This was a splendid visit to the home of the National Motor Museum along with other attractions at Beaulieu in the New Forest. The lovely weather together with schools’ half term meant that there were many visitors to this attraction including a number of members and spouses from our Probus Club.
It was not necessary to be a petrol head to enjoy the experience. But the place reeks of nostalgia as vehicles stirred our memories, sometimes from the distant past while others were quite recent.
The historic Palace House set by the Beaulieu River is full of character adjacent to which is the Secret Army exhibition developed in WW2. The Beaulieu Abbey ruins are surrounded by attractive gardens. Rides could be had on a vintage bus, in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or on the monorail that wends around the park. There were several areas specifically aimed at young visitors.
Most people have heard of the RAF Mountain Rescue Service but know little about its history and how it operates. It was first organised during WW2 to rescue aircrew from the large number of aircraft crashes into high ground due to navigational errors and bad weather. In many cases the crews, although injured, had survived the impact due mainly to slow moving aircraft. However, the remote nature of the terrain coupled with the time taken for the station medical officer to assemble a search party, caused a disproportionate number of fatalities amongst the initial survivors
Today the rescue team is a highly organised professional body whose members, in recent years, also attend civil emergencies. While being regular members of the RAF they are volunteers and attend the equivalent of thirty weekends each year in training. Kempshott resident and Probus member, retired Squadron Leader Chris Perkins MVO, was a member of the RAF Mountain Rescue Service for several years and he recounted his recollections of a significant training exercise that took place four decades ago.
With today’s ease of access to mass travel, many team members may have been fortunate to experience overseas mountaineering in the Alps, Pyrenees or even to the Himalayas. Forty years ago, the situation was very different and the opportunities to mount expeditions to further areas of the globe were extremely limited.
Supported at high level it was agreed that a specialist training exercise would be undertaken to Mt Rainier in Washington State in the northwest of the USA. At 14,410 feet Mt Rainier was a dormant volcano in the Cascade mountains and while on this exercise the expedition members witnessed the eruption of Mount St Helens that caused worldwide disruption to communications and transport.
It was a major project involving a party of 15 personnel, all selected from RAF Mountain Rescue teams in Scotland, Wales and Yorkshire. The majority had alpine snow and ice climbing experience, and many were winter mountaineering instructors.
At that stage in his career, Chris was an Air Traffic Controller based at RAF Valley on Anglesey. During daylight hours it was busy with high intensity jet training for young pilots and provided a 24-hour NATO diversion facility for all manner of aircraft. The long night time hours on readiness in the radar room proved ideal for detailed expedition planning.
In those days before computers and word processers meant that documentation was produced as typed hard copy for signature and dispatched by surface post. Sometimes they were able to use the latest technology of a tele-printer. Frequent telephone liaison with USAF bases accessed their trans-Atlantic military networks and crucial contact with liaison agencies in Washington State. It was necessary to obtain approval for members of the British military to operate within the borders of the United States.
The logistics involved a RAF VC10 aircraft from Brize Norton on a training flight to familiarise several pilots with airfields across the US, transported the team via Ottawa to Washington DC, stopping overnight, then onwards via Dallas, Colorado Springs, Denver and San Francisco finally to Mather USAF base Sacramento. Instead of the planned lengthy Greyhound Bus journey up the west coast an opportune telephone call with a British Army liaison officer at Fort Lewis, revealed that his next-door neighbour commanded a C130 Hercules transport squadron at the adjacent McChord USAF base, and kindly agreed to fly down to pick up the expedition.
Vehicle hire of a Dodge mini-bus and cargo van awaited the arrival of the aircraft necessary for the movement of the team and equipment. During the two-week journey 2,400 miles were driven. Also arranged was base accommodation, purchase of the latest US Army Special Forces Long Range Patrol rations and appropriate National Park Permits for access and travel. And, importantly, connected the expedition with the Department of Emergency Services in Washington State.
Climatic conditions throughout the expedition were ideal. Daytime temperatures rarely fell below 30 degrees Celsius, and the nights remained clear but cold at height. Such conditions aided the night time ascent of Mt Rainier, however they caused numerous dangers on the descent from opening crevasses, collapsing ice bridges and rock falls.
At the end of the expedition period the party was offered USAF air passage back to the UK. However, it was decided to revisit the Greyhound Bus option to experience air-conditioned comfort overnight from Tacoma via Vancouver to Calgary. Again, RAF Command came up trumps, providing VC10 aircraft space to Brize Norton via Germany.
The Mt Rainier expedition, four decades ago, gave all expedition members valuable experience of mountaineering, backpacking at altitude, glacier travel plus proficiency of journeying into vast wilderness areas. It provided the team with improved practices for future emergencies in extremely difficult terrain.
This was a journey of a lifetime only made possible with invaluable military and civilian assistance. Evidence, perhaps, of the special relationship so often talked about between our two nations.
For the past two years we have been unable to hold our annual Golf Day due to COVID until this year when Richard Stettner arranged a Golf Day at Sherfield Oaks Golf Club at Sherfield on Loddon in September.
On the day we managed to arrange two Teams of three as there were some last-minute cancellations due to unforeseen circumstances.
1 – Jeff Grover, Richard Stettner & Geoff Twine
2 – Derek Roberts, Bryan Nagle and David Wickens.
It was good Bryan could join us as he had not been to our meetings since COVID started.
As we were playing 18 holes some of the less mobile of us hired golf carts. The weather was fine and having enjoyed refreshments we started at 11.30am.
We soon lost site of Team 1 as they disappeared into the distance. In Team 2 we were having a mixed game to say the least and going ‘off-piste’ on several occasions. Other delays were due to the golf carts having a safety feature that did not allow them to move forward if they were too near a hazard – it took a while to work this out, but they would only go in reverse!
The rest of the afternoon proved just as eventful with each of us having a combination of very good shots, bad shots and some golf balls never to be seen again! I even managed to leave my 8 iron somewhere on the golf course but a following golfer retrieved it and we were reunited.
Towards the end of the round we noticed Bryan was no longer following us only to find that he and the golf cart were in a ditch! Despite our best efforts it was well and truly stuck and with the weather closing in not sure what we would do. Luckily there was a ‘four ball’ behind us so when they saw our predicament, and with a great deal of effort, we managed to get it back onto the path. By now it was getting late so we decided to retreat to the clubhouse before a search party was sent out to find us!
Following a much-needed drink and bacon sandwiches the scores were totalled and the winner was announced – Jeff Grover with 33 points won the Shield.
Thanks go to Richard for arranging the Golf Day and everyone who participated on what proved to be very enjoyable and eventful day.
A good result for our publicity in the October publications with six magazines and the Basingstoke Gazette giving coverage to the report on Life on the Magistrates’ Bench. Perhaps the upright standing of the various editors encouraged their interest about the goings on in the local magistrates’ court.
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