Ben Nevis climbers exchange flags of friendship and peace

A team of 17 individuals recently made the annual pilgrimage to Fort William to climb Ben Nevis in memory of legendary Dudley peacemaker, Bert Bissell.

Bert passed away in 1998 at the age of 96 having climbed Britain's highest peak an incredible 107 times. He was awarded the MBE, the World Methodist Peace Prize, was made a Freeman of both Dudley and Fort William and was laid to rest in Glen Nevis cemetery at the foot of his beloved mountain.

Climbers witnessed the peace cairn that he and others built on the summit with a stone tablet inscribed with Dudley on it's side which today is officially recognised as Britain's highest War Memorial.

In 2014 former Dudley North MP, now Lord, Ian Austin and former Mayor's Dave Tyler and Steve Waltho got together to discuss rekindling the civic link between Dudley and Fort William that had laid dormant following Bert's passing. Since then, 80 individuals have made 138 ascents.

This year was the 10th anniversary climb and the 25th anniversary of Bert's passing so the Bert Bissell Memorial Society looked at ways of making the occasion extra special.

The group had already arranged to be greeted by local Fort William Councillor, Thomas MacLennan as they came off the mountain and it was agreed that the climb would be done in honour of the memory of two former climbers who sadly passed away during the last nine months; Ben Corfield and Councillor Richard Body.

On behalf of the Saleem Foundation, former Councillor and Society Vice-Chair, Shaz Saleem suggested that sponsorship be obtained to support a project that Richard was passionate about in his role as Chair of the Friends of Homer Hill Park. The Friends were raising funds for a Pump Track to benefit youngsters and it’s hoped that several hundred pounds have been raised to support the project. 

Secondly former Halesowen man Philip Tibbetts took a great interest in the pilgrimage. Philip now lives in Lockerbie and is appointed to the Court of Lyon in Scotland as a Vexillologist with official permission to design flags, banners and ensigns for organisations, towns and groups.

He offered to design flags for both Dudley and Fort William to exchange in a ceremony in the town. Steve said:

“We were delighted when Philip not only offered to produce two flags but also offered to preside over the exchange in his ceremonial regalia. This is a man who proudly marched behind Queen Elizabeth's funeral carriage and also King Charles Coronation carriage.

“The day after the climb, Philip led a procession to Bert's graveside for a short ceremony in which our other special guest, Rose Cook-Monk put a poppy wreath from Bert's local cenotaph in Grazebrook Park Dudley on his grave.

“The grand finale was the flag exchange as Philip officially presented the flags of friendship and peace. On behalf of Dudley, Shaz Saleem received the Lochaber flag whilst the wonderful Mabel Wallace, who gratefully opens the church each year, received the Dudley flag. The pilgrimage was a great success". 

Looking ahead to 2024, it’s hoped that Dudley College will get involved in the event and in 2025 it is the 100th anniversary of Bert's Young Men's Bible Class with the Gentlemen Songsters Male Voice Choir showing interest. Bert was proudly President of the choir for years and in 1978 led a group to become the first recorded choir to sing on the summit of Ben Nevis.

Thursday 21 September is World Peace Day and for several years the Society has met at St Johns Church in Kates Hill for a short 10-minute walk to the highest point in Dudley Borough where a plaque commemorating Bert is fixed to a bench.

Anyone interested in joining the walk is asked to meet at the church around 5.30pm. Further details can be obtained by contacting Steve on 07703 308 463. 


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