Swiss Gravestone in Quainton

Nominated by: Mike Howgate

Buckinghamshire is a county of picturesque villages, full of charm and history.  None more so than Quainton with its windmill, ammonite be-decked general store and stunning alms houses.  However, what really grabbed my attention was the translocated gravestone commemorating two local young men.

In 1994 a gravestone was moved from a graveyard in the town of Visp in Switzerland to the churchyard of the church of the Holy Cross and Saint Mary in Quainton.  The memorial commemorates two climbers who fell to their deaths from the East Buttress of the Jagihorn peak in the Bernese Oberland on the 29th of July 1956.  One of the climbers Thomas Duncan (Tom) Bourdillon was born in the village of Quainton and the other, his friend and climbing companion, Richard Merriman Viney was born in Aylesbury.  Both were in their early 30’s when they died.

Tom Bourdillon, by far the most experienced mountaineer of the two, came within an ace of becoming the most famous mountaineer in the world.  He was a leading member of the 1953 British Mount Everest Expedition and one of the two members selected for the first, but unsuccessful, assault on the summit of Everest.  On the 26th of May 1953 he and Charles Evans came within 300 feet (100 metres) of the summit before they were forced to turn back.  Three days later the peak was conquered by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

The gravestone is made of ‘Verde Andeer’ a pale green metamorphic rock often used for tombstones in Switzerland.  The epitaph on the gravestone reads, “They are most rightly reputed valiant who though they perfectly apprehended both what is dangerous and what is easy, are never the more thereby diverted from adventuring”.  This is a translation from the Greek of a passage in Thucydides’ (472-400 BC) ‘History of the Peloponnesian War’, and is from the oration by Pericles at the state funeral to the war dead of Athens at the end of the first year of that war.

This Swis Gravestone was nominated by Mike Howgate, Member of the Bucks Geology Group and Recorder of Geology for the County of Hertfordshire