Saturday, 7 September 2019

Sir Edmund Hillary

This is a bit of a different blog - I'm going to call it an "audioblog" - think it might catch on?  Anyway, earlier this week I interviewed Peter and Alexander Hillary, the son & grandson of Sir Edmund Hillary and I was planning to transcribe the interview into blog form but then thought it might be nicer to just listen to it all instead (plus it would have been a *really* long blog)!

I've broken it down into 4 sections, each of around 4 minutes each, so you don't have to listen to it all at once.  They were both utterly delightful and, what you can't see (because I'm only publishing the audio files not the full Skype call) is that there was lots of smiling and laughing.  It's my first ever experience of doing anything like this so I hope you enjoy it!

Section 1 - where we chat about Sir Edmund Hillary and what it was like having him as a father/ grandfather



Section 2 - where we chat about their clothing range and how it is respnsibly sourced



Section 3 - where we chat about present day mountaineering and the future


Section 4 - where we chat about Mallory, clothing and Kendal Mint Cake



I'll be honest, at the end of the interview, immediately after I said my thank yous and bid the lovely gents farewell, I cracked up and had a little cry.  My bookshelves are full of books by/ about Hillary, Scott, Mallory etc. so it was quite overwhelming to chat to Peter and Alexander and I am so incredily grateful that they took the time to speak with me.


Their clothing range looks superb - you can buy it locally at Joules B in Kendal or online here.

If you're interested in investing in the clothing range as they expand in the future, you can find out more here.

FINALLY - I am massively indebted to Helen Woodman who is a friend of my friend Vicki.  It turns out that Helen's mum sewed the name labels into Sir Edmund Hillary's clothing for the expedition and she has written a small piece about it.  I've included the full text below with her kind permission (and my eternal thanks!).  Sadly, Betty passed away earlier this year.

Cash’s Name Tapes and the Ascent of Everest on 29 May 1953

My mother, Betty Genn (née Mott), an Australian Grazier’s daughter from the outback in North West Queensland, Australia, met my father, Robert Seymour Genn MC, at Farnborough when he was Adjutant, 9 Training Regiment, Royal Engineers, at Cove, Aldershot, in 1951. Betty had not long arrived in the UK and found work at Aldershot General Hospital as a trained nurse and midwife. She had come over to the UK on a whim to accompany her sister, a Rocket Tracker Computer from Long Range Weapons at Woomera Test Range, and two other girls who had the expertise required by the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. The four girls lived in a hostel in Farnborough. Betty and Bob got married soon after and lived in the married quarters at Southwood Camp, Cove.

My father was a junior officer under the then Colonel John Hunt, and on 11 September 1952 Hunt was chosen to lead the expedition for the ascent of Everest. Betty volunteered to help Joy, his wife, with part of the enormous task of sorting equipment and sewing name tapes on to the personal equipment and clothes of the team members. She journeyed up to London by train for days on end in the freezing cold of January/February 1952 (this was a girl from the tropics who had only just seen her first snow on her wedding day) to the warehouse at Wapping Wall of Messrs. Andrew Lusk, where all the expedition equipment and provisions were being gathered, prepared and packed for the boat journey leaving Tilbury for Bombay and onward transmission to Base Camp at the foot of Everest. As far as I understand, Joy Hunt, Mrs. Goodfellow, Mrs. Mowbray-Green and my mother (with, maybe, with other women relatives of the expedition members) spent many hours in the vast, cold Thames warehouse filled with the aroma of exotic spices. Betty, being as she calls herself “a Colonial” took pity on New Zealander, Edmund Hillary, deciding that she would sew on all his name tapes to his clothes, sleeping bags and other personal equipment. It was deemed necessary to name all personal equipment because tempers flare easily at high altitude and, besides, it was important that as the clothing had all been tailored to fit and to personal preference, each man wore his own clothing and used his own equipment. The trying on of clothing took place on 20th January at Lusk’s Warehouse. Betty recalls how she also cleaned some of the very dirty cooking equipment, pressure cookers, cutlery, plates, etc., that were piled high on the floor of the warehouse, loaned by the army. The Royal Aircraft Establishment tested materials and equipment; a new windproof material was put into the wind tunnel.

And so, on 2nd June 1953, the news came over the wireless that Betty’s sewing had ascended Mount Everest when it was announced “Her Majesty the Queen was crowned today in Westminster Abbey. Crowds waiting in the Mall also heard that Mount Everest had been climbed by the British Expedition. Messages of congratulations have been sent to the Leader, Colonel Hunt, by Her Majesty and the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill.”

Betty Joan Genn, widowed in 2005, lives in Manor Street, Dittisham and will celebrate her 90th birthday in the first week of January 2014. The Wapping Wall warehouses are now prime river frontage accommodation.


Helen Woodma

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