltshire took 30 hours and as the old steam train trundled through the windswept Drumochter Pass and on over the Dava Moor I pondered what I would do with my life so far from home, family and friends. On arrival at Kinloss I was sent to work as a radar mechanic in the Radio Servicing Flight. I soon became bored and with little work to do and stacks of people around I thought I would look for something challenging to do in my spare time. Having heard of the famous Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team, I thought that maybe I would give it a try. The old hands at work warned me off and said they were a bunch of hard men and ruffians. However, being young and impressionable, off I trotted to see the Team Leader. In my young eyes, he seemed ancient at all of 48 years old. He took me into his office and closed the door and gave me a brief on the team. He then ran his finger down the manning board and proceeded to advise me of who I should steer clear. “Don’t go near Smith he is a bully, Parkin is a bad influence, Thompson will lead you astray. Almost all of his team had a problem. My next big step was to draw my kit; a framed Bergan rucksack, a pair of nailed Tricouniboots (no crampons), a set of windproofs, a second pair of working blue trousers, socks, mitts, a wooden ice axe and a sleeping bag were just about it.
On down to the notorious Hut 5, an Ops Wing billet, in the middle of Eng Wing accommodation, its secluded position meant it never got inspected. On entering the hut I was greeted by three of the scruffiest airmen I had ever seen, nobody spoke. The hut was filthy, with broken beds and a few holes in the floor and a number of cracked windows. They were seated around a red hot stove, making toast and beans with the remains of the week ends rations. I found a bed space and settled in. Still nobody spoke to me, strange bunch of guys are these thought I. Sometime later I heard then talking about me. “Don’t like his smile, must be a cheeky bastard, soon sort him out”, said one. Already I had began to think that I had made a mistake. Later they deigned to ask me my name. “Ray Sefton”. I replied. I was then told that everybody in the team had a nickname, and with myself not possessing one, they would see to it. Hence ‘SUNSHINE” was to be my nickname, taken from RAY OF SUNSHINE’. Bright boys aye. Try and imagine if you will what Kinloss was like in those days. The base was full of discontented National Servicemen with no money, who hated regulars because we were paid substantially more.
The “troops” were billeted in wooden huts with 28 men in each. In each hut there was a pot bellied stove that worked on coke which was on ration. The trick of lighting the stove was to chop up a chair and throw a 7 pound tin of floor polish on it. When the chairs ran out we used to pinch one from another hut. When the coke ran out we used to raid the coke compound in the dead of night. Occasionally we got caught and the system meted out retribution. The new fangled television had just arrived and we could get BBC 1. Almost all the roads north and west of Inverness were single track and consequently, we used to lose a fair amount of wagons in crashes. Unit Inquiries were always convened and some of the stories we concocted to get us out of trouble were truly amazing.
At this time there were no organised civilian teams in Scotland and the RAF did most of the search and rescues. In Fort William, the Lochaber boys (JMC of Scotland) used to help us a lot on the Ben. Alsoyoung Hamish Maclnnes and his gang used to appear pretty fast. He was lurking around the Fort and Glencoe at this time, putting up new routes. In those days any person on the hill would offer us their help on a rescue. Helicopters were not available for civilian rescues.
Briefings were very interesting, here you were allocated a party, your route was given and you had to have a route plan made out by the end of briefing. Little instruction was given on other aspects of MR, although techniques were practised at nearby cliffs on Wednesday afternoons.
A party was normally four people. The wireless operator carried the radio which worked on HF, weighed 28 lbs and had a nine footaerial. If you upset the team leader, you carried the wretched thing for six weeks and it seldom worked. However, we got wise and if our course didn’t go near the team leader, we sometimes hid the radio behind a boulder on the way out and collected it on the way back. Additionally, the party carried a 1 inch Very pistol, cartridges and some thunderflashesfor signalling with. The illuminators were good for getting off the hill at night and it was not unknown for the thunderflashes to be used for fishing. The other bods carried a tiny rucksack which contained a spare pair of socks, mitts, a spare jumper, slings and scran – a sensible size rucksack. The MT fleet was almost the same size. The ambulance however, was similar to an aircraft crash ambulance and the sigs truck was a 1 ton Austin which could do 70 mph once you got it going. Sadly, MT support was lousyand the team were lucky if it went out with one Bedford and a SWB Landrover. New “troops” didn’t get to sit in the Landrover, you had to be in the team about a year to get that privilege. Health and safety wasn’t a problem; We loaded the Bedford with the kit plus 20 jerrycans of petrol, the “troops” all climbed in and smoked and sang or played cards, all the way to base.
