The Österreichischer Alpenverein (ÖAV) was founded in Vienna in November 1862 to foster and encourage the sport of mountaineering. In 1869 a number of German and Austrian Sektions got together to establish the Deutscher Alpenverein (DAV) which is largely credited to Franz Senn, the village priest in Vent (Ötztal) then later in Neustift (Stubai). His associates were Johann Stüdl, a wealthy Prague businessman, and Karl Hofmann, a young lawyer from Munich. Franz Senn maintained that the two clubs should work together and issued a joint statement of intent in 1871, later ratified as the DuÖAV in 1873.
The ÖAV was the first alpine club to be established in mainland Europe, celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2012. Presently the ÖAV has over 500,000 members in 210 Sektions including Sektion Britannia. The main strength of the Alpenverein is that membership is open to everyone who has a love of the mountains, regardless of age or ability.
After formal amalgamation with the DAV in1873 much wealth was created resulting in competition between various towns and Sektions to build a network of huts right across Bavaria and Austria, particularly in the mountains of North and South Tyrol. After the First World War the Austrian South Tyrol was handed to Italy as war reparations including the forfeiture of 42 huts.
The intervening war years saw the rise of German and Austrian nationalism in the 1930’s and the resurgence of the DuÖAV. When Austria was annexed in 1938 the DuÖAV simply became known as the DAV with many huts being used to train mountain troops. By the end of the Second World War the DAV was again disbanded leaving many huts abandoned to the elements or simply plundered for whatever utilities or goods could be carried away. Indeed at this time the occupying Allied Armies wanted the huts to be blown up to prevent them being used as bases for guerrilla operations.
During this time a young British Army Major found himself back in the beloved Austria of his youth, processing and decommissioning Austrian soldiers returning to their homes. This man was Major Walter Ingham who opposed the suggestion that mountain huts should be blown up; he believed the Austrians should be encouraged to return to the mountains and the huts so common to their culture and landscape, arguing that it would give the local people and occupying soldiers somewhere to go and something to do.
Prior to the war Walter Ingham had been running a travel company specialising in skiing holidays in Austria and France. During this time he came into contact with Heinrich Karl Krausz, to be known after the war as Henry Crowther. Henry was from Graz and a member of ÖAV Sektion Graz, working at that time for the Austrian Tourist Board in London.
Sometime around 1947 Walter Ingham and Henry Crowther floated the idea of forming a British Sektion of the Österreichischer Alpenverein as a means of fostering post-war Anglo-Austrian relationships, but also to encourage British mountaineers to visit the Eastern Alps where both men had grown up. On 27 July 1948 the United Kingdom Sektion was established. This Sektion was initially known as Sektion England but later changed its name to the Sektion Britannia.
By Walter Ingham
Walter John Ingham was born in Vienna on 29 May 1914, the second son of Frank Ingham and Lilian Grace who had eloped to Vienna from Burnley, Lancashire in 1909. During the course of the First World War the family was interned in Austria and under house arrest.
Growing up in Austria with the mountains close by Walter soon developed a passion for skiing and mountaineering, being a member of the ÖAV Wiener Lehrer (Vienna Teachers) Sektion. In 1932 Walter returned to England to work as a Junior Salesman for Remington typewriters, but he was not happy being away from the mountains. In 1934 with just £25 he advertised a private ski-party to the Austrian Tyrol, figuring out that if he took 25 people, provided transport, food, accommodation, ski hire and a guide he could start a tour company. He banked £80. His business grew and by 1938 he was providing skiing in the winter and walking in the summer to the Austrian and French Alps.
During the period prior to the war in 1936-37 Walter became friends with Heinrich Krausz who worked at the Austrian State Travel Bureau in London and who was also a member of the ÖAV. It was a relationship that was to last many years.
When the Second World War came Walter served in North Africa emerging at the end with the rank of Major . As a fluent German speaker he was then sent to Austria with the Austrian Control Commission processing Austrian soldiers returning home from the war.
At some time around 1947-48, he approached the ÖAV Headquarters in Innsbruck, meeting with Dr Schmidt-Wellenburg, the ÖAV General Secretary, and floating the idea of establishing an ÖAV Sektion England that formally came to fruition on the 27 July 1948.
