Everest was Emlyn’s peak challenge

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The Ivinghoe and Pitstone community is mourning mountain adventurer Emlyn Jones, whose funeral took place on Thursday (February 20), writes Dave Sivers.

Much loved in the villages, Emlyn was best known for his part in the team whose joint efforts enabled Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay to reach the summit of Mount Everest on May 29 1953.

I interviewed Emlyn in 2003 as the 50th anniversary of Hillary’s expedition loomed, and I was fascinated to see his vast collection of Everest memorabilia, including a copy of John (later Lord) Hunt’s book, The Ascent of Everest, inscribed by the author:

“Emlyn, in admiration and gratitude for all you did, before, during and since – John Hunt,14 January 1954”

Only 11 of the 18-strong team were chosen to make the assault on the summit, and Emlyn was named as first reserve.

But the expedition’s leader, Hunt, recognised his organisational skills and, after the departure of the main party, asked him to assume the role of organising secretary, responsible for the preparatory work to ensure that fresh climbers, clothing, main equipment and food were arranged.

Born in Gower, Swansea in 1915, John Hubert (J H) Emlyn Jones grew up in Llandudno, North Wales. J.M. Archer Thomson, one of the great pioneers of rock climbing in North Wales, was head at the school where Emlyn’s father taught, and Mr Jones Senior had done some climbing himself.

After he ceased serious rock climbing, he still enjoyed going up into the hills and the young Emlyn accompanied him from an early age. Emlyn had been bitten by the outdoors bug. He became a chartered surveyor after leaving school, but regularly climbed in the Alps, and he also went to the Himalayas with H.W.Tilman in 1950 as part of the first British party to gain admission to the hinterland of Nepal.

The invitation to be part of it came one day into Emlyn’s new job with a firm of chartered surveyors, on a six-month trial with a view to a partnership.

He said: “I had to go to my new employers and explain that I had the opportunity to join a Himalayan expedition. They told me that of course I must go, and I actually received my first draft partnership deed on the mountain.”

Emlyn was on the committee of the Alpine Club when the invitation to join Hillary’s party came, and he believed that it was his Alpine and Himalayan experience that led to his involvement with the Everest expedition.

Emlyn was thrilled to be part of the 1953 Everest team but in the event, an eminent doctor, Lord Horder, offered his services to vet the shortlist to identify the 10 fittest. Emlyn, “although far from derelict”, was squeezed out by a whisker. But he was named at the top of the reserve list, and nominated to lead a party of reinforcements for a fresh attempt on the peak in October, after the monsoon, should the May assault fail.

“However, John Hunt had the knack of ensuring that all 18 of us were treated as full members of the team, and he found work for all of us.

“I worked out of the office at the Royal Geographic Society in London, making arrangements before the expedition and handling the vast amount of correspondence that poured in from all over the world during the assault.”

Information on progress with the three-month expedition was sketchy – most communiqués were despatched by runner to the British Embassy, from where they were posted on – although one of the climbing party, Times correspondent James Morris, did have a radio link to his paper.

“News that the summit had been gained reached the UK on June 1, but the announcement was published to the world on the 2nd to coincide with The Queen’s Coronation.”

Emlyn’s passion for the outdoors continued for most of his life. He scaled the Eggishorn in the Alps in 1999, at the age of 84.

An Ivinghoe resident since 1961, he was awarded the MBE ‘for conspicuous gallantry’ in 1941, for his army bomb disposal exploits during the war.

In 1986, Emlyn was awarded the CBE for his work as a member of the Lands Tribunal. He was High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire from 1967 to 1968 and has also been a JP.

His other lifelong passion was for music, playing cello with the Aylesbury Orchestra and singing with the Madrigal Society. Emlyn died at home on February 4, 2014 and is survived by his wife Louise, daughter, Eluned and two sons, Tom and William.