MOUNT EVEREST EXPEDITIONS OF 1936 AND 1938
THE PAPERS OF LIEUTENANT-COLONEL PETER RODERICK OLIVER (1909-1945), including his diaries of the two Everest expeditions of 1936 and 1938, his essay on the Mount-Everest expedition of 1936 entitled 'The North Col,' written at Camp IV, the dairy of his expedition with Frank Smythe in 1937 in the Garhwal Himalaya (the 'Valley of the Flowers' expedition), extensive correspondence (principally letters to his mother and brother, Marcus) from the North West Frontier Province of India describing his military life, mountaineering and service in World War II, photographs (including photographs taken by Oliver on 'Valley of the Flowers' expedition), copies of Oliver's photographs of Mount Everest expeditions, letters to Oliver by Frank Smythe and others, books, family papers and a commemorative statue presented to participants in the 1938 Mount Everest expedition.
The correspondence and diaries are arranged in six albums:
1. Early letters and documents including papers relating to his parents, his schooldays, his service in the North West Frontier Province and during World War II, letters written by him to his parents and to his brother and letters written to him by Frank Smythe (including one long autograph letter signed relating to Mount Everest, 'It is impossible not to feel cynical & hopeless over Everest, one knows how it ought to be done,' 1939); Hugh [Ruttledge] on the prospects for the Everest expedition, 1937, and others; letters relating to Oliver's death, certificate of Mention in Despatches, later correspondence concerning his films and decorations, 1917-1977, approximately 110 items
2. Oliver's letters to his father (died 1929), and his mother and brother, written in the North West Frontier Province and the Garhwal Himalaya during his climbing expeditions (including his ascent of Trisul), many dating from his secondment to the South Waziristan Scouts (Toi Khula, Wana, Jandola and elsewhere), some illustrated with diagrams, 1927-1935, approximately 80 items
3. Oliver's letters to his mother and brother including the following series: Everest Expeditions of 1936 (nineteen, including a frank discussion of their failure: 'Without incurring ridiculous dangers and getting Porters of climbers killed, we could do no more [...] Reconnaissance on the N. Col was pushed as far as was safe, or a little futher perhaps'), Garhwal Himalaya expedition of 1937 (eleven) and Everest Expedition of 1938 (seven), some illustrated with diagrams, 1936-38, approximately 130 letters (some extensive)
4. Oliver's letters to his mother and brother, HQ 5 Indian Division, Middle East Forces (North Africa), Staff College, Quetta, Secunderabad and elsewhere, some War Office photographic airgraphs, 1939-41, approximately 120 items, some damaged by burning
5. Oliver's later war letters to his mother and brother, South East Asia Command (India and Burma), some War Office photogarphic airgraphs, 1942-45, approximately 130 items, some damaged by burning
6. MOUNT EVEREST AND GARHWAL HIMALAYA EXPEDITIONS
(a) AUTOGRAPH DIARY OF THE 1936 MOUNT EVEREST EXPEDITION, 'My high Camp Diary' written in pen, pencil or crayon in a duplicate book, the narrative beginning at Camp II (nearly 20,000 ft), the pages (215 x 123mm) numbered 1-61, dated 7 May - 16 June 1936, with a letter to his mother indicating that the diary was transmitted to her in portions, giving candid portraits of his companions ('Frank Smythe doesn't change much with knowledge [...] much of an idealist and very gullible. Eric [Shipton] looks more of a strong, silent man than he is in reality' and a detailed account of their failure to reach the summit, 'the conditions being as bad as in 1935 when Eric & Edmund [Wigram] were forced to give up' with eight sketches or diagrams: the view from Camp II, Camp II, track from Camp III to IV, position of Camp III and IV, the course of the avalanche which nearly killed Eric Shipton and Wyn Harris, diagram of position of the North Face Camps, Camp I to IV, the end of North Peak ridge;
(b) AUTOGRAPH DIARY OF OLIVER'S EXPEDITION IN THE GARHWAL HIMALAYA WITH FRANK SMYTHE, 48 pages written in pencil in a duplicate book, two pages being carbon copies, 4to (one 8vo), the narrative beginning at Chamoli, Alaknanda Valley, 17 July - 16 September 1937, with two maps in pencil, or pencil and crayon, diagrams of approach to the Mana Peak, and to Dunagiri and a sketch of Smythe at the time of the incident which forced them to retire;
(c) DIARY OF THE 1938 MOUNT EVEREST EXPEDITION written in a duplicate book and being the carbon copy, narrative beginning at Kalimpong, the pages (212 x 119mm) numbered 1-75, with original pencil notes sent to his mother on the verso of 18 of the pages, incorporating one sketch, dated 1 March - 28 June 1938, writing at Rongbuk on 15 May: 'Mountains white & in bad condition [...] Probably if I have an attempt it will be with Noel Odell [...] He is the most serene untroubled person on the expedition' and criticising Tilman ('He is not a real leader. Everything is arranged by a soviet') and commenting at length on the personalities of members of the party. (Note: The top copy of this diary is in the possession of Sherborne School.)