After being de-mobilised from the army Major Ingham, as he liked to be known, re-established his travel business in 1947 at 143 New Bond Street, London, eventually employing 80 fulltime staff including his co-director Henry Crowther (formerly Heinrich Krausz) and 30 overseas reps. During this time he established the Ski-Party-Snow-Train, the Overland Summer Sleep Coach, and the flight packages that featured de-commissioned DC-3 Dakota US airplanes.
His business continued to grow, starting a Lakes and Mountains programme in 1957 that continues to this day. Walter eventually sold the business to Hotelplan in 1963 and he retired to the island of Elba to enjoy lots of sailing. Major Ingham died 18 July 2000 at the age of 86.
Extracts from a letter from Walter Ingham to Club Secretary, Doreen Dorward in October 1996.
In pre-war days I was a member of the youth group of the DuÖeAV sectionWiener Lehrer, the only one catering for my age (15/16 in 1929/30).
By March 1938 I had already started my travel business in a small way, when Germany marched into Austria. At that date I had a ski-party at the Dortmunder Hütte in Kühtai and I immediately went out to see all was well. There were no problems, but, as expected, I did not like what I heard and saw. The DuÖeAV was immediately integrated into the German system and renamedDeutscher Alpenverein. I quiietly ceased paying subscriptions or being a member. Despite my youth I had seen and thoroughly understood which way Germany was going and what her real interests and objectives were.
I immediately transferred my activities to France and joined the Club Alpin Français and the Ski Club de Paris.
At the end of September 1939, due to my linguistic qualifications, I managed to jump the queue waiting to join-up. By early October I had received my first traditional military ffdressing-downff and early in November was back in France, this time as aLance Corporal.
At the end of the war I applied to join the Austrian Control Comission and volunteered to serve a few additional years as I was keen to participate in the revival of the Austrian economy. At the same time I renewed my AAC membership by joining the Viennese Sektion Austria.
In the course of my duties I frequently had to visit the Tyrol (French Zone) where, for personal reasons, I also established contact with the General Headquarters of the AAC, now renamed ÖeAV. They had slight “misunderstandings1* with the resident French authorities: none of my business, but I was able to resolve some of these. During those early years I had frequent discussions with AAC/Innsbruck including the desirability of establishing a UK/äAC unit once I had retired from the army, operating this on similar lines to the then existing Dutch section.
I was demobbed in early October 1948, returned to London and immediately restarted my dormant travel business and initiated AAC/UK. By Christmas 1948 I had organized my first post-war ski-party to the Dortmunder Hütte in Kühtai!
My father was born in the Austrian city of Graz in 1904 and studied electrical engineering at Technische Universität in Graz during which time he skied with Heinrich Harrer, later of Eiger and Seven Years in Tibet fame. After qualifying he worked as an electrical engineer for ELIN for a couple of years before the 1930’s great depression set in. Thereafter only sporadic jobs were available to him as an engineer.
In 1936 my father had a job offer at the Austrian State Tourist Office in London that proved a real lifesaver in the very real sense of the word. During the period leading up to the war he met a travel company owner by the name of Walter Ingham who specialised in tours of Austria. On the day of the Anschluss in Vienna he made the decision to remain in England, although several months later the Austrian State Tourist Office was dismantled by the Nazis and all personnel ordered home. He was issued with a new passport [German Reich], but did not return.
Internment of Aliens followed soon after war broke out in September 1939. My father’s tribunal was in January 1940 and I think he was sent to the Isle of Man in March or April. Letters to my mother, Theodora Baird to whom he was engaged, though heavily censored, start around that time in 1940. He was released a year later and got married on 14 June 1941 But he had to do another 3months on kippers and porridge when the scare of Hitler’s British invasion in Autumn 1941 reached fever point. From 1942 until the end of the war he worked as an electrical engineer for various firms including Handley Paige, obviously considered a trustworthy citizen by then, having married a native girl with Scottish roots and buying a house in Purley, London.
After the war Heinrich became a British National in 1946 changing his name to the English sounding Henry Crowther. Soon he would pitch-up with his old friend Walter Ingham who was keen to re-establish his travel company business F & W Ingham, specialising in tours of Austria which got underway in 1947. Henry became a co-director with Walter Ingham until the firm was sold in 1965 though he remained as a manager until retiring in 1969.
