Nimrod

Nimrod, the Mighty Hunter

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My 20 years in the RAF

The highlights of my career as an RAF Officer were undoubtedly the many opportunities I took to indulge my passion for adventurous outdoor pursuits. In the Armed Forces, adventurous training courses leading to leadership or instructional qualifications are all provided free of charge, with all travelling, accommodation and incidental expenses paid by HMG, and with none of the time spent doing it coming out of one’s annual leave entitlement, since it all takes place “on duty”.

This can be fully justified very easily. The primary purpose of the military in peace-time is to prepare for war. The qualities the military need in war-time are courageous, bold and decisive leadership in achieving challenging objectives in a dangerous and hostile environment. The cheapest way in which to achieve the necessary courage, mind-sets and attitudes is to train leaders in such activities as mountaineering, ski touring, caving, sub-aqua diving, offshore sailing, etc, and then to encourage them to practice these leadership skills, providing them with all of the opportunities they seek.

If my experiences, recounted below, sound interesting to you, please consider a career in the Armed Forces.

Mountaineering.

Mountaineering was the only such activity with which I was already well-familiar before I joined the RAF. I had been a student on a 2-week ab initio training course in Alpinism in Austria's Ötztal Alps in 1962. In the course of the fortnight’s hut tour we climbed all of the highest mountains in the Ötztal, learned everything that was known at the time about using ice axes and crampons, and about glacier craft, including belaying on rock, snow and ice, as well as taking it in turn to prusik unaided out of a crevasse. This was followed in 1963 by a 2-week continuation training course in the Sonnblick/Glockner area of the Austrian Alps, which picked up from where the previous year had left off. I led my first Scottish winter climb, Easter 1965, up Central Gulley on the north face of Bidean nam Bian, Glencoe, between Churchdoor and Diamond Buttresses; in our party on that Club Meet was the 16 year old Mal Creasey, who went on to become one of Britain’s best known professional mountain guides. I led my first mountaineering club alpine meet in the summer of 1965, including a traverse of my first 4,000m peak, the Zinalrothorn. This was a decade before I joined up, giving me a decade to acquire more experience in the mountains, all of it leading unguided parties.

My first operational tour was to RAF Kinloss in 1975, where, because of my mountaineering background, I found myself with the secondary duty of deputy OC of the Mountain Rescue Team, going out most weekends with them on routine training exercises. A finer and fitter bunch of mountaineers I have never seen. One of them, Dave Whalley (aka “Heavy”) BEM, MBE, is still a Mountain Rescue stalwart even to this day; I particularly remember his dog ‘Teallach’ who, like Heavy, completed the Scottish Munros; Heavy was also in overall charge of the rescue following the Lockerbie disaster.

Teallach

Rescue dog Teallach on the summit of the Inn Pin

Throughout my service in the Armed Forces, initially as a full-time Regular in the RAF, and subsequently as a part-time voluntary instructor in the Army Cadet Force, I had no problem at any time obtaining authorisation to take part in outdoor Adventure Training courses of all sorts. If you choose a military career, (and I didn’t join up until I was in my 30’s), you can easily follow my example. I qualified as a Summer Mountain Leader (17 Aug 76), Winter Mountain Leader (25 Mar 77), Alpine Mountain Leader (10 Jul 04), Rock Climbing Instructor (3 Jul 78, revalidated 26 Sep 97), Klettersteig Leader (3 Jul 04) and Short-Roping Leader (26 Sep 98); my short-roping test piece was Cyfwry Arete on Cader Idris. The Armed Forces also taught me to ski, and years later qualified me as an Alpine Ski Instructor (11 Feb 05), authorised to teach novice military personal in accordance with the BASI Central Theme. I also picked up the civilian Single Pitch Award (20 Sep 97) at HMG’s expense. Armed Forces personal with that portfolio who were planning a subsequent civilian career as a mountaineering instructor went on straight from there to take an MIC assessment, but I lacked such ambitions. However, I did lead Unit Expeditions to the mountains on numerous occasions throughout my service.

I obviously joined the RAF Mountaineering Association, joining them on many UK and Alpine meets. It was with RAFMA that I relegated Mont Blanc from being my highest summit (led 31 Jul 80 on a Joint Services Alpine Meet) to merely my 12th highest (in 1992) in the Bolivian Andes, the highest two being at just over 21,000 feet. The account I wrote of this Bolivian Expedition appeared in the 1992 RAFMA Annual Journal and is copied here. I was RAFMA Treasurer for 6 years, taking over hand-written ledgers and computerising everything, and later, Chairman for 3 years.

Other Activities, unrelated to Mountaineering.

I didn’t restrict my attendance at training courses to just those connected with mountaineering, and neither need you. Go for it! For me, these included:

  1. Caving, qualifying as a (military) Local Cave Leader;
  2. Sub-Aqua Diving, qualifying as a BSAC Advanced Diver and Qualified Sub-Aqua Dive Supervisor. I was OIC of the Sub-Aqua Clubs on two of the RAF Units I served on; I well remember dining on scallops that I had personally picked from the sea floor;
  3. Coastal Sailing, qualifying as an RYA Dayskipper and skippering 6-berth 30 footers on several occasions, for a week at a time in coastal waters, teaching novice crews to sail on Unit Expeditions; this qualification enabled me to take family members on ‘bare-boat charter’ sailing holidays in the Eastern Med;
  4. Sea Kayaking, Water Skiing and Windsurfing, but taking none of them any further than getting a basic proficiency certificate;
  5. Hang Gliding (solo). (I also seized opportunities to take civilian courses, specifically flying sailplanes (not solo) and powered aircraft (solo, cross-country)).
  6. Horse riding;
  7. Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) Award of Merit;
  8. HGV (Category C) Driving Licence.

The opportunities were there, available to all military personnel. I could see no justification in not making the most of them.

This webpage was last updated 16th May 2018.

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