The Story Of The Ice Soldiers At Kingston Museum

By David Prudames | 04 September 2002
four of the Ice Soldiers - little experience, resources and technical knowledge, but full of humour and daring

Left: four of the Ice Soldiers - little experience, resources and technical knowledge, but full of humour and daring.

It's 1937, you're a soldier with a couple of days leave and you're in the Himalayas. What do you do? Head off up one of the world's highest mountains of course.

Ice Soldiers, at the Kingston Museum from September 7 until September 28, tells the incredible story of five off-duty troops and their attempt to scale the 25,447 feet high Mount Kamet.

Sadly they never reached the summit and have since passed away, but a journal and 31 photographs offer us a unique glimpse into one of history's more idiosyncratic episodes.

The soldiers, serving with the First Battalion the East Surrey Regiment in India and equipped with pith helmets, leather gloves and balaclavas, had little technical knowledge of high altitude climbing.

"It wasn't massively well planned, they didn't have a huge amount of equipment just their usual kit, but none of them got frostbite or died," explained Cheryl Smith, Museum Curator. "They just seemed to have the adventurous streak in them."

Mount Kamet stands on the border between India and Tibet and had been conquered for the first time in 1931. When the soldiers made their attempt six years later it was still the world's highest conquered mountain.

The photographs, on public display for the first time since they were found in a Surrey loft, tell an adventure story full of good humour.

According to the journal kept by one of the climbers, Corporal Ridley, the would-be mountaineers nourished themselves with Bovril, Horlicks, Malted Milk and Cadbury's Chocolate: a far cry from the nutritionally balanced diets of modern climbers.

Items of the day's standard Army kit are also shown alongside some modern mountaineering equipment, giving some idea of the conditions the soldiers were up against.

The exhibition has been organised by the Blackpool and Fylde College Research Group.

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