The Life and Times of the Legendary Explorer Bill Tilman

WARRIOR WANDERER

(Excerpt from “Warrior Wanderer”)

In early August, 1977, an old Dutch tug sat at the quayside in Southampton, England, readying for departure. She had been converted for sail by her young owner, Simon Richardson, who had welded a keel to her steel hull, and had raised a mast and boom above her working deck. The ungainly little vessel was named “En Avant”.

The crowd that gathered on the quayside to watch her leave was drawn partly out of curiosity for her youthful skipper and crew—mostly in their twenties—who busied themselves with the trappings and tasks of their imminent sea voyage; but they were mainly drawn by the sight on deck of an elderly man with whom they were somewhat familiar, a man who at seventy nine years of age had become something of a legend in England as an explorer, mountaineer, and sailor. For he was none other than Harold William (“Bill”) Tilman.

Short and wiry in stature, Tilman was renowned for his fortitude on mountain expeditions high in the Himalaya, vast tracts of which he had helped pioneer, often shouldering loads equal to those of the tough little sherpas. Yet he was also something of an enigma to those who followed his odysseys. He was a shy, taciturn character who never boasted of his extraordinary achievements, and his occasional appearances in the press were to be honored by the Duke of Edinburgh with a Fellowship in the Royal Institute of Navigation, or by the Royal Geographical Society with the Founder’s Medal—its highest award. Other than some lectures he gave following each of his expeditions, he inevitably retired to his home in Barmouth to write his books, fifteen of which remain as some of the finest travel narratives ever written.

There was a wistfulness about the old man as he lent a hand with the gear and provisions being brought aboard “En Avant”. Unlike the young crew members about him, this was nothing new for Tilman who had been setting sail for distant climes each year for the last twenty five years. The proverbial pipe stuck in his mouth, he went about his chores calmly, still uncommonly strong at nearly eighty years of age. It was also curious to those watching that on this occasion, unlike his previous voyages abroad, Tilman was not venturing forth as skipper of one of his own wooden pilot cutters but simply as a crew member.

“En Avant” and those aboard were bound for Rio de Janeiro, and then to the Antarctic via the Falkland Islands where they were to pick up some New Zealand climbers. The vessel’s skipper, Simon Richardson (who had previously sailed with Tilman to Greenland) had as his goal the ascent of Smith Island—an objective for which Tilman had strived unsuccessfully in years past. Richardson had invited the old explorer to accompany the expedition knowing that this had been one of Tilman’s unfulfilled dreams.

At last the little ship was ready, and crew members said their goodbyes to family and friends. Tilman returned the deferential waves of a few people on the quayside. At his own request, none of his own family members stayed to see him off. If any had, they may have seen in his eyes an odd mixture of sadness and resignation, even a discerning glimmer of the fate that was to come.

Finally, with a few splutters, the old tug’s engine burst into life and she moved slowly away from the dock heading out into the channel. The crowd waved enthusiastically at first, then apprehensively, and finally just stood silently watching as the ungainly little craft faded into the distance. It was almost as if they sensed that they would never see her again.

That sense proved true: from letters written home, it is now known that “En Avant” successfully reached Rio de Janeiro a few weeks later, and after taking on some more provisions, she set sail across the Southern Ocean for the Falkland Islands. But “En Avant” never reached the Falklands, and nothing has since been found nor heard of the old Dutch tug, her youthful crew, and the legendary old explorer Bill Tilman.

The untimely death of the young men aboard “En Avant” was indeed a sad occurrence. But those who knew him well believed that Tilman’s disappearance in the Southern Ocean was in a sense kismet—a destiny befitting one of the most prolific explorers of the Twentieth Century. To have spent his remaining years “in retirement” and confined to the fireside would have been anathema to the old explorer. For here was a man, a very modest man, whose personality and exploratory feats abroad over the course of his seventy-nine years elevated him to legendary status. Yet he has remained somewhat of an enigma due in good measure to his own shyness and reticence to boast of his astonishing achievements.

