Oxford University Cave Club

Reminiscences of OUCC and Mendip Cave Rescue in the 1960s

Graham Stevens

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My first encounter with the Mendip Rescue Organisation (as it was called then) was in November 1961 when Dr Oliver Lloyd (its secretary from 1956 to1972) gave a talk on Cave Rescue to members of OUCC.  At that time, student caving clubs had a reputation for being the cause of many of the rescue incidents as their relatively high turnover and shortage of older members could lead to inexperienced parties getting into difficulties.

The ethic and tradition of ‘self help and voluntary service’ now being proclaimed on the MCR website was already active at that time.  Oliver’s talk was similar to his lecture to the University of Bristol Faculty of Medicine in October 1960 (published by the Cave Research Group as Occasional Paper No 3, 1961).

After giving us cautionary tales of other people’s problems, he introduced us to the ‘Caving Code’ published by MRO, in which Rule 2 says “Always leave a note with someone on the surface to say which cave you are visiting and what time you expect to be back”.  Action 1 states “If your lights fail or you have lost the way, stay where you are and await rescue.  This may take a long time, unless you have observed Rule 2”.  I have always suspected that Oliver himself wrote these bits!  The Northern CRO ‘Caving Safety Code’ and the NCA ‘National Caving Code’ did not have this humour.

Anyway, OUCC were inspired by the ethos of self help and voluntary service and a few weeks later, on 18 Feb 1962 Oliver organised a mock rescue for us in Rod’s Pot.  An OUCC ‘volunteer’, Bob Smith (Queen’s) was rescued from the bottom of the 50 ft pitch and brought to the surface in a total of 5 hours.

On 16 June 1963 MRO organised another mock rescue for OUCC in Lamb Leer Cavern.  This time Oliver wanted to be the ‘victim’ to see what being on the receiving end of rescuers was like!  We started in the ‘Cave of Falling Waters’ and finished at the top of the big pitch.  Oliver was most concerned that someone he ‘knew’ had checked all the knots before he was hauled up the pitch.  As I was the only one present who had been on the previous Rod’s Pot practice, the honour fell to me!   After exiting we found a tackle bag had been left behind, so a return was made to the bottom of the big pitch to retrieve it.  Oliver climbed the 65 ft ladder in 1 minutes each way which mightily impressed us.  He was old enough to be our dad!  [Dr Oliver Cromwell Lloyd, 1911 -1985].

The club blotted its copybook with Oliver on a trip down Swildon’s Hole on 18 Oct 1964 (see OUCC Logbook 1 p85) when he caught a party with some complete novices doing the 40 and 20 ft Pots without using a lifeline.  The Logbook doesn’t say who was leading, nor if it was only the leader that didn’t use a lifeline!  I was the Meet Leader that day but I led the more experienced members down Eastwater Swallet so ‘non est mea culpa’!  Oliver must have forgiven us or thought we needed ‘refresher training’ on the potential consequences of such irresponsibility as he arranged another rescue practice for us on Sunday 3 April 1966 at Swildon’s Hole.  We tried to haul Oliver up the 40 ft Pot using a ‘double bowline chair knot’ and the bar in ‘Suicide’s Leap’ (see Fig 2 and page 41 in Oliver’s lecture).  After a lot of messing about trying to arrange a counterbalance system with another caver as ballast, the attempt was abandoned as we were causing such a queue there was a risk of us being the cause of an incident!

Following the ‘training’ in Lamb Leer Cavern in June 1963, the Oxford Contingent of the MRO was established in the September comprising 11 OUCC members ranging from second to fifth year students.  Three of these had transport (an Alvis, a 5 cwt van and a Dormobile).  The Contact List claims we could reach Mendip within five hours.  To my knowledge the services of the Oxford Contingent have never been required.