Last letter from Cheshire Everest climber George Mallory to wife is published

George Mallory, right, with Andrew ‘Sandy’ Irvine in 1924 at Mount Everest
George Mallory, right, with Andrew ‘Sandy’ Irvine in 1924 at Mount Everest -Credit:Chester Chronicle

The final letter from Cheshire's ill-fated Everest climber George Mallory to his wife has been published 100 years after he wrote it. He describes to her the chances of scaling the world's tallest peak as "50 to 1 against".

Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew "Sandy" Irvine disappeared on the North East Ridge of Everest in June 1924. They were last seen alive just 800 vertical feet (240 metres) from the summit of the world's tallest mountain. Mallory was just 37 years of age.

It has long since been debated whether one or both of them reached the peak before their deaths 29 years before Edmund Hillary and Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers confirmed to do so.

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The body of Mallory - who when asked by a journalist why he wanted to climb Everest reportedly replied: "Because it's there" - was finally found in 1999, 75 years after he was last seen alive.

Now his personal letters have been made available to a global audience for the first time, in the centenary year of his fatal attempt to scale Everest.

Most of the collection is made up of letters written between Mallory and his wife Ruth from the time of their engagement in 1914 until his death.

Among them are the very last letter he wrote before his final Everest summit attempt.

Three letters that were retrieved from his body in 1999, having survived for 75 years in his jacket pocket, are also included. They were from his brother, sister and a supporter.

The letters handwritten by Mallory cover subjects including his first reconnaissance mission to Everest in 1921 to see if it was even possible to get to the base of the then uncharted mountain.

His second mission to scope out Everest which ended in tragedy when eight Sherpas were swept off the mountain and killed in an avalanche, is also covered. Mallory blamed himself for the tragic accident.

The letters also include his eyewitness account of the Battle of the Somme during World War One.

They also detail his visit to the United States in 1923 during prohibition when he visited speakeasies, asking for milk and being served whiskey through a secret hatch.

The letters to Mallory from his wife describe life as a woman living through the First World War.

The letters are now free to view on the website of Magdalene College, Cambridge, of which Mallory was a graduate.

College archivist Katy Green said: “It has been a real pleasure to work with these letters.

"Whether it’s George’s wife Ruth writing about how she was posting him plum cakes and a grapefruit to the trenches - he said the grapefruit wasn’t ripe enough, or whether it’s his poignant last letter where he says the chances of scaling Everest are '50 to1 against us', they offer a fascinating insight into the life of this famous Magdalene alumnus.”

In Mallory’s final letter to his wife Ruth before the summit attempt, he wrote: “Darling I wish you the best I can - that your anxiety will be at an end before you get this - with the best news. Which will also be the quickest.

"It is 50 to 1 against us but we’ll have a whack yet & do ourselves proud. Great love to you. Ever your loving, George.”

In the only surviving letter from the Everest period in the Archive from Ruth Mallory to her husband, she wrote: “I am keeping quite cheerful and happy but I do miss you a lot. I think I want your companionship even more than I used to.

"I know I have rather often been cross and not nice and I am very sorry but the bottom reason has nearly always been because I was unhappy at getting so little of you.

"I know it is pretty stupid to spoil the times I do have you for those when I don’t.”

In a letter from Mallory's sister Mary Brooke, written in Sri Lanka, she states: “I hope you have been getting the weather reports all right – it will be very interesting to hear whether you can trace a connection with our weather & how long afterwards.

"Since sending you the observatory report yesterday we have had the most terrific storm…It was most violent for nearly three hours so if you get the same you had better be on the look out.”

George Mallory in 1920
First page of the final letter from George Mallory from Camp I, Everest, to Ruth Mallory, 27 May 1924.

Mallory was born in Mobberley, near Knutsford, in June 1886 before becoming a student at Winchester College where he became interested in climbing.

After graduating from Magdalene, he taught at Charterhouse School before serving in the Army during World War One.

Mountain tragedies haunted Mallory's family as his younger brother, Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, was killed when the aircraft carrying him to his new appointment as Air Commander-in-Chief of South East Asia Command crashed in the French Alps in November 1944.

And Mallory's daughter, Frances Clare, married physiologist Glenn Allan Millikan, who was killed in a climbing accident in 1947 in the United States.

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