My first exercise was at Inverailort (not the castle). I was a real towny having been brought up in London I had hardly seen a hill, let alone climbed one. The usual ploy was to leave Kinloss at 1300hrs on Saturday, stop at the Rendezvous cafe at Inverness for tea and cakes, and then stock up with a loaf of bread and some makings to last until we got to base in the early evening.
Base camp was nearly always in tents because we didn’t have any funds to pay for a bothy. On Sunday I was sent on the hill with three “troops”. The planned course was about 15 miIes. Shortly after I left the road, I was lagging and these stalwarts got further and further ahead. There was absolutely no communication between us. Eventually they waited, but as soon as I caught up they were off. So the ‘pondlife’ plodded on getting more and more knackered. By the end of the day I was literally on my knees. 0n arrival in base, I just crawled into my sleeping bag and fell asleep, missing dinner. The next thing I felt was a kick. Come on novice, eat up and get washing up done. We packed up base and started the long journey back to Kinloss on Sunday evening arriving at 0200hrs. Shortly after leaving base I started to get cramp, a thing I had never experienced. I was squealing like a pig and the “troops” were wetting themselves with laughter. All the way back I thought that MR was not my scene and had every intention of handing my kit in. Next morning I hobbled in to work with large blisters on both feet and still in a near state of collapse. Everybody was laughing at me, there was no sympathy, because I had been warned about these hooligans. Any thought of packing in disappeared because this youth needed to save face. Thereafter things gradually improved and I am still here 37 years later.
Social life at this time was brilliant. The troops could attract the local girls like a magnet. There was usually a good Ceilidh or dance on in the villages. We never dressed up, just arrived in hill kit and boots and no charge was made to get in. We took our boots off and danced in our socks until the wee smaIlhours. Even though we didn’t have any money, it was fun. Aviemore with the “Comrades Hall” and ‘Village Hall” and Fort William with “K KCamerons” and the “ Bracksie” were particularly memorable.
Aviemore was a tiny railway junction and there was a dirt track from Coylumbridge to Glenmore where the road ended. We used to drive to Glenmore, put the trucks in four wheel drive and drive across the beach to a suitable campsite. Base was quickly established, pick up the girls from the Glenmore Lodge and then head for the dance.
After a good nights social we were like zombies on the hill. To get to Ben Macdhui or Loch Avon in those days was a major expedition, especially in winter. Fort William was another tremendous place. The team camped at Achintee for ten days each Christmas, and on New Years eve the Fort was first footed in style. Everywhere was open house where fine songs were sung and tales were told. At 5 am we used to meet up in MacBraynes Buses Canteen for a couple of hours and party around the Fort for the rest of the day, providing of course that there were no CaII Outs. Now, MacBraynes is a name to be conjured with; It was said that God gave man the earth, and MacBraynes the Western Highlands, fortunately for us he put clippies on the buses. They were lovely girls and we got to know them really welI, which was good news when we wanted to go climbing on the Ben.
In those far off days troops didn’t own cars and MT had no flexibility. Our mode of transport was to hitch to Inverness and catch the MacBraynes bus to the Fort. Again, MR never paid, unless the inspector got on. Inevitably marriages took place, and as I remember, four of the “troops’ married clippies in a short space of tine. This perk all changed when MacBraynes went onto one man operation. My first Call Out occurred one Novembers night in 1956. A Canberra aircraft on route from Kinloss to RAF Bassingbourne had gone missing. A bang followed by a flash had been seen in the hills above Braemar. The team deployed in various states of sobriety because we had just spent the evening in the Eagle in Forres. We made Braemar in the early hours and started a search at first light. The wreckage was spotted and the bodies of the crew were recovered by a Sycamore helicopter from Leuchars. I helped to remove the bodies from the helicopter and to my young mind this was a terrible sight. I watched the way the “troops” handled the situation and very quickly learned to live with these sights which were to become all too frequent over the ensuing years.
