More adventures with South Shields cadets

You will remember Les Gustafson telling us about his time with 324 South Shields Squadron Air Training Corps during the 1960s.

Thursday, 3rd May 2018, 9:59 am
Updated Thursday, 3rd May 2018, 11:21 am
Emerging from the dinghy.

Well, Les has been back in touch with details of more adventures, including how he and his fellow cadets dragged a dinghy up the Cheviot hills – and the uncomfortable night they spent there.

Having previously mentioned a “night-time assault” on Cleadon windmill (when he was joined by fellow “attackers” Peter Carlin-Page and Paddy Greenan), Les now goers on to say that the “true inspiration for all the activities in which we as cadets engaged in the mid-to-late 60s” was John Wood.

Inside the dinghy,from which dangled the oil lamp.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

These included taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, expeditions to locate a crashed aircraft, filming and even abseiling (“I remember almost breaking my legs sliding down a rope into The Nest at Trow Lea.”)

“I recall once abseiling down rocks somewhere in Northumberland when a coach pulled up, disgorged a load of university students, armed with small hammers, who proceeded to chip away at pieces of the rocks then getting straight back in their coach and driving away. I’m not sure who thought who was the strangest.”

Les also recalls Ian Morgan “who had a crucial role to play in one of our other adventures – one of John Wood’s crazier ideas”.

“This involved man-hauling up the Cheviots a sledge loaded with a deflated RAF Rescue Dinghy (one of those circular rubber affairs like a children’s garden paddling pool with a canopy on the top – our version of Scott of the Antarctic, in miniature).

Examining the dinghy back at base.

“Our first problem was the unseasonably warm weather which had drastically reduced the snow cover so we were exhausted before we got halfway up and had to stop where we were.

“On the other hand, it was still such a low temperature at that altitude that the gas in the cylinder we had brought to inflate the dinghy had liquefied, and Ian had to sit with the cylinder between his knees and with his arms wrapped around it in a bid to warm it sufficiently to work.

“Just as we were about to give up, the gas started flowing, but the plastic tubing to connect the cylinder to the dinghy’s inflation nozzle didn’t fit very well, and it was almost dark before we could take refuge in a fully-inflated dinghy.

“The floor had a double lining with an air-cushion for insulation, but designed for use on water, of course, not for resting on frozen ground, and kept deflating due to the weight of our bodies, giving us freezing backsides.

“Illumination was provided by an oil lamp hanging from the inside of the canopy (an oil lamp in a rubber dinghy what on earth were we thinking, for heaven’s sake?) and I awoke in the night to find it dangling just above my nose due to the fact that the rain/snow which had collected on the saucer-shaped roof of the canopy (very important for aircrew lost at sea and needing to collect drinking water) was pushing the roof down.

“Anyway, we managed to top up the lamp without setting fire to ourselves, but I think sleep probably eluded us after that.

“To lighten the load on the sledge we had taken packets of Vesta Curry for food, but, of course, water boils at a lower temperature the higher you go, so even though we boiled the packets of rice to death, it still had the consistency of iron pellets, and the curry was cold, and we needed all our strength to drag the sledge back down again.

“The miscreants on that occasion were me, John, Paddy, Ian and Kevin Sutherland.

“The attached photos show myself and Ian emerging from the dinghy, an interior shot showing Paddy and myself (in the hat), with Ian chopped on the right and Kevin peeping from the left (John was the photographer).

The infamous oil lamp is dangling in the background.

“Did I say happy days in that previous article?

“More like the Crazy Gang here!”