General C. G. Bruce

Picture of Charles Granville Bruce

Charles Granville Bruce 1866-1939
Everest Leader

Charles Bruce was born in London on 7 April 1866, the youngest son of Henry Austin Bruce, first Baron of Aberdare and Nora Bruce, youngest daughter of Lieutenant-General Sir William Napier. He went to Harrow and the Repton Schools of which he never completed his education like his brother.

His early years

His mentor in his early days was a local farmer and inn-keeper, who in his youth had worked as a hunter in California and British Columbia. He taught the young Bruce “how to hunt, find his way around the local hills, and drink.” One of Bruce’s most notable achievements was running down a “rough crew” of local poachers.

Before joining the army, he walked with (Sir) Rhys Williams (Judge Gwilym’s son) of Miskin ‘from South to North Wales’ and had become a ‘worshipper of the wild Welsh mountain scenery.’ Where Charles Bruce used to sing Welsh airs with gusto.

He wrote many  books saying when living in his boyhood  days in Dyffryn House, Mountain Ash, that he  “spent all my time running about the hills, and sucked in from my earliest time a love and understanding of mountain country without appreciating it at the time, my father being a most complete lover of his own valleys and hills.’

Where the name “Bruiser came from

A new leader was announced: General Charles Bruce, a genial, energetic bear of a man, known as “Bruiser,” to his friends. A former officer in the British army’s Gurkha regiment, he used to challenge soldiers from the regiment – tough but diminutive Nepalese men – to wrestle him four or five at a time. At 56, he was as old as many of the previous team, but he seemed a better choice of leader than his predecessor.

His Army Days

He obtained a commission in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in 1887 through the militia rather than Sandhurst. Then in 1887 he joined the 5th Gurkha Rifles in 1889 where he mastered the skills of mountain warfare on the north-west frontier of India. This association with the East which lasted till his death.

He was mentioned in dispatches three times and had been then promoted to major by 1913. In May 1914 he was appointed commander of the 6th Gurkhas and he was again mentioned three times in dispatches before being seriously wounded in Gallipoli. He was appointed Hon. Col. of the 5th Gurkhas in 1931.

He was then sent back to India to lead an independent frontier brigade. Before being obliged to resign, as brigadier, in 1920 on health grounds, he had been twice mentioned in dispatches and served in the Third Afghanistan War.

This was basis of Bruce’s success as a soldier and mountaineer, was his remarkable mastery of the languages of the Gurkhas and their neighbours, his zest in their company and his proverbial strength. Being a fluent Nepali speaker, he perfectly bridged the cultural divide between sahib and Sherpa, which benefited the expeditions of 1922 and 1924.

He is mainly remembered as one of the foremost pioneers in the Himalayas. He accompanied Conway on the first expedition to the Karakoram in 1892 and was with Younghusband in the Hindu Kush in 1893 and with Mummery on Nanga Parbat in 1895. In 1898 he explored the area around Nun Kun Mountain with his wife and 16 Gurkhas.

Bruce’s extensive mountaineering experience included climbing with Conway in the Karakoram (1892), with Mummery on Nanga Parbat (1895), and with Longstaff on Trisul mountain peaks in (1907).

Story of Mount Everest, why the Expedition did not succeed, another attempt made.

An account of the attempt to reach the summit of Mount Everest was given by members of the expedition at the Central Hall. Westminster, last night, at a joint meeting of the Royal Geographical Society and the Alpine Club. Accounts have been published the work of the expedition and the hardships endured, but a fuller story now presented those who played the chief part this great enterprise be read with interest.

General Bruce

Brig.-General the Hon. C. G. the leader of the expedition pointed out that the native name for Mount Everest is variously spelt on its north and south sides, The permit from the Dalai Lama authorising the expedition to travel in Tibet described it Chha-ma-lung-mo. which had been translated as the piece the “female eagle,” and the place where high that even bird goes blind when he, gets the south side of the  mountain the name was Chho-mo-lung-mo. “the abode the goddess.”

