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Sydney Wignall - Spy on the Roof of the World

A lark, to climb the highest peak in Chinese-occupied Tibet, turned deadly serious. Sydney Wignell and his companions were captured, interrogated, and repeatedly forced to experience mock executions, which seemed very real to them.

Eventually the Chinese bowed to international pressure, and on December 10, 1955, the three men were escorted to the Nepalese frontier. They were faced with making their way across the mountains via the 18,482ft Urai Lekh pass and the avalanche-prone Seti Gorge which, as Wignall recalled, locals assured him had never before been forced in winter. For provisions, they were given a sack of flour, a bag of sugar and a small piece of meat. The Chinese, they reasoned, did not intend them to survive.

The "lark" was actually more serious than it seemed. Wignall was spying, and obtained important information while being interrogated.

A self-taught apprentice electrical engineer who became an adventurer, he left the mountain heights for the depths of the sea, learning how to dive and exploring ships from the Spanish Armada which had sunk off the Irish Coast. He discovered why the Spanish, though firing thousands of rounds at English ships, had failed to hit any.

Sydney Wignall has died at the age of 89.

Ave atque Vale.

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