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The Annual Report of M.R.O. Activities

by the Hon. Sec. Jim Hanwell…..           

Rescuers were called to just one incident underground during the year.  As the log accompanying this report shows, the decade enters its final year averaging less than a callout every month.  Hardly one in six calls prove to be potentially serious on Mendip according to this record.

On the surface, however, MRO preparations have been undiminished whilst even elsewhere in the country offer clear portents of the next decade.  Firstly, we look back to review the effectiveness of the former and, secondly, glimpse beyond to preview what holds for the future.

At the beginning of the year, Chris Batstone and Nigel Taylor became Hut Wardens whilst Dr. Tim Lyons joined the team of Medical Wardens.  Soon afterwards, however, Dr. Chris Hulbert had to resign on moving to another part of the country.  In April, we were pleased to entertain Police Officers from the Mendip Division of Avon and Somerset Constabulary for a film kindly loaned by the Cave Rescue Organisation in Yorkshire.  This successful occasion was arranged by Alan Thomas.  During the summer, Dr. Oliver Lloyd checked our cache of rescue sear near Lisdoonvarna, County Clare, on his annual visit to Ireland.  Mid-October saw what was probably the largest gathering ever of MRO Wardens underground to assist the Avon Branch of the Red Cross on their yearly field exercise. Our part in the 'disaster' was to treat and rescue several victims from the Boulder Chamber in Goatchurch.  Since the third casualty was whisked out in half the time it took to move the first one, we must presume that practise pays. David Mager’s purpose designed stretcher showed up well during the exercise.  As much more equipment is acquired, we are grateful to the Bristol Exploration Club for allowing modifications to the Belfry Store.

With the help from local cavers familiar with the old freestone mines in Wiltshire, Dave Irwin prepared annotated maps of all the systems known.  Copies deposited with the police there should help considerably in the event of future searches and rescues in these complex workings.  On Mendip, we were pleased to be of some assistance to our climbing cousins in their founding of a cliff rescue team for Cheddar Gorge and local crags.  It should be noted that MRO's involvement is to handle the call-out of this team to avoid the likely confusion that the alternative of a dual emergency system would bring in the Cheddar area with all its caves and climbs.  It is encouraging that climbers have followed the local caver's tradition of helping themselves in the best manner suited to their sport.

Our glimpse into the future came as a revelation on attending the inaugural meeting of the South West England Rescue Association at Honiton, Devon, last October. The Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall addressed the various rescue bodies represented including the RAF, Coastguards, Mountain and Mine Rescue Teams.  What emerged was the need fur a common approach whilst maintaining the expertise and autonomy of each specialist unit with local knowledge.  There are good technical reasons for this trend which we will have to consider carefully…..

J.D. Hanwell
Wookey Hole
10th February 1979

At the 31st January 1979 the Accumulated Funds of MRO stood at £364….

Now follows the incident report ending at the 31st of January 1979…..

As we move into the last year of the seventies, it is worth reviewing, the since the beginning of the decade as follows:

 

37

71

72

73

74

75

76

77

78

 

Serious accidents

3

1

0

5

2

1

1

5

0

18

Minor incidents

6

4

18

2

1

3

3

4

1

42

General alerts

3

0

4

8

5

4

4

7

6

41

 

12

5

22

15

8

8

8

16

7

 

Thus, during the last year we have topped over one hundred call-outs since 1970.  The following log based upon the reports received by the Wardens involved brings us up to date with the details of each call-out.

Sunday 5th March 1978.  Swildon’s Hole

Brian Prewer received a call from the police at Frome, ten minutes after midnight.  A Mr. Cooper from Bristol had raised the alarm from Priddy Green about two friends still in the cave!  All three had entered the cave about 5 pm the previous day for a trip to Swildon’s Four.  Cooper had intended going via the streamway to rendezvous with his friends in Four, however, he had turned back on reaching Sump Three and had lost contact with the others.  Whilst Prewer was in conversation with Cooper over the phone, the overdue pair arrived. They had lost the way on the return journey and had been delayed!

Thursday 14th and Friday 15th September 1978.  Wells in Glastonbury.

Fred Davies, Brian Prewer, Martin bishop, Rich Test and Jim Hanwell assisted the police in a search of old wells in and around Glastonbury for a body reported missing.  They were joined by Chris Bradshaw and Bruce Bedford on the second day.  Nothing was found and the search was called off by the police when no positive clues could be found.

