Mountain Warfare Training Centre

The Training Centre
Griffith Pugh
Letters 1943
Letters 1944
Diary 1943
Memories of GP by James Riddell
Biography of Griffith Pugh



Memories of Griffith Pugh at MWTC by James Riddell


It was during the early stages of World War II when Griffith and I had not seen each other for several years, that we once again happened to coincide. I was in the Middle East at the time and, quite out of the blue, I was suddenly landed with the huge problem of starting up and running a completely new school high up in the Lebanese mountains to teach troops to be mobile on ski and to be self sufficient in conditions of snow and extreme cold.

Not least of these problems involved – which would take a large volume to describe – was to find sufficient numbers of reasonably qualified instructors to cope with the numbers of trainees that was threatened would be sent up regularly by G.H.Q. in a few months time. By the end of the first year things were running surprisingly well with a great deal of help from 1 Aust Corps, and I was asked by H.Q. in Cairo to go through voluminous lists of men known to be serving in the M.E. who had pre-war experience of skiing. I found quite a few names of men I had skied with internationally in the 30s – but my prize find was the name of Dr L.G.C. Pugh, then serving in Tehran! We were both equally delighted when he was transferred and appeared up at our H.Q. at the Cedars of Lebanon.

To cut short a long and fascinating story Capt. Pugh was quickly to become a sort of ambient, free-ranging central pivot around which this physically arduous school was very largely to revolve for the following three years – winter and summer – during which period, incidentally some 20,000 men of several nationalities underwent full training.

Knowing something of his qualifications both medically and physiologically and of his intense interest in the behaviour of the human body in all manner of difficult and unusual conditions, I am immensely proud of the fact that I was able to provide Griffith with the kind of seventh heaven job for which he was ideally suited, with all the means and the power to put his many theories into actual practice. Working at altitudes between 6,000 and 10,000 ft. over some 100 kms of more or less "private" mountain range everything was there for him to use and monitor. Suitable terrain of great variety and hundreds of "volunteers" all on the doorstep so to speak and with all forms of weather and snow conditions, from benign to violent, all provided right outside.

"Pug", as he soon became known by all staff and sundry, quickly came to be regarded by all staff and students as a kind of benevolent Professor who was never quite so absent-minded as he often seemed to be! He had once to write an urgent paper for G.H.Q. explaining how commanding officers could best select troops suitable for training. He came to the orderly Room to say he had been up all night finishing his work on this subject but couldn’t find the script for typing. We searched his quarters thoroughly but found no script. Two days later his Batman found it in the bottom of his sleeping bag. "I knew I had finished it" was his only comment.

He tackled every single aspect of the school from the medical as well as the physiological side including all methods of actual training on both snow and rock … everything in fact, from test to select suitable trainees, to diet, to physical fitness, to clothing and equipment, to load carrying, to improvements to ski bindings, to safety in general, to designing suitable lightweight tents and cooking utensils … and so on.

Every man-jack whose path he crossed came to regard him both with respect and admiration – affection even – and yet with no little apprehension for whatever tests he next might have in mind! Everyone knew full well he never would ask for any effort he was not always ready to undertake himself…

Such was virtually the beginnings of a distinguished career devoted largely to expert study of the human body in extreme conditions of cold and altitude and effort … and a career that was ultimately to lead him to play such an important role in the triumph of the 1953 conquest of Everest.

After the war came to an end Griffith was one of the main and most knowledgeable members of a large committee formed by the War Office to compose the detailed Military Training Manual entitled "Snow and Mountain Warfare".