Wednesday, March 01, 2006

WWII Story, back home

One of the guys I met at the hut under Ben Nevis, Justin Jeffrey, sent me the following. I thought it was an interesting story that reflects the history of Scotland and climbing in the world, thanks Justin for giving me permission to share it.

Justin's Words:

Back in 1939 two great Scottish climbers were on the Ben staying in the Clark Hut (G.Bell and Bill Murray). The following morning they set off to do Tower Ridge and it proved to be something of an epic, later immortalised by Murray in a book of his mountaineering reminiscences which he wrote (on toilet paper!) while a prisoner of the Germans.

In 'The Edge', an excellent short series of documentaries about Scottish mountaineering, Murray recounts the following rather charming story.

Just after the fall of Tobruk his unit had been cut from 800 to just 200 men by a determined German assault. A German tank commander approached Murray, wielding a machine pistol; Murray thought his number was up. To his surprise his captor quizzed him about the cold.
'Not feeling the cold?'
'Cold as a mountain top', replied Murray.
'Good God! Do you climb?' the German continued.
There followed a passionate conversation about the beloved Alps and of Murray's own native Scottish hills; the war was momentarily forgotten.
The German then produced a looted bottle of English beer and some chocolate and they both made a toast to 'mountains.'

Later, Murray found freedom from his captors by reliving his adventures in the hills and writing them down on toilet paper. This was confiscated by the Gestapo in Czechoslovakia and it took further attempts before Murray's stories were finally saved from time and became a book.

This story seems particularly apt in view of the new friendships made recently on the Ben. Murray's story and the friendships mountains forge remind me of this poem by Marjorie Scott Johnston, which was written during WW2:

Mountain Peace

The cloud that on Olympus rests
will clothe the Cordillera crests,
and snow on Monte Rosa turn
to Lakeland beck and Scottish burn.

And we shall turn from war's disgust,
and this dark prison of mistrust,
find life again on Lochnagar,
on Scafell and on Finsteraar:

Not slaves to time's dictatorship,
but free and kind relationship;
with mountain chains to span
the brotherhood of man.


End Justin's words. Good stuff, thanks for sharing it!

Back home in Canmore now, arrived yesterday evening via London. It was pretty funny in Lodon, they were talking about "bitter cold, howling winds, blizzards." The forecast? -2 with snow flurries... I'm sure conditions are now perfect in Scotland, where those on the Ben are braving savage conditions. In Canmore last night it was -10, snowy, typical Canadian Conditions, I had to get off my ass and stay awake to beat the jet lag so I went for a run with the Chili Dog in the last dregs of the evening, sure is great to be back home! Slept 12 hours last night, game on today.


Anonymous said...

It looks like you missed great conditions in Scotland by a week! What a shame - hopefully you'll get chance to visit again sometime and have better luck. It seems even in the decade since I lived in Scotland (and winter climbed most weekends) the conditions have become more fickle.

Thanks for the Norway 'new' area tip. Good info for a future trip. That's now two places I know in Norway with more ice than you can shake a big stick at.

Toby - an expat Brit in Finland.

Florian Mastacan said...

Nice post Will, keep up the good work!

Will Gadd said...

I'll definitely head back to Scotland and Norway, thanks for the kind words.

The reason I identify the areas I climbed at in Norway is to try and get things climbed there, it's just insane how much there is to do! Good luck with it!