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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 May 5; 334(7600): 959.
PMCID: PMC1865429

Robert Roaf

Professor Robert Roaf, who has died aged 93, was one of the world's leading spinal surgeons—regarded by the British Orthopaedic Association as one of the subject's greats—and one of the last known two British pre-war Himalayan climbers.

He came from a distinguished academic family. His paternal grandfather was a Canadian barrister. His father, who served in the army as a medical officer in the Middle East in the first world war, had won a scholarship to Liverpool University, where he was to become professor of physiology. His mother's family can be traced to Edinburgh. Her father was appointed young to the chair of natural history at the newly founded Liverpool University. The Roafs antecedents came from Kent, and one ancestor was a ship's carpenter at the battle of Trafalgar.

Robert Roaf's early childhood was spent in London, and his memories of the first world war were, “Awful food and air raids when mother would take all five children to bed, thinking it best that if bombed we should all die together. When my father returned in 1919 I didn't know him at all.” Aged 10, Roaf suffered bad pneumonia, leaving him with recurrent asthma, and, applying for life insurance in 1939, he was given a life expectancy of 60.

Aged 13, he won a scholarship to Winchester from prep school in Swiss Cottage. He found the curriculum in those days, based on classics, very narrow. “To enjoy public school one had to be very good at sport. It was a Spartan life in those ancient cold stone buildings with no amenities.” In 1931 he won a further scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, to study physiology and biochemistry. “The financial crisis that year halved the family income, and the effects on so many were so severe that I doubted the capitalist system.” He did not enjoy Oxford, finding the lectures boring and tutorials uninspiring, but he appreciated the collegiate system where one could meet people from other disciplines. Taking first class honours he decided against becoming an academic as he wanted to be different from his family. For the next few weeks he worked in the Bargoed valley, South Wales, and although an atheist he was deeply impressed by the Quakers who helped the locals during the poverty of the great depression. He later became a Quaker himself.

In 1933 Roaf encountered someone who changed his life. During a vacation he was researching rabbits' adrenal glands when visiting an aunt, an honorary lecturer in the department of zoology at Liverpool University. “One day Marco Pallis, a friend of my aunt's, visited. He was about to set sail for India with a mountaineering party for the Himalayas and he invited my aunt to inspect the expedition equipment and I acted as their chauffeur. I met Marco's brother, an expert on oriental art, which was new and interesting to me.”

In 1934 Roaf's parents moved from London to Liverpool, where he finished his studies. In 1935 he was delegated to a medical conference in the Soviet Union. Just before departing he was invited by Pallis to join his next Himalayan expedition as medical officer to climb in Sikkim and thence to Tibet, “The one condition being that I learn enough Tibetan to handle all the local patients who inevitably turn up in camps. Looking back I'm not sure why I accepted as it really wasn't a good career move.”

In Leningrad Roaf, commenting on the city's shabbiness, was told it was pointless making improvements as the city would be destroyed in the coming war with Germany. Leaving the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), he went to Switzerland to train with professional mountain guides in snow and ice work before embarking for the Himalayas.

Roaf's experiences in the then non-mechanised, totally self sufficient environments of Sikkim and Ladakh were overwhelming which left a lasting memory, and he developed a life long interest in Buddhism and oriental arts and a love of the Himalayas. It affected his career. “In India I saw many medical conditions virtually unknown in England, especially deformities. This may have influenced me to become an orthopaedic surgeon. Also, then, long before antibiotics, there were very few effective treatments and orthopaedics had good results.”

Returning to England, finding it hard to readjust to an industrialised world, Roaf completed his Oxford degree six months later. Becoming a Quaker in 1939 he registered as a conscientious objector. After air raids on Liverpool, though, he decided he could not continue to eat food brought to Great Britain at the expense of sailors' lives and joined the merchant navy as ship'surgeon. “Looking back, though, the Peace Movement had no effective answer to Hitlerism.” He was invalided home at the end of 1943 with recurrent undulant fever and worked the last two war years in an emergency hospital in Winwick, near Warrington, where he encountered Jim Seddon and his ideas that orthopaedic doctors should specialise.

Next taking a degree in orthopaedic surgery at Liverpool, he was appointed assistant surgeon at the Liverpool Royal Infirmary in 1946, “A time of hardship, as before the NHS, consultants at voluntary hospitals were expected to take only small fees in expectation that they all had lucrative private practices.” He also worked at Alder Hey Children's Hospital, the Royal Southern Hospital, Liverpool, and Chester Royal Infirmary.