Bill TilmanTilman’s niece, Pamela Davis, and her husband had dropped him off at the dock in Southampton. She later recalled: “I kissed him goodbye, just…’Bye, have a good trip.’ I got back in the car, and found myself in tears. My husband said, “Whatever’s the matter with you?” And I said, “I know I won’t see him again.” Intuition if you like, but I hoped for his sake he would die on that expedition; I didn’t ever want to see him as a pathetic, incapacitated old man. He was fit to the end…oh, he was getting a little deaf, but he could still do the things he wanted to do, and that’s how he would have wanted to have gone—definitely to die at sea or to die on a mountain—that would have been his wish. And he got his wish.”

Bill Tilman was a truly extraordinary man. A highly decorated warrior of two world wars, he went on in life to tread the summit slopes of well over a hundred peaks, traveled tens of thousands of miles—often on foot—in some of the most remote regions of Asia, Africa and South America. He sailed nearly every year for more than a quarter century to the frigid waters of the Antarctic and Arctic in old, open-cockpit wooden boats in search of places blank on the map. He and the celebrated mountaineer, Eric Shipton, pioneered large tracts of the Himalaya, including key routes on Mt. Everest, scantily dressed in old wool sweaters, tweeds and hob-nailed boots. They shunned the use of oxygen even after it became available, and did not approve of grandiose expeditions. They believed that an assault on a Himalayan giant could be organized on the back of an envelope, and proved time and again that such frugal exploits could indeed be successful.

Tilman has been portrayed by some as an anachronistic, taciturn stoic, a misogynist, and one with little or no time for anyone who didn’t live up to his high standards and expectations. Some have described him as a self-indulgent risk taker impervious to the safety or sensitivities of others. But the evidence of those who were better acquainted or close to him dismisses such hackneyed opinions, many of which were tendered by those eager to blame their own inadequacies and regrets on others.

That Tilman was a taciturn stoic is, however, not in dispute. His early letters written from Berkhamstead School where he boarded, and subsequently from the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, reveal a fairly outgoing, affable, young man. But the events and experiences that were to befall the youthful Tilman in the terrible years of the First World War were to have a profound impact on his personality.

Tilman was not quite eighteen when he was commissioned into the Royal Field Artillery, and sent off to fight in the mud, gore, and slaughter of trench warfare in France. He took part in some of the most horrific conflicts, including the Battle of the Somme in which over a million men died in little more than four months. The British were to have over 420,000 casualties, nearly 60,000 on just the first day. Tilman was severely wounded on two occasions, and was twice awarded the Military Cross for bravery under fire.

Those were dreadful times. Two generations of men were lost. It isn’t hard to imagine the profound effect those nightmarish days had on the young Bill Tilman who, liked most of those who survived, had their innocence shattered by the bloody carnage around them.

From that time on, Tilman would never be quite the same. He was to lack patience for the mundane, and was intolerant of whiners and complainers. Out of those dismal times emerged a young man old for his years, whose taciturn nature was perfectly understandable after the horrors he had witnessed, and whose stoicism—derived from the morass of the trenches in France—was later to reveal itself in his remarkable fortitude on high mountains and cold seas. He was not prone to talking about his experiences in the Great War; only to write later: “…after the first war, when one took stock, shame mingled with satisfaction at finding oneself still alive. One felt a bit like the Ancient Mariner; so many better men, a few of them friends, were dead:

‘And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I.'”

In keeping with his intolerance of the mundane, Tilman was not known for small talk, and was quite content to sit in the company of a friend for hours hardly uttering a word. Speech, like life itself, had become a most valued commodity.

