Major Harold William "Bill" Tilman was born on 14 Feb 1898 in Wallasey in Cheshire, the son of a well-to-do sugar merchant John Hinkes Tilman and his wife Adeline Schwabe (née Rees). He was educated at Berkhamsted Boys school. At the age of 18, Tilman was commissioned into the Royal Field Artillery and fought in the First World War, including the Battle of the Somme, and was twice awarded the Military Cross for bravery.
His climbing career began with his acquaintance with Eric Shipton in Kenya, East Africa, where they were both coffee growers. Beginning with their joint traverse of Mount Kenya in 1929 and their ascents of Kilimanjaro and the fabled "Mountains of the Moon" Ruwenzori, Shipton and Tilman formed one of the most famed partnerships in mountaineering history. When it came time to leave Africa, Tilman was not content with merely flying home but rode a bicycle across the continent to the West Coast where he embarked for England.
Tilman was involved in two of the 1930s Mount Everest expeditions - participating in the 1935 Reconnaissance Expedition, and reaching 27,200 feet without oxygen as the expedition leader in 1938.
Following his military career behind enemy lines in the Second World War, Tilman took up deep sea sailing. Sailing the seas on the Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter Mischief, which he purchased in 1954, and subsequently on his other pilot cutters Sea Breeze and Baroque, Tilman voyaged to Arctic and Antarctic waters in search of new and uncharted mountains to climb.
On his last voyage in 1977, in his eightieth year, Tilman was invited to ship as crew in En Avant with mountaineers sailing to the South Atlantic to climb Smith Island. The expedition was led, and the boat skippered, by the youthful Simon Richardson. He and his crew aboard the old, converted steel tug made it successfully and without incident to Rio de Janeiro. Thereafter, en route to the Falkland Islands, they disappeared without trace - it was presumed the ship had foundered with all hands.
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