The story of Colyton's Mount Everest explorer

The ice axe which John Bruce donated to Allhallows School

The ice axe which John Bruce donated to Allhallows School - Credit: Margaret Lewis

Margaret Lewis, curator of Honiton Museum, writes for the Herald.

Margaret Lewis (outside the Honiton Museum) is keen for the building to host the town's new TIC. mhh

Margaret Lewis (outside the Honiton Museum) is keen for the building to host the town's new TIC. mhh 25-16TI 2287. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Tibetan porters could never understand why British explorers felt the need to climb higher than anyone else and reach the top of Everest.

They believed that Mount Everest was a live being and that the Goddess of the mountain would never allow herself to be conquered unless a sacrifice was made.

Major General John Geoffrey Bruce of the Indian Army had no climbing experience, but his cousin General Charles Bruce appointed him as an interpreter and third transport officer for the 1922 Mount Everest Expedition.

The expedition was jointly promoted by the Royal Geographical Society and the Alpine Club. Preparations for the climb took months.

An agent went to Switzerland to buy ice axes and crampons and the ropes, tents and other equipment was obtained in England.

John was 25 years old and described by a colleague as tall, of athletic build, strong full of mental energy and cheerful.

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He wrote home to let his parents know that everything was satisfactory. They had been doing a bit of oxygen drill, but he didn’t have much confidence in the apparatus.

The temperature inside his tent was 13 degrees of frost and he described a ‘battle’ with yak drivers who left equipment by the side of the road.

A knife was drawn but no blood was shed, and the equipment was retrieved.

The team survived ferocious storms at high altitudes and using supplemental oxygen they managed to set a record height of 8300 metres, only 520 metres from the summit. Sadly, seven Nepali climbers lost their lives during the attempt.

In 1923 Bruce was awarded the McGregor Memorial Silver Medal and every team member of the expedition was awarded an Olympic gold medal at the first International Sports Week later known as the Winter Olympics of 1924 for outstanding feats on Everest.

The next Everest expedition in 1924 was also led by General Charles Bruce, and this time Captain Geoffrey Bruce was one of the main climbers as well as being the transport officer. General Bruce was taken ill with malaria and had to go to India, so Teddy Norton took over as leader.

The summit was not reached at this attempt. T George Mallory Andrew Irving and two Nepali climbers lost their lives.

John G Bruce was later invited to be the leader of the Everest expeditions of 1933 and of 1935, but he was unable to accept due to his army commitments.

John Bruce lived in Colyton, and he became the Chairman of the Board of Governors of Allhallows School, Rousdon, and he donated this ice axe which he used on his Everest expeditions to the school.

A newly formed biology department was named after him. After the school closed the ice axe was donated to the Allhallows Museum collection.