What many people missed, however, in gauging Bill Tilman was his enormous sense of humor. He possessed an almost impish, ironic wit often aimed at himself. Perhaps this too was a by-product of war—a mechanism by which to vanquish tormenting memories. Yet his was an intelligent humor all the more enjoyable when coming from an otherwise shy and reserved personality. He had a singular knack for seeing the ridiculousness in some of his own actions and those of others. This is plainly evident in the pages of fifteen books he was to write in his lifetime, considered to be some of the finest travel narratives ever written.

Tilman never married which, as his friend Jim Perrin, once wrote: “…gave rise to the usual run of unfounded gossip and wrong-headed speculation…”. When asked why he had never married, he wryly replied, “I’ve had my peccadilloes, but the trouble with women is they get in the damned way.” Remarks like this undoubtedly accounted for the suggestion that he was a misogynist—a hater of women. Today, they might also be regarded as sexist. But as Perrin went on to say: “A marital partner, family commitments and the like would have acted as constraints upon the pattern of life he came to discern in the Twenties and, seeing this, he wisely and unselfishly—for there is an element of moral choice here as well as working out a mode of individual integrity—disciplined himself and forwent the pleasures along with the responsibilities of marriage”. The notion that Tilman hated women is crass to those who knew him well. It was perhaps in his treatment of women that he was a little anachronistic. He was always a perfect gentleman in their presence, though extremely shy, and many found his old-fashioned courtesy and sense of propriety endearing. Yet there’s no doubt that, in those times, he considered mountain expeditions and long, arduous voyages no place for women.

He had a special affection for his sister Adeline whom he called “Adds”, and her two daughters Joan and Pamela. In 1947, Adeline had moved from their home in Wallasey to Barmouth in north Wales, where she had bought a lovely old house called Bod Owen. For the rest of his life, this was to be Tilman’s home when he was not on some distant wind-swept ridge or on the high seas. He loved not only the old house but the mountainous countryside that surrounded it where he could roam at will with his dogs.

Tilman was a very intelligent and civilized person whose love of reading, especially the classics, provided him with an abundance of quotations with which he would delightedly spar with those who could keep up. During his years in the mountains of Asia, he was happy to shoulder the additional burden of a few good books in his rucksack. When he later set sail for higher climes, boxes of books were often loaded aboard his boats at the expense of “less urgent necessities” such as life jackets.

He and Shipton had developed a reputation for being extremely frugal on their Himalayan expeditions. Tilman would set off on trips abroad—trips that would last six to eight months—with just boots, two pairs of trousers, two shirts, a few pairs of socks, long underwear, a weatherproof jacket, and for many years the same old wool sweater which, after awhile, exhibited more holes than wool. He was seldom without his pipe. When his second pilot cutter “Sea Breeze” foundered on rocks off the coast of Greenland in 1972 and sank, he and his crew were able to scramble onto a nearby islet where they spent a cold and wet night. In what to anyone else was a dire situation, Tilman calmly began working on a plan for their rescue but fretted over the loss of his pipe. He was lucky the next day to find that one of his collection had washed up and wedged itself in a fissure in the rocks. It was especially fortunate that later the same day, a passing Greenlander boat spotted them and brought them safely on board.

Tilman’s younger niece, Pam, was very fond of her intrepid Uncle Bill. When Adeline died suddenly some years later, she stepped into her mother’s shoes to take care of Tilman at Bod Owen. She was to write fondly of his quirks and eccentricities, and the man behind the enigma:

His sense of humor was enormous. In my opinion, the tragedy in his life was that so few people appreciated it. He loved having his leg pulled, and if you could cap one of his quotations (which was seldom as he was a past master at that) he would chuckle until the tears ran down his face. So many people hung on his every word and lionized him which he really didn’t like but was too courteous ever to rebuff them...

He was a man not given to expressing emotion. He felt things deeply, of that I’m sure. He expected family and close friends to keep their troubles to themselves. He kept his and was no moaner or whiner, and could not understand anyone who was. This is not to say that he would not have listened or helped if he could but I for one would have had to be desperate before I asked him for help. He was slow to praise, but his ‘That was a good effort.’ was worth more than anyone else’s fulsome expressions...