Describing the journey to the base camp, said that when travelling the Himalayan railway from Captain Nod, elected to ride the roof train with his kinema camera to take records of the wonderful Teesta valley, though owing to the hot weather the scenery was not its best. In the march through Sikkim and over the Jelep La they acquaintance with the wonderful Churn mule transport. These mule-men, who; continually worked seven months in the year wood from Tibet down to Kalimpong, and march at the most, astounding pace.

After the very deep tropical valleys, it was very strange to emerge at into what might almost be described uplands, from which more or less minor peak, rise, the whole country giving an impression of the Scottish Highlands spring, both from the colouring and from the amount snow the mountains themselves. In the Western Himalayas snow lies many feet deep right into May down to a height 11.000 feet, or even below, but here the end March they were troubled in no way by, deep and many of the peaks 15,000 feet appeared almost clear winter snow.

When crossing the Jelep La they got a first-rate view which 25,800 feet high and stands right over the fort of looked enormous. “I collected the members of the expedition who were with me,” said Gen. Bruce, “and I said, in order, to encourage them, pointing to the top ‘Your advanced base camp will very nearly as high the top of that mountain over there.’ This seemed to amuse them very much, especially as there were great streamers of snow blowing off the summit.”

With the exception Mr. Crawford and Capt. Finch, who remained at to bring on the oxygen, the party left April 8, and three days later reached where Capt. Finch and Mr. Crawford joined them. Every member expedition was provided with riding pony, it was found that continuous walking without rest these heights was likely not to improve the condition, but to exhaust, whereas a mixture riding and walking would gradually acclimatize and bring them into training. From Dzong, the road led via the fort of Tinki, to Shekar Dzong, and thence across Aran, via, the down, into the valley the Chu, following that valley up the Rongbuk monastery in the Rongbuk Valley.

The Head Lama

They suddenly arrived where the valley opened on to the Rongbuk monastery. The Head Lama was a, very, interesting, character. “He is of extreme sanctity, and pilgrimages are made to his monastery; and, further, the Dalai Lama, visits the Rongbuk monastery yearly by, proxy. The Lama of has the distinction of being the incarnation, not Buddha, but of a god, the God Chongray says, who owns no less than nine faces, and this particular Lama is reputed to change his face he likes. He is extremely well and was and a most striking and old gentleman with perfect manners and perfect courtesy, far the finest type that we had yet. struck. Of course, “there was the usual Tibetan tea. This most appalling, having butter, generally rancid, salt and other ingredients added, and the whole churned up before being served.”

The Rongbuk lama was very anxious to know the reason for all the trouble taken the party to explore Mount Everest. “I thought that my best way to explain it was that treated as a pilgrimage and that it was to reach the highest point of the earth being the nearest to heaven. This view was accepted.”

Pace a Great Factor

From the Rongbuk monastery the whole southern end the was filled by Mount Everest, the whole problem climbing which was the pace. Owing to the severity of the winter and early spring, would not have paid start earlier, and in fact, they had a quite low enough temperature on arriving at the base camp. a good year they could count on respectable weather to June 15. In the early year, the weather might break up at any time after June 1.  So that problem was a race against the monsoon.
The base camp was established on May 1, the aim being to camp the Chang La oft North Col May 15. That would have given them 15 days for certain, days with decent luck, and a month of luck, was really good, work the mountain itself.

The speaker explained the difficulty of procuring sufficient porters, and how camps were established at the following approximate heights: Base camp. 16,500 feet; Camp I, 17,800 feet; Camp II, 19,803 feet: Camp III. 21,000 feet. That required most continuous hard work and did not think ever before the history of Himalayan exploration had men been called a harder, or even as hard, work the performance was absolute without precedent.

The climbing parties were pushed fed the different camps, the transport officers taking charge the lines communication, the party of climbers, who were quickly established Camp III, Mr. Mallory and Dr. Somervell prepared road up the North Col. Finally, the whole of the party was assembled at Camp III.

