Sunday 3 September 2023

The first LNIB Expeditions (1962-64) from one who was there.


Loch Ness Expeditions 1962-64

Quite a few years ago now I met a man called Tom McMahon. He was retired and  in his 60s .If he is still alive,and I sincerely hope he is,he will be at least 80 now. Why is he important? Tom was on the first three LNIB expeditions at Loch Ness. It occurred to me that if I didn’t record this his version of this piece of history would be lost.

Tom and I got talking and he told me about Loch Ness so I asked him to write down anything he could remember from that time.He couldn’t remember everyone’s  names but he did remember quite a lot.

The story started with the guy who was the film person for the expedition, a priest called Clem who was a friend of Tom’s father. They lived in Slough at that time. Tom’s father was invited to go to Loch Ness but couldn’t go ,so Tom then  aged about 19/20 years went in his place.It was October 1962.

Tom travelled up in David James’s land drover with two other young men.David James MP had organized this first expedition.It was sponsored by Norman Collins of ATV, a friend of David James.Another friend John Profumo was Minister For War and helped to get a loan of army search lights.

They stayed in a hotel and were there for two weeks. Tom said he thought there were 24 of them all together.There were two sites to watch from,one at Cobbs Landing and one on Drumnadrochit beach.Tom was mainly on night watches ,shining search lights on the Loch to attract Nessie.He missed some of the hunt after injuring his hand and having to go to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.One of the other people there was Sir Archibald James,David’s father,who would keep them entertained with stories of big game hunting on the long watches.Also he remembered Lional Leslie the sculptor,a vet David Hall,Professor Porteous and a girl called Emma who went on to be a costume designer for films.

One night they heard a splash and turning the lights in that direction were shocked to see two eyes shining back at them. They got the row boat out and rowed to investigate (rather brave of them I thought).They found a glass bottle bobbing on the waves from the boat reflecting the lights back to shore. They had a laugh about it later but at the time they were all hyped up to meet Nessie.

On October 11th ,seven of the party saw 2 humps in the water. It was too far for the camera range and they couldn’t get a clear picture. A few days later something large was seen diving but again too far away for the camera’s range.Cameras were primitive compared to today and this one had a 6 inch lens (15cms) which was inadequate for the task. They learned from this and took a bigger one the next year.

In 1963 there were a lot more people and there were campsites along the Loch,the main one being at Drumnadrochit.Tom thought there could have 75 people involved.There were 10 watching stations around the Loch. Tom shared a camper van with Professor Peter Blake a biologist from Cambridge. ( Peter sadly died very young in his 40s) , a Welsh man who owned a quarry and set off explosions to mimic the 1930’s road building .They hoped it would bring the creature to the surface.He remembered Sir Peter Ogilvie Wedderburn Bart,a New Zealand racing driver,a BEA air hostess and the artist Sylvia McCartney. Also Sir Pater Scott visited ,landing his gilder in a field near by.The cockleshell hero Blondie Hassler sailed up the Loch to see them .

The Cuba Crisis was on at that time and there was much talk of nuclear war .They were tense times. He said there was much pacing about and discussion about it by the older members .Two films of what looked like an upturned boat were taken but even with a bigger lens they were unclear.

He went again  in 1964 and stayed in a caravan at Drumnadrochit. They had cameras nearby at Urquhart castle. His main memory was of a Major Haig playing the bagpipes.

The feeling at the time was it was a great adventure, even though it was boring just sitting watching .I wonder how many of those at the time realized they would be part of the history of Loch Ness.For those who were too young to remember or be around at the time,this is written down for you. There was an amazing mixture of people interested in Nessie hunting and the recent search (2023) with lots of volunteers shows that interest is still there.