People have called Bill an eccentric. If the old fashioned virtues of fearing God, honoring your king and serving your country are now considered eccentric, then he was. I do not think so. He had an enormous influence on my life and on many others. He had humility, modesty, and great humor that showed mostly in the endless self-mockery of his own writings. Examples of his quiet courage in the face of adversity are legion.

Roger Robinson

Roger Robinson (also seen here at age 19) had sailed in 1966 aboard “Mischief”, the first of three Bristol Channel pilot cutters Tilman was to own over the years.  Roger was to later own a pilot cutter of his own named “Olga”, which he sold to Swansea Maritime Museum after seven years of restoration work.

Now a good friend, Roger is also a Devonshire architect of some repute. He has always had a strong passion for ocean sailing, and at the time of writing is deeply embroiled in reseaching a book about the celebrated sailing partnership of Eric and Susan Hiscock.  Roger’s extensive knowledge of sailing and boats have proved immensely helpful to me in the production of this book.

Bob Comlay

Bob Comlay (seen here at age 19) had made two voyages to Greenland in 1970 and 1971 in the pilot cutter “Sea Breeze”, and his memories of those experiences with Tilman are still vivid today helped in no small part by a collection of remarkably good photographs.  Bob pursued a successful career with IBM, though by the time I met him he expressed a certain regret at not having continued with a life of adventure abroad.  Certainly, he was one of the few crew members for whom Tilman had enough respect to invite him back for subsequent voyages.  But the obligations and pressures of going to university at that time in his life took priority, and soon thereafter the constraints of work and family caught up as they do for most of us.  Yet, at that first meeting,  I detected in Bob a quiet resolve to make up for lost time and chalk up some new adventures as time moves on. Since then, Bob and I have become good friends, and correspond fairly frequently.

Visit his site at: www.comlay.net or you may e-mail Bob at: robert@comlay.net

Charles Houston

Charles Houston was just a young Harvard medical student when he first met Bill Tilman. He and three other climbers had been instrumental in organizing a Himalayan expedition to Nanda Devi—at that time the highest mountain in the British Empir—-in 1936. Nanda Devi had not been the students’ first choice; they had originally wanted to climb Kangchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak. But Tilman persuaded them to try Nanda Devi which he and Shipton had attempted two years earlier. The expedition was a great success, and Houston and Tilman were to meet again in 1950 on the first Everest reconnaisance expedition in Nepal. The two men became life-long friends and corresponded periodically over the years until Tilman’s disappearance in the southern oceans in 1977.

Charles Houston was himself to become renown for his climbing exploits, especially his attempts to climb K2 recorded in his book “K2 – The Savage Mountain”. He also was to research and write the first definitive book about the effects of altitude on humans entitled “Going Higher”. Charles Houston, now in his 90s, lives in Vermont, USA.

Reminiscences by Pamela Davis (Tilman’s Niece)

Tilman’s younger of two nieces, Pam, was very fond of her intrepid Uncle Bill. When Tilman’s sister, Adeline, died suddenly, Pam stepped into her mother’s shoes to take care of Tilman at their home in Barmouth called “Bod Owen”. She wrote fondly of his quirks and eccentricities, and the man behind the enigma on this site:

“My first recollection of my uncle was meeting him at Seacombe Ferry, Wallasey, when he was returning from a holiday in Africa. I was very young—I suppose about six—and my mother had taken my sister and me to meet him by car. Our car was of the “touring” kind and I remember it having detachable mica windows that would shatter or scratch if leaned against. We were continually admonished with all sorts of dire threats to avoid damaging them in any way.

