Sir Charles Evans in Rhewl and Derwen

 

For this page we are indebted to Mr. Bryn Owen, who provided us with this information.

 

 

A note from the website editor - 

I have just had a conversation with a friend who has lived in Rhewl for many years.

It went like this:

Me : Did you know that Charles Evans was a Rhewl boy?

He : Who is/was Charles Evans?

Me : You haven't heard of him?

He : Never.

Me : Have you heard of Tensing Norgay and Edmund Hillary?

He : Of course I have, they are world-famous.

Me : But for a minor equipment malfunction, it would be Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon who would be world famous,  not Hillary and Tensing!

Robert Charles Evans was born in Liverpool on 19 October 1918, son of Robert Charles Evans and his wife Edith. Sadly his father, a 2nd Lieutenant in the 15th Welsh Regiment, was killed in action just eight weeks before his son's birth (on 24th August).

Edith (born Edith Lloyd Williams) brought her son back to her native Dyffryn Clwyd and  his  childhood was spent it Rhewl, living in Plas y Ward. He attended Rhewl Primary School as a native Welsh speaker.

His secondary education was at Shrewsbury School and it was here that he became inspired by mountaineering. 

He progressed to Oxford University where he qualifies as a surgeon. War service took him to Burma, which he survived, and became a neurosurgeon based in Liverpool as well as a member of many world-wide climbing expedition, including Annapurna in 1952. His medical skills were an invaluable part of these expeditions.

In the 1950's he lived in Gwylfa, Derwen, and among his guests were Sherpas  - this photo shows them at Brofair, Rhewl (my home). Changjup and Da Tensing, from Kungjung in Sola Khumbu in Nepal, are with Charles. This visit came about because my grandparents  lived opposite Gwylfa and were friendly with Charles and his family - they brought the Sherpas to our farm at Brofair to show them a modern milking process!   

In 1953 Charles was Deputy Leader of the Mount Everest expedition, led by John Hunt. He was instrumental in creating the route up the treacherous Khumbu glacier and across the Lhotse face up to the South Col - the key to the mountain. He and Tom Bourdillon were selected for the first summit assault on 26th May, and all went well until they reached the South (subsidiary) summit just 90m below their goal, when Charles' oxygen equipment started to malfunction and breathing became extremely difficult. To continue regardless toward the highest point on earth, which they had trained for and dreamed of for so long, must have been a huge temptation, but not being reckless men they calculated that the risks were too great and decided to retreat. The depth of their disappointment can only be imagined. Nevertheless they had reached the highest altitude yet achieved by man, and the knowledge of the route they passed on to Hillary and Tensing was vital to their success three days later.

Charles Evans continued his climbing career and in 1955 he led the expedition which first climbed Kanchenjunga the world's third highest peak. Climber and writer Jim Perrin described this, not Everest, as 'the finest British mountaineering event of the decade'.

However by the end of the decade Charles's health began to decline and he ended his mountaineering and medical careers. In 1958 he became the much-respected principal of Bangor University (then UCNW Bangor).

From 1967-1970 he was President of the prestigious Alpine Club and was awarded a knighthood in 1969 for in recognition of his mountaineering achievements. 

Charles Evans suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for many years and he died in 1995.

Charles Evans and Edmund Hillary on Everest 1953

Back: Changjup; Da Tensing : Charles Evans : George Owen

Front: Tudor Jones : Lynette Hughes : Richard and Mari Davies : Bryn Owen : Gareth Hughes : Gwilym Hughes : Eryl Owen

Signatures of the 1953 Everest team on the ceiling of the Everest Room, Pen y Gwryd Hotel.

Charles Evans lower left.

The British climbers met here for a team building exercise on Yr Wyddfa before the expedition, and for later reunions.