Young lad 'still part of family' despite being missing for years

A family member of a Birkenhead climber who went missing on Mount Everest said “he is still part of us”.

Julie Summers, from Bromborough, is the great-niece of pioneering mountaineer Andrew 'Sandy' Irvine. The “extraordinary young lad” lived in a three-story Victorian house on Park Road South in Birkenhead, Wirral.

He stayed here during his school days before studying at Oxford University and joining George Mallory’s ill-fated bid to climb Everest in 1924.

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The pair disappeared on the mountain and the mystery of whether they made it to the summit or not has fascinated mountaineers for generations.

Julie, a historian, told the ECHO: “Every time there is an anniversary, it brings out a whole new generation of people who are interested in the story and what happened. I find that so fascinating. It is one of those legends that has got such an appeal to a wide audience.

“It is great fun to bring Andrew alive as a personality because he died before any of us were even born. But he is still very much a member of our family and part of us. We know what he looked and sounded like, what he did and didn’t enjoy and what a naughty boy he was when he was little.

“He’s a real person and it’s nice to bring him out of the shadows of George, the more famous one. He was an extraordinary young man who won an enormous amount of affection from his fellow climbers.

Historian Julie Summers, the great niece of Andrew Irvine
Historian Julie Summers, the great-niece of Andrew Irvine -Credit:Julie Summers

The two climbers left their camp on June 8, 1924, but neither returned. Cheshire-born George, who lived in Slatey Road, Birkenhead, was on his third attempt to climb Everest.

Andrew, 22, and George, 37, were last seen alive at 12.50 pm on the North East Ridge by fellow climber Noel Odell and were said to be “going strong for the top”.

George’s frozen body was discovered in 1999 but Andrew's – and the camera he carried – has never been found.

It was said Andrew, a keen photographer, talented engineer and sportsman, would have recorded any triumph and photographic experts believe his film would have survived.

Andrew and George became national heroes with their disappearance so close to the summit prompting widespread mourning.

Julie added: “The fact their deaths came just shortly after the first World War ended when a whole generation of families were rueing the loss of their men, suddenly there was a beacon of hope with these two men.

“It was thought that suddenly the British, who were beaten to the south and north poles, could perhaps succeed in putting a man on the highest summit on the earth. There was huge interest because of this.

“There was a huge outcry when the two had died. The families received a telegram from the King offering condolences in an extraordinary move. The memorial service was absolutely packed, you couldn’t move and everyone was crying.

“The two almost personified and embodied the collective loss of young men from that generation with the war”.

A series of thought-provoking events is coming to Merseyside to mark the centenary of the 1924 Everest expedition as part of Wirral Borough of Culture 2024.

Jason Gooding, director of neighbourhood services, said: “We’re really proud to recognise the pioneer's achievements and I hope the people of Wirral can be inspired by the daring story of these two local men, during these special events.”

A photography exhibition, titled Sandy Irvine, from Birkenhead to Everest, will run from June to August and will display an in-depth account of Andrew and his position in the expedition. Two blue plaques will also be installed on both family houses as a reminder of the two.

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