Christmas saw my first big ‘job’. Four young lads from Yorkshire were lost somewhere on the Ben. Three were found on CarnDearg and had succumbed to hypothermia. The fourth had fallen over Castle Ridge and was recovered later. In January a couple on their honeymoon had an accident in Twisting Gully, on Stob Coire Nan Lochain. We were calIed out around midnight and arrived in Glencoe around 5am. The body of the girl was found at midday and its recovery was started down to the road. The recovery was proving difficult and stopped as the light faded. The tired “troops” returned to their tents in the GIen. At first light we were off again, picked up the stretcher, and dragged it over the ridge by Gear Aonach and down the Lost Valley. Two days to accomplish what would take 2 or 3 hours now. A lot of the CaIl Outs were on the Ben, and some of the runs to the Fort were frightening. I think the governors on the Bedfords had been doctored. The record run was 1 hr 58 mins, for the 98 miles to the Aluminium Works. Then a race developed to the CIC hut from the distillery as there was no Torlundy track. Find the casualty and another race for the Bogey on the old Aluminium Works railway to save the last two miles of carrying. The bogey was just like you see on a Buster Keaton movie. It was not unheard of for some “troops” to fly off at the first bend. Then we hit the “Jacobite” or “NevisBank” for some stress counselling. That is the way MR has always worked.
Shortly after I joined the team, I was moved to MR, (full time) to service the useless radios. Unfortunately, I then became the scapegoat for the radios not working and started to take a lot of flak. We had thirty of these old war time radios and I hadn’t a clue about fixing them. My method of servicing was easy. Change all the valves and connectors and if that didn’t work, send it back to the maintenance unit, knowing that we would never get it back. Very shortly, we only had six left. Luck was on our side. Another waggon left the road and was a write-off. Some bright spark decided this would be the end of the radios as well. Within seconds the radios were taken from the truck and bashed against a boulder, never to work again and the remains slung into the wreckage. Very quickly, new radios were obtained. Unfortunately, they were just as heavy but at least they did work.
In the Spring of 1957 the team at RAF West Freugh was disbanded and the “troops” posted to other teams. One day two airmen arrived at Kinloss. They were obviously experienced MR “troops” because they were wearing the illegal aircrew shirt with their uniforms this was our trademark at that time. They started to unpack, one hung his pitons, hammer and etriers on his locker and the place went quiet. The other produced a Banjo. ” Whats your name”? somebody asked. “Ian Clough” was the reply. ” Got a nickname”? “no”. Your names ” Dangle” from now on. The other was christened “Lonnie” after the great skiffle player of that time.
At Easter the team were in Fort William. Dangle offered to take me up Observatory Ridge. It was a lovely day and we sauntered up to the CIC Hut where we wasted a lot of time drinking tea and chatting with the world. We started the route at about 2pm and after about 300 feet we soon ran into difficulty on the ice. As daylight ran out we moved onto the easier part of “Zero” gully and proceeded to chop steps for about 400 feet. We arrived back at base at 2 am to find the team on standby. They were not best pleased, having missed the pub. I skulked off to my sleeping bag having had a tremendous day. Dangle got a severe tuning from the Team Leader! Little did we know that this was to be the first of many “epics” that Dangle and the team were to have as the team put up many new routes on “The Big Bad Ben”. Ian Clough went on to become one of the finest climbers of his era.
So, when you’re poncing around in your colour co-ordinated kit, with your GPS in your hand, and your chocks and friends on your climbing harness, calling up a “yellow bird” on your Motorola radio, remember me, the ” Has Been”. Oh, and when you are about to pass a derogatory remark about an old member being a boring old f_ remember that you to will be a “Has Been” quicker than you think they too, like me, are entitled to tell stories and recount epics about the way it was. To all my friends out there
SUNSHINE RAF MR 1956-1994
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