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George Mallory


John Simkin
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History teachers might want to consider doing a study of George Leigh Mallory and his brother Trafford Leigh Mallory (1892-1944).

In 1905 Mallory went to Magdalene College, Cambridge, to study history. While at university he became friends with Rupert Brooke, John Maynard Keynes and Lytton Strachey. After graduating Mallory became a teacher at Charterhouse where he taught Robert Graves, encouraging his interest in poetry and mountaineering. Graves later recalled: "He (Mallory) was wasted at Charterhouse. He tried to treat his class in a friendly way, which puzzled and offended them."

In 1905 Mallory went to Magdalene College, Cambridge, to study history. While at university he became friends with Rupert Brooke, John Maynard Keynes and Lytton Strachey. After graduating Mallory became a teacher at Charterhouse where he taught Robert Graves, encouraging his interest in poetry and mountaineering. Graves later recalled: "He (Mallory) was wasted at Charterhouse. He tried to treat his class in a friendly way, which puzzled and offended them."

Mallory was deeply shocked by the outbreak of the First World War. He believed strongly that international disputes should be solved by diplomacy. However, some of his friends, including Robert Graves and Rupert Brooke, did join the British Army. After the death of Brooke in 1915 he decided to join the Royal Artillery. His letters to his wife are a tremendous resource on life on the Western Front.

Mallory served in France until January 1919. He returned to teaching history at Charterhouse and revived the college mountaineering group. Of the original sixty members, twenty-three had been killed and eleven more wounded.

In 1921 Mallory was invited to join a reconnaissance expedition to Mount Everest. The following year he took part in an attempt to reach the summit, but the group was forced back by bad weather. However, Mallory and his colleagues reached a new world record altitude of just under 27,000 feet, a feat achieved without oxygen. Mallory was asked why he wished to climb Mount Everest and he replied: "Because it is there."

George Mallory was considered to be the best mountain climber in the world. Harry Tyndale, who climbed with Mallory, argued: "In watching George at work one was conscious not so much of physical strength as of suppleness and balance; so rhythmical and harmonious was his progress in any steep place ... that his movements appeared almost serpentine in their smoothness." Geoffrey Winthrop Young added: "His movement in climbing was entirely his own. It contradicted all theory. He would set his foot high against any angle of smooth surface, fold his shoulder to his knee, and flow upward and upright again on an impetuous curve."

Mallory joined another expedition to Mount Everest in 1924. Approaching his 38th birthday, he considered that this would be his last chance to climb the world's highest mountain. Mallory and an excellent young climber, Andrew Irvine, set off from the highest camp for the top on 8th June. Both climbers were seen by Noel Odell through a telescope on the mountain's northeast ridge, only a few hundred metres from the summit. They never returned to high camp and died somewhere high on the mountain.

Robert Graves argued that "anyone who had climbed with George is convinced that he got to the summit." His close friend, Geoffrey Winthrop Young was also convinced that he conquered Everest. He wrote: "After nearly twenty years' knowledge of Mallory as a mountaineer, I can say that difficult as it would have been for any mountaineer to turn back, with the only difficulty past, to Mallory it would have been an impossibility." Tom Longstaff, who took part in the 1922 Everest expedition, added: "It is obvious to any climber that they got up.... Now, they will never grow old and I am very sure they would not change places with any of us."

Over the next thirty years there were several attempts to climb Mount Everest. In 1933, Percy Wyn-Harris discovered Irvine's ice-axe on a rock at around 27,500 feet (8380 m).

Everest was eventually conquered by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on 29 May 1953. They spent only about 15 minutes at the summit. They looked for evidence of the 1924 Mallory expedition, but found none.

In 1975, Wang Hongbao, a Chinese climber reported that he had seen the body of a at 8100m, while attempting to climb Everest. Wang was killed in an avalanche a day after the report and so the location was never precisely fixed. However, the only possible identity of the body was that of Mallory or Irvine.

The Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition, led by Eric Simonson, took place in 1999. The frozen body of Mallory was found at 26,760 feet (8,160 m) on the north face of the mountain. The body was remarkably well preserved due to the mountain's climate and from the rope-jerk injury around his waist, encircled by the remnants of a climbing rope, it appears that the two were roped together when Mallory fell. The body lay roughly below the location of Irvine's ice axe found in 1933. The fact that the body was relatively unbroken suggests that Mallory may not have fallen such a long distance as Irvine.

My web page contains several bits of evidence that could be consulted to answer the question: "Did Mallory and Irvine reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1924".

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWmalloryG.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWmallory.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWmalloryR.htm

Below is a photograph of George and Ruth Mallory in 1916.

post-7-1223993751_thumb.jpg

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Peter & Leni Gillman, The Wildest Dream: The Biography of George Mallory (2000)

On June 8, the day George was last seen alive, Ruth and the children were on holiday at Bacton, a seaside resort in Norfolk. On June 19 they were back at Herschel House. That afternoon in London, Hinks received a coded telegram from Norton that read: "Mallory Irvine Nove Remainder Alcedo." "Nove" meant that George and Irvine had died, "Alcedo" that the others were unhurt. It thus fell to Hinks to convey the news to Ruth. He composed a telegram that was handed in at the post office at Kensington and dispatched from there to Cambridge, where it arrived at 7:30 p.m.

A short while later a delivery boy carrying the telegram called at Herschel House. Ruth cannot have been too surprised to see him, for in his letter of April 21 George had told her to expect a telegram announcing their success, although this was later than he had led her to expect...

Confusion must have compounded Ruth's sense of shock, for almost simultaneously, a reporter from The Times arrived at Herschel House. The Times, which was entitled to read all Norton's dispatches as part of its contract with the expedition, had been told about the deaths too. When challenged later to explain why it had sent a reporter to Herschel House, The Times claimed it was anxious to ensure that Ruth heard the news before reading in the next day's newspaper.

The most immediate decision Ruth faced was when, and how, to tell the children. By then they were in bed, and she decided to postpone the moment until the morning. She left them in the care of Vi, and went for a walk with some friends. In the morning, so Clare recalled seventy-five years later, Ruth took her, Berry, and John into the bed she had shared with George. "She lay between us told us this bad news," Clare said. "We all cried together."

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