Forever Upward: Sandy Irvine’s Summit

Known to the Nepalese people for centuries as Sagarmāthā, commonly translated as ‘Goddess of the Sky,’ Peak XV or Mount Everest as it was renamed in 1865, after Colonel Sir George Everest, the Surveyor General of India from 1830 to 1843, has come to symbolise the earth’s stubborn refusal to submit to the will of mankind.

Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, scientific and technological advancements shook the notion that scaling Everest was an insurmountable task. Furthermore, as Captain John Noel, who took part in the 1924 British expedition remembered, the bloody four-year conflict that left Britain and much of the globe scarred during the opening years of the latter killed many of the youth of our country,’ and was ‘a terrible loss to our country. The young men under Kitchener’s army had been massacred.’ For a number of Englishmen who had seen active service and survived, conquering Mount Everest became a means by which to restore national pride and reassert the indomitability of the human spirit.

One such Englishman was George Mallory, who, as John Noel believed was absolutely obsessed with the idea of climbing Mount Everest. He set his heart on it. He talked about nothing else at all.’ Following two unsuccessful attempts, in 1921 and 1922, Mallory decided to try one last time, telling his wife Ruth, ‘It is almost unthinkable…that I shan’t get to the top; I can’t see myself coming down defeated.’ Aboard the SS California in February 1924, as he made his way to the Himalayas, Mallory, a 37 year-old teacher from Cheshire, who had mingled with the Bloomsbury Group during his time at Cambridge, became acquainted with Andrew Irvine, known as Sandy, a fellow member of the British expedition. Continue reading

The Glorious Adventure: Richard Halliburton’s Marvels

Between the wars, few young American boys would not have read at least one of Richard Halliburton’s books. Chronicling his remarkable exploits and daring escapades, Halliburton travelled across the globe, undertaking and invariably completing labours that would have put Hercules to shame. Born in Brownsville, Tennessee on 9th January 1900, at first, Halliburton’s slight frame and fragile constitution made him appear to be an unlikely adventurer; however, he forbade any physical limitations from inhibiting his formidable character.

From Paris, where Halliburton spent several months in 1919, he replied to his father, who had written to express a desire for his son to adopt a more ‘even tenor,’ that instead, ‘When impulse and spontaneity fail to make my way uneven then I shall sit up nights inventing means of making my life as conglomerate and vivid as possible…And when my time comes to die, I’ll be able to die happy, for I will have done and seen and heard and experienced all the joy, pain and thrills – any emotion that any human ever had – and I’ll be especially happy if I am spared a stupid, common death in bed.’

After returning to America, Halliburton graduated from Princeton in 1921, and briefly toyed with the possibility of becoming an academic, but his unsatisfied wanderlust soon put paid to such ambitions. In September 1921, he climbed the Matterhorn before heading to Gibraltar, where he managed to get himself arrested on suspicion of being a German spy. Egypt and India were his next ports of call; he saw the Taj Mahal and then went on to Japan, where he scaled Mount Fujiyama, before arriving home in Tennessee on 1st March 1923.

Realising that people would pay good money to hear about his incredible experiences, Halliburton gave a series of lectures and in 1925, published his first book, The Royal Road to Romance. Summing up his attitude to life, and the path he had chosen for himself, he claimed in the text, ‘Youth – nothing else worth having in the world…and I had youth, the transitory, the fugitive, now, completely and abundantly. Yet what was I going to do with it? Certainly not squander its gold on the commonplace quest for riches and respectability, and then secretly lament the price that had to be paid for these futile ideals.’ For good measure, he attempted to paint himself in a rebellious light, adding, ‘Let those who wish have their respectability – I wanted freedom, freedom to indulge in whatever caprice struck my fancy, freedom to search in the farthermost corners of the earth for the beautiful, the joyous and the romantic.’ Continue reading

Lucky Jim: Slough’s Canine Collector

Guarding his territory and gazing out over the platforms where he roamed so freely more than a century ago, Station Jim stands to attention in his glass case on Platform 5 of Slough railway station. Commuters pass him in their hundreds every day, some taking the time to read the remarkable inscription that rests by his paws.

Jim first came to Slough as a puppy in 1894 and was soon trained to perform his duties as a canine collector on behalf of the Great Western Railway Widows and Orphans Fund. He was taught to bark gratefully whenever a coin, usually a penny or halfpenny, was placed in the wallet attached to him by a harness.  In addition to this, Jim learnt a great many other tricks in order to amuse patrons and encourage their benevolence. It was said that he could beg, play dead and sometimes even posed with a pipe in his mouth and a cap on his head. Occasionally taking a trip himself, Jim would board a train and end up at Paddington or in nearby Windsor and even once travelled as far afield as Leamington Spa. Continue reading

Across The Sky In Stars: The Wisdom Of T. E. Lawrence

Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in Tremadog, North Wales on 16th August 1888. The second of five sons, Lawrence’s father was Sir Thomas Chapman, Baronet of Kilkea Castle, near County Kildare in Ireland and his mother was a young governess named Sarah Junner, for whom Chapman had left his wife. Despite the fact they never married, the couple both adopted the surname Lawrence. In his later years, his early familial situation would be a source of awkwardness for Lawrence regarding his own identity, and he would change his name several times throughout his life.

The world Lawrence entered was an ordered and stable Victorian one, where Pax Britannica saw the longest ever period of peace in Europe and in which the British Empire covered vast swathes of the globe. However, the devastation wrought by the Great War and the carving up of once great empires brought about Lawrence’s elevation from an astute and skilled soldier into the mythical ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’

In 1907, Lawrence went up to Jesus College, Oxford to read history and left in 1909 with a first class degree, the same year he visited Palestine and Syria whilst working on a dissertation that would later be published as Crusader Castles in 1936. His journeys ignited in Lawrence a powerful fascination with the Middle East and a deep affection for the people who lived there. After joining an archaeological expedition to excavate the site of Carchemish in Syria in 1911, Lawrence decided to extended his stay, and began learning Arabic, immersing himself in the local culture. He became particularly close to Selim Ahmed, also known as Dahoum, a young water boy in Carchemish who helped Lawrence with his Arabic.

Following the outbreak of war, Lawrence was recruited by British army intelligence, and in December 1914 he was sent to Cairo. In 1915, Lawrence learned that two of his brothers, Will and Frank had been killed in action in France and the tragic news only hardened his resolve to fight. When the Arab Revolt erupted against Turkey in June 1916, Lawrence was offered the role of adviser to Prince Faisal, the son of Sharif Hussein bin Ali, Grand Sharif of Mecca. Recalling his first meeting with the Prince, Lawrence remembered, ‘I felt at first glance that this was the man I had come to Arabia to seek – the leader who would bring the Arab Revolt to full glory.’ 

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