Early in 1947 Roaf was appointed to the Robert Jones and Evans Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital, Oswestry. “This was a stroke of luck as Dott and Alexander had just published a paper on treating Pott's paraplegia and Oswestry had several patients suffering it due to tuberculosis of the spine. We had many good results of direct surgery.” Also, in 1947 he had a revelation from treating a 14 year old girl patient with a severe scoliosis who had had the conventional treatment of posterior bone fusion six years earlier. Roaf observed that this had been completely the wrong treatment. After much detailed research with his colleagues he developed new methods of operating through the chest to correct such spinal deformities from the front. It took years to be accepted, but these are now standard procedure world wide. Roaf commented, “Heretical views, especially in medicine, are never welcome.”

“In 1951 I had a vivid dream that I would work in a country I'd previously visited; characterised by long, slow railway journeys. Misinterpreting it, I started learning Russian.” In fact, the next year Roaf was approached to set up a postgraduate training programme for 18 months at the Irwin Hospital, Delhi, India, as part of the Colombo plan. “I don't know why I said yes as it was yet another bad career move, but in September 1952 I sailed from Tilbury with my wife and our four children aged 2 to 10 accompanied by two physiotherapists.” Roaf encountered a vast number of unexpected problems but made many lifelong friends, some of whom had been students in Liverpool, and he deepened his interest and knowledge of Indian arts and culture. He immediately arranged for an Indian successor so as not to outstay his welcome. He visited many parts of the country to lecture, advise, and operate. Before leaving the subcontinent, the Roafs sent two of their children home for their education on a Comet aircraft, which was to explode on its very next flight. “There were questions of sabotage in the House of Commons. I remember a minister stating there was 100% security, but in fact Delhi airport at that time was little more than a landing strip and there had been no security at all. From this I learnt never to believe a politician.”

Returning home in 1955, Roaf was appointed director of clinical studies and research at Oswestry, then in a run down condition with a chronic nursing shortage, although with improved general health, patients with tuberculosis and polio had disappeared. Patients with scoliosis were treated from around the world, and with colleagues Roaf attempted to increase specialisation but because of the hospital's then structure, this could not be achieved.

Although having decided not to become an academic, fate intervened in 1963 when he was appointed chair of orthopaedic surgery at Liverpool University at the age of 50. The previous incumbent (Brian McFarland), had died comparatively young after a long illness, and Roaf's older colleagues persuaded him to apply, “They seemed for some reason to think I was the obvious successor. I suppose I applied because I have always been inquisitive and I wanted to know how a university worked.” He had many problems sorting out the department and helping many foreign postgraduate students. Well before the concept of gap years he promoted the idea that students should “Do something adventurous and imaginative during their ‘electives'—the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine being very helpful. I was also dragged into outside activities and represented the university at the General Medical Council, which I felt was then run by a caucus out of touch with junior doctors.”

He was appointed pro vice chancellor, gaining an insight into university administration, and was persuaded to be chairman of the staff-student committee at the height of the 1960s student troubles. Retrospectively he did not think he had been good at either mediation or as chairman and wondered why he had accepted these roles. Meanwhile, he continued with work at Oswestry.

In 1960 Roaf was invited by the British Council to make a long teaching tour of Japan, Thailand, and Burma. “One could not have experienced a greater contrast than between orderly Japan and utterly chaotic but very interesting Burma. The British Council further invited Roaf to visit, lecture, and treat patients in Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, India, Iraq, Libya, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, USA, and USSR, all of which he also found to be very educational. The country which most impressed him medically was Cuba, “Other countries' hospitals teach one much about their social conditions.”

Roaf also gained wisdom from female nursing staff, who, for instance, explained that spinally deformed teenage girls were far more concerned about the apparent asymmetry of their breasts, due to deformed rib cages, which they could see, rather than about the prominences in their backs, which they could not.

He retired aged 63 in 1976. “I no longer had the same enthusiasm and had seen too many others just batting out time; also, statistics show that retiring slightly early gives a much greater life expectancy.” However, he was soon to make a six months teaching tour of Malaysia before finally retiring to Chester.

