Mountain Rescue Magazine Winter 2021

Team member Tony Mountain died in 2019 and, on Saturday 15 August, his friends gathered in Alwinton to celebrate his life and carry his ashes to their final resting place, high in his beloved Cheviot Hills. Mick Hill , the team’s medical officer, reports. AUGUST: NORTH OF TYNE TEAM MEMBERS GATHER TO CELEBRATE A GOOD FRIEND’S LIFE


A team member for six years, Tony’s tragically early death from Motor Neurone Disease at just 49 years old represented a great loss to his friends on the team, but paled into insignificance compared to that endured by his sister Sonya and brother- in-law Louis who were able to join us on the day. I bear a personal responsibility for Tony having joined the team. It was during a social walk in 2011 when some relatively straightforward mountain rescue skills were called for. Someone in another party required help off exposed ground with the use of a confidence rope. His interest was piqued and, during that evening, he talked incessantly about how to join mountain rescue. The rest is history and shortly afterwards he joined the team as a trainee. There is no denying he was a character. He had a deep fondness for (red) wine, women and song in nearly equal measure. Always a glint in his eye and a winning smile, he could be described as being a bit of a charmer. Tony’s other real passion was his bikes. He was supremely fit and regularly took part in 300k+ endurance cycling events. If the team was deployed on event cover (within a 50k radius of ‘home’) Tony would turn up on his bike, barely breaking a sweat and ready for deployment. His general fitness made his decline all the more painful for us to witness. It would be wrong, however, to describe his MR skills as ‘global’! I recall being with Tony when we attended a casualty who required assisted ventilation and asking Tony to take over ‘bag duties’ for a while. He turned a funny white colour as he duly obliged — and I narrowly avoided having to attend to two casualties that day! Tony was a bit of a gadget man — and when the disease robbed him of his mobility, his attention turned to how he might extend both the speed and endurance of his mobility scooter — with a possible attempt at the mobility scooter land speed record being mentioned! None of us can know how we will react in the face of a terminal diagnosis but many of his fellow team members will never forget the absolute courage and stoicism he demonstrated. He quite literally laughed in the face of MND retaining his sense of humour until the very end (only the fact that this is a respectable publication prevents me from sharing examples!) We kept in touch with Tony long after he stood down as an active team member. Only one week before his death, I recall sitting in a pub with him — Tony consuming a couple of pints of his favourite real ale via a straw. On the night of his death I was able to sit with him at his bedside in South Tyneside District Hospital. The hospital staff had done a wonderful job in palliating his distress. Tony, a man of modest means, was extremely generous in death — leaving a substantial bequest to North of Tyne MRT - which we will use in a way that ensures his legacy is never forgotten. We have lost one of our own, a part of the fabric and history of North of Tyne, but one that we are grateful for having known. It was a privilege to be able to accompany him on his ‘final deployment’: RIP Tony, our ‘Starman’.

Initially an Outward Bound instructor at Eskdale, Des had mountain rescue experience, was a very accomplished rock climber and mountaineer. He had moved to Ilkley to teach maths at Ilkley Grammar School and when, in 1959, the school’s head boy, David Priestman, was fatally injured in Dow Cave to Providence Pot system, it inspired Des to join the team soon afterwards. He became a full team member in 1960. Peter Miller, who was with David when the accident happened, also joined the team a little later. Des was a valued team member and it was not long before he became an assistant search leader, then search leader. The many rescues in Dow Cave to Providence Pot introduced him to the caving world and he took over from Don Robinson as underground leader for six years, when Don stepped down. In that time there where some serious incidents, including one at Mossdale Caverns when six cavers drowned. Des was made a life member in 1986 when he moved to Silloth. He had a very laid-back approach but was a great asset to the team. A smoker, he would keep his cigarettes and matches under his helmet and when he had smoked all of them, the first words he uttered on exiting a cave would be, ‘Has anyone got a fag?’ At short notice, in the early 1960s, he was tasked to lead a party to take over the ill-fated expedition on Jan Mayen Island. He was a great guy to be with, especially when the chips were down. Thanks to Howard Driver, Alan Stockdale, Tony Dean and Peter Miller who helped with this. ✪ Long-standing member of the Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association, Des Birch, passed away on 10 November 2020, aged 92. Peter Huff and his team colleagues pay tribute to his memory.



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