Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Family celebrates hero

IN the quintessentially English setting of a village hall close to the banks of the Thames on a sunny bank

IN the quintessentially English setting of a village hall close to the banks of the Thames on a sunny bank holiday Monday, a family party took place to celebrate the 60th anniversary of an event 5,000 miles away that made a nation celebrate and those who took part household names.

Those who gathered in Remenham were relatives of Lord Hunt, who led the expedition that conquered Everest on May 29, 1953.

On a table were photo albums and scrapbooks covering the remarkable career of John Hunt and the expedition that culminated in Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay making the first successful ascent of the highest peak on earth.

The yellowing newspaper cuttings were a reminder of just how big an event the conquest of the Everest was with news of the success breaking on the day of Princess Elizabeth’s coronation.

A framed Pathé News poster advertising the film of the mountaineers’ return home read: “Everest Heroes Feted”.

John Hunt was knighted for his leadership of the expedition and after leaving the army became the first director of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme.

In 1966, he was made a baron for his work with young people and took the title Lord Hunt of Llanfair Waterdine in Shropshire. In 1979, he became a knight of the garter.

Lord Hunt moved to Highway Cottage in Aston in 1955 and lived there until his death in 1998 at the age of 88.

His daughter Sally Nesbitt, who lives in Hurley, organised the party with her sisters Sue and Jennifer and the family posed for an exclusive Henley Standard photograph.

Unable to attend was the fourth sister Prue, who lives in Herefordshire.

There were other Everest family connections there — Sue had been married to George Lowe, one of the successful team, who died in March. Two of their three sons, Matthew and Bruce, were at the lunch.

According to Hunt, Lowe “put up a performance which will go down in the annals of mountaineering as an epic achievement of tenacity and skill”.

Sally recalled when the news broke of the Everest success in 1953, saying: “We were at our house in Wales when my mother Joy took a phone call at 11.30pm.

“Sue and I were up late and in the bath because it was the night before the coronation and we had been helping prepare the village hall and I said to Sue, ‘I think they’ve done it’.

“We woke up to find the Daily Mail and the BBC in the garden waiting to take pictures.” That newspaper picture was among the cuttings pored over at Remenham on Monday.

Sally said: “It was wonderful to have so many of the family together.

“For the younger ones it was a chance for them to see what a wonderful piece of history 1953 was.

“We had a lovely time and family came from America, Australia and the Cayman Islands. It was the ideal start to what will be a memorable week.”

On Wednesday, members of the family headed to the Royal Geographical Society in London for an event entitled Crowning Achievement, Lasting Legacy to celebrate the anniversary. Beforehand, Sally said: “I am introducing my family to the Queen, which is very special.”

This weekend everyone heads to the Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel in Snowdonia, where Lord Hunt took the Everest team to train in the build-up to the expedition. There is to be an Everest family dinner tonight (Friday) and an Alpine Club event tomorrow.

* Sally Nesbitt will be appearing at a special Everest anniversary event at the Henley Literary Festival with Harriet Tuckey, daughter of expedition phsyiologist Griffith Pugh and author of a book about her father called The First Ascent. The festival runs from September 30 to October 6. For more information, visit www.henleyliterary festival.co.uk

a JCB and other equipment loaned by Southern Plant and Hire to hoist the train into place. Great Western Railway has made a £1,000 donation towards the display and Station Park itself is sponsored by Chiltern House Business Centre.

Councillor Elizabeth Hodgkin, a member of the Henley in Bloom committee, said: “I am very pleased to get it back. People get very excited about the train because it’s a lovely thing to have and it’s very appropriate for this site.” Councillor Kellie Hinton, who chairs Henley in Bloom, said: “This area is somewhere very nice to bring the judges and it’s very nice for workers and visitors to the area to come and have some lunch. The Gardening Buddies have done a fantastic job in organising this project, cleaning and sorting the train out.”

The display previously stood in Station Park to celebrate 150 years of the Henley railway. It came from Barnstaple, where it had been used for In Bloom competitions.

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