The Angry Corrie 59: Oct-Dec 2003


And a nicer kind of WMD

QUITE WHEN THE IDEA of shortening three-word names to abbreviations began is a matter for debate, but there's undoubtedly something useful and neat about shorthanding The Angry Corrie to TAC, The Great Outdoors to TGO, Franklin Delano Roosevelt to FDR and so on. The custom was well established by 1969, when that year's Grampian Club Bulletin included an article, attributed to "DG" (Don Green, still happily living in Dundee), entitled: "WMD - An Appreciation".

To modern eyes this looks extraordinary: was the genial Green singing the praises of Weapons of Mass Destruction? Was he an apologist for tyranny? Could the GCB have been the forerunner of the Dodgy Dossier? Ought Lord Hutton be informed? Saddam Hussein had just - in 1968 - taken his first step toward controlling Iraq, so did Green have some early, prescient notion of what was to follow? He should have worked as an international relations expert - or as a clairvoyant - if so.

But no: the WMD in question was a not any kind of armament or toxin. The original WMD was William McKnight Docharty, one of the most notable - and unsung - of Scottish hill men. He had recently died, on 14/7/68 aged 72 in Glasgow's Victoria Infirmary near his Giffnock home, and various of his friends were in the process of paying tribute. Another obituary - signed JMT (John Montgomery Thomson), again an abbreviation to have acquired an alternative meaning - appeared in the May 1969 edition of the SMC Journal.

WMD appears in the list of Munroists at number 13, having completed on the Glen Nevis Aonach Beag on 31/5/48, although he was at least number 14 if missing and misplaced people are added to the time-line. His round of Tops - the eighth known - was completed the same day, on Stob Coire Bhealaich, and as with many Munroists of that era WMD saw the Tops as the true target, rather than the main-summits-only notion that has come to be the norm. His diary for that day makes interesting reading, not least for the diligence with which he seeks out the summit of Aonach Beag: "As reached summit ground flattened out and had to bear leftish soon after which on to snow. Pair footprints in snow leading to goodish cairn sited at edge of snow cornices over-hanging cliffs to E. Walked N to see if there was another cairn as per guidebook but ridge falling. Set off SE but as still in doubt returned to cairn and took compass bearing W in which direction walked off but ground still falling over patches snow. Also went N again with same result so decided could only be one cairn now. Had noted quite a sizeable one on summit on yesterday's walk of Carn Mor Deargs. Kept to very edge of cliffs falling to E and noted much snow in gullies and [illegible] in cornices. Stob Coire Bhealaich my last Munro (544th including Beinn Tarsuinn) but did not drink toast to L [Lily, his wife], C [Catherine, their daughter], JMT and the hills until had passed final top overlooking saddle leading to Sgurr Choinnich Beag, at a point where found a little shelter from wind. Weather continued most disappointing with light wetting rain all way to col to Sgurr a'Mhuic and no views as in mist all the time."

image from TAC59

He cycled down to Fort William that evening: "ran into extremely heavy rain and had to put cape on". He met Thomson (who had stayed below having "contracted a chill" on their CMD/Nevis outing the previous day) and they took the 4:50pm train to Mallaig where they stayed in the Marine Hotel before sailing for Rum next morning - a deliberate hit-the-ground-running post-Munros ploy that led, eventually, to a round of Corbetts completed on Meall an Fhudair on 20/5/60. Like his fellow early Munroist Eric Maxwell - the original keeper of the list of Munroists - WMD couldn't drive, and for his Corbett completion he was driven to the hill by John Dow, another who routinely abbreviated his friend's name to WMD in his hill diaries. WMD thus became the second known Corbetteer and the first whose finishing hill and date are known. JRC - John Rooke Corbett himself - appears to have completed a couple of decades earlier, but precise details remain sketchy.

WMD's hill career almost didn't happen, however. He came to the hills late (there was nothing "save for Ben Lomond from Loch Ard side" until late 1933), as a Great War injury, received at Le Cateau on 9/10/18, almost cost him a leg and his general health stayed iffy for a while. Later expeditions were then limited by the need to tend his bedridden wife, who was to die a month after WMD himself ("an act of Providence", wrote Thomson).

But all this is only half of it. Alongside his on-hill activity, WMD produced three wonderful, ahead-of-their time books: A Selection of Some 900 British and Irish Mountain Tops (1954) and the snappily titled A Supplement to a Selection of Some 900 British and Irish Mountain Tops and A Selection of 1,000 Tops under 2,500 Feet, Volume I The Foreword and The Lists and Volume II The Epilogue and The Panoramas (both 1962). Privately published in limited editions, these are worth seeking out: curious hybrids of autobiography, photography and satisfyingly accurate lists of hills. WMD was operating in parallel to the SMC listings of Munros and Corbetts: he was an SMC member but curiously the club never appears to have made the offer of editorship of its own volumes, even though WMD knew more on the subject than anyone else.

The first of the two 1962 books includes a list of what we now call Grahams, and it's here that he really gets a raw deal, as this category deserves to be called Dochartys (or Docharties?). There was a time when this term did receive localised usage - eg after Anne Littlejohn finished her Corbetts in 1965, she was gently chided for charging off up Dochartys at various Ladies Scottish Climbing Club meets. Also, the weird term Corbocharties was for a while used to describe what we now simplycall Corbetts. But WMD's "Grahams" list didn't have many takers - only Colin Dodgson, in 1984, appears to have completed using it - and with the name Grahams now in common use there seems little hope of any future reversion. (Grahams are a minefield of confusion, history-wise. More on this in a future TAC.)

As to whether WMD completed his own final list, the answer appears to be no. He had climbed 49 "Grahams" by 1962, and an article entitled "Looking back over them all" from the May 1968 SMC Journal and his hill diaries - 32 volumes retained by the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh - suggest he was some way short when he died. There is more research waiting to be done on this, but anyone intending to study the diaries should take a magnifying glass: small and steeply angled handwriting was the only dodgy thing about this WMD.

Next issue: the life and times of Iain Robert Aitchison, the celebrated Edwardian ice-climber.


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