Harpenden’s unsung Everest hero is honoured by daughter

The Pugh family on Griffith's Pugh arrival back at London Airport after the expedition

The Pugh family on Griffith's Pugh arrival back at London Airport after the expedition - Credit: Archant

A daughter who learnt about her father’s incredible contribution to a legendary conquest 30 years after she left home will pay tribute to him in a talk about her tell-all book.

Griffith Pugh

Griffith Pugh - Credit: Archant

Harriet Tuckey never bonded with her father and after years of difficulty living with him, she left her home in Hatching Green, Harpenden, at 16 and moved to London.

Harriet’s father was Griffith Pugh, the silent hero who made it possible for the British team to make the first successful ascent of Mount Everest in 1953.

But Harriet did not know of her father’s accomplishments until she was 46, when she was at the 40th anniversary gala lecture celebrating the ascent of Everest.

She said: “I had gone along under protest to help my mother with his wheelchair.”

“The lecture was swinging along with all the usual congratulatory talk of heroics and brilliant leaders and climbers when a man called Dr Michael Ward stood up and rocked the boat by announcing defiantly that he was going to talk about the ‘unsung hero of Everest- Dr Griffith Pugh’.”

Griffith’s vital contribution to the historic expedition provided the team with blueprint for coping with extreme altitude, design of the tents, climbing suits, sleeping mats and high altitude boots.

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She added: “I was really surprised. I wondered why nobody knew about Pugh’s contribution and began to feel someone- perhaps even me- should write about him. But I was so angry with him for always having been so bad-tempered and disapproving of me that, even after he died 18 months later, I couldn’t bring myself to begin for 10 years when I realised he was being completely forgotten.”

Now 68, she has written a book on her father’s life and will be giving a talk about his achievements in Harpenden next week.

His techniques revolutionised high-altitude climbing, enabling the world’s six highest mountains to be climbed within three years of Everest.

Harriet said: “It was hard to begin writing about him and at first I did so only out of a sense of duty to my family because he was being written out of history.

“The process of learning about his remarkable life and his achievements as a scientist changed my view of him- so the book and the lecture are also a touch on my own journey of discovery.”

Griffith joined another Harpenden man, climber Mike Westmacott, in making a strong contribution to the ‘53 expedition, and there was a strong sense of excitement in the area at the time.

Despite this, Griffith’s contribution to the expedition’s success was never properly acknowledged at the time and remained under wraps for 60 years until the book was published.

Harriet added: “His contribution was partly kept quiet because the expedition leader, John Hunt, and his climbing team preferred their success to be seen as an achievement of courage, teamwork, climbing skill, and pure derring-do - a triumph of the ‘spirit that made the empire.

“The contribution made by science and technology was not something they wanted to emphasise.”

The Harpenden History Society invited Harriet to give a talk on her book and her father, which will take place in the Southdown Room of Harpenden Public Halls at 8pm tomorrow night (Tuesday).

Harriet’s book, Everest - The First Ascent: The untold story of Griffith Pugh, has won four prizes including the prestigious Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature.