Left to Right: Jack Sanders, Cottie Sanders, George Mallory. Pen-y-Pass, 1911
For George and Sandy
Ascensiones in corde suo disposuit
– Psalm 84
Brothers til death, and a windswept grave. Joy of the journey’s ending: Ye who have climbed to the great white veil, Heard ye the chant? Saw ye the Grail? – Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, 1909
As Ann Bridge, Mary Anne Sanders O’Malley wrote about adventures culled from her real life as the wife of a British diplomat and even revealed the secrets of that life in her controversial book about the Francs Case, Permission to Resign. Among many other subjects, she had always been interested in the paranormal, as well as in archaeology and mountaineering. In 1972 she published a little book of her paranormal experiences, those which both occurred to her and were related by close friends. Therein was the merest glimpse of the book that she wrote long before Peking Picnic, which made her famous in 1932.
This was a memoir of George Leigh Mallory, written at his widow Ruth’s request the year of the ill-fated Everest expedition in which Mallory and Irvine were lost. Mary Anne maintained in Moments of Knowing that it would have embarrassed her family were she to publish the tales of her youth with such illustrious men in mountaineering as Sir Francis Younghusband, Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, and most especially George Mallory, but her true reasons were somewhat more complex, as the following will show. Her reminiscence of George has languished unpublished in its original form, but Sir David Pye used parts in his splendid 1927 memoir, as did David Robertson in his biography; without Mary Anne’s help, these books would never have been written.
Since the discovery of the body of George Mallory near the summit of Everest in May 1999, many very fine books have been published on the Everest expeditions, and on George himself. In all of these ‘Cottie’ Sanders remains an elusive figure, described variously and tersely as a ‘climbing friend’ or a ‘casual sweetheart’. In the course of reading all things Mallory, I became fascinated by a single compelling photograph of them taken by Geoffrey Young in Wales in 1911, and by the hints in Mary Anne’s own books. The depth of their friendship, which lasted all of Mallory’s life, has never been plumbed. She called him the first friend she ever made on her own – a sentiment echoed by many others, including Robert Graves. For her part, Mary Anne alone of all his ‘climbing friends’ shared George’s mystical love of the mountains, and they carried between them a spiritual understanding that endured all the vicissitudes of their lives. Her place as George’s first biographer springs from that understanding.