After a short wait for the ferry, it arrived, and soon a smallish, tanned man walked up the slipway towards us. He was wearing khaki clothes and a large bush hat adorned with a snakeskin band. I was entranced by the twinkle in his bright blue eyes as he sank into the passenger seat of the car, chatting and laughing with my mother. Suddenly, he turned round to say something to us in the back and accidentally put his elbow clear through one of the mica windows.

‘Damn silly car this!’ exclaimed my uncle. My sister and I looked at my mother in horror, expecting a stern reaction but instead she just laughed.

‘Trouble with you,’ she said, ‘is you’re too used to wide open spaces!’

Not another word was ever mentioned about the mica windows from then on, and it was from this incident that I realized that this uncle of mine must be quite special.

To a small girl, he was a most glamorous figure, appearing from far away places, always with presents—a string of turquoise beads, a small tribal stool, an elephant’s tail fly whisk or an amber bracelet. He would stay awhile, then he’d be off again. My mother always arranged the same celebration for his homecoming: a Christmas pudding. And the night before he left, she would make him a sherry trifle.

He was a very kindly, laughing figure in my childhood. Once, my sister and I were incarcerated with measles or chicken pox, and we decided to open a museum. Collecting all our treasures together—birds’ feathers, pretty shells, and the usual bric-a-brac children collect—we labeled each item and charged one or two pennies to view the objects. I remember Uncle Bill now, dressed in a dinner jacket (he and my mother were going to a dance) solemnly paying his money and expressing great interest in all our treasures. A part of me realized just how kind he was to be so interested in our childish collection when he must have seen such marvelous things abroad.

When we were a little older, he took us climbing at Helsby and in the Lake District. He would patiently haul me up difficult rock pitches where I was unable to reach the next hold. I remember standing on a ledge with a large oxygen cylinder strapped to my back. He was testing it for an expedition to Everest. As I reached up to grab the next hold, a gush of icy cold water rushed down my arm from a rock stream, soaking me to the skin. My uncle hauled me up however and his ‘Well done!’ at the top warmed me through.

Back at the hotel and still with the wretched oxygen cylinder strapped to my back, someone remarked: ‘You’ll give her pneumonia wearing that at low altitudes’ to which my uncle quipped: ‘It didn’t do her any good for climbing either!’ Perhaps it was from that moment that he developed an antipathy towards the use of oxygen.

He was a romantic, kindly uncle and lucky indeed is the child who never has reason to change those opinions in later life.

Then came the war, and Bill soon went off to France telling my sister and me casually, ‘By the way, if I am taken prisoner, don’t expect me back—I’ll be shot escaping…I’ll never stay in a prison camp.’ We never told our mother but I expect she knew. However, all was well for him, and then came Dunkirk and the agonizing wait for news. The phone call came and blowing some precious petrol, I drove to Lime Street Station in Liverpool to meet him. The troop train arrived and tired soldiers flooded off, unshaven, dirty, and in very incomplete uniforms. Not Bill: he got off, his fore-and-aft cap plunked jauntily on his head, shaved, buttons all done up, and carrying a rifle. When I asked him what that was for, he replied, ‘I picked it up off the beach; wasn’t leaving that for those damned Boche!’

For the next five years, our paths didn’t cross but my mother remained the hub that kept the spokes intact. And all of his letters always ended the same way: ‘love to Joan and Pam. Yours ever, Bill.’

In July 1945, I was to be married. We knew Bill was about to be demobbed but not where he was. The day dawned, and the usual hubbub reined. The bride in dressing gown having just washed her hair was imbibing a late breakfast and looked up to see Bill coming up the path. I greeted him with, ‘Oh, you’re just in time to give me away.’ A startled look crossed his face but good chap that he was he appeared in uniform at 2.20 p.m. in time to accompany me to the church. As we paused at the start of the long walk down the aisle, he muttered, ‘This is the worst bit of the war!’ When the vicar said his bit, ‘Who giveth this woman, etc. Bill took a firm step forward and in true parade ground voice replied ‘I do!’. Complete collapse of bride, groom and most of the congregation with laughter.