Along with Walter, Henry was keen to re-establish his links with the ÖAV and for establishing a new Sektion for his adopted homeland, working with Walter to form Sektion Britannia in July 1948. Henry would serve the newly formed Sektion throughout his life, serving first as an Executive Committee member then as Club’s First President for almost 20 years from 1969-1988.
When the UK daughter of the Austrian Alpenverein (ÖAV) came into being in 1948, the future of the parent was not very promising.
Some 1225 years prior to this, when the ÖAV was founded as a roof organisation of a hundred small local associations, it soon had to twin with the much larger, urban based German Alpenverein (DAV). When Walter Ingham joined the youth group of the Vienna Teachers section and I joined the University section in Graz (coincidentally both in 1929) it was called the German and Austrian Alpenverein (DuÖAV).
After the Anschluss in 1938 all traces of Austria had to be removed and the name was changed to the German Alpenverein. At the end of World War II this became fatal as all German property in Austria was to be expropriated as war reparations. Unlike the vast Hermann Göring Works, the Austrian industry’s largest steel plant in Linz an der Donau could not be dismantled and shipped to Russia.
Long negotiations started in which Walter Ingham, our founder and a member of the British Military Control Commission in Vienna, could take a hand and a lead.
First, the original Austrian element was shelled out but this could not survive without the much larger German element. A small rival group, the Naturfreunde, politically more acceptable to the Russian occupation forces, was considered and ready to take over but, with no support in the provinces and the mountain areas, it could not cope.
Eventually a trusteeship of the German element by the Austrians saved the complex of mountain huts in Austria as a whole. After the peace treaty in 1955 it was not difficult to restore the rights of the West German sections, and to keep the East German and Sudeten interests in a shared trusteeship which still survives (1988). Still, in 1948 it needed a lot of optimism on Walter Ingham’s part to embark on the creation of a UK branch of the ÖAV that should also reach mountaineers in the Commonwealth and other non-alpine countries.
Unlike the Austrian sections with their long, historical, local support, our section is a British institution stretching over the British Isles, with a large transient membership. How we manage to keep at about 2,600 faithfuls every year is a bit of a miracle. The peak figure around 1960, when we numbered 4,500, made up of pre-war members, an Austrian émigré contingent and former service personnel in the British occupation forces, will probably not be reached again. (Ed: our 2017 membership was 14,265!)
Economically the hard Austrian Schilling and the varying degree of international popularity have not always helped Section Britannia. The effort of a continued annual recruiting drive and spreading of the gospel should assure our survival.
July 12 – 16, 2018 in Hohe Tauern, Austria
A group of 50 members and special guests from the ÖAV gathered for the weekend to celebrate 70 years of Sektion Britannia. Allan Hartley organised this event at the Rudolfshütte Berghotel with great success!
October 5 – 7 in Bowness-on-Windermere, Lake District
This was held at the Hydro Hotel, Bowness-on-Windermere, 5 – 7 October this year with a full programme of activities over the weekend with 8 different walks on Saturday and Sunday, mountain biking, kayaking and paddle boarding. There were also courses on outdoor first aid, GPS navigation, traditional navigation, scrambling and rock climbing. There was a well-attended and lively AGM on Saturday afternoon with useful contributions from members. As Allan Hartley wished to resign, Jacky Brown was appointed as the new President.
Our guests of honour at the 70th anniversary dinner were ÖAV Vice-President Dr Wolfgang Schnabl and his wife Eva who both belong to Sektion Stockerau (near Vienna) which hosted the Hauptversammlung during late October. As one of the six vice-presidents, Wolfgang was representing the Präsidium (the ÖAV’s most senior governing body). They both enjoyed walking in the Lake District, even though it was rather wet underfoot!
By Molly Gilbert (née Graty)
Invited to join group of 9 visiting the Austrian Alps for a ski-touring holiday. First holiday abroad, an epic and exciting adventure. Join the AAC: my first membership card.
What to wear? Borrowed everything and hand-knitted socks, gloves and hat. Borrowed boots, ½ size too small awaited me at Victoria Station: “Put them on, Molly, they will fit by the time we get to Kölner Haus!”.