Roaf's main publications include Scoliosis (1966), Posture (1977), Spinal Deformities (1980), and with Leonard Harrison he co-wrote Textbook of Orthopaedic Nursing (1971) and The Paralysed Patient (1977). In addition, he edited and contributed to various works on orthopaedic mechanics, including Implants in Surgery and patented a spinal implant device. He contributed a paper on the Pallis expedition “Ladakh in 1936” to the Proceedings of the International Colloquia on Ladakh (1995) and “Sikkim in 1936” for the Alpine Journal (2001).

He was recognised by many honorary fellowships and memberships of medical associations worldwide.

In 2003 he was delighted to receive researchers from the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Gangktok, Sikkim, who interviewed him about his experiences of their country in 1936.

A successor of his recently commented, “He was held in the greatest of respect in much of the medical world as a great thinker and philosopher, which included society in general. His teaching was often complex and his insights were sometimes too deep for some to follow.”

In advanced age, the esteem in which he was still held could be observed in the almost forelock tugging deference extended to him when he chanced upon former colleagues and students, many of them now eminent in their own right. Despite this, he remained an exceedingly modest man who declined official honours.

Apart from deafness Roaf remained in general good health until mid-January this year.

In latter years, Roaf would brew coffee against a kitchen timer—of such strength that, on returning home, his supper guests would need a stiff drink to sleep.

In 1939 he married, “an extremely tolerant wife,” Ceinwen (née Roberts), from Anglesey. “Why she put up with my is a mystery—the main burden of bringing up our four children fell on her.” She predeceased him, aged 94, by a week. They are survived by their four children.

Sikkim 1936

By modern standards Marco Pallis's Himalayan expedition of 1936 was a modest affair. Transport, clothing, equipment and local conditions have all changed drastically since then. Pallis had climbed extensively without guides in the Alps and had led a previous Himalayan expedition. A gifted musician and fine linguist, he took interest in Tibet in 1933 and became an outstanding Buddhist scholar. His climbing companions Richard Nicholson and Jake Cook joined him along with Freddy Spencer-Chapman, a man with immense powers of endurance.

Although a relatively inexperienced mountaineer, Roaf was invited as medical officer. He had to learn basic Tibetan from Pallis to treat numerous patients who would inevitably arrive at camp in remote areas.

Each paid a £14 fare to Calcutta. They embarked on SS Recorder on 22 February 1936. “Travel by cargo boat could be delightful, but food was poor.” They stayed a night in Calcutta at the Great Eastern Hotel and next day took a train to Siliguri, thence by taxi through the lush vegetation of the Teesta valley to Kalimpong, where they put up at the Himalayan Hotel—the family house of David Macdonald, now an old man and former British Trade Agent Gyantse, Tibet. Roaf recalled, “There was no plumbing, and like many first time visitors to India, Cook and I had enteritis and the simple commode system could not cope with the extra load. Kalimpong was known as the spy centre of Asia with its ethnic mix of Sikkimese, Indian, Tibetan, Nepalese, Bhutanese, and Chinese.”

In the capital of Sikkim, Gangtok, Pallis and Roaf were entertained by the newly appointed political officer, Basil “B J” Gould (later knighted for his diplomacy at the installation of the current Dalai Lama in 1940). Gould had a private talk with Pallis to inform him that his travel request for Tibet could not be forwarded, and worse, that the Maharaja of Sikkim had refused permission to climb either Simvu at 22 360 feet, or Siniolchu, at 22 620 feet, their mountaineering goals. Roaf recalled, “It looked as if our journey had been wasted. Somewhat later, we discovered Gould was to lead a high profile diplomatic mission to Lhasa and understandably did not want others getting in the way.” However, much to their relief, the maharaja, in consultation with Gould, relented.

The secretary of the Himalayan Club in Darjeeling helped select 20 porters; three, who had been on Everest, were automatically selected. The rest had to run up a hill and the first 17 were accepted. The expedition lived mainly off porridge, rice, dahl, and chappatis and when climbing almost entirely off pemmican. As usual, porters were paid by the day and consequently were reluctant to do full stages. Pallis was skilled at handling their tactics and often made them laugh and carry on.

Roaf found Sikkim an exceptionally beautiful country, it being possible to go from tropical to arctic conditions in two days, “From Mangan one can see the river Teesta at 2000 feet together with the summit of Kanchenjunga at over 28 000 feet. The main difficulty on the trek to base camp was leeches. The first we knew of them would be our heads dripping with blood or our boots filled with it.”

