Journal Archive - The 1940s

The Committee have wanted to make our Journals available to all members, past and present and climbers in general. Although copies of all our Journals are archived in the Alpine Club library in London they are not readily available for review. It was thought that the easiest way to access the Journals was to digitise them.

The work to digitise all the Journals was started following a legacy from Alasdair Andrews, who died in 2011. The Committee decided to start from the current year and work backwards so to include the majority of the time that Alasdair was a member. The Journals from 2013 going back to 1975 were copied as PDF files and were put on the website.

Late in 2019 the Committee agreed to continue with the work and complete the digitising of the Journals from the founding year, 1909, to 1974. This work was completed in February 2020. The PDF files are being loaded onto the website in batches.

The Second World War hit the activities of the Association even harder than the First. In 1939 monthly dinners were maintained, while the informal discussions and the ladies night were cancelled. By 1940 there could be no evening meetings and the monthly dinners were abandoned. On the fourth Wednesday of the month from April to August evening meetings were possible, but in the other months there had to be 'Club Lunches'. There was no annual dinner but a lunch instead.

The hotel which housed the Club Room was requisitioned by the army, so that the library must move out, and the next hotel to house the Club Room was hit by a landmine, although fortunately there was not much damage to the Association's property. The Alpine Club generously offered accommodation for such meetings as there were. In due course the library and the Association's pictures found a safe home underground in Rotherham Main Colliery, thanks to the agency of a Sheffield member, Sir William Ellis. They were not to return to London until 1947.

Things got so bad with clothes rationing that a pool was formed of unwanted climbing gear which members might offer and which other members could apply for. It goes without saying that travel to Switzerland was impossible and the climbing highlights in the war years were the short Easter meets, often enough battling against bad weather. By 1941 there were only two lunches, in January and October, and two evening meetings, in April and August. By 1943 the number of members at the lunch and Annual General Meeting was down to 10.

In a less bleak environment a fortunate member, D.T.F. Munsey, with two climbing friends, R.A. Hodgkin and L.W. Brown, made two honourable attempts on Mount Kenya. They twice tried to climb Nelion. On the first attempt they did not move fast enough. The second attempt was very nearly successful, but at the top of the climb on the rise to the summit the rocks were covered with snow on top of ice, which defeated them.

In the war years there were two innovations. One, of great significance, was the formation of the British Mountaineering Council, which included representatives from clubs throughout the country, meeting to discuss matters of common interest and concern. From the first, the Association was represented on the Council and indeed, by virtue of its size, its representatives carried some weight. The other innovation, a pleasant one, was the holding of a dinner on August 1st to commemorate the Swiss National Day. This was first kept in August 1945. The Swiss Minister was invited, together with certain other Swiss in London. The object was to make the occasion a distinctively Swiss affair. The regular pattern of meetings was resumed on the 4th Wednesday of the month, excepting July, August and December, with informal dinners after.

After the end of the war it was decided that Evening Dress should not be worn at the Annual Dinner. War is a great leveller. The membership had fallen to 380. The list of the members serving in the armed forces numbered 50; 8 had been killed. 1946 was still a year of great austerity. It was decided that the cost of the clubroom could no longer be afforded. In spite of all the restrictions there were 74 new members. One fortunate member, David Pennant, joined a party of 13 for a trek in Sikkim They went via Gangtok and reached the Sebu La at 17,000ft. They had magnificent views of Kanchenjunga and the mountains and the mountain flowers made the whole trek delightful.

Austerity continued to prevail in 1947, nevertheless foreign travel became possible as the Government instituted a £75 travel allowance. It was decided to hold the first Alpine meet, a momentous event in the Association's history. The location was Arolla from July 23rd for a fortnight. 21 members came and they were blessed with perfect weather. So dry had the summer been that the author of the report suggested that Weisshorn should be rechristened the Schwarzhorn and Dent Blanche the Dent Noire, but the good weather allowed participants much activity. Their guide, Franz Biner, led 12 climbers to make the traverse of Mont Blanc de Cheilon. A number of other ascents were made, including the Dent Blanche. Mont Collon was climbed. The Swiss dinner could be held in Switzerland once again.

The Techniques book was no longer available as stocks taken by Army for use in Alpine warfare. It was decided to update it with a translation of SAC manual Bergsteigen. A special appendix on British safety methods of rope management was added. It was eventually published in 1950 as the Mountaineering Handbook. The Climbers’ Club review said some techniques were dated!

The second Alpine Meet held in 1948 at Zinal, only 15 members attended but it was thought that the meet should continue. At home the Association flourished, with 190 new members, bringing the membership up to pre-war levels. The usual programme of lectures with slides continued and among them one on climbing in the USA given by Frank Solari — with coloured slides. He was always in the van of technological progress.

The 1949 summer meet was held in the Engadine, at Maloja, with 31 members and friends attending. The guide, Franz Biner, was unfortunately injured early in the meet but in the event 20 expeditions were made on 18 different peaks in both the Bernina and Bregalia groups, among them Piz La Margna, Monte Rosso, Piz Rossi and Piz Casnil. The spring meet at Ballachulish offered some lively climbing. One party made a step-kicking climb on the face of Bidean nam Biam. Two traverses of Aonach Eagach were made, one free of snow and the other under snow. A participant in the latter wrote 'the result was an Alpine climb of continued interest and not a little difficulty'.

By the 1950's the Association was becoming much less a social and dining club for climbers and much more an active climbing club. There was an annual Easter meet in the U.K. and a meet most years in the Alps. The Easter meets were gradually transformed from walking meets to climbing meets of a good standard. George Starkey had much to do with this. more to follow.......

Journals from 1940 to 1949: 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949

This series of Journals gives an interesting insight into a bygone age. I hope that you enjoy dipping into them.

Mike Goodyer, Hon. Editor, updated 18 May 2020

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