Wigan engineer's gruelling winter training for RAF reserves

David Rowntree
David Rowntree

An electrical engineer followed in the footsteps of famous wartime raiders by learning winter survival skills in Norway.

David Rowntree, from Parbold, works on in-flight operations in his spare time for the RAF reserves and was chosen to take part in the sub-arctic exercise.

RAF reservists skiing in Norway

RAF reservists skiing in Norway

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The 29-year-old was one of only 50 reservists who were hand-picked for the gruelling enterprise, which saw them learn vital military skills.

Exercise Wintermarch is an annual RAF mission, with reservists tutored in Nordic skiing, as well as learning how to survive an avalance and how to deal with extreme cold weather.

Members of the Norwegian military led much of the training sessions.

David 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.”

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.

David, who serves with Number 611 Squadron based at Woodvale near Liverpool, added: “Learning more about the Telemark Operation was brilliant - it was so inspirational. It was great to hear what they achieved.”

For Norwegians the Telemark Raid holds a similar place as the Battle of Britain does here and represents their own ‘finest hour’.

David added: “My day job is a big contrast with my role with the RAF. I’ve worked as an electrician for 10 years and I wanted to stay in my job but was after a change and a new challenge.

“Being in the RAF Reserves pushes you out of your comfort zone. I led a map-reading training group here and I was leading people more experienced than me but it was very enjoyable.”

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.