Reaching Lachen village at 10 000 feet the expedition was blessed by a saintly tulku—a Buddhist priest—and recruited 30 more porters for work on the Zemu glacier. “The village headman was a skilled negotiator and drove a good price. He consulted me, complaining that when he drank excess brandy his eyes watered. A previous English doctor had made the foolish suggestion that he should drink less and he hoped I was not equally silly.”

Having acclimatised, an attempt was made on the northwest ridge of Simvu. Roaf found skiing on the lower slopes much less tiring than plunging through thigh deep snow. He recollected, “Recreational skiing at 20 000 feet was enjoyable but making kick turns was exhausting.” Advanced base was established on Simvu Saddle, where the climbers cooked for the porters, since a primus stove in their hands was considered too great a fire risk. “On the Saddle,” Roaf reminisced, “I had a very curious experience, looking south all I could see was mist, yet I had the impression I could see through it and perceive the teeming multitude of the plains below and knew that in some mysterious way I would be linked with them in the future. And so it happened, from 1952 to 1998.”

While the climbing party attempted the summit—they failed due to an impassable chasm—Roaf returned with the porters to base, where he found a crisis between arguing Darjeeling and Gharwali porters. Some had decided the climbers would all be killed on the mountain and so they could steal all their possessions. When Roaf returned alone, “They were convinced all other British were dead. The only problem was how to dispose of me, and I had a very anxious night. Fortunately, by pure chance news came that a Lieutenant. Harrison, whose seriously ill climbing companion was being carried down to Gangtok, would arrive soon hoping to join us. No more plotting after that.”

Both Simvu and Siniolchu were first climbed, after strenuous effort, later that year by Paul Bauer's Bavarians on 23 September and 2 October.

In retirement Roaf visited Tibet and the Indian Himalayas on several occasions, often to visit Tibetan refugee settlements, usually accompanied by one or more of his family. His last visit to the Himalayas was in 1998 at the age of 85.

Honouring books

(Paraphrased from Peaks and Lamas)

Books are revered almost more than anything by Tibetans and have their place of honour on top of everyday objects—never underneath. When handed a book, a Tibetan often lays it on his head, murmuring a prayer that he may gain from its wisdom. Tibetans are morbid about books contacting shoes. One day, in 1936, at the Gompa [monastery] of P'hiyang in Ladakh, while sitting on the floor talking to Lama Gyaltsen, Dr Roaf happened to lightly land his feet on the massive black tome of Professor Boyd's Textbook of Pathology, to which he had just referred. The lama stopped in the middle of his discourse and said in shocked tones, “Excuse me, you may not know it, but you are treading on a book!” Roaf at once apologised, picked up the precious volume and laid it in a safe place. Pallis thought its learned author would have been surprised at such respect—an honour it probably never received from his students in his own laboratory at home.

Nearly 70 years later, in 2005, Roaf met a monk from this gompa who was visiting north Wales and reminisced about his time there and the great philosophers he had met. The monk asked him his age. He replied, “92.” The monk said he was “29.” Both laughed heartily at this reversal of figures, both well knowing the importance of auspicious numbers in Tibetan culture.

Raof had an outstanding visual memory from Leh, the capital of Ladakh, of something now never to be seen, of a caravan riding down the main street of the then small town. It had come over the Karakoram mountains to what was a centre for trade between Tibet, Kashmir, and Central Asia, as well as a staging post for Muslims from North China on pilgrimage to Mecca. Large Turcomen with typical Mongolian faces, some with relatively fair hair and green-blue eyes, were mounted on small horses and their pack animals often had steaming samovars strapped to their saddles. At the end of the street was the mosque.

Paying his respects

One day, after undertaking three operations in a very hot, enervating theatre in Gwalior, India, Roaf cancelled further operations fearing he would make mistakes if he continued. Nobody minded, and he was invited to tour the local Maharaja's palace and next morning was invited to pay his respects to the Maharaja's grandmother. Arriving at a small, highly decorated stone building, he was asked by her major-domo to wait a moment until she was ready. In due course he was taken into her presence—she was dressed in a beautiful sari, covered with jewellery, and offerings of fruit and flowers were at her feet. “She herself was a beautiful marble statue!”