The 1936 expedition consisted of eleven men (led by Hugh Ruttledge) and the 1938 expediton of seven (led by H.W. Tilman and including Shipton, Smythe and Noel Odell). Both efforts were defeated by atrocious weather, members of the earlier party at 23,300 ft and of the '38 expedition at 27,200.
(d) PRINTED BOOKS: F.S. Smythe, The valley of the Flowers, 1938 (limited edition signed by the author) (e) PHOTOGRAPHS: an extensive collection of Oliver's photographs, the majority of mountains and mountaineering, including a set of contact prints, 31 films: 98 sheets, 712 images (some taken on 'Valley of Flowers' expedition with Smythe), Europe and Asia; press cuttings, postcards also some papers and photographs of Marcus Oliver (boxes, one box file)
(f) MEMORABILIA: Bronze commemorative statuette of a climber and mountain, inscribed around the base 'Mount Everest. October - November. 1938,' one of a limited edition presented to each member of the expedition, Oliver's example (plaque removed), 170mm x 140mm, diameter of base 335mm.
AN IMPORTANT AND FASCINATING ARCHIVE REVEALING THE WORKINGS OF TWO OF THE EARLIEST EVEREST EXPEDITIONS AND OTHER CLIMBING EXPLOITS IN THE HIMALAYAS.
Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Roderick Oliver (1909-45) was the eldest son of Major E.W. Oliver of the Indian Veterinary Service. Educated at Sherborne School and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, he was commissioned in 1927 into the Indian Army (13th Frontier Force Rifles, 'Coke's'). He was seconded to the South Waziristan Scouts for the period 1933-37. Oliver's first climbs were made with E.H. Marriott in the Kanawar Kailas group, Baspa Valley and in 1930 and 1931 he visited the Dhaula Okar range above Dharmsala in the Kangra Valley. In 1932 while on home leave he visited Switzerland and made a number of guideless ascents in the company of M.G. Bradley, E.F.D. Campbell and G.R. Speaker. It was with Campbell in 1933 that he attempted Dunagiri (23,184 ft) in the Garhwal Himalaya, making a second attempt with Frank Smythe in 1937. Oliver made a second ascent of Trisul (23,360 ft) accompanied by one porter (a climb involving some 4,000 ft of ascent on the last day), a feat which was celebrated in Francis Younghusband's book Everest: the Challenge (an account which brought Oliver unwelcome notoriety).
In 1935 Oliver formed one of the party of Everest 'possibles' in the Alps where his friendship with Frank Smythe began. The qualities which Oliver displayed there (sound on all types of ground and exceptional in strength, stamina and speed) and his Himalayan experience which included rapport with the local people made his inclusion in the 1936 expedition a certainty. Smythe climbing behind Oliver on the North Col of Mount Everest in 1936 was reminded of the physique and spirit of George Leigh-Mallory. He invited Oliver to accompany him on a climbing expedition in 1937 in the Garhwal Himalaya which Smythe described in his classic The Valley of the Flowers (1938).
In 1937 Oliver was invited to join the small (seven man) expedition which was to attempt Mount Everest in the following year. He took the place of a man who was unable to accept but he acknowledged the debt he owed to Smythe in advancing his claims to the leader of the expedition, W.H. Tilman.
Peter Oliver was killed in action near Meiktila, Burma, in 1945. In 1938 his commanding officer had referred to his 'marked and charming personality': qualities which are amply demonstrated in this archive. (9)