Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.

JUNE 8th

On this day in history in 1924, died George Mallory.

Mallory was a mountaineer who tried to climb Mount Everest 'because it is there'.

George Herbert Leigh Mallory was born on 18th June 1886, at Mobberley, Cheshire, the son of a clergyman, who had sufficient funds to for the young Mallory’s education at a boarding school at Eastbourne and later at Winchester College. At Winchester, Mallory became known for his sporting activities. He was good at rugby and cricket and excelled at rowing. He even took part in rock climbing expeditions in the Welsh mountains. In 1905, he matriculated at Magdalene College, Cambridge, to read history and rowed for Cambridge in 3 successive years.

After graduating, he took a job as a schoolteacher, an occupation which he found dull in the extreme and so, to relieve the tedium, passed his spare time in rock climbing. He proved be adept at the sport, impressing many professional mountaineers with his natural ability. In 1911 he climbed Mont Blanc and, in 1913 ascended Pillar Rock in the Lake District, by what is now known as Mallory's Route.

During the First World War, he served in the Royal Garrison Artillery, and attained the rank of lieutenant. After his discharge in 1919, he was introduced to several senior members of The Alpine Club, a group dedicated to serious mountain climbing. In 1921, he participated in a reconnaissance mission to explore the lower reaches of Mount Everest, and was able to produce the first accurate maps of the area.

In 1922, he was invited to join the group attempting to climb Mount Everest. Although not the highest mountain in the world, Everest was considered the most difficult to climb, and at that date, no mountaineer had reached the summit. The group achieved a record altitude of 26,985 ft, before weather conditions forced them to retreat. A second attempt was met by an avalanche which overwhelmed the group, killing seven Sherpas. After this tragedy, the attempt was immediately abandoned.

In 1923, Mallory joined another group, despite hostile opposition from other mountaineers, who considered the mission at best audacious and at worst foolhardy. The expedition attracted the attention of the international press, and the group were frequently asked for interviews. On one occasion, Mallory was asked by a young American journalist, the naïve question “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?” Mallory, in exasperation at the lack of depth of the question, and the apparent misunderstanding of the purpose of the mission, replied brusquely “Because it’s there!” This exclamation caught the imagination of the American public, and it became accepted that the British did things because they were there. The saying became a cliché which allowed individuals to attempt projects without explaining their motivation. Mallory’s expedition prompted future generations of Britons to make ineffective but necessary attempts at speed records, feats of navigation and expeditions of discovery.

In 1924, Mallory and his group began their attempt at the summit of Everest. On 8th June 1924, in the final stage of the attempt, Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine disappeared on the North-East ridge, and were never seen alive again. Their last confirmed sighting was a few hundred yards from the summit. Mallory's fate remained unknown for 75 years, until 1999 when his body was finally discovered, at which time there arose intense speculation as to whether or not he had reached the summit before he died.

There was no substantial evidence either way to show if Mallory had made it, until his daughter pointed out that he had undertaken to leave a photograph of his wife at the summit. The absence of the photograph from his personal effects seems to indicate that he had reached the summit and deposited the photograph there. Mallory’s body remains on the North Slope, Tibet side, of Everest. In 1995, Mallory's grandson, George Mallory II, reached the summit of Everest.

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