Long necked women

In Burma Roaf had the good fortune to obtain x rays of a Padang giraffe-necked woman who wore many neck rings, from which he was able to learn much about bone growth. “I published one of my best papers on it—short and to the point. They appear to have enormously extended necks. Valuable gold alloy rings are placed around baby girls' necks and added to as she grows until at maturity her neck appears very long—a skilled procedure avoiding pressure sores and nerve damage. Consequentially her larynx is constricted and she cannot shout but can only whisper demurely—she is thus deemed to be a very wealthy and desirable bride. The x rays revealed the neck bones had not grown unduly, but, rather, that the upper chest had been constricted.”


Once, heading for a British ward, Roaf gave matron a “Good morning” as obsequiously as possible. She ignored him with a cold stare. Reaching the ward, he asked sister why he had been snubbed. She cheerfully replied that he had just broken five thermometers. He was astounded because as a surgical registrar he had not touched one for years. The sister continued, “When a nurse breaks a thermometer the cost is deducted from her wages, so I always put a doctor's name in the book, and it has been your turn for the last quarter.”

Ship's surgeon

“Crossing the North Atlantic on a convoy in 1942 was never going to be pleasant. We gathered in the Irish Sea and zigzagged slowly westward and immediately hit rough weather. A few days into the Atlantic the convoy was approached by a brightly illuminated Swedish ship, which wanted a good look. We now knew the U-boats had full information about us. The biggest ship was a Union Castle liner bound for South Africa with a large number of doctors and nurses. Halfway across she headed south alone; within 24 hours she and all on board were at the bottom of the sea. The U-boats had made good use of the Swedish information.”

Finally reaching New York, Roaf and all crew could not disembark until they had been photographed and thumb printed. “That night the entire Chinese crew absconded never to be traced. After several days a new crew of stokers was flown in from the notorious Montreal pool. They were the nastiest, stupidest, and laziest gang I ever had the misfortune to meet. We were heading for Freetown, Sierra Leone, whose harbour was guarded at night by a boom. We should have done 15 knots, but due to lazy stoking did only 11, at 12 we could have reached port before the boom closed. The captain emphasised their own interest in extra effort. As a result progress dropped to 9 knots and we spent an anxious night outside harbour in the danger area.”

“At Durban the ship picked up a delightful Canadian RN lieutenant bound for New Zealand. Having meandered around Australia, calling at several ports, we approached Christchurch nearly a year after he had left England. A launch approached at speed asking if he were aboard and that he must disembark at once as his ship left for the UK in half an hour.” Roaf recalled the officer's comment as a summary of the war “The gentlemen whose livery I have the honour to wear is a somewhat eccentric employer.”


On one occasion in unstable, remote, northern Burma, Roaf visited a ward full of soldiers injured by land mines. He asked how insurgents obtained ammunition, expecting to be told it came from China. The answer amazed, “In Burma family ties are strong, their leader is the prime minister's cousin; when he needs anything he radios the PM to arrange a parachute drop” As a European, Roaf found it hard to understand “these charming but elusive people.”


Once, awaiting a flight from Delhi to Patna, Roaf was approached by a well dressed local who asked, “Excuse me, sir, are you Mr Robert Roaf.” Intrigued, he said he was. “Is your birthday the 25 April?” Roaf reluctantly agreed, at which point the man consulted a small book and with a frowning, distorted face said, “Oh, sir! You must not fly today, it is most unlucky for this aeroplane,” and added that for 100 rupees he would sell him a big insurance policy. At this moment the flight was called, and Roaf, declining the offer, took his leave. Landing at Lucknow there was a loud noise and the plane tilted over. A loose wheel was found and hammered back on. The same happened at Varanasi and Patna, where Roaf thankfully disembarked thinking that maybe there was something in astrology after all.


In Delhi patients often presented themselves with horrible wounds infested with maggots—nearly always the result of camel bites. Maggots can be beneficial to cleaning wounds, but sometimes being confronted with a meal of rice after treating such patients, Roaf began to imagine the grains of rice moving.


At the medical conference in the USSR in 1935 the delegates were invited to a grand reception at the magnificent Petrodvoretz Palace on the Baltic. Here Roaf had a close view of the great Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936), famed for his animal research and his Pavlovian reaction. “He was a short square man with a typical Slav face. He walked with a stick and had a marked limp, presumably from osteoarthritis of one hip.”

Pre-war medicine

In recent times, Roaf recalled how medicine was when he joined the profession in the 1930s. “There were almost no effective cures and a doctor' s reputation depended on his ability to prognose. Young doctors soon discovered which placebos had the least complications.” Few patients had telephones, and a great uncle of his, practising in Northumbria, had his bedroom over the surgery so that if needed at night, a rider, by standing in his stirrups, could knock on the window with his horse whip.

