Thriller set in Spain, both in the past and in the present
A true story of love, war and Everest
17th June 2021
The Moth and the Mountain by Ed Caesar is a true story of love, war and Everest.
It tells the remarkable story of Maurice Wilson, a little known WW1 survivor who was determined to scale the unconquered highest mountain in the world. Alone.
This fascinating book is a passionate tribute to a man, dismissed by the establishment as ‘bonkers’ – and largely expunged from history books – but who is revered by many top mountaineers for his pluck in attempting to scale Everest. That he did so as a novice pilot, by flying a Gipsy Moth from London to India, and without technical climbing equipment, gives a glimpse into the man’s past and his innate sense of adventure.
Maurice Wilson was born in Bradford in 1898 and expected to work at his family’s woollen mill. World War I changed everything and he joined the army on his eighteenth birthday. He fought in the last couple of years of the war, winning the Military Cross for extreme bravery in action at Wytschaete before being seriously injured by machine gun fire near Ypres. After the war, Maurice was a lost soul, seeking love and fulfilment in London, the US and New Zealand. He suffered ill health until extreme fasting and prayer, possibly with help from a mysterious man he met in Mayfair, gave him respite and enlightenment.
It was whilst recuperating in Freiburg in 1932, and reading about unsuccessful attempts to conquer Everest, that he began to hatch his own hair-brained scheme. ‘What if one man, trained in body and spirit, and unburdened by yaks and porters and foie gras, attempted to climb the mountain alone?‘ He finally shared his plan with best friends Enid and Len Evans, on whose floor at 101 Biddulph Mansions in Maida Vale he would often sleep. The author portrays Enid as the undoubted love of Maurice’s life, but the exact nature of this ménage a trois – and of Wilson’s overall sexuality – is never wholly clear.
Maurice acquired a second hand Gipsy Moth and flying lessons displayed a marked natural ability to be an aviator. Overcoming that small hurdle, as well as a crash landing and many political challenges along the way, Maurice took off from Stag Lane aerodrome in the Ever Wrest on May 21st 1933 and landed in India a couple of weeks later. The original intention had been to crash land the Moth in the foothills of Everest but he was unable to fly over Nepal. He would just have to trek from Darjeeling to the mighty mountain, disguised as a Buddhist monk to avoid apprehension by the authorities for entering Tibet.
Wilson’s attempts to conquer Everest, with no technical equipment to climb glaciers, insufficient supplies and expertise, are beatifully chronicled by author Ed Caesar. Told as a derring-do Boys’ Own tale, the writer’s admiration for Wilson’s tenacity shines through every page, and authenticity is assured by faithful use of Maurice’s diary and frequent letters to Enid.
‘Eaten everything about the place today…soup, ovaltine, and heaven knows what. Shall be off tomorrow if weather good. Alone for the final crack. Have dispensed with large rucksack, using small cotton one for food and spare jerseys.‘
‘Another couple of days and it will be 12 months since I said cheerio to you all. How time flies. Am as dirty as they make ’em…Shall be glad when the show is over and I can become a bit more civilised again.’
The Sunday Times has called The Moth and the Mountain ‘a small classic of the biographer’s art.’ It certainly is, and gives a riveting insight into a man, a mountain and also a period in time.
Andrew for the TripFiction Team
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