In 1947, my mother bought ‘Bod Owen’ while he was abroad but he loved the place when he first saw it, and the freedom it gave him to walk the hills. Every day he was home, he had a set routine: breakfast at 8:45 a.m., a boiled egg, coffee and toast with honey that he got himself. He collected and read his mail. He answered letters the day they came in—a rather irritating habit as one was always behind and owed him a letter. He was punctilious even to the extent of thanking people for birthday cards and even Christmas cards. He would glance at the Times crossword puzzle over elevenses coffee and a digestive biscuit, more writing, a book, a lecture, letters. The typewriter would constantly tap from his study. Lunch dead on one o’clock, a light cheese or egg dish, or soup, then another go at the crossword, and dead on 2 p.m. he’d rise, put on his boots, and with the dogs at his heels disappear up the “Panorama”. Exactly at 4:28 p.m., he would re-appear, dogs panting, Bill unperturbed, and head into the drawing room for toast and honey, fruit cake, and three cups of weak China tea, and to fill in the crossword clues he had thought about on his walk. If he had no writing, he would work away in the garden, or clearing the rocks outside the front door. He always appeared at 7:15 p.m., tidy, and ready for a whiskey before dinner at 7:30 p.m.

He had a thing about meals being punctual, and could not understand why they weren’t. I was a very bad time-keeper, and on one occasion when I was cooking supper, he appeared at the kitchen door at 7:35 to enquire what the hold up was. In the midst of my graving-making, I hurled a spoon at him much to my mother’s horror, but which amused him greatly.

Bill never sat over meals. He would leap to his feet as the last plate was cleared which irritated my mother. ‘You’d think he had a train to catch!’ she’d mutter as he sloshed plates and cutlery about in the kitchen sink. It was always a point scored when one found something not quite clean and could shout ‘Reject!’ and toss it back at him. Scrambled egg pans were usually his undoing.

Reading occupied him greatly. He was not a television fan. He watched the news, test match highlights, some documentaries, but not much else. The programs he never missed were Harry Worth and Leonard Sachs. He would wait expectantly for Harry Worth to begin the program by putting one arm and a leg in front of a corner mirror which then reflected both arms and legs going out. He thought that hilarious, and would chuckle at Leonard Sachs’ string of adjectives introducing the next artist, and Bill would join in enthusiastically with the old music hall songs, especially “Down at the Old Bull and Bush”.

He was a great beer and bread maker. The former was potent and usually muddy looking; I christened it Estuary Water. His bread making was quite something however. He usually started to knead it with his hands fresh from painting a shackle, or binding ‘baggy wrinkle’, or knotting ropes around his hunting knife or handles on a bucket, with his pipe eternally in his mouth. Flakes of tobacco would drop into the dough, and the odd whiff of linseed oil would mingle with the yeast. All helped the flavor, the cook would mumble, and I must admit all ate it and proclaimed it. I remember so many occasions when I would wink at him as the paeans of praise from some visitor rang out at his skill, and his delighted chuckle would bubble up.

His sense of humor was enormous. In my opinion, the tragedy in his life was that so few people appreciated it. He loved having his leg pulled, and if you could cap one of his quotations (which was seldom as he was a past master at that) he would chuckle until the tears ran down his face. So many people hung on his every word and lionized him which he really didn’t like but was too courteous ever to rebuff them. He would be grumpy and unsociable but it was usually bad back pain which the family came to recognize; a grey look would come over his face.

This back pain was a legacy from a climbing accident in the Lake District in the Thirties. My mother had not gone on the climb that day as it was Sunday, and she felt it was not right to go. She was sitting in the lounge of the hotel when the door opened and what appeared to be a blood stained animal appeared on all fours. To her horror, it was Bill, his back was badly injured (with broken vertebrae) in a fall with two other people, one of whom later died.

