Members of the Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association have paid tribute to founder member Kenneth Smallpage, who died recently aged 89.

From his early days, Ken was an expert climber, having gained considerable experience in Wales and the Lake District.

With his friend Len Huff, a keen potholer and walker, whenever the opportunity arose they would go off together rambling in Upper Wharfedale and the surrounding district.

During the summer of 1948, on Old Cote Moor, near Kettlewell, they came across a lamb that had evidently fallen some 25 feet down an old lead mine shaft. They made the difficult descent down the shaft and brought out the frightened lamb, none the worse for its fall.

Just a week later, Ken and Len carried out a similar rescue at another old mine shaft and both incidents were reported to the local police, thus setting a precedent.

A short time later, in early August, the police contacted the pair to help search for a walker who had been reported missing in the Starbotton area. Joined by 10 other local men, the team set off with the police to search for the walker. Unfortunately the man’s body was found at the base of a rock escarpment.

Until the police forensic team could arrive, Ken and Len stayed with the body. During this time they reflected on their recent activities and decided there was a need for a rescue team to help the police in the Upper Wharfedale area. This was followed by the inaugural meeting of the Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association, held on August 30 1948.

Other local men were invited to join the team and their wives, including Mrs Smallpage, helped raise money for equipment. The team started off with one first-aid rucksack, a manila rope and a rope ladder.

Ken was chosen as climbing leader. The following year he helped rescue two climbers stranded on Kilnsey Crag, which required him to be lowered some 80 feet down the rock face. For his part in the rescue, Ken was awarded a Vellum Testimonial by the Royal Humane Society.

Later that year, the team was to return to Kilnsey Crag to rescue a sheep stranded on a ledge. Subsequently, he was awarded a bronze medal and certificate from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

In 1951, Ken’s business interests took him away from the Dales, and the Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association made him a life member.

Ken received a Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2003 from the Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire, Lord Crathorne, at a ceremony in Grassington, for being a committed member of a recognised mountain rescue team.

In September 2007, Ken received a long-service award on behalf of Mountain Rescue England and Wales for his involvement with the team for more than 50 years.

The following September, Ken was presented to The Duke of Gloucester at the 60th anniversary of the inauguration of the Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association.

The team remains justly proud and privileged to be a part of what Ken and the others worked so hard to set up. A thanksgiving service for the life of Ken, who latterly lived near Leyburn, will be held at St John’s Church, East Witton, next Friday, May 14, at 2pm.