The speaker did not touch on any the mountaineering but added that when the camps were moved down after the last attempt under the direction of Captain Morris, that gentleman told him how perfectly wonderful was see the effect the south wind even in the two days that he was evacuating the camps. Whole hillsides had (become rotten, and even, the great’ had begun tumble down, and the great trough m the glacier was filled in time with a rushing stream.

One thing proved was that woollen garments for very great heights were not sufficient themselves and that it was necessary to have wind-proof outer clothes. The experiences of the expedition must very much modify the scientific outlook the power ascending great on acclimatization, on what manner in which oxygen should be employed.

Before leaving Darjeeling Major Morshead gave him the latest figures the two magnificent attempts made by the climbing parties on Everest. The first party; Major Norton, Dr. Somervell, and Mr. Mallory, reached height 26,985 feet, which was 185 feet higher than their first computation. The climb Captain Finch and Bruce worked out 27,235 feet

Mr. G. L. Mallory

Mr. G. L. Mallory dealt graphic manner with the first high climb. “Everest is not yet climbed.” He confessed. “Nor do know for certain that it can be climbed. But may see how much nearer we are nearer a solution as result this year expedition.” The first element in problem was to supply camp one stage below the North Col. The reconnaissance of the previous year had made it plain that that could be done but it seemed not unlikely too great a strain. The difficulty was bringing the porters fresh that pour. General Bruce had proved that that could be done at all events with his guidance, and they were able to set out from camp 21,000 feet with full confidence that the porters were in the best of strength and spirits. The problem climbing the mountain from that point to the summit was left after the previous year’s expedition briefly thus: in a way, the North Col feet had been found in September but was by no means certain that that way would prove convenient, or even serve at all in May and June before the monsoon.

Picture of the expedition party

The Factor of Endurance

In the light of his experiences, they might review afresh the problem climbing Mount Everest. By far the most important modification of their previous view was the respect of the porters. Their power was far greater than was to be expected. None had ever carried a camp above 23,500 feet; those men carried the loads 25,000; Finch’s even higher to 25,500 feet, and some them repeated that amazing three successive days.

Nor was there smallest reason to. suppose that after sleeping a night above 25,000 feet, they would be incapable of going on the next day. They showed astonishingly little signs of fatigue. The mountain sickness which some them succumbed the North Col was easily accounted for by the fact that they closed their tent doors and slept with too little air; nothing of the kind occurred again.

The fact that the porters were capable much and endured so well has profoundly altered the aspect of their problem. seemed almost certainly a sixth camp, about 27,000 feet, might be carried up; and the limit of climbing, instead of being determined the difficulty of fixing camps, would simply determine the factor of endurance among the trained climbers. What might, expected of them? The three who reached 26,800 feet climbed only 1.800 feet in a day from their camp, but the maximum time was not available; bad weather delayed the start, and the descent was to camp below their starting point. So far time was concerned, they should have had five hours more, and judging the party’s performance to their highest point, had not the smallest doubt that with five hours more, 700 feet might have been added to the record, and the day’s performance brought to 2,500 feet.

The question, then, was: Is it conceivable, in the first place, that two days above the North Col camp could be fixed at 27,000 feet? And, in the second, supposing a party start from 27,000 feet, could they conceivably climb day the remaining 2,000 to the summit? They could not, of course, give a certain answer; but at all the events the question did not appear fantastic. The effort of climbing the last 2,000 feet the summit should not itself considerably greater than that climbing the 2,000 from 25,000 to 27,000; for the different atmospheric pressure was very-small.

“The factors which will tell against the climber on this last section are his efforts the previous days, from which it may be supposed he will not have recovered completely, and, possibly, ill effects from sleeping at these very high camps. But if any gambler has been laying odds the mountain, he should very considerably reduce his ratio as result this year’s expedition.”

Man Proposes

The lecturer turned his attention to the dangers involved in the climb and thought the only valid precaution against difficulties caused through unexpected illness of one of the climbers was to have another party in reserve at the camp from which first climbers started.

