OBITUARY : W.H. Murray

W. H. Murray was a mountaineer, an author and a soldier. The three strands of a full life were deeply intertwined; Murray will probably be best remembered for the ice climbs he made in his native Scotland more than 60 years ago which set the stage for the publication of two books about Britain's high places. His Mountaineering in Scotland (1947) and Undiscovered Scotland (1951) have an honoured place on the bookshelves of many enthusiasts.

The challenging winter climbs marked him out in the mountaineering world as a pioneer. But what prompted Murray to write has a genesis far removed from the Scottish mountains - to a time and a place ruled by sand and heat rather than scree and cold.

The Western Desert was a Second World War battleground for nearly three years before the Allied forces expelled the Axis from North Africa. In June 1942 Rommel's Panzers had Cairo in their sights and were riding high. Early in the war Murray had enlisted in the Highland Light Infantry, at Maryhill Barracks, Glasgow. He was posted to the Middle East and after the fall of Tobruk in June 1942 German tanks fell on the survivors of his badly mauled unit. The two-pounder anti-tank shots bounced off the formidable Panzers like golfballs, confirming the British gun's nickname of "pea-shooter". Murray was taken prisoner by a German tank commander who turned out to be a mountaineer. He was given a greatcoat and food and sent to the rear to begin three years behind barbed wire.

Incarcerated first in Italy, along with thousands of other prisoners of war he was taken to Germany when the Italians abandoned the struggle in 1943. Inactivity was a severe trial for someone so active. Murray began writing to lessen the numbing routine. Paper was in short supply so he used Red Cross lavatory rolls for a first draft, which was confiscated by a German officer who, unlike the Afrika Korps tank commander who captured him, had little time for mountains. A second draft was completed by the time the camps were liberated in May 1945 and two years later Mountaineering in Scotland was published.

Incarceration left its mark on many PoWs, but Bill Murray continued the activity he loved and in 1950 led expeditions to Garhwal and Almora in the Himalayas. He was deputy leader on the reconnaissance of Everest in 1951, but difficulties in acclimatising to the altitude excluded him from the successful assault by Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing on the world's highest peak in 1953.

In later life he wrote extensively - guidebooks, works of topography, magazine articles and fiction. He was awarded the Mungo Park Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in 1953, and appointed OBE in 1966.

Tony Heath

William Hutchison Murray, mountaineer, writer, soldier: born Liverpool 18 March 1913; OBE 1966; books include Mountaineering in Scotland 1947, Undiscovered Scotland 1951, The Story of Everest 1953, Highland Landscape 1962, The Hebrides 1966, Companion Guide to the West Highlands of Scotland 1968, The Curling Companion 1981, Rob Roy MacGregor 1982; married; died 19 March 1996.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas