DUMBARTON MAN'S REMARKABLE LEGACY
Ben Humble still remembered after 36 years
Born on Oxhill Road, Dumbarton in 1903, the seventh in a family of eight brothers, and fated to completely lose his hearing by his early thirties, Ben Humble left a unique mark on the Scottish outdoors as an author, journalist and photographer and as one of the early pioneers of Mountain Rescue in our country.
The breadth of Ben’s legacy is indeed remarkable. Thirty-six years after his death his books and photographs remain in demand, one of the former accepted as the definitive history of The Cuillin of Skye. Photographic slides from his lectures on mountain rescue are a valued resource and record for the Scottish Mountaineering Club and his restored 16mm cine films of the Civil Defences of the City of Glasgow during the Second World War are in the care of Scottish Screen Archive, who also have custody of his pioneering climbing films, including the classic “In Days of Old” made in 1953 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Scottish Ladies Climbing Club. Travelling the length and breadth of the country, in the early days mostly on foot, he wrote and published countless articles. Youth hostels, viewpoints, climbs and rambles, lochs and rivers, historical connections, origins of town names – little escaped his notice or his pen as outdoor activities steadily burgeoned. More than worthwhile to interested visitors, Ben’s very individual impressions of Scotland from before, during and after the War can be viewed at our National Library in Edinburgh, where under the title HUMBLE COLLECTION they are stored alongside his personal scrapbooks of early hill-walking and climbing accidents.
In a totally different sphere of interest the lasting results of his fascination and skill with heathers and alpine plants can still be seen today at Glenmore Lodge in the Cairngorms, where the Ben Humble Memorial Garden guards the entrance to Scotland’s National Outdoor Training Centre, while at a higher elevation visitors taking a walk round the Wild Mountain Garden at the Base Station of the Cairngorm Mountain Railway can learn more about this aspect of his story.
“Not bad, not bad” was a common phrase Ben used. The words might well serve as his epitaph, for despite his inability to hear any lectures he had originally qualified in Dentistry at the University of Glasgow and later become one of the first specialists in Dental Radiology in Scotland, an early pioneer also in Forensic Dentistry where his method of identifying human bite marks was the accepted standard in criminal cases for over two decades. All this he eventually had to abandon, enjoying telling his friends “I couldn’t hear my patients screaming!”
The Voice of the Hills, the story of Ben Humble, MBE, written by Ben’s nephew Roy Humble, was published in 1995. Added to immeasurably by contributions and humorous stories from old students, friends and climbing colleagues, and using Ben’s words wherever possible, this book tells the story of the lasting contributions of a proud and independent Scot whose whole life was a response to the challenge of his deafness and to the one voice he did hear – the voice of the hills. A limited number of copies of the book are still available and may be obtained through the Arrochar, Tarbet and Ardlui Heritage Group, with whom the author has kindly agreed to share the remaining royalties. This award winning organisation may be contacted either by email at email@example.com or by telephone at 07879 486742.