Perhaps it was not impossible for reach the summit of Mount Everest, in spite wind and weather; but unless the weather could mend the habit, they observed this year, or grant a long respite, their chances reaching it and getting down in safety were all too small. “Man may calculate how to solve his problem, and …. you may ‘finish the sentence.”

Picture of Two Gurkha soldiers

Two Gurkha soldiers who were servants at Dyffryn House

Colonel Strutt

Lieut.-Colonel E. L. Strutt. Second, in command the expedition had some interesting things to say about the East Rongbuk glacier, With Norton, Finch, two Gurkhas, and one coolie started, under General Bruce’s instructions, to find a for No. 1 camp. They took to the rocky terraces high above the right bank of the Rongbuk glacier, and which, constituted the lateral moraine that glacier. Going very slowly but steadily over a quite good surface, they eventually reached the corner above the large opening where the east branch met or had met the main glacier.

Here the conditions changed, and they descended towards the snout of the tributary glacier over the abominably loose and slippery moraine. At a spot, some yards distant from the snout of the East Rongbuk, a site for the first camp was chosen a place was sheltered, and the proved satisfactory, being, the warmest spot he struck in Tibet. height was about 18,500 feet, and it was an easy three hours one and a half hours down from the base camp.

On the way back they took to the trough between the glacier and the moraine, which the coolies were following with Morris appeared have instinctively preferred. The terrace route was, however, the best, as was proved later when repeated bursts of a glacier lake occurred and flooded the trough. Morris at once set to work to build sangars in the camp. They returned the base, having proved to their complete satisfaction, on the ice and snow the trough, the vile quality of the Swiss overland axes that Finch and he were supplied with.

The Soul of Desolation

Reconnaissance’s followed. They struck the first snow height about 20,000 feet; was thin and the ice was hard and slippery underneath. The glacier became crevassed, and they roped themselves and the coolies three parties.

The scenery can be described, as the very soul of utter desolation. To the Everest, rather the eastern half of the north face. This small portion double or treble in size of any mountain that had been seen in Europe: the shoulder, point 27,390, the highest point visible and appears overwhelmingly remote, although not two miles distant. To the west are the glittering ice slopes the Chang La (North Col) and to the immediate north the steep broken rocks of the Changtse’s east arete. Down the glacier, the north is the inexpressibly dreary and hideous slopes of Kartaphu and his lower satellites.”

An Explanation

It might be asked why the attempt to reach the summit was made on May 21, Captain Finch without oxygen. My reply to this question is follows: “Finch had been ill the base camp and had not been able to put the oxygen apparatus into working order. He alone of all the members of the expedition was conversant with its complicated inner economy. The had been working like slaves getting the absolute necessities, such as food, and tents; had consequently been impossible to bring the oxygen cylinders, and Finch had been too ill to test them. The weather was too uncertain to wait, and the monsoon might break at moment. seemed to me then, it Hoes now, that was better to try and fail than never to have tried all.”

Mr. G. I. Finch

The second attempt Mount Everest was by Mr. George I. Finch, who admitted that the climbing the mountain was a tremendous proposition. A little more than before he had considered, somewhat carelessly and superficially, the advantages using oxygen as an aid to, climbing Mount Everest, and had dismissed the idea; on the grounds, that the of any use would prohibitive. Professor Dreyer held; however, the strong opinion Everest would never be climbed, without oxygen, and that an ample supply could be provided insufficiently form to enable the summit to be reached.

The question was examined the Everest Committee with an open mind, with the result that his opinion was endorsed, it was decided to include in the equipment of the expedition. The oxygen equipment, consisting of; very-light steel cylinders for storing the oxygen and an ingenious apparatus for distributing to the climber was evolved Major Stewart and Mr. Eager, the Air Ministry, and Mr. Unna. It was somewhat complicated, but frequent oxygen drill parades were taken very seriously all members of the party.

