Obituary: Archie Hendry, teacher and mountaineer

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Born: 25 March, 1919, in Edinburgh. Died: 6 March, 2013, in Crieff, aged 93.

ARCHIE Hendry was a respected languages teacher whose shy and self-effacing exterior masked a bold and inspirational mountaineer. Undaunted by a fall that left him minus a kneecap, he became an accomplished alpine climber and mentor to one of Scotland’s brightest young climbing stars.

In the classroom, he was a teacher of the old style, ensuring his pupils left George Watson’s College in Edinburgh with an excellent grounding in French and German. And in his personal life, he devoted much of his retirement to caring for his wife of nearly 60 years.

He was born in the Morningside area of Edinburgh to Archibald Hendry and his wife Jessie, just a few months after the end of the Great War. His father, who had lost an arm fighting at Gallipoli, had not yet been demobbed and was working as a naval dockyard clerk at Leith.

Young Archie spent the majority of his childhood in the Trinity area of Edinburgh, apart from a brief spell in Fife, and in 1938 went to Edinburgh University to study French and German.

The following April, while climbing in Glencoe, he had a bad fall on Buachaille Etive Mor. His leg was badly broken and he had to have his kneecap removed. It was long before the advent of replacement kneecaps and, though the injury did not put a stop to his climbing career, it rendered him unfit for military duties when the Second World War broke out.

As a result, he was able to complete his studies, graduating with an MA in the early 1940s. He began his teaching career in at Stirling High School in 1943, but did his bit for the country’s war effort during the school holidays by working in munitions factories in Birmingham.

In September 1945 he married Elizabeth, a fellow student from Edinburgh University, in her native Shetland. They settled in Edinburgh, where she was a primary teacher, and by 1948 he had moved to George Watson’s, where he would remain for the rest of his teaching career.

He became principal teacher of German within the modern languages department and was a mainstay of the school’s foreign exchange programme with the prestigious Lycée Henri-IV in Paris, which educated luminaries such as future French prime minister Leon Blum and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.

A most thorough traditional teacher, with superb discipline, though he was strict and could be caustic, Hendry was also kindly to his pupils. He was not, however, particularly ambitious and his climbing interests ran in tandem with his professional duties. When it came to pupils’ outdoor pursuits, he was the eminence grise. He knew the Scottish mountains like the back of his hand and was constantly consulted on projects and routes.

He also mentored talented young climbers, including the audacious Robin Smith, whose first adventure with Hendry was climbing, then illegally, on Edinburgh’s Salisbury Crags. Smith, a George Watson’s pupil, was regarded as one of Scotland’s strongest climbers. He died at the age of 23 during a British-Soviet expedition to Asia’s Pamir Mountains in 1962. Hendry, who sought to encourage him while also trying to preserve him from a premature death, mourned his loss for the rest of his life.

His own climbing career began in Edinburgh in the 1930s with the Junior Mountaineering Club of Scotland, of which he was secretary. He was an adventurous and able young climber and though the fall in 1939 failed to curb his enthusiasm for the sport, it most probably prevented him from reaching his full potential.

By the 1940s, his long-term climbing partner was civil engineer and decathlete George Peat, with whom he would go on to climb extensively at home and in the Alps. In 1944, Hendry joined the Scottish Mountaineering Club, quickly becoming a committee member and custodian of the Charles Inglis Clark hut on Ben Nevis – thanks to his detailed knowledge of the ben, amassed on visits during the war years. He was the club’s vice-president during the 1960s before becoming president in 1968 and later served as general editor of the Climbing Guidebooks.

An accomplished alpinist, he particularly enjoyed climbing in the Dauphine and Maritime Alps and also spent time in the Swiss village of Saas Fee near Zermatt. During one memorable visit, he was bitten by a dog while running near the foot of a mountain. Rabies had just arrived in Switzerland but instead of seeking medical help Hendry, a committed sceptic, simply returned to his hotel and bathed his leg in whisky – another measure of his fortitude.

It’s thought his last mountain ascent with Peat was in that same area, in the mid-1970s, when they climbed the Dom. It was about that time that George Watson’s amalgamated with George Watson’s Ladies’ College. Hendry had been on the staff for more than 25 years and viewed the move to co-education with trepidation, having never taught girls. He was pleasantly surprised to find they were much better at and more interested in French and German than the boys and, ultimately, he enjoyed teaching the young ladies.

He retired in the 1980s and for several years continued to live in Edinburgh where he cared for his wife, who had suffered a stroke. When a second stroke left her dependent on a wheelchair they moved, in 1990, to Comrie in Perthshire, an area he knew well from hillwalking expeditions.

He looked after Elizabeth devotedly, providing for her needs round the clock until her death in 2003. He was helped by a respite carer, who became a great friend of the couple and who also cared for him latterly.

A retiring and diffident man who never sought the limelight or recorded his climbing achievements, he was, said Robin Campbell of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, “a true friend of Scottish mountaineering and he served it well throughout his long life”.