Memories of Tom Sykes, 1933 - 2017
I first met Tom in 1959. I was 14 at the time and wanted to go caving, so was directed to a pub called the Moorlands in Lancaster where the Red Rose Cave and Pothole Club had their meetings on a Friday evening. Tom soon took me under his wing and we spent many happy Sundays in wet and miserable conditions underground. My first memory of caving with Tom was a trip up the slopes of Whernside to Greensett Caves on a "novice" trip which turned out to be a long walk in snow to the cave and then a very wet exploration along a deep canal. On exiting I was extremely cold and on the way back to the road my boiler suit froze hard. However I loved it, and so started a long friendship.
Tom had joined the Red Rose in 1949 and except for a small break for National Service has been a member ever since. His early explorations with others in the Easegill Caverns System in what was then Westmorland led to the discovery of Britain's longest cave system now measured at over 100 kilometres in length.
In 1967 he was elected Club President, a post he held for 10 years after which he was granted Honorary membership, earning this privilege from his many early caving experiences. Tom had been elected President just as the Red Rose attained 21 years at which the Territorial Army and it's then Captain Tony Tanner, a future President of the club, and his men organised a camping weekend in Kettlewell where Tom had the honor of cutting the birthday cake which the army cooks had made on site.
Around that time he was instrumental in forming the Council of Northern Caving Clubs after a long cave rescue led to the closure of the caves on Leck and Casterton Fells. Tom was its first secretary and he helped restore good relations with the landowners, it has now become an organisation that is still influential today.
Like many cavers Tom evolved his sporting life, and after a long spell caving he took up fell running and orienteering at which he represented England at an event in France. A member of Rochdale Harriers Tom was the one you asked for if you wanted someone to navigate you on a Bob Graham run. His skill at navigating the mountains was always welcome when the weather turned nasty, but he was usually always lucky with the weather - we often said "Tom's with us, the sun will shine today"- a welcome antidote to Carol's cloud! She often said Tom was always lucky "If he fell off the co-op he would land in the divi"
Sandra and Carol and Tom had many long distance runs together and the girls often would break into song, From Bohemian Rhapsody to Jerusalem! - at which point Tom would sprint 200 yards ahead saying to others "How do you stand that!"
Tom was also a member of several other organisations, South Ribble Mountain Rescue Team, The NORI group of friends from east Lancashire amongst others. We spent many holidays together, our first being a walking and caving trip to Austria. Tom had a company car - very posh! as we were all crammed into a clapped out Dormobile. Near the end of this holiday a friend Les, ran out of money but Tom and Anne stepped in with a loan so he could buy food, only to see Les head straight for the bar. He did however pay them back. Many other holidays followed, Morocco, Nepal, New Zealand and we always stayed friends. That says something about Tom.
So many memories, so many good times together. Tom, it was a privilege to have your company. You will be missed. We send our sincere condolences to his wife Anne, daughters Jennie, Denise and Ann.
Postscript: Tom never forgot his time with the Red Rose and he left instructions in a letter to his wife and daughter that funds should be made available from his estate to provide for a wake to be held for members at Bullpot Farm. His generosity continued with a sizable donation towards some lasting memorial at the farm. Discussions have taken place with his family on how this money is to be spent.
Tom at the Colonnades, Lancaster Hole circa 1950 Tom being presented with the clubs 21st. .
birthday cake at Kettlewell in 1967