“Most doctors did their own dispensing from more or less innocuous bottles next to the consulting room. Surgery equipment was minimal, there were no appointments and most time was spent home visiting. Most doctors worked long hours and were on call all day and night, including Sundays and bank holidays. Now there is little visiting, surgeries are well equipped and fully computerised, there are more auxiliaries than doctors—the NHS has certainly improved general practice.”

1970s Iraq

In the 1970s Roaf was lecturing at Basra University, Iraq, and observed something that much amused him.

“In the street, female students were dressed head to foot in black shrouds. As they entered the campus, like butterflies emerging from a chrysalis, they threw off their gowns to emerge in full feminine glory—high heels, mini skirts, low cleavage, see-through blouses, elaborate hairstyles, make up, and jewellery galore. They were as flirtatious as their Western sisters. At five o'clock, like Persephone returning to Hades in the autumn, they put on their shrouds and went home.”


As a visiting expert, Roaf found he was often subjected to the ritual of suggesting treatments for various patients. “Whether the expert is right or wrong, the ceremony provides excellent entertainment for the spectators.” Once, in northern Burma, he was asked to see an elderly man—a leading chief and politician who, years earlier, had been badly injured in an air crash. “He had deformed feet, ununited fractures, unreduced dislocated shoulder—there was no end to his complaints and miseries. After 15 minutes I could stand no more of his ever louder wailing. ‘Tell me,' I said, ‘If I could cure just one complaint which would it be?' For the first time he smiled. ‘Oh, sir, I would be eternally grateful to you … if only you could cure my impotence!' he replied. My incompetence was made clear. To all.”

Modern medicine

Writing in the Guardian in April 2002, Roaf commented from experience both as a surgeon and patient that “Hospitals are far better than 30 years ago, thanks to the people who work in them, not to politicians or bureaucrats. They are infinitely better than before the NHS came into being in 1948. Among many improvements are better diagnostic facilities and equipment, better drugs, improved surgical techniques, better liaison with GPs, and better aftercare. Day case outpatient operations in particular are a great improvement which require a high degree of skilled organisation.”

Soviet Union in 1935

It was largely by accident that Roaf went to a big, heavily subsidised for propaganda purposes, international physiology conference in Leningrad and Moscow in 1935. His father, a professor of physiology at Liverpool University, had been invited but declined and suggested that Robert attend. The younger Roaf deliberately sailed in the cheapest accommodation on a Soviet ship and was impressed by the setting sun reflecting off the golden dome of St Isaac's Cathedral as they approached Leningrad. He noted the first to land was a veteran, left wing trade union leader complete with bowler hat, which he lifted in greeting to shout that he had at last entered the people's garden of Eden. He was rapturously received and whisked off in a limousine.

“The conference was well organised with the opening ceremony as dull as all others.” The highlight was a reception in Peter the Great's Petrodvoretz Palace, which Roaf would revisit in 1954 when it was still being rebuilt by German prisoners of war. “The Soviets were pragmatic, telling the prisoners, ‘You can go home when you have repaired the damage you did.'”

Delegates were issued with free tram passes, but the trams were always overcrowded. Spotting an empty one, Roaf boarded and was immediately told by the conductress to get off. He stubbornly sat tight and the next moment the tram entered the depot for the night.

“Overnight travel by train from Leningrad to Moscow, where we went for social and cultural events, in ‘soft class' was a mistake—the fleas had an all night orgy. From a small tower near the river it was possible to parachute, although this was forbidden to foreigners. Standing next to two uniformed British military officers, presumably attaches, I heard on say to the other, ‘There's nothing in this parachute lark.' The other assented.” Roaf later understood the meaning of “military intelligence.”


Pallis M. Peaks and Lamas. London: Cassell, 1939.

Spencer-Chapman F. Helvellyn to Himalaya. London: Chatto and Windus, 1940.

Roaf R. Sikkim 1936. Climbing with Marco Pallis, Freddy Spencer-Chapman and others, in the Zemu Valley. Alpine Journal 2001:173-80.


Professor of orthopaedic surgery University of Liverpool, 1964-76 (b Golders Green, London, 25 April 1913; q Oxford 1938; MA, FRCSEd, FRCS, MChOrth), died in Chester on 16 February 2007.

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