Warden’s Thoughts on … George Mallory

It was a joy to see so many of our musicians performing last week at the Wesley Feis and getting plenty of recognition. My own musical career was not spectacular. I did learn the flute for a long time at school and managed to scrape through Grade 5 and Grade 5 theory, before failing Grade 6 with one of the lowest scores ever. I have never played since. I don’t think I was ever very good and I am told that I had the wrong-shaped mouth, so it was probably the wrong instrument for me to take up in the first place. And at school, I was so involved with sport that I never had time to join a band or an orchestra. As a teenager, I strummed away on the guitar and enjoyed singing Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel songs…I still have the guitar but it rarely gets an outing. My only real musical claim to fame is that I sat in the back of the school bus for five years with a boy called Phil Selway, who was also in my French set. I never thought he was very good at French, but I suspect he was too busy practising his drums…he and some friends at school set up a band called Radiohead.

When my wife and I were in South Africa in 1993 I managed to acquire another flute and thereby hangs a tale. We were having lunch in Pretoria with an old friend of my parents, called John Mallory (you need to know his name as part of the story). Somehow or other we got talking about music and I must have said that I used to play the flute. He said that he had a spare flute, which no one in the family used and would I like to have it. Well, of course I said yes in order to be polite. It wasn’t a very good one, but I took it away and have scarcely blown it since. In fact, I am not sure where it is now.

Anyway, the story is this. John Mallory was at the time 72 years old. His father, George Mallory, had died when he was only two and he had been searching for his father’s remains and the truth about his death ever since. It is a sad but remarkable story. George Mallory was one of the most famous mountaineers of his day and he had been involved in expeditions to climb Mount Everest in 1921 and 1922, which reached record heights. When asked why he was so obsessed with climbing the mountain he replied, ‘Because it is there.’ By 1924 he had three children and, despite misgivings, he decided to return for one more shot at the summit. He and his friend Andrew Irvine got higher than ever before and on June 8th they were seen near the summit by members of their support group, as the weather closed in. Neither of them was ever seen again.

Many expeditions were launched over the years to search for their remains and even, possibly, to look for the camera that they were carrying. John Mallory spent 77 years not knowing what had happened to his father, until in 1999 another search party to the known area found a body that had clearly been there for a very long time. Since Irvine’s ice axe had been found nearby many years before they expected the body to be his, but to their astonishment they found name tags on the clothes with the name of George Mallory. There was no sign of a camera. That must have been an incredible moment and one can only imagine the emotions of John when he heard that his father’s body had finally been found. It was buried with ceremony where it was discovered.

No one will ever know whether the two climbers made it to the top, 29 years before Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay, but it is fun to speculate. He had told his family and members of the expedition that he was carrying a photo of his wife to leave on the summit. Lots of things were found in his pockets, including a receipt from a London supplier of climbing equipment, but there was no photo of his wife…

Anyway, I really ought to find that flute.