Wilfrid Noyce is best known for his mountaineering exploits during the period before
the Second World War and until his death in 1962 in the Pamirs; he made a major contribution
to the success of the 1953 Everest expedition. There were however many other sides
to this quiet, diffident unassuming man. This book tells of his scholarly prowess
from an age right through Charterhouse and King’s College, Cambridge to his War service
in India and beyond. He led the cryptography team that broke a key Japanese code
and significantly improved the ability of the allies to understand the plans of the
Japanese and to intercept the movements of their forces.
After the war he became a schoolmaster, first at Malvern College and, after his marriage
in 1950, at his old school, Charterhouse. He taught Classics initially and then French
and Italian and was appreciated for the quiet manner in which he delivered his lessons.
He was a popular master and many are the boys who are grateful to him for introducing
them to the mountains and inspiring them with a love of adventure and the outdoors.
Poetry and writing came naturally to him. Articles and poems flowed from his pen
from early on and when he was established as a writer, he published a new book almost
every year. Most of these concerned the mountains and adventure but the biography-poem
Michael Angelo was published in 1953 and Poems in 1960.
This book describes Noyce’s life and achievements and seeks to show the motivation
and driving force of a man who spanned two very different eras of mountaineering
I remember being taught French by Noyce at Charterhouse. Always modest and quietly
spoken, he came alight when we asked him about climbing – and had him describe sleeping
outdoors in a hammock in February, at Godalming, in preparation for the Everest climb.
I read his book South Col and realised then that he was a poet and mystic first and
a school teacher second.
As always delving deeper into a life reveals fascinating detail, which would otherwise
be lost for ever. That is what Stewart Hawkins has done for us with this book.