The things they troops got up to ? The Church Bell, beards and a cannon !

I keep remembering the odd problem in the Mountain Rescue Team that younger members got involved in. I must confess that in my younger days I was part of it. “High Jinks”or just daftness?

Beards and my mate Smudge with trophies ‘

The 1972 – RAF Kinloss Church Bell incident.

Myself and my pal Tom Mac used to climb the church roof at Kinloss and try and get the church bell. Of course we never managed it but late at night we would ring it and keep the RAF Police on their toes. We left the Mountain Rescue tool bag below the church and it was confiscated as evidence by the Police. Lucky we were protected at the time by George Bruce the team Leader who had a great way of “sorting” things out. The things you do.

I was brought up in MRT with old tales of the National Service Team members. The things they did: There was the Cannon incident that ended up at RAF Kinloss. A cannon was relocated by team members back to their base. It became a enquiry but was resolved when it “returned “in the middle of the night to its owners. This is one of them 😕

The Battle of Ballachulish.

One weekend whilst at Fort William, a party which had been out on the hill in the Ballachulish area and were driving back to the Fort when they  noticed a house at the side of the road with a garden full of gnomes and knick-nacks.  

What attracted the troops attention, was a miniature brass cannon in pride of place in the middle of the garden. What a trophy for our briefing room, they thought !  

Later that night when they returned from a dance at Onich, they  spirited this cannon away in the back of the land rover and back to Kinloss. Back at base on reading in the press how heartbroken the owner was at losing her prized possession, remorse set in – not a very common response at Kinloss. It was decided to return the cannon the next weekend, but to marked the occasion, one of the troops had a brass plaque made stating ” This cannon was captured at the battle of Ballachulish “, which was duly affixed to the cannon.  

However, on the very friday night that we were about to set off to return the cannon, the RAF police were tipped off and searched the vehicles. It was a fair cop. It was explained that the cannon was about to be returned, so this was allowed to take place. The snatch team then appeared in front of the Station commander to get the customary “responsibility” lecture and their wrists slapped, emerging with fewer shekels than they entered with.   

Unfortunately, the local police were then invited to search our briefing room and subsequently removed most of our trophies to solve all the outstanding cases from the last few years – much to the glee of our local snowdrops !   We had to keep a low profile for a wee while after that – again !  

The Goat incident; At RAF Valley in North Wales when I was the full time Deputy Team Leader. The troops used to take our team mascot Rhinog the goat out at weekends. I was sent to MT to drop a troop of to collect a vechile for the weekend. Rhinog the goat was in the back of my wagon and the MT Warrant officer hated the team was still in his office and went mad at me about the goat travelling in the Land Rover. I was told to report to the MT section at 0800 on Monday for a formal bollocking.

I worried all weekend had to find my best uniform and wait in the corridor for the Officer in charge to arrive. Eventually after 15 minutes this man arrived he looked familiar. He was Geordie Armstrong an ex Kinloss troop who had got a commission. I was marched in and Geordie recognised me. He was with Brummie Stokes and Bronco Lane who summited Everest in 1976.Geordie was a member of that trip and supported the expedition with big carries to the South Col.

Geordie sent the Warrant officer for tea and Geordie had a big catch up with me. He was so interested in our Winter walk from West – East Scotland in 1978. Also he told me of some great days climbing in Scotland making wooden wedges to fit as chalks. I never got into trouble and the Warrant officer was told to calm down. I had met a hero of mine.

1976 Everest – John, and Bronco both jumped at the chance when they were offered places on a climb of Everest. On May 14 1976, Bronco and Brummie found themselves at Camp 6 on the slopes of Everest and ready to climb the southwest face the following morning. In spite of a severe storm that blew up overnight, both men were determined to continue the climb, and the next morning they set off as planned.

They reached the summit by mid-afternoon but the conditions were horrendous, and the snow was swirling around as they were buffeted by winds.  They immediately set off to descend, but on their way down the storm intensified and they were left unable to see anything due to white-out conditions. There was no alternative but to make an improvised camp for the night and see if the morning brought better conditions.

They scraped a foxhole in the snow and bunkered down for an extremely uncomfortable night. The temperature dropped to minus 20˚ centigrade and the wind added to the chill factor. They took turns in hitting each other to ensure neither went to sleep, fearing that if they did they would not wake up. Brummie’s vision was fading due to snow blindness and he could not open the tap on their last canister of oxygen. Bronco took off his mitten to open the tap, thereby saving their lives, but his fingers suffered frostbite and eventually they had to be amputated. Both men also lost their toes to frostbite. Sadly Brummie passed away in 2016!

The Kylesku Bridge – is one that I won’t forget. Some of troops were out midweek climbing Sea Stacks . Bridge jumping had just started. I got a call from the police to say the boys were Bridge jumping from the nearly completed bridge. It was a big thing at the time as the Valley team in Wales were leading the way then. The boys got a bollocking on there return.

Towing a skier on the camp – two of the troops were caught by the RAF police towing one of the troops on skis behind the wagon. Again I got a bollocking and also told that the driver was wearing an earring.

Fun on Stoer

The Beard Brigade – in the early 90’s one f the troops came back from an Artic Expedition with a huge beard. He managed to keep it for years saying he had frostbite. A few others in the team followed suit and for nearly two years they convinced the powers that be that Mountain Rescue were allowed beards. Anyway they found out and that was another interview for me as Team leader.

So many crazy things the team members did my final one was we all wore Green Peace-badges. It was noticed on a Tv interview by a high ranked. We were taken to the RAF police along with Mick Anderson a winch man on the helicopter flight. He had given us them. He told us to say nothing he would speak for us.

We were getting read the riot act by a Senior officer. When Mick smoking his pipe said “what have got against Whales. We lowly folk were told to leave as Mick fought our case. He became a hero to us after that.

Mick Anderson in Helly Hanson RIP

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 Equipment, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, People, Views Mountaineering, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

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