John Buchan Churchill, 1922-1952

Publication Year: 1953.



John Buchan Churchill and his fiancée, Jocelyn Moore, lost their lives early last July while ascending Mont Blanc from the Italian side. They were climbing by way of the Arête de l’Innomi- nata from the Gamba Hut and had reached the Eccles Peak Bivouac (4000 m.) when they were caught by a large rock slide. Evidence at the scene indicates that they had just arrived at the bivouac and were resting when the slide started. The avalanche of rock completely demolished the bivouac and trapped the two climbers before they could escape.

John was an enthusiastic mountaineer for most of his thirty years. Bom in Berlin, New Hampshire, he got his start in the nearby White Mountains at an early age, and from that time on, his love for climbing grew steadily.

A graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy, John attended Dartmouth College until, in the middle of his senior year, he was called to serve with the Army Air Force. He flew a P-47 fighter plane over Germany until shot down by ground fire on his 29th mission. He eluded capture for ten days in an attempt to return to the U.S. lines but was finally taken prisoner.

Following the war, John received a master’s degree at Yale and did further graduate study at Columbia. Meanwhile, he worked for the Federal Reserve Board at Washington and for the ECA in London and Paris. He had accepted a teaching position which would have begun last fall at Lahore Christian College in Pakistan.

Johnny’s climbing career, while short, was exceedingly energetic. His impressive and detailed mountain log, which reveals the fullness of expression and unsurpassed joy he found on the high places, describes two ascents of Mont Blanc, eight of the Matterhorn, including the first double traverse of that mountain in one day with the late Otto Furrer and Mrs. Erlanger, four of the Zinalrothorn, and a great many others, including a considerable number of rock climbs in Northern Wales and Skye where he did his pre-season training. In this country he established a new time record on Longs Peak, Colorado, led two parties up the Grand Teton, and took part in a night rescue on Teewinot.

It was at Zermatt that John met his fiancée. Miss Moore was an honors graduate of Oxford University as well as an accomplished mountaineer. They were to have been married in Scotland last August.

The fraternity of mountaineers as well as the world at large suffered a great loss by the interruption of such a promising career. Here was a natural leader, an Alpinist both ardent and cautious, completely trustworthy in any tight spot, possessed of great endurance and tenacity, and yet friend and companion to all with whom he came in contact. He had set as his goal the highest that any climber can aspire to—Everest—and had travelled far along the trail that leads there.

Alex B. Churchill

Many of John’s climbing friends believe the following words appropriate of him. A passage from the Alpine Journal, which he quoted in a letter, describes a climber “who walked so long facing the light that all shadows were behind him and the future held no fear.”

Helen I. Buck

Share this article