faith and fasting and the mysterious man from Mayfair

Maurice Wilson MC (1898–1934) was a British soldier, mystic, mountaineer and aviator who is known for his ill-fated attempt to climb Mount Everest alone

Wilson found here

Often characterised as “eccentric”, he wished to climb Everest to promote his belief that the world’s ills could all be solved by a combination of fasting and faith in God. 

Mt Everest found here

He joined the army on his eighteenth birthday and quickly rose through the ranks, eventually becoming a Captain. He won the Military Cross for his part in an engagement where, as the only uninjured survivor of his unit, he single-handedly held a machine gun post against the advancing Germans.

image found here

Wilson left the army in 1919, and like many of the “lost generation” found the transition to post-war life difficult. For several years he wandered, living in London, the United States and then New Zealand where he ran a ladies clothes shop.

NZ Fashion Week 2008 found here

In 1932 he underwent a secretive treatment involving 35 days of intensive prayer and fasting with the aim of restoring his fading health. He claimed that the technique had come from a mysterious man he met in Mayfair who had cured himself and over 100 other people of diseases which doctors had declared incurable.

The idea of climbing Everest came to Wilson while he was recuperating in the Black Forest. He formed a plan to fly a small aeroplane to Tibet, crash-land it on the upper slopes of Everest, and walk to the summit. A practical problem was posed by the fact that Wilson knew nothing at all about either flying or mountaineering.

Black Forest found here

Wilson purchased a three-year-old Gipsy Moth, which he christened Ever Wrest, and set about learning the rudiments of flying. His preparation for the mountaineering challenge that lay ahead was even worse than his preparation for the flight. He bought no specialist equipment and made no attempt to learn technical mountaineering skills, such as the use of an ice axe and crampons. Instead, he spent just five weeks walking around the modest hills of Snowdonia and the Lake District before he declared himself ready.

Snowdonia found here

Ignoring the Air Ministry’s ban, Wilson set off, and remarkably, and in spite of the best efforts of the British government, he succeeded in reaching India two weeks later. After trying and failing to get permission to enter Tibet on foot, Wilson spent the winter in Darjeeling fasting and planning an illicit journey to the base of Everest.

Darjeeling found here

Most of what is known about Wilson’s activities on the mountain itself come from his diary, which was recovered the following year. He seems to have found the trek up the Rongbuk Glacier extremely difficult, constantly getting lost and having to retrace his steps. He wrote in his diary “It’s the weather that’s beaten me – what damned bad luck” and began a gruelling four day retreat down the glacier.

Rongbuk Glacier found here

On May 22, he made an abortive attempt to climb to the North Col. After four days of slow progress and camping on exposed ledges, he was defeated by a forty foot ice wall at around 22,700 ft. His last diary entry was dated 31 May, and read simply “Off again, gorgeous day

In 1935, a small reconnaissance expedition to Mount Everest found Wilson’s body, lying on its side in the snow and surrounded by the remains of a tent which had been torn apart by the elements.

But there’s one more twist to this adventure. Rumours have continued to arise that Wilson had a secret. Barry Collins, who’s written a play about Wilson says, “It appears that when Wilson was found there was women’s clothing in his rucksack and I’ve heard someone say that he was decked out in women’s underwear”.

The story was fuelled by the discovery of a ladies shoe at 21,000 feet by the 1960 Chinese expedition. Historian Audrey Salkeld says “We can’t conclusively pin the woman’s shoe find on Wilson but, knowing that he worked in a ladies dress shop in New Zealand, all these things have come together to build a picture of him as a transvestite or shoe fetishist.”

NOT this shoe found here

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49 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is just a wild story!

    • It is, isn’t it? Welcome to the gimcrack zannyro

      • Why thank you!

  2. “Off again, gorgeous day“ – a cheerful ingenue, poor man

    • It’s so much jauntier than ” I may be some time.”

      The fact that he made it to India amazed me.

      Great read, I love a good English eccentric.

      The King

      • Me too. they’re the best.

  3. What a wonderful account, Nurse Myra. Where do you find these people?

    • Mostly in the books I read. this one was in Eccentric Explorers by Michael Buckley

  4. An adventurous (but sad?) soul.
    I find this story very sad.

    • It is sad. but I think he died doing something he believed in

  5. That’s a rather tragic story…

    • Tragedy is the stuff of life

  6. Keerist. I don’t even get on a ladder alone.

  7. That fashion week photo looks like ET in drag walking away.

    • Ha! That’s what I thought too.

      • Quite a calamity

  8. Far out! Cross dressing at high altitude! He wins points for that one but really, I found myself just waiting for the inevitable while I was reading. The whole Everest expedition seems to owe more to faith than careful planning.

    • Five weeks of walking in Snowdonia was never going to cut it

  9. I can understand that–I’d resort to transvestism too if I were alone that long!

    • Would you? I’d probably resort to plucking the hair off my legs

  10. Hhmm, while ‘faith can move mountains’ (Mathew 17:20) it is not sufficient on its own it seems to assure an easy ascent to the top

    • I’m impressed that you can find the right bible quote for your purposes Duncan

  11. Ladies underwear probably tends to chafe less on a long walk.

    • Mmmm…. I hadn’t thought of that. Don’t guys require chafeless clothing for those oh so sensitive bollocks?

      • We certainly do my dear. One should never venture abroad in unfamilar underwear.

      • :-)

  12. He needed something more exciting than civvy life could offer.

  13. A Lady’s shoe? Perhaps he had attempted Everest a la Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in high heels and taffeta!

    • Taffeta doesn’t provide much insulation

  14. Would make an interesting play – a transgender transalpinist and the Yeti .

    • Interesting costumes anyway

  15. crash landing halfway up Everest wouldn’t count as a successful climbing expedition. but it gets serious points on the “Hare-brained” scale…

    • 10/10 if you put it that way

  16. I love this and I believe him about the fasting and prayer. The last words in his diary are brilliant as well as the NZ 2008 fashion. I love that green. Thanks for this fun.

    • You’re welcome Tammy

  17. What an extraordinary man. If – like me you love true climbing tales read ‘The White spider ‘ and The Last Blue Mountain.’

    • Oh they look great. I’ll put them on my “goodreads” list

  18. that model just tripped. at first look, i thought it was a dwarf on the catwalk.

    • It’s a deceptive photo at first glance

  19. Too bad he wasn’t able to crash right on the summit.
    Seems like that might have helped. Maybe.
    Have you seen ‘The Darjeeling Limited’, N.M.?

    • I have indeed. Love those guys

  20. not seeing a problem with wearing high heels in snow. i’m sure they were spike heels, as that would allow him to drive them into the snow or ice and gain better purchase. …or am i just rationalizing?

    • you sound like a man who’d wear a kilt to work ;-)

  21. That’s the way to do it. Fly to Everest and walk to the summit when you know nothing about flying or mountaineering. The great tradition of British amateurism triumphs again. I suspect he froze to death while he was posing at the half-way mark in his lacy undies and high heels.

    • I’m all for British eccentrics and their great traditions

  22. Faith only gets you so far.

  23. “the world’s ills could all be solved by a combination of fasting and faith in God.”

    Hope that’s not true, because I’m not fond of either.


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