Cliff rescue pivotal in story of doomed poet

A little known episode in Arbroath’s history has found itself woven into a new book exploring the lives of three men set to be great movers and shakers.

Almost exactly 70 years ago, on May 25, 1946, Sub-Lieutenant William Andrew Bell, HMS Condor, played a crucial role in the rescue from Arbroath cliffs of 12-year-old James Napier.

Just two years later, William, along with his friends Ian McKean and James Ogilvie, would die while climbing the Matterhorn.

Author Mateo Cabello stumbled across their grave marker while climbing the Alps around three years ago and was inspired to find out more. As it transpired the trio were quite remarkable - William was one of the Lost Poets of Oxford and a major influence on Philip Larkin; Ian was a promising Labour politician and James was a decorated war hero.

The result of this research was the book ‘Of Mountains and Men’ which was published by the Oxford Alpine Society and launched last week at Christ Church College.

According to Mateo writing the book was a liberating and challenging experience. As part of his research he contacted the Arbroath Herald to try and find descendants of James Napier, the boy Ian rescued in 1946. He was successful and made contact with Violet Cruickshank, James’ sister, a special moment in his work.

Mateo said: “At 76, Mrs Cruickshank is a jovial, charming lady with an extraordinary memory. For me it was a delight talking to her about the day William saved her brother on the cliffs. She was seven at the time but still had vivid memories of it. That conversation was a powerful reminder of the value of life. She told me about her brother’s four children, all of whom were also married and themselves had children. James Napier was a proud, warm grandfather who loved spending time playing with them. That day, back in 1946, William not only saved James’s life but the lives of his four still-to-be-born children as well, and the lives of the children of those children for generations to come.”

‘Of Mountains and Men’ is available on Amazon and you can find out more at his website

Mateo added: “At the end, this is not just a book about mountains, but a book about life too. A book about passion for life, to be more precise and how important it to make the most of the time we have. Because the truth is that we never know how much time we have, no matter how safe we believe we are or how strong the foundations of our life seem to be.”