He had climbed down a steep pitch where he had seen some other climbers to get help. They weren’t there, so he climbed back to his companions to tell them what he was going to do. He had climbed down again and, unable to stand, he had crawled the four miles into Coniston, and had to be restrained from going out with the rescue party. Later, his doctors told him he would never stand properly again and that climbing was out. His answer to them was to go to the Alps alone for six months. He came back ramrod straight and continued like that to the end.

Another reason for his unsociability was he would be working out the next pages of his book, mind well away from light chit-chat. And he was most awfully shy. He could not make small talk about the weather and the usual stuff; he found it quite impossible. He was infinitely better in men’s company but his sense of propriety overcame him with women. There was nothing he liked better than his hot-pot suppers with the lifeboat crew. All pals together, and when the singing moved more towards the rugger songs, by the end of the evening he’d be joining in with the best.

His sense of propriety was well illustrated when he took me to Belluno, Italy, for the twenty-year celebration after the end of the war. We were met by the old partisans and transported to the best hotel. When we got there, our host said, ‘We have the best room for you and your niece.’ (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). I began to shake with silent laughter and wondered if we would be on our way before the celebrations had even begun. Bill’s eyes flashed fire. In a voice that was completely clear to all and sundry, whatever their command of the English language, he said, ‘But she IS my niece!’ Hasty re-arrangements of accommodation were made. He never referred to the matter to me, and of course I didn’t either though it took me a long time to compose myself.

He was a man not given to expressing emotion. He felt things deeply, of that I’m sure. He expected family and close friends to keep their troubles to themselves. He kept his and was no moaner or whiner, and could not understand anyone who was. This is not to say that he would not have listened or helped if he could but I for one would have had to be desperate before I asked him for help. He was slow to praise, but his ‘That was a good effort.’ was worth more than anyone else’s fulsome expressions.

Perhaps a little intolerant, he set exceptionally high standards that he himself kept, and woe betide those who didn’t measure up. Pain he accepted almost as inevitable. When I asked him if his back pain was bad, he just said, ‘It’s like the poor—always with us.’ As a patient, he was incredibly trying. He broke his arm once in a climbing accident on Ben Nevis, and my husband took him to a specialist in Liverpool. The poor man wanted to put Bill’s arm in a splint with the shoulder raised. Derek, my husband, remembered well the voices in the surgery getting louder and louder. Finally the door opened and out came Bill and at his side the specialist white with fury. He turned to Derek and said; ‘You know the cobblestones by the overhead railway? Well take him back that way to the tunnel…that will shake him up!’ In the car, Bill said, ‘Stupid man. He thinks I’ll walk about with my arm waving in the air.’ Derek knew better than to remonstrate with him, and in due course the arm got better.

After my mother died, Mr. Jones sent for me as Bill was in a bad way with Flu. When I arrived, I immediately said I was sending for Dr. Howarth. ‘You’re not!’, he croaked. I did anyway, and he was prescribed antibiotics and forty-eight hours in bed at the least. Yet the next day he was up, and hacking away at the rocks in the garden. I left cursing, and saying ‘Well, I hope you fall off the edge and lie there till the dogs eat you!’ which got a laugh. He really was impossible!

He was remarkably cool with children, treating them as small adults. My boys loved him dearly. He was always most interested in their progress and achievements, and this interest was carried through to the next generation of his great, great nephews and nieces. People have called Bill an eccentric. If the old fashioned virtues of fearing God, honoring your king and serving your country are now considered eccentric, then he was. I do not think so. He had an enormous influence on my life and on many others. He had humility, modesty, and great humor that showed mostly in the endless self-mockery of his own writings. Examples of his quiet courage in the face of adversity are legion.

The way of his going was so very right for him. It was merciful that it was not on his boat or on his expedition. He was just a crew member. I shall always be sad for the youngsters who did not return, but for my uncle I feel that the Gods were kind. He sailed into legend and is forever climbing the high peaks of eternity.”