In 1908, a young officer, fresh from Sandhurst, applied to join the East Yorkshire Regiment, knowing that it was stationed on the hot plains of northern India. His reasoning was unclear to the Army superiors, who considered him very naïve; but John Noel’s choice was deliberate, as it was his goal, at 18, to find and map a route to Mount Everest. It had been recently recognised as the highest mountain in the world, and lay between Nepal, a country long completely closed to the outside world, and Tibet, on a trade route between India and China, but inhospitable and largely inaccessible. Being stationed near Lucknow meant long periods of inactivity, as work was only possible in the extreme heat from 6.30-10.30 and then again for a few hours in the evening. Noel hoped that this would afford him time to learn the Tibetan language, study the meagre maps of the area, befriend some helpful natives to find an unguarded Pass into Tibet, and set out to find a route to the mountain, and map it. This he eventually did, and presented his paper to the Royal Geographical Society, who took up his challenge, in conjunction with the Alpine Club, to mount an expedition to climb the great mountain. Noel was chosen in 1922 and 1924 to accompany the climbers as photographer, taking both cine and still images. Although the climb was not successful, and 2 of the greatest climbers of the day – George Mallory and Andrew Irvine – lost their lives in 1924, last seen 600 feet from the summit, it was a magnificent achievement of man against the elements. Noel never returned to Army duties, instead spending years travelling across America and around Europe with the film.
One photograph of the Parade Ground at the Army Base survives, dated 1910, and, armed with this, I set off to find it!! I found the Base – now home to 7,000 Indian Army personnel - and, after some searching, found the buildings in the background. Everywhere on the Base, we were received very enthusiastically, and the photograph of the site was copied many times, and I told and retold the story which had led me there. Why did I go to find it? I am John Noel’s daughter.