Person:Alistair Cram (1)

Alastair Lorimer Cram
b.25 Aug 1909 Scotland, UK
d.17 Mar 1994 Scotland, UK
m. 2 Sep 1908
  1. Alastair Lorimer Cram1909 - 1994
m. 1951
Facts and Events
Name Alastair Lorimer Cram
Gender Male
Birth? 25 Aug 1909 Scotland, UK
Marriage 1951 to Isobel Nicholson
Death? 17 Mar 1994 Scotland, UK

Copyright 1994 The Scotsman Publications Ltd. The Scotsman

July 19, 1994, Tuesday

HEADLINE: Alastair Cram: daring wartime escaper ALASTAIR Lorimer Cram made his first foray into the hills at the age of four, when, escorted by his doting parents, he ascended Craigellachie at Aviemore. He came down with his small feet firmly in the direction they would take for the following 80 years. His parents were dedicated hill walkers and naturally took the child with them on their expeditions. By his fifteenth year, Alastair had lengthy tracks of hillside and many of the Cairngorms to his credit, and with his friend, Ted Maconochie, was branching out on his own. Humping their cumber- some equipment, they would walk the ten or so miles from Aviemore Station to camp in the beautiful woodlands of Rothiemurchus, from which they would, on holidays, explore and climb in the then trackless and almost unknown Einich Basin. The memory of this idealistic time stood him in good stead during the grim war years. Edinburgh University brought new horizons and ever more strenuous routes being recorded in the Cairngorms and northern mountains. New companions, too, were added, including William Blackwood and K MacDougall. The Alps were visited. A good all-round man, Alastair led the university's most successful Hare and Hounds team, and was a noted athlete. He edited the magazine The Student. There were of course the usual harmless pranks, the draping of certain (now obsolete) articles on various monuments, obligingly removed on request, and a trip across the Forth Bridge published in The Scotsman as "A Student's Dream." After graduating, second in his class, he took a position in the family firm of solicitors. Continuing his activities in the mountains, especially perhaps in Europe, it was on a visit to the German Jura in 1937 that he saw war to be inevitable and decided to take time out to prepare his mind for the conflict and to bid, if necessary, farewell to his beloved hills. Part of this time is recorded in F Fraser Darling's delightful classic Island Farm. He was then, at 28, at the peak of his form, had completed the Munros - the eighth man to do so and the third to do all the "tops" as well - and had won himself an invitation to join the Everest team for 1939, which was cancelled by the outbreak of war. Alastair was now a very fit 30, a good shot, a skilled navigator and of a mathematical bent. He volunteered for the Royal Artillery and was soon commissioned. He was sent to Africa to join the Long Range Desert Group. His love of solitude and of open spaces made this an agreeable posting. A sound Scotsman, Alastair never lost an opportunity to improve his battery's well being. The Nazis, with greater experience of desert warfare, had equipment superior in many ways to the British, but due to the ebb and flow of battle were often forced to leave valuable bits around, many of which were absorbed by this busy and self-reliant group, whose fire-power was thus greatly augmented. Their comfort was improved by the aquisition of a genuine water carrier. At some time in his career, Alastair was awarded the Military Cross. Later, fellow escapers were to claim that, like themselves, he had won it for his daring escapes. Alastair maintained that his citation was for the battery's action at the retreat from Sallum. Be that as it may, he was listed in the Gazette of 28 January, 1946. The battery was ordered to fall back on Sallum at a time when things were going badly for the Allies and Tobruk was under siege. Reaching their destination, they found near-disaster: food and water were failing, medical supplies were finished and there were vast numbers of wounded. It was obvious that evacuation would have to take place and in the face of heavy German artillary. The carriers, more especially the wheels, were badly damaged and the company wounded and near exhaustion. Nevertheless they set to, cannabalising wrecked vehicles and where necessary crawling under the barbed wire for repairs. There was no water, so tyres were patched using spit and blood. Next day, as the sorry cavalcade moved out, the battery were able to turn their guns and halt the Germans closing for the kill. Certainly, citation for Alastair and for his company was mentioned at the time. However, the awarding of medals is a chancy thing. Alastair never gave it much thought, for, as he said, all men were brave in the desert and there was never a shortage of daring and dangerous work to do. Alastair was captured at Sidi Rezegh, and became a prisoner of war. Knowing that it was the duty of every able-bodied officer to escape, he set himself to the task, becoming perhaps the greatest of this gallant band. His determination, cool courage and his sense of humour are legendary. Each flag would have its escape committee, but, always a loner, Alastair preferred the opportunist method, and having duly informed the committee, would as opportunity arose leave the camp, or train or truck which held him. Escape, he said, was easy. The difficulty came in staying out, especially at a border crossing. It was cold, dangerous and above all hungry work. In all, he made some 23 escapes, greatly aided by his languages, training and a knowledge of the European mountains. Alastair was persuaded to join the newly formed SAS Regiment by his friend and fellow escaper, David Stirling. Being by nature reticent, he had no difficulty in observing their unofficial motto of "Keep Yer Beak Shut." As the war drew to a close, Alastair applied his legal services in War Crimes Group NW Europe and in Intelligence work. This, too, had its perils since few people or nations wished to face the responsibilities of their misdeeds. In 1948, he accepted an appointment as resident magistrate in Kenya, where he combined legal duties with adventures in the plains and on the mountains of that beautiful country. Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenya, the Matthews Range and the Abedares in Kikuyu country were explored. No points for guessing who was camped out in the Abedares the night the Emergency was declared. In the Cathedral of the Highlands, Nairobi, in 1951 Alastair married Isobel Nicholson, a colonial nursing sister who from then on followed him cheerfully wherever he went, be it Royal reception or camping in the wilder mountains. The Colonial Service, with its occasional long vacations, gave scope for distant travel and two trips were made to the Himalayas in Lahoul with a return journey, overland, to Britain. The Amazone was travelled to its source and the Andes explored. Nineteen-sixty saw his transfer to Nyasaland, now Malawi, as Puisne Judge in the High Court. Later he was to become Acting Chief Justice, and, very briefly, Governor General. Growing maturity, combined with a serious parachute accident while in the SAS, made serious rock-climbing less attractive and both in Kenya and in Malawi expeditions tended to be more of an exploratory nature, with plant collecting and photography becoming of paramount importance. Malawi, peppered as it is with delightful, mainly unvisited, small rocky mountains was an ideal place for the couple, who made an extensive photographic record of the abundant botanical species. This included an almost complete series on the rare orchids. Independence for Malawi brought retirement and the Crams moved back to Scotland - climbing in Rhodesia and South Africa en route. There was a brief period in the Legal Department of the Scottish Office and retirement was spent happily in further travel and mountaineering. Alastair completed a second round of Munros and tops in 1978 to ensure that Isobel should complete her count. At the age of 79, Alastair, climbing alone, scaled the highest peak in Crete, the 8,350-metre Mt Idris (Timios Stravros). At home, he contributed articles to many journals and continued his interest in photography. Computers were a new departure and he purchased an advanced model to discover its possibilities. Alastair was a true Scot, a man of great integrity and courage, both physical and moral, and was loved for his gentle humour and his courtesy. IC He died after a full and active day, in his sleep at home.