Preparatory to embarking the climb itself, the party went for several trial walks, one over to the Rapiu la, pass 21,000 ft high, the foot at the north-east ridge of Everest, from where they hoped to obtain views the country the south. But only part the north-east showed hazily through drifting-mists. Towards the north and looking down the East Rongbuk Glacier were clearer, though partially obscured by rolling banks cloud. Colonel Strutt and Dr. Wakefield, thorn on the little expedition, and oxygen at once proved its value, easily did Bruce and he would outpace them.

Highest Point

Subsequently, when the second attempt to reach the summit was made, at one point the aneroid barometer recorded 27,300 feet.

“We were standing on a little rocky ledge, just inside inverted V snow, immediately below the great belt reddish-yellow rock which cleaves its way almost horizontally through the otherwise greenish-black slabs of the mountain. Though 1,700 feet below, we were well within half a mile the summit, so close indeed that we could distinguish individual stones a little patch of scree lying just underneath the highest point. Ours were truly the tortures Tantalus; for, weak from hunger and exhausted by that nightmare struggle for life in high camp, we were in no fit condition to proceed. Indeed, I knew that if we were persisting in climbing on, even if only for another 500 feet, we should not both get back alive.” The decision to retreat once taken, time was lost. The high camp was reached in barely half an hour. The long descent, coming as it did the top of a hard day’s work, soon began to find out their weakness.”

Perilous Descent

“We were deplorably tired, and could longer move ahead, with our accustomed vigour. Knees did not always bend and unbend required. Times, they gave way altogether, and forced us, staggering, to sit down. But eventually, we reached the broken snows of the North Col, and arrived camp there at 4 p.m. A craving for food, to the lack which our weakness was mainly due, was all that animated us. Hot tea and tin spaghetti were soon forthcoming, and even this little nourishment refreshed us and renewed our strength to such extent that three-quarters hour later we were ready to set off for Camp 3.”

That camp was reached only minutes after leaving the Col, but, as Mr. Finch explained, “‘we were quite finished.”

Further, attempt to be Made

The Earl of Ronaldshay, who presided, announced that the Tibetan Government had accorded permission for the despatch of the third expedition, which it was hoped out in due course. added that the outstanding result last summer’s labours was a confident belief that the ascent to the summit could be made.

On Wednesday, July 12, 1939, 27, St. Mary’s Abbot’s Terrace, Kensington, Brigadier-General the Hon. Charles Granville Bruce, C 8., M.V.0. aged 73.

Brigadier-General the, Hon. Charles Granville Bruce, one of the most notable British mountaineers, died in London yesterday, aged 73. He had been ill for two or three months. He was the leader of the Mount Everest Expeditions of 1922 and 1924. If ever man confounded the doctors it was General Bruce. Invalided out of the Army, and told on no account to walk uphill, he afterwards led the two great attacks on Everest with which his name will he ever associated and survived all the exertions and privations these involved.

He was the youngest son of the first Baron Aberdare; General Bruce entered the Army through the old Militia. After serving with it for two years, he was through the influence of the late Field-Marshal Lord Roberts, posted to the Gurkhas, and, sailing for India in 1888 began an association with the East which lasted till his death.

On the outbreak of the Great War he was given command of the 1/6th Gurkha Rifles and served in Egypt and the Dardanelles, being wounded, and mentioned in dispatches, from 1916 till 1919. He commanded the Bannu (Independent Frontier Brigade) and played a notable-part with it in the Waziristan Expedition and the Afghan War. He retired in 1920.

Never Walk Uphill

General Bruce’s health broke down, and in August 1918 he was examined by a special Medical Board. He said o £ that examination:  “They discovered that I was suffering, as far as I could make out, from every known disease except housemaid’s knee. I was given this counsel by the charming members of the Board. ‘Under no consideration ever are you to walk uphill. ‘”

He was taken to a hill station and ordered to rest, but there he met a Harley Street specialist, who found nothing wrong with him. “From that day to this,” wrote the General in 1934, “I have been continually going up hills.”

