In 1953 a fledgling mountain rescue team was founded in Kendal. Initially there were only twelve members on the active list, two of whom were available for call-outs on weekdays. The focus was on searching, so gear was limited; comprising a Civil Defence stretcher, blankets loaned by the YHA and a first-aid kit supplied by the St John Ambulance Brigade. Home telephones were relatively rare in those days with the police calling on individual houses to alert members. There were no Team vehicles; transport to incidents was by members’ cars or motorbikes.
The call-out procedure of 1961 was as follows: “Members will, if available, make their own way to Base or assemble at one of the following pick-up points – with transport if possible: Burneside Church, Staveley bus shelter, Windermere bus shelter, Troutbeck Bridge Garage, Ambleside Church. Members will please hail as vehicles will only slow down if Members make themselves apparent”! Response times have improved so that by 2014 we expected to get the first vehicle away from our base within 15 minutes of the pagers going off.
In 1969 the Team obtained its first official vehicle; an ex-WD Commer three-tonner signals truck purchased at a cost of £400. Although it brought benefits, it soon became apparent that it was not the ideal solution; it was slow and cumbersome as well as any drivers being required to hold an HGV licence. By the early part of the twenty-first century we had two, significantly modified, Land Rovers and a personnel carrier / advance control vehicle. By 2010 changes in operational requirements resulted in the Team increasing the fleet to four vehicles.
Whilst all members receive the same rate of pay, one that has not changed since 1953, (£0/hour); money is needed to buy fuel for base and vehicles, pay insurance premiums, rent pagers, etc., etc. Although in the early days they had minimal needs they did have collecting boxes. There is a close link between fund raising, publicity and our standing in the local community. It seems that the Team is appreciated for its search and rescue role, but also for the time it gives to support activities locally. For many years the Team has taken part in Kendal’s Torchlight Procession every September – and always gets a good response from those watching.
Many of the current Team activities would strike a chord with our predecessors of the fifties and sixties. We still rescue crag fast sheep for local farmers, we still raise money by flag days in the local towns and we still have social events for members and their families. Team membership has always been made up from a wide cross-section of the local community: outdoor instructors, teachers, builders, butchers, doctors, hospital and ambulance staff, local government officers, civil servants, retired, senior students, entrepreneurs, sales staff, self-employed, etc., ….
In January 1974 there were 64 people on the Team’s call-out list, but 23 of these were only available to attend at week-ends. It was reassuring to know that 17 were designated as Land Rover drivers; but no mention of who was first-aid trained – but there were 3 doctors on the list. There is one name, which appears on 1958 call-out list of Team Members, that some members of the general public will recognise – ‘A Wainwright’. There is another name that will be recognised, this time as a Vice President from the 60’s & 70’s; that of the author and journalist – ‘A H (Harry) Griffin’.
Over the years changes in demands made of the Team, along with a shift in the expectation of the public and other emergency services we work with, resulted in additional work to purely searching the mountains for lost people or dealing with injuries occurred by a fallen walker or climber. In the 1950s the team was mostly called out for searches; this was also true for the 1960s, although they would help fallen climbers if team members were in the area. There were also some call-outs for broken arms & ankles. In 1972 the Team considered its prime role still to be “its search capability”; but the Chairman recognised that the police “had it in mind to call the team to any public emergency where our experience might prove helpful, e.g. snow-bound cars on Shap.”
Whilst our rescues are often very serious situations, a more light-hearted sense of humour routinely comes out in training. In the Longsleddale exercise of 1959, use was made of a home-made dummy which was hidden up near Wren Gill Quarry and had to be found by the searchers. Instead of bringing the dummy home after the exercise, it was left in Longsleddale with only its legs visible as if after some awful accident. Fast forwarding to 2011 and it is still going on; on winter skills training in the Cairngorms one of the Team members prepares to set off after the lunch stop; only to find his rucsac has been securely tied to a thick stalk of heather with a cable tie.
For a fuller record of the team’s roots, please download the detailed history document below, put together by Keith Pittman in 2014. We’ll be looking to update this document some time this year.