Climbing deaths on Mount Kenya

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susanpartridge
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Climbing deaths on Mount Kenya

Post by susanpartridge » Sun Feb 09, 2014 10:28 am

My father, James McCrory, served with the REME regiment and we were stationed in Nairobi between 1961-65. My husband has just returned from a trip to climb Mt Kenya and whilst he was researching before leaving England he downloaded an climbing article from someone who climbed the Mountain in 1964 and in the article mentioned that 3 British Army soldiers on leave from Aden had recently died on the mountain. It triggered a memory with me and I found 2 black & white photographs belonging to my father which showed the actual burial of soldiers on Mt Kenya. I believe the regimental insignia on the flag which covers the bodies to be that of the 14th/20th Kings Hussars. There is a wooden cross which has 3 names on it and it is possible to just make out 2 of the names - Bunn and Cornish. Whilst my husband was climbing the mountain he came across a stone memorial plaque to 3 british soldiers - Lt Charles Christopher Cornish, Cpl Norman W Kirkham and Tpr Barry Leroy Bunn but the date on the plaque is 2nd Feb 1965.
Does anyone have any recollection of this please as it would be satisfying to establish the connection in the photos and also to verify the date.

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Re: Climbing deaths on Mount Kenya

Post by Hawk195 » Sun Feb 09, 2014 1:00 pm

Hi Susan

Just a quick reply to your post, I am sure that others will fill you in on more details. Chris Cornish, Billy Kirkham and Barry Bunn were connected with the Regiment. This is just to let you know we try to help when questions are asked. No doubt you will recieve further posts in due course.

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Re: Climbing deaths on Mount Kenya

Post by john kerwin » Sun Feb 09, 2014 4:55 pm

It was all very sad.But it was libya not aden.3 good lads lost, looking for adventure.

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Re: Climbing deaths on Mount Kenya

Post by Brian Moulton » Sun Feb 09, 2014 6:45 pm

Susan

This might fill in the events before and after the unfortunate accident which cost three of our Regiment''s lives.

Extract from 1965 Hawk Journal:

The CO's foreword (Lt Col Frazer)


Uppermost in all our minds is the tragedy which befell the Mount Kenya expedition on February 1, 1965.
There could hardly be a more spontaneous expression of all our feelings than the very many letters I have received from many parts of the world .

I would like to repeat here the sorrow and deep sympathy which the whole Regiment feels for the next-of-kin of Mr . C . C . Cornish , Cpl . N. W. Kirkham and Tpr. B. L. Bunn. They were killed by a fall of rock at over 16,000 feet on the mountain . Their bodies were recovered under extremely arduous conditions and now lie buried at 15,000 feet at the foot of the Darwin Glacier . On February 11, the last day for British Troops in Kenya, a short burial service was conducted at this great altitude by Brigadier M . J . D'A Blackman, the Commander of the British Army rear party in Kenya . Major Ben Moore represented the Regiment at this
service. He has described most movingly the simple ceremony that was held . An ebony cross bearing the Regimental Eagle was placed on the grave . A shield in Regimental Colours trimmed with Mount Kenya flower s
was laid by Major Moore on behalf of the Regiment .

We all owe a debt of gratitude to Brigadier Blackman, Mr. Peter Campbell, Mr . Charles Moore, Mr. D. Hewson and the many others involved whose magnificent personal efforts enabled the fullest possible military honours
to be paid under such difficult conditions . If you ever visit the Military Cemetery in Nairobi, you will find there a small plate bearing the names of the three members of the Regiment who died on the mountain .

L/Cpl . Crossland of " B " Squadron was the fourth member of the party . He did not take part in the final assault, and has just returned alone to the Regiment . His conduct and good judgement on the mountain
when descending alone to fetch help when his companions did not return has earned the highest praise from those in Kenya who know well the dangers to which he was exposed . He tells his story in this HAWK.
We have lost our only climbing leader in Chris Cornish, but the challenge is still there and the example has been set for us by men with whom we are all proud to have been associated .

L/Cpl Crossland's Story from the 1965 Hawk

Mount Kenya Expedition-January 1965 We picked up the porters at Raymond Hook's farm after driving there from Nanyuki. We had hired them with their mules to carry the heavy gear to the Tow Tarn Hut which was to be our base camp at about 15,000 feet . After checking the loads and inspecting the suspicious looking gazelle
meat, we set off with the porters chatting hard in Swahili .

