A SALTCOATS army major has recently returned to his base in Northern Ireland after leading a team of soldiers to Base Camp on Mount Everest.

Major Billy Swanson, 54, is a former pupil of Kyleshill Primary and Auchenharvie and has been in the army for almost 40 years.

Billy was awarded the MBE in 1995 and a Queen’s Commendation For Valuable Service in 2001.

The Major, lives in Northern Ireland with his wife Sandra and the pair have a son and two daughters, all of whom are involved in the army in some way.

10 months ago in December 2016, Billy started planning for the adventure to Base Camp through a training expedition in Nepal.

The expedition was open to all personnel regardless of length of service, trade or rank and provided ample opportunity for personal development. Such training can to some degree replicate the pressures of operations where personnel are expected to perform in potentially dangerous environments with little or no prior exposure and thus such an expedition is ideal in preparing personnel for deployment on operations.

Billy handpicked the team of 14 from a wide range of army personnel and their main objective on the Nepal trip was to complete fourteen days of climbing in the Himalayas and to reach Everest Base Camp. Fourteen days is the minimum timeframe for a climb from Lukla to Everest Base Camp and back, otherwise you would be exposing yourself to the risks of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).

Major Swanson told the Herald: “When the opportunity to lead a small team of soldiers on this take expedition was presented to me, I grabbed the chance immediately as the trip combines two of my own past times, namely climbing and travel to other cultures.

“While I knew that the trip would be physically demanding (mainly due to the altitude and distances covered) I also knew that the scenery and the personal sense of achievement would be fitting reward. Throughout the trip, the chance to work together as a team was presented to the group, and on occasions was tested to the extreme by the lack of oxygen and other effects of altitude. However, by working together as a team, the group were able to overcome these hardships and successfully reached Everest Base Camp as a team.

“For me personally, reaching Everest Base Camp and seeing sunrise over Mount Everest are the two most memorable moments of the trip and the memories will last a long time. As with any travel, I enjoy learning about other cultures and this trip was no exception, and the sense of community amongst those who live and work in the mountains is to be admired.

“I wish to pay tribute to my late mother Mary Helen Milligan who has been the inspiration in my life. Whilst she left this earth only a few years ago, her spirit remains always with me and she is always in my thoughts. I am indebted for the rest of my life to my sisters Margaret and Anne who gave remarkable care to my mother right up until the end and I know that they will be pleased to hear that I managed to raise over £300 in expedition sponsorship for The Harbour Centre in Ardrossan. Susan Maxwell does so much for Alzheimer Scotland and supporting local people in the three towns and I have kept in touch with her over the past few years. A cheque is on the way Susan!”