Reference Number:
GB 3075 JRL
Papers of Johnnie Lees
2008 (1935-2002)
one dvd
Creator Name 1:
Lees, John Rodney (1927-2002)
Creator Name 2:
Greenwood, John
Biog/Admin History:
John Rodney Lees was born in Chingford, Essex on 18th December 1927. He was educated at Hexham Grammar School in Northumberland and developed his rock climbing skills on the gritstone of Almscliff, near Otley in Yorkshire. Lees signed up to join the RAF towards the end of the Second World War and became a physical training instructor. Following a posting to the South of England, Lees pioneered new routes on the sandstone formed Harrison Rocks in Kent. He became one of the best climbers in the RAF Mountaineering Association (RAFMA), having joined in 1950 and achieved hard climbs on the cliffs of North Wales and in the Alps.

Popularly known as Johnnie, Lees was appointed team leader of the Royal Air Force Valley Mountain Rescue Team in 1952 and remained so until 1960. This team, based in Anglesey, had been established in 1951 in response to a call from the Air Ministry to improve the RAF Mountain Rescue Service which had been formed in 1943. The task of re-organisation fell to the RAFMA and Lees taught on the very first course.

His role in introducing new techniques and equipment, establishing courses in rock climbing and winter navigation was ground breaking as it had an effect on improving the RAF mountain rescue service throughout the UK. In particular he utilised the Austrian 'Tragsitz' rescue harness to improve advanced rescue techniques. In 1955 Lees married Gwen Moffat, a renowned and feisty climber. During the same period, Lees qualified as a mountain and rock climbing guide, one of the few at that time. He was also a member of the first RAFMA expedition to the Himalayas. Eight summits were reached, between 18,000-21,000 ft, and seven of these were first ascents in the Kulti Himal, North India.

On January 3rd 1958, Lees role in rescuing an injured climber, Major Hugh Robertson, on Ampitheatre Buttress on Craig yr Ysfa in the Carneddau, resulted in him being awarded the only George Medal for mountain rescue. Robertson and his climbing partner Lt Roger Earle were stranded and had been so for seven hours, Robertson having suffered a fractured skull and thus delirious. Lees constructed a rope cradle and effected the rescue by climbing down with Robertson tied to his back. This was achieved at night in winter conditions.

In 1961 Lees retired from the RAF and was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to mountain rescue in 1962. Lees was then employed by Outward Bound, based at Ullswater in the Lake District, prior to spending twenty years with Peak District National Park. Whilst here Lees was responsible for the safety of parties out in the Park and improving the skills of rangers.

In 1970 Lees marriage to Gwen Moffat was dissolved and he married Dorothy Pleasance (d.1994) in 1975.

Lees retired in 1986 and continued with his interests in mountaineering and the environment. He became involved with the British Mountaineering Council, being renowned for his forthright views and the manner in which they were expressed. He was appointed the first President of the RAF Mountain Rescue Association in 1993, formed on the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Royal Air Force Valley Mountain Rescue Team in whose service his work had been so pioneering.

He died in Bakewell, Derbyshire on 15th August 2002.
Archival History:
Archive material digitised by John Greenwood.
Acquisition Source:
Donated by John Greenwood.
Accession Number:
Scope and Content:
Ten volumes of personal diaries (1940-1954), five volumes of RAF Valley Mountain Rescue Team Log Books (1953-1961), letters and notes, Hendon folder re awarding of George Medal, photographic collection covering family, bike trips, climbs, camping (1935-?1980)
Access Conditions:
This collection is open for consultation. Readers are advised to contact the Mountain Heritage Trust in advance of their visit in order to make an appointment.
Reproduction Copyright:
Copyright remains with John Greenwood.
Related Material:
George Medal is held at the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon.
Description compiled by Maxine Willett, Archivist
Access Points:
Lees, John Rodney (1927-2002)
Moffat, Gwen Mary (1924-)
Mountaineering accidents
Royal Air Force Mountaineering Association
Royal Air Force Valley Mountain Rescue Team
Related Entities:
Moffat, Gwen Mary (1924-)
2010-01-04 00:00:00
M Willett