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Operation ‘Alpha’ – Ogof Ffynnon Ddu

Member may not realise that B.E.C. members were looking for the elusive O.F.D. II soon after its discovery in 1946…the following is an account from the Club log of a C.D.G. meet on 15th – 16th November 1946 by the late Don Coase.

Present B.E.C.  D.A. Coase, G. Lucy, A. Hill.

OTHERS.  G. Balcombe, C.P. Weaver, J. Parkes, P. Harvey also numerous other people of the S.W.C.C.

The Bristol contingent travelled by road in convoy, or at least that was the idea, on Friday evening in pouring rain.  Coase and Lucy on that temperamental steed “Rasputin”.  (The writer feels that owing to his service to first, the Hon. Sec. and now to the Hut warden, Rasputin deserves a place in these records.  In fact Rasputin really deserves to become Honorary Life Member). + The convoy was in bits as far as Gloucester, then reunited for refreshment.  Then the cars departed and despite some masterly driving by Coase was unable to catch them up.  Then owing to a leaky carb. petrol ran out and pushing the bike for ¾ mile to a garage was the consequence.

Then, to make up for the delay, some furious driving resulted. Along the winding hilly road across the Forest of Dean with a patchy mist to assist matters. This resulted in some amazing cornering on Z bends but luckily the bank was never scraped hard enough to cause a spill.

A short halt was made at Crickhowell for cocoa which Lucy produced and to tie the bike together again. Setting off once more with Lucy at the ‘controls’.  We hadn’t gone 4 miles when the primary chain broke.

This was awkward, as the rucksack with the tools was in the Weavers car.  So the two intrepid adventurers spent the night in a manger about 12” wide by 12ft. long with sufficient straw to lie upon.  Next morning after a chilly and uncomfortable night, the first bus to Abergavenny was caught.  After waiting on the doorstep for Halfords to open at 9 a new chain was purchased and the 9.15 bus taken back to the bike.

A car was stopped, tools borrowed, chain fitted and then off again at 10.30 and the Gwyn was reached at 12. Here Mrs. Price kindly found some grub. Then off to Danny Lewis’ where Mrs. Lewis welcomed us.  After contacting the gang who were already shifting gear into the cave, a return was made to a jolly fine lunch at Danny’s.

Then the operation really began.  After the kits were checked at the barn, they were packed in small (?) parcels and everyone duly loaded set off into the cave at about 4pm.  After much fun and games especially crossing the pots the sump was at last reached.  The major trouble was found to be, that while passing the stuff from hand to hand, the person at the end had nowhere to park the gear in the dry.  This meant hanging stuff on odd projections on the walls which required some delicate balancing.  This difficulty may, to a slight extent, crop up during ‘Operation Gough’ in Swildons.

A base was established on a small ledge where the three divers tried to dress.  The outstanding spectacle was Weaver and the writer in the nude, feeling quite warm, while the other poor ‘bods’ hung around in wet caving things.  Weaver and the writer were cunning!  They changed into dry togs, but Balcombe just jumped (?) into his diving dress as he stood. I don’t think he even wrung his socks out.  Brave man, me, I’m not so tough as that.

At last, after a confused struggle in the gloom, each diver having pushed the others around a bit to get more room for himself, all was ready.  As it was Weavers pet pool, in he went trailing flex behind him.  After some time, he returned and said after 8’ or so, the way on was along a “dirty little rift”, about 1ft. wide, and was pretty hopeless.  Graham then gave me the high honour of seeing what I thought of it, so I went in.

It was as CPW had said, a ‘dirty little rift’, but not quite so narrow as all that, at least 18” wide. So I inserted myself and got into it, though not without some horrid scratching sounds on my suit.  To make it worse, the ‘dirty little rift’ was lined with fossils.  However, once in I pressed on regardless and went some way down it.  At last I felt a bit lonely and I wasn’t sure whether Graham would approve of going down the ‘dirty little rift’ so I beat a retreat and reached base without springing a leak.

Graham then went in to looksee and whilst he was engaged in “aquatic sports”.  Someone produced a cup of ‘OXO’.  This certainly went down well.  Blessings on the heads of the OXO brewers.  At last Graham returned and said he had gone down a small drop ‘The Pit’, and that the way on was down a small tube, leading down the strike and to the right.  This was not very helpful, but CPW went to see for himself and I followed him.

To start with, my face mask leaked violently, but Graham managed to adjust it for me.  CPW tried to get down his ‘dirty little rift’ but couldn’t make it, so beckoned me to go on.  After a struggle I crawled over him and went on down.  The rift didn’t seem so bad this time, perhaps because I was using Aflo, which gave more light than CPW’s torch.  I floated down the drop off and was just looking at the way on, when my blasted facemask started to leak violently again.  Coupled to this, my nose clip slipped half off, so decided to get out quick.  So I turned off the main light of Aflo, and using my emergency torch went back up the rift. Halfway along I bumped into Weaver who was coming down backwards, so I tapped out distress signals on his posterior, whereupon he retreated and enabled me to reach fresh (?) air again where I was able to drain off a bit.  The OXO wallah again dashed over with more of his warming brew.

CPW then went in again to retrieve Aflo, but wasn’t able to get down this ‘Pit’ and reach it.  So I went in again, after making sure that my face mask was sealing properly.  The ‘dirty little rift’ was becoming quite friendly by this time.  Arriving at the bottom of the ’Pit’ I decide to try and have another shot at inspecting the strike passage.  It was certainly too small to get through without considering the risk of getting fouled, altho’ it would be an easy crawl if it were a common garden dry passage.

I then detached the guide line and was just going to start back when I began to float off the bottom. This was rather shaking.  After turning off the oxygen, I tried to free the relief valve on the breathing bag which I presumed had fouled under the canvas’ horse collar’.  By this time I was stuck to the roof and had to let go the Aflo which robbed me of quite a lot of extra ballast.  I found I could not reach the valve owing to the restricted space I was in.  What with buoyancy and the force of the current I war shooting up the passage at quite a speed.  I could see the lights at the surface but how far away they seemed! All of a sudden I was at the surface again to my considerable relief.  The ‘dirty little rift’ has laughed last.

So it fell to Graham (Balcombe) in the end to retrieve the Aflo without incident and to conclude officially Operation ‘Alpha’.

Then the pleasure of undressing and changing back into wet caving things; then packing up and getting out of the cave about which the least said the better.  The gear was at last thankfully dumped in the barn and Coase and Lucy returned to Danny Lewis’ where a meal was ready, and after a conflab, bed.

Was it worth it?  For me, ‘Yes’.  I learnt quite a lot.  Although the operation did not lead us to miles of passages, I, as a diver, gained in experience, ready for the next trap.

+ “Rasputin” was Don Coase’s motorcycle.