The reasons for the formation of the Galloway Team are probably similar to those of most Scottish teams borne out of necessity in response to local needs.
However, the specifics for forming a MRT in Galloway are now shrouded in the mists of time, and as few records still exist of the early years, the story largely is down to the writer's memory.
During the 1960s there were a number of incidents, involving missing persons, in the hills around Newton Stewart, particularly the Merrick or Awful Hand range, when the Police relied heavily on a local GP, Dr Hugh Lang, a man with considerable local knowledge and skill. Hugh willingly organised and led a number of searches but the increasing interruptions to his single man practice, and one particular search that almost ended in loss of life to poorly equipped and unfit policemen, convinced Hugh of the need for a local rescue team. Following letters to the Chief Constable an open meeting was held in Newton Stewart Police Station on 6 November 1975 when a steering committee under Dr Lang’s chairmanship was formed with the remit to set up a team.
The team was originally called Galloway Search and Rescue Group and operated as a sub-unit of the Moffat Team that had been formed a few years earlier. Committee meetings were held in the Moffat doctor’s surgery and the writer again vividly remembers the round trip of 175 miles on a winter’s night.
During the first six months four training exercises were held and the team attended a joint exercise with the other south of Scotland teams and this has become an annual event in the training calendar. Our first call-out was on 23 April 1976 when we successfully located Colin Mutter, a fourteen year old from Lincoln who had been lost in a local forest. The first AGM took place on 30 June 1976 when the constitution was adopted and the call-out procedure was issued. 50 volunteers came forward with 46 on the original call-out list and the average number on a training exercise was 30.
In October of 1976, 1986 and 1996 Galloway hosted the Karrimor International Mountain Marathon and be warned inclement weather accompanies this event! The '76 event saw our first stretcher evacuation during a thunder and lightning storm, '86 saw hundreds of competitors dropping out due to the cold and wet weather, and '96 three casualties were air lifted to hospital.
During the 70s we gradually developed our skills and resources, and also became involved in discussions that affected the use of our hills including setting up the Southern Upland Way. We also encountered our first fatalities in 1979 following an aircraft accident and this incident also saw us at the forefront of a multi agency emergency. This year provided us with, as yet, an unsolved mystery when Ernest Thetford’s car was found abandoned in a secluded spot, minus Ernest, and despite many searches over a number of years nothing has been seen or heard of him to this day.
These early years flew past but they developed the camaraderie associated with mountain rescue something that is still to the fore . The next milestone was achieved in June 1983 when the team was accepted into membership of the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland and at that time it was decided to rename the group Galloway Mountain Rescue Team.
The 1980s saw a period of stability with a strong nucleus of original members guiding the team through these important developmental years but we still relied upon members using their own cars and equipment with fund raising an important activity. We attended three more aircraft accidents during this decade including assisting with the aftermath of the Lockerbie disaster.
The 1990s signalled a number of changes. As we became more adept at sourcing financial assistance and with the birth of the National Lottery we were able to, firstly buy a team railer/mobile base, secondly a purpose built Land Rover.
Gradually we were able to provide members with personal clothing and equipment and we achieved our aim to give all new members a complete set of gear. We currently issue clothing manufactured by Keela and Berghaus; with both lightweight and winter options.
The stability of the ‘80s meant that in the ‘90s recruiting new members became and still is a priority, and we have links with uniformed organisations and the Duke of Edinburgh Award’s scheme from where we have been able to gain new and young members.
The improvement in equipment has been matched by an even more professional approach to training and the resultant increased commitment. Technology in whatever form has now been accepted and is the norm. Who would have thought in 1975 that the computer would such an important tool in the life of a MRT, particularly in administration and record keeping.
In common with all teams it is difficult to forecast the future of mountain rescue, but in the short term it is safe to say that we will still be needed and probably with greater frequency. However, it is good to look back and recall some of the 300 or so incidents including rescuing a flock of crag fast sheep , watching a 4 by 4 sinking up to its axles with 22 stone Sally firmly lodged in the back, locating 300 year old bones, the seal flippers that fooled a pathologist into believing they were human, the murder enquiry and very recently the very raison d’etre of our existence, to find alive and well after 26 hours in freezing temperatures an elderly lady.
by Ken McCubbin (TL 1986-95)
St John Scotland is proud to be the biggest contributor to Scottish Mountain Rescue teams for many years and by 2020, the charity will have provided over £3.2 million in funding, mainly through the provision of bases and vehicles