A History of Mountain Rescue In England & Wales

Little thought seems to have been given to mountain rescue in this country until after the First World War.  This was due to the relatively small number of people involved in recreation in the hills before this date.  Following  an incident at Laddow Rocks 1928 when it was found to be extremely difficult to evacuate a man who had fallen some clubs got together and formed a committee  to  find  a  stretcher  suitable  for  use  in  mountainous  areas.  In 1935  the  committee  issued  a  report  recommending  specifications  for  a  stretcher  and associated equipment.  The stretcher came to  be  known  as  the  ‘Thomas  stretcher’  after  the engineer who designed it.

The climbing clubs established several first aid posts in the Lake District,North Wales and Scotland and in 1936 a committee was established to formally supervise these posts. At the end of the Second World War when there was a great increase in outdoor activities the committee widened its membership and altered its name to the  Mountain  Rescue Committee.  In 1949 the ministry of Health agreed to underwrite the costs of the basic equipment in these posts.  In  the  years  between  1935 when the first posts were established and  the  mid  1950′s  most  injured  persons were rescued by their friends using the equipment provided by the posts.  Apart from Coniston and Borrowdale (now Keswick) MRT formed in 1947 no civilian rescue teams were available.

During the Second World War the discovery of an aircraft accident in the mountains was mere chance and in  the  early years of the war it was up to the local RAF station to arrange for the organisation of  search  parties.  Early  in  1942 one such party under the leadership of Flight Lieutenant  Graham  the  Medical  Officer of a station in North Wales decided that the standard of personnel and equipment was inadequate to  deal  with the number of incidents occurring in Snowdonia.  Graham adapted equipment and specially trained hand-picked volunteers to form a team.  By the end of 1943 thirty-three survivors had been rescued from twenty-two air crashes.  This success  lead  to the formation of three other units by the flying training command. During 1943 571 aircrew  lost  their lives in 220 crashes in the hills of the United Kingdom and the service was expanded again to six teams.

With the example set by the two civilian teams and the RAF came the realisation that if local climbers and walkers united in a team they would become a more efficient means of rescue and the formation of civilian teams has been widespread since. In 1960 there was no rescue service in the mid‑Pennine area, presumably because no one thought  that  the effort,  time and money required to establish and maintain such a service could be  justified,  a large proportion of the population probably hold the same view today,  unaware that the  present  rescue  teams  have their origins in the public outcry that followed a series of fatal accidents  in  the  early  1960′s.

Two boys aged eleven and eighteen died near Chipping just north of Preston in a blizzard in 1962.  Their deaths led to demands in local newspapers for the area to have a rescue service similar to the Lake District.  Two teams were formed and they were soon put to the test when a water worker went missing while checking equipment.  After a protracted search the man’s body was found, he had frozen to death. The Calder Valley team based at Mytholmroyd was formed after the death of a reservoir keeper in similar circumstances.

From amateur and humble beginnings there  are now seventy-five civilian and five RAF teams in the United Kingdom who are on call at any time  in  any  weather conditions to provide search and rescue facilities of a professional standard.