Looking back as the New Year approaches: Baird and Barrie 1928

As New Year approaches I am reminded of Hugh A Barrie and Thomas Baird, two climbers who died tragically on 2nd January 1928 in an accident in the Cairngorms. I think I first became aware of their tragic tale when I read the book The Black Cloud, by IDS Thomson. This is probably the most harrowing book about mountaineering I have ever read, and it’s enough to give you nightmares. Subtitled Scottish Mountain Misadventures 1928-1966, it opens with a brief history of weather forecasting, setting up the following chapters detailing what should have been fairly ordinary trips to the hills, and how they turned into fatal disasters due to the effects of extreme weather.

Barrie and Baird were students at Glasgow University at the time, which I learned from the book, but I was not aware that Hugh A Barrie was educated in Airdrie (at the former Airdrie Academy/Albert Primary) and his mother was Headmistress of the school in the neighbouring village of Longriggend. This I discovered while waiting to look at some maps in the local history department of Airdrie Library. As I waited I picked up a book called if I remember correctly, Airdrie Bards, and flicked it open at random to see a poem which I immediately recognised, entitled When I Am Dead, which was written a few months before his death. Take care on the hills and have a happy and safe 2013.

When I am dead
And this strange spark of life that in me lies
Is fled to join the great white core of life
That surely flames beyond eternities,
And all I ever thought of as myself
Is mouldering to dust and cold death ash,
This pride of nerve and muscle – merest dross,
This joy of brain and eye and touch but trash,
Bury me not, I pray thee
In the dark earth where there comes not any ray
Of light or warmth or aught that make life dear;
But take my whitened bones far, far away
Out of the hum and turmoil of the town,
Find me a wind – swept boulder for a bier
And on it lay me down
Where far beneath drops sheer the rocky ridge
Down to the gloomy valley, and the streams
Fall foaming white against black beetling rocks:
Where the suns kindly radiance seldom gleams:
Where some tall peak, defiant, steadfast mocks
The passing gods: and all the ways of men

So I may know
Even in that death which comes to everything
The swiftly silent swish of hurrying snow;
The lash of rain; the savage bellowing
Of stags; the bitter keen – knife – edge embrace of the rushing
wind: and the still tremulous dawn
Will touch the eyeless sockets of my face;
And I shall see the sunset and anon
Shall know the velvet kindness of the night
And see the stars.

The Black Cloud by IDS Thomson is published by the Ernest Press.

Black Cloud

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2 Responses to Looking back as the New Year approaches: Baird and Barrie 1928

  1. Thanks for the New Year greeting. We set out to do Ben Chonzie on 30th Dec. but the snow deterred us on the road up to the dam-so that tale of Barrie made me glad we settled for an easier ascent and descent on Meikle Bin which had snow covered slopes! I have a copy of the Airdrie Bards in the house but had never noticed the Barrie poems until now. Have a great year

  2. jester1970 says:

    Happy New Year to you Colin! That’s probably a pretty rare book you have there, take care of it. I was in a book shop in Fort William of all places when I found a copy of “Airdrie: A Historical Sketch”, another possible rarity. I had to have it, and I think I got it for about £15- a bargain!

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