Copyright 1994 Times Newspapers Limited The Times March 31, 1994, Thursday SECTION: Features HEADLINE: Alastair Cram 'BODY: Alastair Cram, MC, lawyer, soldier and mountaineer, died on March 17 aged 84. He was born on August 25, 1909. ALASTAIR CRAM was a distinguished Scottish advocate and later a judge in Kenya and Malawi. What marked him out, however, was not merely the extraordinary variety of his mountaineering experiences in the Andes, the Himalayas, East Africa and Australia but, even more notably, his record of escapes as a prisoner of war. Captured at Sidi Rezegh in 1941, he spent the first years of his captivity in Italy. There he teamed up first with Jack Pringle for two escapes from prisons in the south of Italy, and then, when David Stirling of SAS fame joined them in an escape from the citadel of Gavi in Liguria. No one had escaped from that fortress in 800 years. It was the prison in Italy which was equivalent to Colditz, but it was far more secure. Recaptured, he, Pringle and Stirling were subsequently sent to Germany under heavy guard after Italy's capitulation. En route he escaped from the train just before it arrived at the Brenner Pass and spent the next two months alone on foot and by rail trying to reach Yugoslavia. Recaptured once again at Graz, in Austria, he was sent to Marisch Trubau, a prison on the borders of Czechoslovakia and Poland. There he met up once again with Pringle and Stirling, who had arrived by a different route and after different adventures. At Marisch Trubau, Stirling was planning a mass escape, quite coincidentally to take place just after the Sagan escape where most of the captured escapers had been shot. Cram, some time before, had volunteered to go to Prague to inform the Czech Resistance of the plan, an escape route having been engineered so that he could do this. The Sagan affair plus German suspicions that a similar escape was planned at Marisch Trubau led the Germans to transfer the whole camp of 3,000 prisoners to Brunswick at two weeks' notice. During this time Cram had reached Prague, but had been captured and tortured by the Gestapo, and then unexpectedly dispatched to the new Brunswick camp. When Pringle and Stirling were subsequently moved to Colditz, Cram remained in Brunswick. Cram was resolute and single-minded in his escape attempts, somewhat in the mould of Mike Sinclair at Colditz who escaped many times but was shot and killed in his last attempt three months before the war ended. With Jack Pringle, Cram was one of only two officers to have won the Military Cross, which he was awarded on his release in 1945, for his escape attempts. Educated at Perth Academy and Edinburgh University, where he read law, Alastair Lorimer Cram was admitted as a Scottish solicitor in 1933. After the war he joined the Scottish Bar and spent some time with the War Crimes Group as a prosecuting counsel for the British Army. In 1948 he became a resident magistrate in Kenya, remaining there until he became a Puisne Judge of the High Court of Nyasaland in 1960. Once Nyasaland gained its independence as Malawi in 1964, he became its acting Chief Justice and, briefly, its Governor-General during the first year of Dr Hastings Banda's long rule. He retired as an Appellate Judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal of Malawi in 1968. In his youth Cram had been a zealous mountaineer mainly in the Alps and it was an interest he kept up not only while serving in East Africa but in his retirement as well. He was still climbing in the Atlas mountains while in his sixties and was proud of having traversed the Great Dividing Range of Australia several times when well past his 70th birthday. He closed his mountaineering career by climbing the highest peak in Crete at the age of 79. He is survived by his wife Isobel whom he married in 1951. There were no children.

  1.   David M. Guss, The 21 Escapes of Lt Alastair Cram.