Dennis Bentley correspondence – article #2
By Dave Shotton
An article on the early years of the KMC (including an eye-witness account of Plum Worrall’s legendary presentation of one of his own paintings to Edmund Hillary at the Free Trade Hall in 1953) by Dennis Bentley, who was a member of the KMC from 1945 to 1952 and who contacted the club again after hearing of the sad passing of Derek Seddon last year. With a couple of explanatory footnotes by Dave Shotton.
The Karabiner Mountaineering Club.
Len, Matt, and Jim[i] were members of a group of climbers and walkers who were in the process of forming a club to be known as the Karabiner Mountaineering Club. There was already a prestigious and much respected mountaineering club in Manchester named the Rucksack Club which numbered some very illustrious climbers among its members. When the war ended there was great enthusiasm on the part of many men and women to enjoy the outdoor pleasures and challenges of climbing, walking, and caving. Membership of the Rucksack Club was however restricted to the more experienced, and so the Karabiner Club was formed to offer support and training in outdoor pursuits, especially to young newcomers to the sport. I became the first graduate members representative on the Committee, and this broadened my experience again as I learnt a whole new vocabulary of mountaineering terms. A world of belays, ice axes, tricouni nails, crampons, bivouacs, and many more. I found good friends too in the shared hardships of year-round activities.
If the Karabiner Club had a father and mother, it was surely Plum and Robbie Worrall. They were well known in Manchester climbing and walking circles and had been very keen and active during the formation of the Club. Plum became its first President. His real Christian name was Norman, but I never heard anyone call him that, it was always Plum, derived from his trade as a plumber. He was a tall gangling man of unfailing good humour always with a ready grin surrounding the pipe he spent so much time lighting up. His eyes twinkled through a pair of round, metal framed spectacles. Plum always wore knee britches with bare calves below, and an enormous pair of boots as least size 12 as I recall. There is a story of him wishing to purchase a new pair of boots whilst on holiday in Switzerland. After the shopkeeper had produced a range of boots none of which fitted he finally emerged from a far stockroom with a pair of boots and announced with triumph “Sir this is the largest pair of boots in all Switzerland”. Happily, they were just right for Plum. Despite the size of his feet he was remarkably light footed on a rock face. It had taken Plum a while to regain fitness and be able to enjoy his beloved hills after being injured in the retreat from Dunkirk. He had been hauled from the water off the beaches into one of the rescue vessels and so survived and was invalided out.
We were all kept in order by Robbie Worrall who in her Aberdeen Scots accents2 always made her point of view quite plain. They never had any children but the Lakeland terrier “Rover” was their inseparable companion. He ran behind over many a mile and in the more inaccessible places would ride in Robbie's rucksack with just his head showing.
Besides his trade of plumbing and outdoor skills Plum was also a keen amateur artist. Our Committee meetings were held in the front room of the Worrall's terrace house. This room was painted and furnished in the manner of a log built Alpine climbing hut in the midst of a mountain panorama. The walls were painted with a mountain scene of the Matterhorn and surrounding peaks and glaciers which went right round the room. Overhead the ceiling was the sky with wispy clouds floating across. Ropes, ice axes and other climbing paraphernalia lay about for further effect. Despite a blazing fire at our Winter meetings I always felt I needed to wrap up warm before entering that room. I have nothing but kindly memories of Plum and Robbie Worrall and I have a story to remember them by.
It was the Autumn of 1953. A year marked by the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and at last the successful climbing of Mount Everest by Hillary and Tensing. During the latter months of that year various members of the Everest expedition toured the country with a lecture illustrated with slides of their exploits. News came that Edmund Hillary himself accompanied by George Band would be giving this talk at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Now over the years Plum had graduated from painting his front room to actually producing paintings many of them of mountain scenes. He endured a great deal of good humoured banter about his artistic output but as usual he took it in his stride. Now he announced his most ambitious project yet. It was to be a large landscape of Mount Everest in honour of the climb.
On the night of the lecture we made our way to a crowded Free Trade Hall and there in the foyer were Plum and Robbie with a big brown paper covered parcel. Plum announced that during the interval he intended to make an impromptu presentation of his latest painting to Edmund Hillary. Needless to say, he came in for a good deal of ribbing about this idea but come the Interval Plum and Robbie disappeared with the parcel and we had to wait for the show to recommence before seeing the outcome.
The chatter and bustle of the audience stilled as the lights dimmed for the second half. Before our very eyes Edmund Hillary appeared from the side of the stage clutching one end of a brown paper parcel. At the other end, his face shining with happiness was Plum closely followed by a proud looking Robbie. Hillary announced that he was delighted to accept the gift of a painting of Mount Everest to mark his visit to Manchester. They both, now addressing each other as Ed and Plum, unwrapped the parcel and exposed the picture to the accompaniment of enthusiastic applause from the audience. We joined in as hard as anybody. How we loved that man Plum Worrall. And how well we realised what a smashing straight up guy Ed Hillary was!
 Len Stubbs, Len's brother Matt, and Jim Widdecombe (who was made a very early Honorary Member of the club in 1947 as external club benefactor). Dennis adds “Matt never joined the KMC and apart from a few early walks with Len Stubbs I cannot recall meeting him again. Jim Widdecombe was a walking friend of Len’s. At the time I met them on the train to Chinley Len was still recovering from his accident on Tryfan, and enjoying rather shorter walks than the long-distance hikes that he usually favoured... [Jim] was much older than Len and I, and so far as I remember he had been in the Army during the last months of WW1! Jim told some great stories of his activities post war in Spain where he raced motor cycles on the Speedway. His bike was a Scott Flying Squirrel, a 600cc water cooled two stroke! Some machine, and a rare collectors bike today! I learnt to drive with Jim, he was a commercial traveller for an engineering firm. Jim made walking sticks for a hobby, complete with ram’s horn handles. I have a very nice example of his craftsmanship here beside me. My, you are getting some rambling tales here!”
2 There may be some confusion here as all other information records that Robbie was actually from Northumberland!