Sunday 17th September 1978.  Reads Cavern.

Tim Large received a call from the police at Wells at 2.55pm.  A Mr. R.S. Liddiard from Shipham had informed them of a party of Scouts overdue from Read’s Cavern, Browne-Stewart Series.  The troop had gone down the cave at 10.30am led by Chris Liddiard aged 19, the others being Steve Mansfield (17), Pete Cornish (13), John Benson (13) and Gavin Munnery.  All lived in the Shipham area.

A strong party comprising Tim Large, Chris Batstone, Martin Bishop, Nigel Taylor, Tony Jarrett, Stewart McManus, T. Hughes and J. Crick went from the Belfry to conduct a search of the cave.  Richard Gough remained at the Belfry phone and dave Irwin stood by at Priddy in case others were needed.  The search party was joined by Rich Websell, Pete Moody and Alison Hooper at Burringtion. Nigel Taylor and 6 others went underground at 3.30pm and soon made contact with the scouts.  Apparently, they had lost their way and lights on returning through the boulders in the Brown-Stewart Series.  Their shouts had been heard by another party who had been unable to direct them out of their predicament other than to surface and warn MRO. Nor did they use the call-out procedure posted outside the entrance!

The lost party was brought out of the cave by 5.30pm and every one stood down.  This was the only occasion during the year that MRO had to go underground on a rescue call!

Sunday 1st October 1978.  Mangle Hole.

A call was received by Brian Prewer at 8.00pm from Chris Bradshaw who had heard that a party was overdue, probably from Mangle Hole but not definitely so.  Bradshaw offered to go and look for the car belonging to the cavers concerned and to report back.  Meanwhile, Prewer notified the police that the search was being made. Soon afterwards, he received a call that the party had been found.

Monday 2nd October 1978.  Lamb Leer.

Frome police contacted Brian Prewer at 4.40pm with information that a Mr. Rolands reported a party of seven from the Royal Army Pay Corps overdue from Lamb Leer.  He had expected them thirty minutes earlier! Whilst explaining that this was not unusual to Rolands over the phone, Prewer was told that the party had emerged.

Saturday 9th December 1978

Wells police alerted Brian Prewer at 7.30pm that a Mrs. Baggott in Bristol had informed them of a party overdue from Swildons as she had expected one of them to phone her at 6.00pm.  Prewer contacted Alan Thomas at Priddy to check for cars on the Green.  At 8.00pm the informant rang to say she had heard form the cavers concerned.

Sunday 31st December 1978. Evacuation of snowbound party at Charterhouse.

A party of six 9 - 11 year old Red Cross Cadet Girls with two adult instructors was reported as trapped by heavy Snows in the Venture Hut at the head of Velvet Bottom Valley.  The children had been holidaying in the area from Sussex but not caving and did not Mendip.  Their leader, Mr. P. Avery of Burgess Hill, Sussex, had alerted the Police at Weston-s-Mare that they had food and heating for another day. The Police requested MRO to assist in evacuating the party since severe blizzards were forecasted.  Brian Prewer received the call at 10.40pm and alerted the cavers at the Belfry.  Whilst a party would set out for the hostel on foot from Priddy, it was understood that climbers form the Cheddar Gorge Rescue Team were approaching Charterhouse from Burrington with a police Land Rover.

Nigel Taylor assembled a party comprising Chris Batstone, Alan Thomas, Jo Dukes, D. Bradshaw and Jess Carson, a medical student for the ‘overland’ journey.  With radioed permission from Somerset County Council, Taylor requested a snow plough which got to the Castle of Comfort before deep snow drifts prevented further progress. The rest of the journey was made on foot across the fields and the party reached the stranded cadets at 2.30pm. The Burrington rescuers arrived twenty minutes later having left the Land Rover only a mile away at Paywell Farm.  Taylor decided that all should make for the Land Rover as the children were in good spirits.  This was accomplished successfully by 3.40pm and the Red Cross party was driven to Weston-s-Mare for the night.

The Belfry party reached Priddy at 6.45pm ready for New Year’s Eve Festivities.

J.D. Hanwell,
Hon. Secretary & Treasurer
“Chaumbey”
50 Wells Road
Wookey Hole
Wells, BA5 1DN
Somerset
10th February 1979.