Retired Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Chris Perkins from Kempshott, who was awarded the MVO by HM Queen at Windsor Castle last year, enjoyed a varied 35 year career with the boys in blue. He is himself a member of the Probus Club of Basingstoke, the social organisation for retired professional and business managers, and gave an illustrated and entertaining presentation to his colleagues tracing the origins of the Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service from its inception to the present day.
“All officers have to undertake a secondary role” Chris explained, “and although I come from Birmingham it was the call of the countryside that led me into the RAF Mountain Rescue Service.” He became so involved with this sector during his time in uniform that he is today the chairman of the RAF Mountain Rescue Reunion Committee for Cymru-Wales.
There are records of ad hoc RAF mountain rescues going right back to 1938. The outbreak of the Second World War, the rapid increase in the size of the RAF and the need to move training stations as far as possible from enemy attack, led to a huge increase in the number of crashes in mountainous areas. The subsequent discovery of an aircraft in such remote places was often a matter of chance and nearby RAF bases were left to make their own arrangements for search parties and used whatever personnel and equipment that were available.
This task had traditionally fallen to the Senior Medical Officer of the nearest RAF station to the accident. Of all those involved, Flight Lieutenant George Graham, the Senior Medical Officer based at RAF Llandwrog outside Caernarvon in North Wales, is credited with taking the most prominent role in the creation of the RAF Mountain Rescue Service. He doggedly bombarded the Air Ministry with requests for equipment and training and his tenacity and persistence resulted in the formal creation of the Service as we know it today in 1943.
By the close of WW2 twenty six teams had been established at RAF stations across the UK. With the decrease over the years in the size of the RAF, only three now remain at Kinloss in Scotland, Valley in North Wales and Leeming in Yorkshire.
All team members are volunteers. Membership is open to all ranks both male and female. MRT status is independent of rank and relates to mountaineering and rescue experience. Each team consists of 7 full time personnel and up to 30 volunteers. The unpaid volunteers give up their spare time for training on at least two weekends in four, as well as one evening a week.
In the earliest days of the MRS, virtually all mountaineers used adapted military equipment, but as the years have gone by and the pace of technology advanced, so has the rescue hardware. All team members are now supplied with state of the art Gore -Tex clothing and up to date satellite navigation and communications kit. The ubiquitous Land Rover has now been replaced by Toyota Hilux 4×4 pickups and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter communications control vehicles. The modern day rescue co-ordinator can actually track the progress of his search parties on the hill by way of a computer link and watch their progress in real time on an electronic ordnance survey map.
“I’ve been extremely privileged to have been closely associated with the organisation over the years and indeed generations” Chris continued, “They have always been the people that go in on foot when the weather is atrocious and everything else has failed. They are dedicated, consummate professionals in their craft.”