Eric William Kevin Walton GC DSC (AM non-exchanger)

b. 15/05/1918 Kobe, Japan. d. 13/04/2009 Worcester.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 24/08/1946 Antarctica.

Eric William Kevin Walton (1918-2009) was born in Kobe in Japan on 16th May 1918. He was the son of William Heward Murray Walton, a missionary, and his wife Annie Myra (née Hebbert), whose family had served for four generations in the Indian Civil Service. His godfather was Howard Somervell, a member of the 1922 and 1924 Everest expeditions. Later, encouraged by Somervell, Walton developed an interest in climbing. He spent his early years living in Japan with his parents before coming back to Britain to spend four years being brought up by a great aunt and uncle while his parents returned to their missionary work in Japan. Walton was educated at Monkton Combe School and Imperial College London, where he trained as a Civil Engineer.

Eric W K Walton GC DSC

Walton joined the Royal Navy as an engineer officer at the start of World War II, and took part in various naval actions during the next five years. On 26th May 1941 he was serving on HMS Rodney, part of Admiral Sir James Somerville’s naval force which attacked the German battleship Bismarck with Fairey Swordfish torpedo-bombers, taking out Bismarck’s steering apparatus, and then sinking her with gunfire in the Atlantic Ocean. It was while serving in the battleship Rodney that he heard a sermon by the future Bishop Launcelot Fleming. The two men struck up a friendship and Fleming inspired Walton with a love of the Antarctic, derived from his own prewar expedition to Graham Land.

Walton later served as engineer officer in destroyers and took part in the Barents Sea action aboard HMS Onslow against the German cruiser Admiral Hipper and the Deutschland-class cruiser Lützow on 31st December 1942. Onslow which was holed during the action, and it was because of Walton’s skill and determination that Onslow was able to stay afloat long enough to reach port. For this action Walton received the Distinguished Service Cross. He was Mentioned in Despatches while aboard HMS Duncan in the North Atlantic, again on destroyer escort duty. He took part in several of the Malta Convoys and served in the Far East towards the end of the war.

On being demobbed he was immediately offered a place with the Antarctic expedition, Operation Tabarin, from which he returned home to marry Ruth Yule, with whom he was to have one son and three daughters. As a member of a Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey party sent to establish bases in the South Shetlands and on Goudier Islet, Port Lockroy, Walton was with a four-man team seeking a dog-sledge route up a steep glacier to the plateau of the Graham Land Peninsula on August 24th 1946. Around midday Major John Tonkin (who had won an MC in France just before D-Day) was walking ahead to encourage the dogs when he disappeared through a badly-bridged crevasse. He fell some 40 feet to become jammed at chest level in a narrow part of the ice. Ropes were lowered, and he managed to get loops around his forearms but found himself stuck fast.

As the most experienced mountaineer in the party, Walton volunteered to go down. On being lowered he found the hard blue walls bristling with large spine-like ice crystals and, when the crevasse narrowed to eight inches 30ft down, could go no lower. He had himself pulled up, moved a few yards to the side and lowered again to arrive with his feet level with Tonkin’s head. He then made himself a tool from the sawn-off spike of an ice-axe, diligently chipping away until he freed Tonkin sufficiently for ropes to be fixed around his shoulders. The men above hauled, and the trapped man came free like a cork from a bottle.

The rescue operation took over three hours, and the nerves in Tonkin’s arms and wrists were damaged for six months before he was fully active again. When Walton arrived at Buckingham Palace to be invested with the Albert Medal, he found himself engaged in a light-hearted exchange with King George VI for wearing the wrong ribbon. Albert Medals were revoked by Royal Warrant in 1971, but Walton elected to retain his instead of exchanging it for a George Cross.

In the new next few years Walton was British secretary of the International Antarctic expedition, keeping huskies in the gardens of the Royal Geographical Society in London, and acted as mechanic for Aston Martin in the Le Mans 24-hour race. For six months he was the first instructor for the Outward Bound course in the Lake District and also spent six months on a yacht which landed agents in Albania until it was clear that the details were being leaked from MI6 by the double-agent Kim Philby.

For seven months he was second-in command of Duncan Carse’s survey mission to South Georgia, where he made what he considered a far more dangerous rescue than that of Tonkin by saving a geologist who had fallen 200ft down a crevasse. On his return home he received the Queen’s Commendation.

As a schoolmaster at Oundle from 1952, he worked with the engineering workshops, repaired the clocks of local churches and vintage Rolls-Royces, and led the boys on arduous courses in the Scottish mountains. But his climbing career came to an end after he sliced off three fingers in the workshop, though they were sewn back on. Walton joined the Tyneside company Merz and McLennan in the late 1950s, which was involved in the fledgling nuclear power industry and then was a surveyor with the power station being built at Trawsfynydd in North Wales.

He then spent five years as the engineering lecturer at Dartmouth before moving to Malvern College in 1969. There he started the Penguin sailing club for pupils, which still flourishes, and was given a wide remit to design a programme to foster understanding of engineering among secondary school pupils nationwide. This attracted additional funding from several companies, including Rolls-Royce, and a pilot scheme, “Opening Windows in Engineering”, set up in 1975, was soon operating in six major industrial centres. Two years later his “Great Achievements in Engineering” was published.

A man of great charm and modesty, he was always ready to pay tribute to the courage of fellow members of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association, whose exploits had required the taking of tremendous risks. As a mountaineer, he claimed to have been trained not to take chances. Walton was awarded the Polar Medal with Antarctic clasp, 1946-7, and set up a press with Malvern School which mainly reissued classics of polar exploration. He wrote Two Years in the Antarctic (1955) and was a joint author of Portrait of Antarctica (1983) which contained a limited text but gave a fine impression of field operations since the 1930s. The other authors were Walton’s son Jonathan, his nephew Paul Copestake and a son-in-law, Jim Bishop, who was killed on the international Karakoram expedition in 1980.

Kevin Walton passed away on 13th April 2009 in Great Malvern, Worcestershire. He was cremated at Worcester Crematorium on 1st May 2009 following a service at Colwall Parish Church. He is commemorated by Mount Walton in British Graham Land. The Walton family name is still associated with Antarctica, as his afore-mentioned son, Jonathan and his grandson, Finn are both polar explorers. Jonathan Walton has also been awarded the Polar Medal, meaning he and his father are the only father/son combination to hold that decoration. Kevin Walton’s medals are held by the Walton family.