The plan, in a word (or in many as we have been taught by Captain "Bellower" Danilewicz), was to lay siege to the evil and noisome pool at the end of the cave in an attempt to increase the length of Notts Pot and in so doing to forestall the attempts of the dastardly Welshmen from wringing the length record from us. The campaign took place in the depths of winter and we were assailed again and again by storms of snow and ice.
Enormously heavy steel containers for the sub-aquatic porterage of life-sustaining gases; very heavy ammunition chests with the assorted mechanical paraphernalia required to transport the gases to the interior of the frogman; quite heavy and voluminous bags, packages, parcels, polybags, and portmanteaux containing numerous delicate items of navigational instrumentation; several sections of aluminium which were quite light and only five feet long each (!) to aid the frogmen on the battlefield of Notts II; flippers, goggles, and other "essential" odds and ends were just some of the things which for several months it was our humble lot to transport down and (horrors !) back up the vertiginous precipices which barred access to the Eldorado of Ireby VII, or Gavel Pot as it is sometimes known.
Success depended on this equipment arriving at the front and it was the job of we of the Sherpa Platoon to carry out this unenviable task. Week after week we were woken at an early hour by the incessant bellowing of Capt. Dani who was a firm believer in rising with the noon. He was ably supported in this by Sergeant-Major "Rip Van Winkle" Waddingstein. We were transported to the mess at Bernie's where the ever-pleasant and lightning-fast service provided by Private "Speedy" Round of the Catering Corps ensured that it was only 1600 hours by the time we reached Leck Fell.
Battle dress was quickly donned by most of the platoon, only Colonel "Sloth" Sudell, our indolent leader, lagging behind as usual. Doing our utmost to shoulder the not inconsiderable loads, the team proceeded on the approach march. We were totally reliant on the skills of Lieutenant "Pathfinder" Cordingley whose navigational ability was unparalleled; we knew this to be true because he told us so at frequent intervals. "Follow me lads, keep together, head for that white rock on the horizon". An hour later, the rock was reached when it stopped to feed on a patch of grass near Marble Steps. In his usual unconcerned manner, he consulted a small grubby drawing, took some sightings through his sextant, muttered to himself and set off in the direction from which we had approached. Eventually we reached the cave to find Col. Sudell and Captain "Scrounger" White of the Department of Health and Social Security awaiting us. "Enjoying yourselves ?" the latter asked, and before he could be cast into the shakehole continued "I don't suppose I could borrow some wellies/undersuit/oversuit/light/helmet/food/SRT gear/krabs could I ? I seem to have mislaid mine". This was such a regular request that we were ready for it. We gave him the required items, adding to the strength of the team and ruining his excuse at one fell swoop.
We had just negotiated the sinuous entrance passage and were passing gear down the little climb just inside when it became apparent that the Sergeant-Major was not happy. A fearful cursing reached our ears, "F*** the f***ing f***er, its not f***ing working again". It transpired that his latest acquisition in illumination devices was malfunctioning. A series of bangs and crashes, interspersed with further violent cursing, indicated that he was applying the full depth of his intellect to the problem and some minutes later, a black-faced and sweating "Rip Van Winkle" fell headlong down the climb. We picked him up and dusted him down while "Scrounger" White, who is an expert at using other people's gear, got the lamp working after a fashion. Shouldering our loads once more, we began the descent.
Several people had already got down the first pitch when a plaintive "Wait for me" drifted down from above. Ten minutes later we were joined by "Pathfinder" Cordingley who had taken the wrong path across the entrance shakehole and ended up at Lost Johns' before realising that it was not that far to the entrance ladder. The whole team being reunited, we tackled the second, third and fourth drops with ease. The bottom of the fourth was decorated by a large and smelly pile of diced carrots and tomato skins. After our initial shock we were relieved. Private "Huey" O'Riley had not thrown up all day and this proof that his system had returned to normal boded well for the success of the day's venture.
Arriving at the top of the tricky fifth drop, we immediately volunteered "Bellower" Danilewicz to descend first since he had the largest mouth and would be best able to breathe when immersed in the cataract which poured over the edge. He set off with some trepidation and a great many words. Some minutes, and a great deal of incoherent gurgling, later, we espied our hero as he emerged, somewhat bedraggled, from the maelstrom. He set about arranging the telepherique which would allow us lesser mortals to reach the bottom in a slightly better state.
The next section of the cave was traversed by all, but with varying degrees of difficulty. I was behind Private "Proboscis" Stanton and watched with some amusement as he fought with the large and unwieldy bundle he was carrying. Dubbed "Davies's Cannon" or "The Secret Weapon", this device consisted of numerous lengths of piping five feet long and four inches in bore. Although it was put about that it was to be used in a daring Commando-style operation in Notts II, I had overheard the true story that very morning. It was to be used to shoot down draperies in the roof so that they could be sold to the Welsh who desperately needed them to decorate their new cave called (with typical Welsh perversity) Barren Keylie. The money was needed to buy a new set of equipment for Private "John" Thomas whose present set had been reduced to tatters after only ten years of constant caving. "I can't understand why its all fallen to bits" he complained, replacing his unique flexible helmet which had been dislodged by a particularly heavy drop of water.
At the top of the sixth drop, disaster struck. It was the fault of "Huey" O'Riley who was daydreaming about his new son "Little Malcolm" who had arrived after a liaison on a Spanish Ferry that very summer. In his reverie he failed to notice that the "Magical Talking Box", a devilishly clever device for talking with the surface, was rolling towards the top of the drop. In the time it takes Private "Guzzler" Burgess to sink a pint of 80 Shilling, the Magical Talking Box made a successful attempt to reduce its potential energy and, in doing so, became the "Do It Yourself Magical Talking Box Kit". The eccentric Dr. Mackin, inventor of the box, was not going to be pleased. Not only had he spent many weeks at the University of Ingleton building it, but he was at that very moment walking around in circles in the snow on the surface awaiting signals from below. He would wait in vain, his only solace during the long and chilling sojourn being the dry humour of his ever-present companion "Tiny" Roy, a local dwarf.
Eventually we reached our goal where a thick fog pervaded the air. Due to a quirk of physiology, the pure air which we had so laboriously transported thus far was poisonous to Colonel Sudell and he needed to fill his lungs with cigarette smoke before taking to the waters. Little by little, the team buckled on its equipment, only Private Stanton having some difficulty fitting his specially designed "Concorde" face-mask. One by one they fell into the dark and murky water and disappeared. Another episode in the exploration of Britain's longest cave was underway.
Now that the elite "Bubble Blowing Brigade" had left us, only the Sergeant Major, "Scrounger" White, and I were left. With some reluctance, we picked up what we could of the pile of empty cylinders and set off on the long journey to daylight. Wearied by listening to Dani for too long, it was a hard slog, enlivened once or twice by the cursing of the Sergeant Major whose lighting apparatus was still causing problems. Our spirits were lifted, and we had a little chuckle to ourselves, when we bumped into "Pathfinder" Cordingley, who had become disorientated between the second and third drops and failed to find the rope. Another trip was almost over, we could retire to Rose's Bar for the evening well satisfied. Looking forward to the refreshment and to tales of caving in the olden days from Lance-Corporal (Retired) "Martel" Pybus, we shouted our heart-warming Platoon Slogan :
and headed for home.