The Team can trace its earliest history back to the Cheviot Walking Club in the early 1950s. In September 1963 the first search and rescue team was formally recognised in the Borders. Originally the only one of its kind in the South of Scotland and North-East of England, the group of volunteers was named the Border Search and Rescue Unit.
The idea behind the formation of the original unit was prompted mainly because of an increase in the number of persons, particularly young and inexperienced in hill craft, walking the Cheviot Hills in all seasons, and because of the then recent deaths in a snowstorm of two shepherds on the Northumberland side of the Cheviot. Added to this was an increase in the number of incidents in both the Tweedsmuir and Lammermuir Hills. By 1969, the unit consisted of three sections – the Roxburghshire Section based at Yetholm; the Berwickshire Section based at Duns and the Selkirkshire Section based at Galashiels.
The section which was based in Galashiels quickly became established as a team in its own right and was named the Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue Team. A local police officer called Tony Robinson was the first Team Leader of TVMRT and held this position for three years. Tony had been a member of the BSARU in Yetholm and was behind the formation of the original Selkirkshire section when he was posted to Galashiels. Other members consisted of two ATC Officers Jim Cramb and George Oliver, two young ATC cadets Kenny Morison and Jim Cochrane, and a few local hill walkers – Bobby Jamieson, Douge Bonner, Jimmy Rae, Jim Millar, Jim Crosbie, Bill Kennedy and David Douglas.
In the early days the team met every Wednesday evening in a local Galashiel’s pub for training. As no equipment was available, an obvious priority to raise funds and to improvise equipment from anything the newly formed team could utilise. Jim Cramb, the team’s secretary started to write to both local and multi-national companies to ask for sponsorship.
Soon afterwards the first pieces of kit were acquired. A home made wooden stretcher was built by members. It was so heavy it needed four members to lift it even without the added weight of a casualty! First aid kits consisted of Second World War wound dressings and issue bandages donated from the pharmacy department of Peel Hospital and an ex-army sleeping bag that was used as a casualty bag.
Things began to look up when the Wills Tobacco Company sponsored the purchase of a MacInnes aluminium stretcher. The Belfast Rope Company donated to the team a couple of nylon ropes and Sir James Martin Chairman of Martin Baker Ejector Seats Company donated cash with a £25 cheque. Lyle and Scott, the famous Hawick Knitwear Company made an unusual donation of several pairs of Y-front underwear to be raffled!
The first store room was a small wooden hut at the back of a greengrocers shop in Bank Street, Galashiels. Throughout the years the team’s HQs has progressed from a small wooden hut at the rear of a greengrocers shop to purpose built rescue headquarters consisting of a double garage, storeroom, lecture room, kitchen, toilet facilities and a small indoor climbing wall. The base is located in Selkirk (MR Post No 88).
One of the first official call outs was for four young scouts missing over night on a Duke of Edinburgh walk in the Megget hills. Very few members possessed telephones that made calling out the team a lengthy process. Call organisers had to drive around knocking on doors to waken team members. Following an hour’s drive to the location the team discovered the lads had walked off in daylight none the worse.
Line Searching - The Early Days
During the team’s first structured search, a line search was established involving over 200 people, including team members, neighbouring teams, police officers, forestry workers and members of the public. The theory was that the line would stretch a distance of three miles between two main parallel roads. It took almost two hours to get everyone into position and about two minutes for it to deteriorate into a shambles. During the search the police commandeered an open – backed potato lorry to transport searchers into position.
In 1972 the team attended a rescue at a local beauty spot where two French tourists had fallen a couple of hundred feet. One had spinal injuries and the other was crag fast. Approximately 12 members of the MRT, ambulance crew, local gillies with their rowing boat and a couple of local police officers successfully rescued the casualties in an operation which lasted around two hours.
This incident early in the history of the team demonstrated the level of working partnerships which have become strengthened over the years. Today the team enjoys excellent working relationships with all the Emergency Services together with other local Rescue Teams and other local experts. In 1986, the team was requested to assist with a search for a missing RAF jet which had disappeared during a low level flight over the area. The exact crash site location was pinpointed using information provided by the Seismic Station at Eskdalemuir.
The impact had caused enough of a ground tremor to be picked up. This was a good example of using lateral thinking to solve search problems, something that is essential today in most cases. In 1988, 24 members of the Team spent three days at the Lockerbie air disaster. The original task was to search for survivors during the night of the 21st December. By morning team members began to locate the first of many fatalities. This was a difficult and traumatic time for everyone.
Over the years the Team has assisted Lothian & Borders Police whenever asked in a wide range of tasks, often working alongside members of the Borders Search and Rescue Unit which now operates from Kelso. The tasks have ranged from the horrors of Lockerbie to rescuing sheep stuck on ledges; from searching for missing children to searching for despondent adults; from evacuating injured hill walkers to recovering the bodies of suicide victims; from assisting at times of flood to assisting during periods of heavy snows; indeed providing assistance over a much wider remit than the name Mountain Rescue Team might suggest.
The area covered by the Team includes significant expanses of open hill ground, forests, rivers, lochs, as well as villages, towns and the City of Edinburgh. Although the Team gets involved in a wide range of tasks the most common is missing person search work. The Team has developed its skills in this area and has trained Search Managers who work alongside Police Officers on such incidents.
The Modern Day
Today’s Team equipment has moved a long way from the early beginnings. Back then, two CB radios confiscated by the police managed to find their way into the team’s store cupboard and became the team’s first means of communication. The team’s first vehicle was a Land Rover donated by a local estate, which had lain for some years unused in a barn. Following a quick coat of paint and a service and it was as good as new. At one stage the team purchased a nearly – new Austin Gypsy 4×4 with only 90 miles on the clock for £156. When the vehicle arrived it had five brand new tyres, a new fire extinguisher, seat belts, window washers and wipers — a real bargain.
Today, Team transport comprises two customised Landrover ambulances (one provided by St John Scotland) fully equipped with searchlights and the latest first aid, medical, rescue, and radio equipment.
Personal equipment consisted of traditional ‘tackity’ boots comprising leather with metal tacks for grips. Waterproofs were made of cotton or nylon. Some members even wore tweed jackets, none of which proved to be remotely waterproof. Not all thoughts on early equipment for members proved successful. Some bright spark suggested that he could obtain ex-naval, blue nylon cagoules. Every team member was asked to contribute to the cost.
Everyone looked forward to their arrival but when they did, it was discovered that they were covered in battle-ship grey paint and leaked like a sieve. Today the Team is equipped with purpose made outdoor clothing thanks to a successful lottery award.
A high priority for the Team is to ensure the safety of its own members and those affected by its operations. Training is the key and the Team undertakes to train members in the skills required to carry out its main tasks. The team continues to train every Wednesday night as it has done since its earliest beginnings, as well as occasional Sundays and weekends on all hill craft and mountain rescue techniques. The Team today is, in some ways, very different to that which started over thirty years ago. However, it has not changed in one very important way — it is still made up of committed volunteers from all walks of life who share the desire to help another fellow human who may be suffering and need help. The Team will continue to evolve to meet the challenges which lie ahead to assist Police Scotland and the communities of the Borders.