The going was easy for the first five miles through bush and light forest . Then we hit the bamboo, dense in its oozey darkness, and a nasty contrast after the bright greenery of the bush . The sun never penetrates the cane leaves and the ground was soggy . We followed a narrow game path ; the mud was about 2 feet deep and each step was murder . We were climbing all the time and had reached about 8,500 feet when we stopped for the night, still in the bamboo forest. We slept round a large fire after a meal of tough gazelle meat . All of us felt fit the next morning until we moved off ; the first two steps nearly dropped us . The air was very thin. We went on but I knew we would not reach the Two Tarn Hut that day even though we cleared the bamboo by 11.30 a.m. I was thankful when it started raining and we halted among the weird semi-tropical landscape with its fantastic plants .

After another night's rest we pushed on as the vegetation changed to moorland and grass and finally to almost bare rocks . The mule men kept telling us we were nearly there but it was five hours later before we saw the forbidding snow sloped crags ahead of us. We were very tired when we finally came over a rocky crest and at last saw the hut near the two dark lakes or tarns which give the hut its name. We dismissed the muleteers,
cooked a meal and went to bed early in our sleeping bags . There was no wood for a fire and the cold was intense ; it was difficult to sleep and every breath hurt our lungs. We were thankful to get up at first
light and shake off the ice that had formed on our sleeping bags .

Mr. Cornish decided that we would need several days at these altitudes to become acclimatised to the thin air and get accustomed to the cold . Practice climbs were done on Point St . John and Point Pigot on the
first two days .

I was still feeling the effects of the thin air and was unable to go out with the others on their climbing practice . On the way up to the hut I had asked to be left at about 11,000 feet to wait until the muleteers came down again but Mr. Cornish cajoled me into keeping going. I now found that my acclimatisation was only improving very slowly compared with the others ; because of this I was confined to the area of the hut and
its two large ponds.

The day after the Point Pigot climb was declared a rest day . We tidied up the hut and then took it easy in the cold sunlight . The two practice climbs had gone well (I had in fact been able to watch the Point Pigot
climb from the hut) and my three companions were extremely cheerful and confident .

After the rest day I was still unfit and my companions set off without me to cut steps up the Darwin glacier in preparation for the Batman final assault on the main peak which is called . The glacier reaches down steeply from the main peaks and ends near the base of Point St . John . To reach it they had a long walk from the hut down into a wide valley and up the other side. I watched them in the distance and saw them reach a point
(at which the tragedy was to happen) just under the buttress of Point Nelson, the lower of the main peaks . They returned late in the afternoon very cheerful and tired after the long treks in the valley .

The final climb was to be made the next day. I was feeling a good deal better but was not included in the party as I had missed the preliminary climbs . We went to bed early and the others set off at 3 a .m., so as to reach the glacier at first light . They were cheerful and full of confidence .

Thirty-six hours later the climbers were overdue and I decided to go for help . The most difficult part of the journey down was across the moorland ; I kept losing the way and having to go to high ground to pick the
route. I finally reached the bamboo and hit the path we had taken through it . By now it was about 6 p.m. ; I decided to go on in and must have gone about halfway through the belt when darkness overtook me and I lay
down off the track to sleep . I slept soundly in spite of the obvious presence of game . I had heard elephants trumpeting and crashing about but fortunately had not seen any . There were thousands of monkeys about and I have since learned that where there are monkeys you also find leopards ; I had in fact seen pug marks that evening but was too tired to worry about the possible implications . I woke stiff and cold the next morning and pushed on down the narrow muddy path . Finally I reached a forests Post at Gather and got through by telephone to Nark More Police Station and raised the alarm. The Police sent a Land-Rover for me and I was soon in Nark More ; the kit for the rescue operation was already prepared when I arrived at Nark More and the plan was finalised after my de-briefing at Geri a little later. Mr. Woodley, a game warden , took charge of me and I shall always be grateful for the kindness shown by him and his wife. I spent a week in their house and toured the Aberdare Reserve with Mr . Woodley in his Land Rover . All this helped to take my mind off the terrible tragedy that had befallen our party . He finally took me to Nairobi by car and it was from there that I returned by R.A.F. plane via Aden, Barhein and Cyprus.

Footnote by Editor :
This modest account by L/Cpl . Crossland would be incomplete without the following extracts from a report by a Kenya Police Officer .

" Let me state here that Crossland acted properly in coming down the mountain. If he had decided to search it is almost certain he would have been lost and a further tragedy would have ensued . At no time did he lose
his head and I have the greatest respect for this young man . To have come down the Forest Track in the dark which in most places is only 9 inches wide and confused with many game tracks is in itself a considerable feat ; particularly so, as he had only passed along the track once—in daylight on his way up with his companions . On other tragic occasions survivors have run amok in the bamboo and become lost " .

