Exercise 'Cold Wind' was in its third week and only two more to go. I was really looking forward to that, as I disliked this continual cold here in the north-west of Canada. This was meant to be Arctic warfare training, and the military had really chosen the venue right. I could see that infiltration of this area would be a very difficult problem indeed. I was going to be dropped with my spotter and we had a checkpoint we had to reach in ten days.
Bert my spotter was with the other Hercules crew playing cards up forward while I was strapped into the net seats at the back. I was trying to watch the vast land below and was stunned by the number of lakes and rivers that I could see. Occasionally small settlements could be seen, but they were few and far between. Why anyone would choose to live in this wilderness was beyond understanding.
Bang! And a hole appeared where the pilot and crew had been, there was a blast of cold freezing air rushing in with such force the back ramp doors started to open. The whole plane just seemed to glide down and within minutes it was crashing through trees, as branches pierced the outer skin and were ripping the sides open as if made of paper.
There was nothing I could do except just sit and await my fate, as I was certain that this was it, and I had only minutes to live. All the side opposite me was torn off and I saw a wing with engines cart wheeling away to the rear. The speed was slowly being taken off and came to a sudden halt as if wedged between something. All through this I sat in the hammock like seat and not a scratch or bruise was on my body, yet all around me was devastation. Fire was my worry and I made to get out of this wreckage as quickly as possible. I thought twice about leaving my rifle as I had no ammunition for it anyway, but it was too good a rifle to leave. I grabbed the rifle and my pack, slipped off my parachute and just ran out through the huge hole opposite me and away from the wreck.
The snow wasn't that deep and I was able to get a good 50 yards away in case of an explosion. When I looked at what was left I doubted that an explosion could cause any more damage, as to what was already done. The smell of fuel was strong, and had that hot kerosene smell about it. I decided to move even further back, but not too far away as I was sure rescue wouldn't be long in coming.
Here was I Corporal Hugh Darling Royal Marines, RM 133456 in the middle the North-West of Canada, in a position which I had been training for two years now. Training was completely different to the real thing, now there was no back-up close at hand. I knew that in the plane were things which could be useful for my survival, but I was hesitant to try in case of fire. So I decided to give it an hour or so before I ventured into the wreck. Anyway, I am sure by then a search would be mounted, as these planes are in constant touch, and have distress beacons, I hope.
Meantime I made a scrape, which is a hole in the snow to give me some protection in case I had to stay here a while. When I had made the scrape and everything was to my satisfaction it was well over an hour. I left my pack and loose equipment at the scrape and approached the wreck. There was a light fall of snow falling and the wind was very gentle. On the load ramp were three pallets, still shackled to the guides. I slit the straps and found that it contained Ration packs. The other contained our one-person sledges and snowshoes. The third held blank ammunition, which was as much use to me as a snowball in hell.
To be on the safe side in case I had to do a walk-out, for I was already getting a bit worried that nothing had appeared in the way of a search. This was meant to be a combined exercise with the Air Force and they had for the past week jets buzzing us nearly every hour. So I got one of the sledges and loaded it with as many ration packs I could safely pull. I took two cartons of solid fuel cooker fuel as well, at least I was going to have a hot drink if nothing else. Bert's pack was still attached to the seat he had been in before he went forward so this I took also and tied them all down with two pairs of snowshoes lashed to the top. The load was light enough for me to pull now, and I hoped that it wouldn't be too heavy after I had pulled it for some time. I dragged it to the scrape and crawled in for the wait.
Night fell quickly, just before four in the afternoon, and the temperature dropped as quick. Deep under the snowdrift I heard the wind increase in speed and I was glad that I had the fortitude to have made the scrape earlier. I crawled into my sleeping-bag and went to sleep.
I knew it was day as the light was filtering trough the snow of the scrape. I wriggled out and was confronted with a white landscape, even the wreck was slowly being covered. I dug out the sledge, which was completely buried. The sky was grey and I doubt if any rescue craft would ever see the wreck even travelling at tree height. I hoped the emergency beacon wherever it was on the plane was still sending out a signal.
Food was the most important item to keep my body nourished and combat the cold. It is surprising the amount of snow you have to melt to get a decent mug full, I was slowly melting handful after handful in my mess-mug on the solid fuel cooker until I had enough for my need. I watched it boil and made myself a cup of soup from the instant soup package that I carried. Pea and Ham soup must be the most produced variety, for that seems to be the only type I have had recently. Anyway, it was nice and hot and really warmed me up. As I stood and stamped my feet, why I don't know for they weren't cold at all.
That day nothing, no sound of aircraft not even in the distance, surely a search had been mounted, after this length of time. I kept looking at the map I had been issued with, but it wasn't for this area at all but for an area at least a half-hours flying time away which is about 200 miles further east. We had just crossed the Mackenzie Mountains and I was almost certain I had spotted the Franklin River before the bang. Down below looked desolate and no signs of habitation, but we had travelled over settlements prior.
I started working out in my head which way I should go. If nothing turns up by tomorrow, as it was pointless just sitting here. I know the instructions were always to stick at the crash site, but we were always told that a rescue would be made within hours. Now it was over 24 hours and nothing. I would give them another 24 hours then I was going to trek out, east.
I gave them another 36 hours and I heard nothing, so I attached all my gear to the sled. Got my map case and placed an 'X' on the plastic sheet with the chinagraph pencil and started a line east, I was going to try to map my way as I got out.
After about six hours I came to a river and started following it but it started to flow north and there was no way I was going to be able to cross this fast-flowing water. Slightly north I spied a lake through the trees and to the North-West another. I could see no rivers running out at this side, so they must be emptying on their north side, no doubt flowed into a larger river complex. Where there was a lot of water there surely would be settlements. So I marked what I had observed, estimated the distance I had travelled, and now headed north.
The snow was sparse among the trees and at times non-existent, for the fir trees acted like a blanket above and even kept the cold wind out. The difficulty was steering a straight course and I had to continually check on my compass. These trees went on for miles and the ground undulated, it was difficult pulling the sledge uphill, and almost as difficult to restrain it when going down the other side. I had to spend the night curled up close to the sledge in my sleeping-bag. This time I hadn't the comfort of a snow covering to keep me warm. The night was long and cold and I was glad when the first show of light allowed me to get a meal inside me and get on my way.
Late that afternoon as I was crossing a large open area out of nowhere a snowstorm raged and high wind to such an extent I could hardly see two feet in front of me. I estimated where I had seen a rock outcrop and with head down and leaning into this wind moved forward. It was like being in a wind-tunnel with the added bit of the driving snow. How long I battled into that I have no idea, but eventually I reached a tree line and could go no further. I was totally exhausted and I think I broke every rule in the book. I curled up at the side of the sledge and dropped off to sleep as the cold seemed to creep into every part of my body.
Slowly I came to, I tingled in every part of my body like pins and needles. Against my cold body I felt something warm at my front, I thought I was in heaven for I could almost swear that in my face was buried in a bundle of long hair. My arm was over the body in front of me and being held by a pair of small hands close to their body against bare smooth skin. The pins and needles got worse as I slowly became more aware of my surroundings. The light was dim when I opened my eyes and I caught the scent of perfumed hair in my face. I knew she was a young woman by the feel of her skin and the swell of her breast. How the hell did I land up here I thought. I don't think this is standard military procedure, to get someone warm. I knew right away that I must have passed out in the storm, and been found somehow, and I was being revived.
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