Three airmen from 611 (West Lancashire) Squadron RAuxAF have recently returned from learning winter survival skills in the mountains of Norway where they followed in the footsteps of famous wartime raiders who stopped the Nazi atomic bomb programme.
Jared Dore, Tony Robb and David Rowntree joined 50 other RAF Reservists on Exercise WINTERMARCH to learn Nordic skiing, how to survive an avalanche and how to deal with extreme cold from members of the Norwegian military.
SAC Dore said: “I loved it. It was right out of my comfort zone – I like being stretched and learning new skills and meeting new people”.
SAC Tony Robb said he found the experience tough but enjoyable: “I think I was the worst skier and it was hard at times. We’d cross long distances every day but I enjoyed it.
“I was in a valley skiing at one point and I just took it all in. The scenery was beautiful, thick snow and it was silent and you can’t buy that. At the same time I’m being paid to do this. My friends are quite envious.”
The 51-year-old added: “I’d always wanted to experience life in the military and it was fantastic to join the RAF Reserves. The camaraderie is brilliant and that’s what you see here – if you fall over, someone will help you up.”
Tony says his RAF life gives a real contrast with his civilian job: “I worked in kitchens when I was younger but being a chef in the Royal Air Force is totally different to my day job.”
Another member of 611 Sqn in Norway was SAC David Rowntree, he said: “It’s been a fantastic challenge. It’s been tougher than I expected – but it’s one of those experiences that I couldn’t do if I wasn’t in the RAF Reserves – without their support I wouldn’t have done it.”
After leaving behind thick snow in Norway, they were lucky to get home after the UK too had heavy snowfall on the weekend they returned and many flights were cancelled.
The airmen and women of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force were based at Rjukan, 100 miles north of the capital Oslo. The town is also the site of the wartime Telemark Raid which saw saboteurs dropped by the RAF destroy a factory making vital parts for the Nazi effort to build an atomic bomb.
The students learned more about the operation with a talk from a close friend of one of the saboteurs and a visit to the museum built on the site of the raid.
The skills used by the saboteurs in cross-country skiing and winter survival are the same as those taught by the Norwegian instructors. Participants finished the gruelling week with a cross-country skiing race.
For Norwegians the Telemark Raid holds a similar place as the Battle of Britain does here and represents their own ‘finest hour’.
Tony said: “Finding our about the Telemark Operation was very powerful. It was so hard to live and fight in this environment.
“We skiied in the same place which was special. You got a feeling for what they went through.”
Jared added he also enjoyed the team spirit everyone showed. “One of the reasons I joined the RAF Reserves was the camaraderie – and you really see that here. If someone falls over, someone helps you up. Everyone has got each other’s back.”
The officer leading the expedition, Flight Lieutenant Rosie Gilmore, said: “The RAF Reserves have been coming to Rjukan to train for many years and we’ve had a fantastic week here. The guys have got so much out of it. It’s hard work, but they all help each other and you can see that they’ve given their all but they’ve had a great time.”
The exercise comes at an important time for the RAF in its centenary year.
She added: “As the RAF celebrates its 100th year, it’s fitting that we’ve been here where the RAF has long and friendly relations and it’s been great to be here strengthening those bonds between the RAF and Norway.”
These bonds stretch back to the Second World War when, as well as supporting the Telemark raid, Norwegian airmen served in RAF squadrons as they fought alongside Britain to defeat Germany and free their homeland. Both the UK and Norway are founder members of NATO.