Although it was not till nearly 30 years later that he led his first assault of the giant slopes of Mount Everest, General Bruce has disclosed that the first dreams of its conquest were formed in January 1893, when he first met Sir Francis Younghusband, and a Tibetan exploratory expedition was discussed.

General Bruce had made the first climbs of some 50 Himalayan peaks, and his knowledge of the country made him a natural selection for the first attempt on Mount Everest in 1922. At the first assault, a height of 26,985 feet was reached. At the second camp, where oxygen was used for the first time at 27,300 feet.

Tragedy Recalled

A third assault culminated in tragedy. Nine men were swept by an avalanche over an ice cliff 60 feet high, and only two were saved.

When the second attempt was made in 1924 General Bruce was again chosen as leader, but during the march up he was seized with illness and was obliged to return to India.

On this occasion, a height of 28,200 feet was reached. It was on the third assault during this expedition that Mallory and Irvine perished.

General Bruce’s interest in the great project continued throughout the succeeding years and as chairman of the Mount Everest Committee, he contributed in no small degree to the measure of success attained in subsequent attempts upon the mountain. Maps made available by him, and his experience of transport problems was of immense value to later climbers.

The General was a racy and entertaining writer. His books give a wonderful insight into his indomitable spirit and perseverance, and the underlying sense of humour with which he faced all difficulties. Of his schooldays, at Harrow, he wrote: “During the five rather hectic terms I spent there I gained the reputation of having been swished by the headmaster more often than any boy in such a short space of time. ”

A Tribute

Colonel E. L. Strutt, second-in-command to Brig-General Bruce in 1922, member of Mount Everest Committee, and a former president of the Alpine Club told a reporter:

“Brig-General Bruce was an extraordinary man in every way. He helped to discover the Himalayas so far as Great Britain was concerned.

“The hill men will consider his death as a disaster. They looked upon him as a kind of god. He was highly regarded among the Ghurkhas’ and in the Nepal area as a sort of demi-god, and they will all feel they have lost a great friend and protector. ”

General Bruce on Everest Expedition

General the Hon. C. G. Bruce, C. 8., M.V.0., who was accompanied by Mrs. Bruce, was the guest of the Aberdare and District Chamber of Trade at the Memorial Hall on Tuesday evening. The event had been organised as a welcome home to the general treat the recent Mount Everest Expedition, Councillor Tome Miles, president of the chamber of trade, presided over a large gathering.

In submitting the health of the guest of the evening, the high constable (Dr. A. T. Jones, J.P.) referred to the great popularity which General Bruce had always enjoyed his native place of Mountain Ash. A feeling of deep and genuine sympathy was aroused by the news that ill-health had compelled the general to abandon, at the last moment, the leadership of the last expedition to reach the summit of Mount Everest; but their joy was not less profound when it became known that he was out of danger and that he was as firm as ever in his determination to have another try at accomplishing the ambition of his adventurous life.

Picture of Aberdare Memorial Hall

Aberdare Memorial Hall (Picture courtesy of RCTCBC)

Gen. Bruce, in responding, said he appreciated the hearty welcome extended to him, and also the delightful entertainment which had been provided. It was to him a matter of great disappointment to be obliged to relinquish the command at the time he did. His part had been rather to organise the expedition from the base, and this task had been done before he was stricken down.

In handing over the leadership to Col. Lawton he knew that he was transferring the command into the safe charge of one who was the right man cut out for that type work, and there was no doubt that complete continuity of effort would be maintained. Among the many advantages which had accrued from the expedition was the question of testing the best means whereby a nova’s body might stand the conditions of high altitudes, and in this respect, great advances had been made. It was a remarkable fact that with regards to the statement made by Professor Dryer at Cardiff before the expedition started, that every single thing that was mid regarding extension of climatisation could not be done, had been accomplished this year.

The Vicar of Aberdare (the Rev. J. A. Lewis, R.D.) gave the toast of “The Chamber of Trade,” and said that if that body had not done more than bring that gathering together its existence would have been amply justified.

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