It is with great sadness that the recent heat has taken the lives of two soldiers in the Brecon Beacons this past weekend. I walked past many of them as I climbed Pen-y-fan in 30C last Saturday and commented at the time on how hard they were working. If only I knew…
For many years the Brecons’ have been a training round for the Military, in fact the car park at Plas-y-gaer has a wooden silhouetted soldier placed next to the stile. I was out on the hill with climber and adventurer Deri Llewellyn-Davies after speaking in a couple of schools on the friday. Deri and I have shared the stage together in our capacity as speakers, but this was our first outing on the hill. The day was cloudless, hot and with little breeze. Having skin grafts has heightened my fear of sunburn and I always overdo the suncream. Deri covered up well after experiencing severe conditions whilst running the Marathon des sables some years ago. Armed with small packs, but plenty of liquids we scaled Pen-y-fan with relative ease. Dozens of fell runners passed us by, heading northwards on a mountain marathon, whilst we plodded up the top. We joked that few people would be out in the hills due to the burning temperatures, and most folk would be roasting on the beaches of Tenby. The summit was sparsely populated, but a solitary tent sat in the corner. ‘Strange place to wild camp’ I thought, but I suddenly noticed a camouflaged figure come over the ridge and walk towards it. The tent was a checkpoint on a military exercise. The trooper said a few exhausted words to whoever was shading inside and was gone. He was carrying a full Bergen rucksack and had a weapon across his chest. He looked exhausted, but determined to move on.
As we descended the saddle towards Crybin, I saw more and more fatiuged figures climbing past us. Sweat poured from their faces, but a few said hello and just kept going. One or two sat for a few minutes, but were determined to move on. Deri and I circled back to the car park after a few hours and headed for home. In the valleys below were numerous DofE groups with huge bags on their backs looking equally shattered. They did have the advantage of a little shade however and a much shorter route to navigate..!
As we drove away I noticed two ambulances parked against the A470 to Merthyr Tydfil road, but thought nothing of it. Were they already out trying to save lives..?
I’ve spent many months in the mountains and jungles of the world. I’ve carried huge weights, poured with sweat and once collapsed due to heat exhaustion. I’m not making this statement to be macho, but being realistic in the conditions. At times we push ourselves to the limit and beyond to achieve an objective, but overstepping the mark can cost us our lives. I’m not here to point fingers, and we’ll have to wait for the coming enquiry to give us the answers, but we must not stop the desire to achieve. What we must do is understand when enough is enough. I’ve backed off two major peaks because of weather and time constraints. Weeks of training, fighting and hauling all come to an end just a few hundred feet from the summit, but you go home and that’s the important bit..!
My thoughts go to all the families involved in this awful tragedy. No words or inquests can return to them the loved ones they have lost…
As a Post Script I must add the sad news that another soldier has died in this tragic incident.
I agree with Kim, it is endurance on a whole different level. This is the holy grail of soldiering, it is very sad to what has happened, but as a SAS legend once said, “Death is gods way of telling you that you have failed selection!!” These guys went in with their eyes wide open & knew what it takes to make an SAS Trooper, willing to put everything on the line is what makes us one of the best armies in the world & not a mindset most ‘civvies’ can understand.
As to saying they were only TA, that is a bit of an insult, so was Chris Ryan, he was the only one to escape from the doomed Bravo Two Zero escapade & his efforts are now folklore in the regiment.
My thoughts too, go out to all 3 family’s, friends & colleagues. RIP WDW
Very sad and most likely avoidable – even for SAS selection. These guys were TA reservists not regular soldiers. Professional and dedicated yes – but not in full time training. My son has carried those same loads in the same place and there is a huge difference in how the TA and regular regiments manage these events.
Fingers crossed for the guys still in hospital.
It’s obviously a fine line between doing something ‘to the limit of your abilities’ and ‘crossing the line’. These were potential SAS soldiers, but they are still human, not supermen. Maybe the answer is in training them to more accurately know when they have reached their limits, and for their commanders to appreciate the difference between ‘skiving off’ and ‘living to fight another day’ . As you said Nigel you’ve been in situations where you’ve had to turn back with the end in sight because you judged the situation to be lethal. The guys themselves or their CO’s, or both, had their judgement fail, with the loss of two lives.
Wise words my friend … It’s not about the summit but the journey …
But let us not forget these were potential SAS soldiers’…and whilst I wholeheartedly agree and see what you are saying, we are talking about a different breed of soldier who would have been beyond ultra fit men/women striving to achieve far beyond their limits, which unfortunately for themselves and their families’ was just a little too far beyond their human capacity and limitations. They were ‘up for selection’ and knew at the outset what hardship they could possibly be going to go through. In a way they died in what they perceived to be for their Queen and country. Let us remember them