J. K. W. Dunn (1911-2001)

Scottish Mountaineeering Club Journal, 2002

Kenneth Dunn, the eldest of 4 children, was educated at Fettes, where he received prizes in classics. In 1929 he joined the family law firm in Glasgow. He was a member of the Glasgow Highlanders in the Territorial Army, and during the War he rose to the rank of Major. He settled with his first wife, Margaret, in Blanefield until a change of employment necessitated a move to East Linton. He was intensely practical, servicing his own cars and personally enlarging his home to accommodate his family of five daughters. His career progressed, and eventually he became Solicitor for Scotland for the Inland Revenue. His professional skills were always available to the SMC, notably at the 1990 AGM when he lucidly explained the tax implications of the Club's relationship with The Scottish Mountaineering Trust. He was the first Honorary Secretary of the Association of Scottish Climbing Clubs and the B.M.C. Scottish Committee, and he advised the SMC on "National Parks in Scotland" (SMC Journal 1947 & 1950).

He was a man of many talents, who enjoyed spirited, informed discussions on topics ranging from Ancient Greek history to mechanics; geology to poetry. Each time you spoke with him, you learned something, which was delivered in a considered and erudite fashion. For the last twenty years, he and Ishbel, his second wife, lived happily in Perthshire, where he died on 29th November 2001. Ishbel worked tirelessly to care for him, and due to her, Kenneth was able to stay in his own home, and pass away peacefully there. I met Kenneth Dunn when he presided at the first JMCS post-War New Year Meet (1945-46) at Kingshouse. Twelve JMCS members stayed at Kingshouse (I was one of three from Edinburgh). Of the nine SMC Members attending the Meet, Bill Murray became Honorary President; Bill Bennet, James Donaldson, and Douglas Scott became Honorary Vice-President; and Tom MacKinnon and Bill Mackenzie became President. Murray, Dunn, and Scott climbed the Crowberry Ridge (4 hours). The Edinburgh trio also climbed the Crowberry Ridge, though by a different route (10 hours). The Journal records that under Dunn's Chairmanship both AGM and four-course Dinner were outstandingly successful.

In October 1946 Dunn was elected to the SMC, proposed by Kenneth Hunter and Bill Mackenzie. His application begins with "Most of the rock climbs on the Cobbler, usually leading", but surprisingly he dated none of his long list of entries. Typical entries were: "Crowberry Ridge Direct (10 times)", "Crowberry Gully (3 times in winter)".

Bill Murray, who was Dunn's Best Man, recorded that in March 1936 he traversed the Aonach Eagach ridge "with J.K.W. Dunn, A.M. MacAlpine, and R.S. Higgins", and MacAlpine confirms the date. Dunn was one of the most active members of the JMCS Glasgow section during the years immediately preceding the War; e.g, Murray alone recorded 43 climbs with Dunn from March 1936 to December 1939 - an average of once a month - including classic climbs like the first ascent of Clachaig Gully. MacAlpine and Mackenzie were their most frequent companions. In January 1939, at Inverarnan with Mackenzie and Dunn, Murray feared it "likely that we should miss a weekend's climbing for the first time in eighteen months."

After the War, Dunn and Mackenzie - like most returning pre-War climbers - had to rebuild their careers and family lives. Unlike them, Murray made a career change and needed a climbing companion while he worked on his Guide to Glencoe. This gave me the good fortune to climb with Murray and Dunn in the famous winter of 1947 - perhaps the last time these two friends climbed together. I also accompanied Dunn in Skye in connection with work on the Skye Guide. Murray recounted that in 1946 he "assisted Kenneth Dunn in taking some youthful Glasgow gangsters on to the Glencoe and Arrochar hills."

Having been abroad for many years, I can say little about Kenneth Dunn's climbing in later days, other than that in 1949 he attended the A.C. Meet at Meiringen with MacKellar and MacAlpine; among other ascents they climbed the Finsteraarhorn - involving a 16-hour day. Each summer he took his daughters to Derry Lodge where, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, they explored the hills and glens.

I have often thought that Kenneth Dunn played the part of Dr Watson to Bill Murray's Holmes. In his writings, Bill Murray brings his companions to life, but his portrait of Kenneth Dunn is the most complete of all. Here are some of Bill's "brush strokes":

"... Dunn's broad shoulders ... his fair hair tumbled over his eyes ... Dunn grinned gleefully from ear to ear ..."

"... we discovered that once again Dunn had forgotten his boots ... Dunn is one of the most hopelessly casual but yet friendly of men. ... You cannot damn and blast a man whose eye is sparkling with delight at meeting you. ... his infectious smile and nave geniality ..."

"From long and painful experience we knew that for calling upon Dunn at any agreed hour of the morning we must devote the better part of an hour to hounding him out of bed and to getting him dressed, fed, and properly turned out complete with climbing boots. The boots were important. They were sometimes apt to be left behind in the mad scramble of departure - irate friends clamouring in his bedroom. Mackenzie was equal to this difficulty. 'we'll tell him that the starting hour's three. He should just be ready when we call an hour later.' And so it was done. On arriving at his rooms at 4 a.m. we found Dunn actually out of bed and half-way through breakfast. There was something truly great in the audacity with which he at once accused us of lateness."

"one of the best second men in Scotland ... I was coached over the traverse in brilliant style by Dunn, who employed the effective though inhuman device of ruthlessly skewering his victim with the spike of an axe. Dunn was obliged to stand for half an hour under a waterfall, whose volume increases with the years. But with such men as these failure can generally be made to show profits."

"Dunn was safe and solid as rock itself. ...[Marskell] maintained a Dunn-like immovability" "Dunn's exceptional strength ... Dunn was too skilful a mountaineer to climb anyhow but gracefully ... a triumph of mind over matter"

"Dunn's presence on the [Rannoch] wall, as he climbed with studied ease above remote scree, appeared an incredible flouting of natural laws."

"Dunn, whose company is more pleasing than a first ascent."

Kenneth Dunn's name was the first to come into Bill Murray's mind when he wrote the last paragraph of the book he drafted in POW camp: "When I looked to the mountains of the future from behind barbed wire, I thought not only of ends but of the best ways of striving Bloodshed was forgotten awhile; once again I revelled in wholesome days, when the very air I breathed, in the company of Dunn, Mackenzie, and MacAlpine, of Bell and Donaldson, was that of rollicking adventure; when our mountaineering dreams were turbulent and our hearts high. ... there lies the true joy of battle, in exhilarating contest with the elements, upon mountains that may be won, yet never conquered; shared by companions who may be defeated, yet whose spirit I have never seen shaken."

Kenneth Dunn is survived by his wife, Ishbel, three daughters, seven grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.