Celtic Illumination, part 85, a recipe for the novice.
Thankfully for the remainder of that exercise we three trialists were left alone. We were exhausted and bruised and battered. We would often complain about our accommodation at Valley, there was a rumour that the size of a single man room was less than the area demanded by the RSPCA in which you could comfortably house a medium sized dog, however it was luxury to sink onto your pit and know you could rest in safety. It was also nice to be able to eat a meal in the mess and not have to scrub the kitchen afterwards.
Another trialist left the ship leaving just Docker and myself. I wasn’t sure if this was a good or a bad thing. The mountain rescue section was two miles away from the domestic area where we lived. Docker and myself would have to walk over for lectures and various training. Mountain rescue men would drive past in land rovers and would not even consider offering us a lift. In one way it was good, for the four mile walk, two there and two back certainly built up our strength and levels of fitness.
I was starting to realise that there were quite a few characters on the team and I thought that if I was still alive after my six week trial, never mind the year as a novice, I might like to join the team. Although as a trialist you were never safe. Docker and I arrived for a lecture on stretchers. The stretcher we used was a Bell stretcher. It was a great piece of kit, made from light aluminium. It could be carried in two pieces so that was another bonus. We had the GT version where a single bicycle wheel could be fixed underneath, in the centre of the stretcher, allowing the two people carrying it to place the wheel on the ground as they moved, to lighten the load.
We also used the stretcher to take people off cliffs, crags and rock faces. It was important that we knew exactly how to dismantle and assemble the stretcher; secure casualties and the correct attachment points if we were putting it on a helicopter winch.
There were quite a few at the lecture and great care was taken to ensure that both Docker and myself understood everything we were taught. In fact to show us how effective and efficient the securing net and clips were Docker was asked to get on the stretcher and act as a casualty. Docker was only too happy to oblige. He got into the sleeping bag and lay down. If I recall correctly it was Rick Mewes who was in charge of this training situation.
Rick showed me exactly where and how to attach the clips and I secured Docker to the stretcher. I stepped back and with a wave Rick had two other team members bring two chairs forward. To show how effective the securing net was, they lifted the stretcher and turned it upside down resting the handles on the chairs.
Poor Docker couldn’t move, in fact all he could do was lie there, upside down, and agree that he felt secure. After a wee while, and a few jibes, the stretcher was righted, however Docker was asked to remain where he was, not that he had much choice, as we were now going to have a quick talk on the effectiveness of the GS sleeping bag.
Rick began to gather the loose material at the top of the bag. He was talking as he did this, explaining how the bag should be used in extreme weather conditions. He explained that what he was doing could easily be carried out from within the bag. With the top of the sleeping bag extended over Dockers head Rick pulled the draw string and reduced the entrance aperture. I started getting worried; Docker couldn’t see what was going on so he was all right.
Someone had brought a foam fire extinguisher over and the black nozzle was placed inside the hole which was then pulled tight with the drawstring and the foam fire extinguisher activated. The securing net on the stretcher was removed and the sleeping bag inflated. Docker tells me he thought he was drowning. He was coughing and choking a lot when they cut him out. I began to think that I was lucky it wasn’t me and then I began worrying why wasn’t it me perhaps they have something far worse planned for me.
Sometime later we were back out in the field. The rain was lashing down and Jack decided that we should practise river crossings that day. Off we went to find a suitable river and parked up. Thankfully the spot we chose was surrounded by light woodland so we had a little protection from the biting wind. Jack was in charge and, calling Docker and myself forward, began to question us on the theory of river crossing. The exercise was to take a casualty on a stretcher across the river with the least amount of people getting wet.
It was agreed that one person should get into the river and wade across with the initial rope. Jack just stood there looking at us. “Well?” he asked in a voice that suggested that Docker and I were quite stupid. “Which one of you is going in the river?”
Jack told me that I had volunteered. Someone very kindly found a large stick, a rope was tied around my middle and I was encouraged to get into the river. I did and gasped as the cold water came up to my chest. I was well aware that they were more concerned with the rope than me. After much encouragement, in the form of insults from the assembled team, I made it to the far side and clambered out. The type of knot I should be tying was shouted at me and the position on a tree where I should belay the rope was indicated. The guys then tensioned the rope and two or three monkeys came across. There were some small wiry chaps on the team and they were very, very, nimble indeed.
The team then began working together and before long it was announced that the stretcher was ready for the casualty.
Docker was told that, as he had experience on stretchers, he could volunteer for this position. With Docker secured on the stretcher he was attached to the main rope and the monkeys on the other side began to pull him across. The further he got towards the centre of the stretched piece of rope, the lower he dropped. When he was about at the centre point the bottom rail of the stretcher was only about seven or eight inches above the water. “Simulate wind conditions!!” shouted someone, and on both sides of the river men began to swing the rope.
I though they would only swing it three or four feet in the air, but they were determined to get the stretcher, and Docker, to travel full circle. They managed it and as the stretcher plunged downwards, the associated g force allowed the rope to stretch and poor Docker, restrained on the stretcher, entered the river.
Everyone had a good laugh, except Docker, and as it was raining and both Docker and I were soaked to the skin, we were allowed to pack up all the equipment as the existing team members went back to base camp for a brew and a warm.
Despite the fact that you would be quite tired at the end of a strenuous day you were always thankful that you were still alive and although what we were going through was horrible and exhausting, not to mention fecking dangerous, we knew that every single member of the team had gone through this situation, sort of like Violent Hell in a way.
They had left one member behind who could supervise us and then drive us back to base camp. We stored the equipment and then went and changed our clothes. Most of the team members were standing around the cook shack and were laughing and joking.
Docker and myself came over and collected our evening scoff. We knew our place so went off to eat in private so that we wouldn’t offend the team members. With our plates and cutlery cleaned we came back to the cook shack to help the duty cook when Jack told us to wait outside.
Docker and I stood there as Jack positioned himself before us. He looked angry, “What were you two told when you applied to join the team?” The whole team had gathered behind Jack and my mind was racing. I was told so much I wasn’t really sure. We thought it would have been something to do with that days exercise and began to burble the rules for storing wet ropes. Jack looked fuming.
“No!” he yelled after both Docker and myself had gone on for a few minutes.
“You were told that if you successfully passed your trialist period you would be invited to join the team as Novices!”
The pair of us must have looked very worried
Jack began to smile. “Well you’ve passed, would you like to join the team?” Jack stepped forward and shook our hands. “Well done,” he said. “Well done.” The rest of the team came forward, but rather than a group hug Docker and I were grabbed and thrown to the ground.
It was only now that we realised the team members had left us at the river crossing so that they could come back and position some heavy duty tent pegs to which Docker and myself were now tied. That day’s soup was then brought out and we were anointed. In fact as we were military I suppose you could say we were highly decorated.
Team members took photographs of us and then Jack came over.
“What are you two Novices doing lying about? Get yourselves cleaned up and down to the pub, you’ve gotta buy everyone a drink, it’s tradition.”