The officer ends his report as follows :
" In conclusion I would like to add that Crossland has behaved throughout with extreme fortitude and impeccable balance " .

Susan, I'm sure that copies of your photographs would be appreciated if possible. A lot of the members on this site knew and served with all four.
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Re: Climbing deaths on Mount Kenya

Post by Bill Bentley » Sun Feb 09, 2014 7:08 pm

Would that have been Bernie Crossland ?

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Re: Climbing deaths on Mount Kenya

Post by Brian Moulton » Sun Feb 09, 2014 8:42 pm

No Bill, not Bernie but Geoff (Jeff) Crossland, there are some photos in the gallery with Geoff on. Here's a couple:

http://www.1420h.org.uk/Gallery/cpg15x/ ... play_media
http://www.1420h.org.uk/Gallery/cpg15x/ ... play_media
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Re: Climbing deaths on Mount Kenya

Post by Pat » Mon Feb 10, 2014 12:03 am

Dads Pictures from when he went up with the burial party in 1965 are in the gallery on this site
hope this helps
viewtopic.php?f=20&t=2904&p=30970&hilit=kenya#p30970

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Re: Climbing deaths on Mount Kenya

Post by Brian Moulton » Mon Feb 10, 2014 5:56 am

Thanks Pat. Following your link is a case of deja-vu. Looks like we covered this topic in February 2012, but no matter, it serves to remind us of members of the Regiment who are no longer with us.
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Re: Climbing deaths on Mount Kenya

Post by Bill Bentley » Mon Feb 10, 2014 10:02 am

Thanks Brian,

it would have surprised me had it been Bernie, who I knew well, bless him, RiP.

I guess that my own experience on Mount Kenya was more fortunate. We (a 2 Para team [also with a Crossland, John]) climbed the four highest peaks and circumnavigated the entire group. Then, on the way down during a pause I climbed the 5th highest peak with a South African guy ... who wanted to attempt the two main peaks on his own ! He surely had all the right equipment but his skills were weak, I hope that we disuaded him.

The one point that I have not gleaned from all of this is, did the guys ever get to the top ? At the top of each peak is a book where one logs in, so it would have been easy to check. Thoughts of Malory on Everest ...

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Re: Climbing deaths on Mount Kenya

Post by Brian Moulton » Mon Feb 10, 2014 10:40 am

Fairly certain they didn't make the top Bill. It would seem that this was the first attempt after doing some preliminary training.

Bernie Crossland was a regular at reunions up until his illness and demise. Shame, Bernie was a character and missed by many who served with him.
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Re: Climbing deaths on Mount Kenya

Post by Bill Bentley » Mon Feb 10, 2014 8:10 pm

Thanks again Brian,

next a quick correction, very senior moment on my part, our team leader was Phil Neame and not John Crossland, how stupid of me ! Both great guys, no malice intended !

Just a note for anyone who has never been up at altitude, the 'thin air' has a weird effect upon people and can show up as both physical and mental problems. Here's an extract from my notes about our climb: "Bill recalled how he had brought various tablets to combat headaches caused by the altitude. At first they were tidily placed in separate piles on a small table. The aim being to try and identify which type of medication had the best effect. It was not long before all tablets were in a single heap and the size of the pile shrank daily". At the end of the day that meant that we were eating a cocktail of tablets like 'smarties', you would do anything to get rid of the sickness and pain, few people think clearly at altitude, which for most starts at about 10.000'. At 16,000' one is well into the 'danger zone'.

I shall alway remember Mount Kenya as 'my best climbing trip' as one guy said 'from up there, you can throw stones at the Gods' ... and he was right !

Sleep well, those who tried, for it is better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all, RiP lads.

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Re: Climbing deaths on Mount Kenya

Post by Wanny » Tue Apr 08, 2014 3:13 am

Susan I was a member of the Regimental climbing team that went back to Kenya in 1982 to erect a new headstone at the grave site and also to finnish the climb in honour of the three Hawks who lost their live's in 1965.
There are some photo's on the Photo page under the heading of Tony Parkinsons Pictures.
I would be more than happy to answer any of your questions ... Steve Buchanan.
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Re: Climbing deaths on Mount Kenya

Post by allen1 » Mon Apr 28, 2014 12:04 am

Barry Bunn is in a photo I posted in the photo album section. He sitting to my left on the ground outside a ferret on radio watch. The photo is just under a Centurion tank publicity shot. Check the 'Allen (Scouse) Jones collection. I was sorry to hear about the loss of these guys. Barry Had a great sense of humour and was a great crewman.

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