Rough cross Channel crossing to Calais, join overnight train to Basel, 4 a side and sit up all night. Rolls and Swiss cherry jam in Basel and then onwards in cattle trucks (slatted seats!) on the long, slow journey to Landeck where we changed to the Post bus. Hair pin bends, reverse technique at each bend and we eventually arrived at Serfaus 24 hours later. The luggage taken somewhere on sledges.
Proper food at last with plenty of garlic! So quiet with deep snow in all directions, a magical experience in that small farming village. Where was the Kölner Haus, our final destination? Sitting two at a time in the goods lift, we were catapulted into the unknown but we hoped the ‘thing’ would stop at the top.
Welcoming lights gave us a first glimpse of the Kölner Haus, sitting like a castle with a distinctive lump of rock beside it. Bunk beds, 5 in a room. Food was eaten with relish so it must have been good: breakfast of black bread, spread and jam with white rolls on special days. Dinner plates always cleaned into the soup cauldron. Lights out at 10pm.
Skis fitted the next morning and we were left to get on with it, mostly on our bottoms or noses. Next day Herr Lenz gave us our first lesson. It was like ski-ing in paradise with miles of plateau waiting for us to leave our mark. One evening there was a nail-biting ride on a hay toboggan, five astride, to the weekly hop. All men dressed in their Sunday best with grey heavy suits. Oh, the garlic! Long walk back up to the Kölner Haus.
All-in cost of holiday was £33!
Following year (1951) to Kuhtai and the Dortmunder Hütte. 4 hour walk in blinding snow and suitcases left in hay hut. Again so blissfully isolated and no crowds on the ski slopes. 2 day wait for cases. These huts were so welcoming in a sometimes very bleak environment. Memories of Matratzenlager and Fussende blankets, Kachelofen and always superb views, especially from some loos.
The Rock and Ice Course with Serafin Fender in Sölden and the Siegerland Hütte and many ski-touring weeks organised by Alpenverein Innsbruck.
Glorious isolation, no chat on skis, peace and tranquillity, the slopes and snow fields to ourselves.
By Mel Owen
In the summers of 1962 and 1963 the Ősterreichischer Alpenverein turned me from a complete alpine novice into a competent alpinist, and for this I will forever be in Austria’s debt.
In 1962 I was a student on an alpine training course in the Őtztal Alps. In the course of a fortnight’s hut tour, bagging all of the highest peaks in the area, Austrian guides taught us all that was known at that time about the use of ice axe and crampons, about glacier craft, about belaying on rock, ice and snow, and we each took it in turns to prusik unaided out of an actual crevasse. It was a perfect grounding, one that has stood me in good stead throughout many mountaineering trips over many decades.
Helmets and harnesses had yet to be invented. We each wrapped a longish rope several times around our waists and tied it off. Our climbing ropes were then clipped directly to this waist loop. I still have the Stubai Aschenbrenner Führerpickel ice axe and the hand forged Stubai crampons I bought for this first trip, the crampons having their place of manufacture, Fulpmes, stamped on to them. Similar ice axes are for sale on Ebay for £75.
Another two week course in 1963 was a continuation training course in the Sonnblick/Glockner area, which picked up and consolidated what we had learnt the previous summer. I well remember our last day: after a night at the Stüdl Hütte we climbed the Stüdlgrat to the summit of Austria’s highest peak, the Großglockner, before a long glacial descent to Heiligenblut, from where we caught a bus to the railhead.
As was usual in those early years, flights were never part of such package holidays. Instead we used trains, travelling very comfortably overnight in couchettes. Interestingly, on all 4 crossings of Europe between the Channel and Austria, the train stopped twice to change engines, since only on the first and final legs were we pulled by diesel locomotives, the middle sector using steam engines. Whether this was due to relative fuel costs or political pressure we never knew. How many readers have ever been on a package holiday to the Alps by steam train?
Each of these two-week all-inclusive package holidays cost just under £30, but that amounted to slightly more than four week’s take-home pay for me at that time. It was quite an investment, but very well worth it.
By Jim Munday
I first joined ‘Sektion England’ in 1964 to go on the Combined Rock and Ice Course. The course was led by guide Serafin Fender from Sölden, moving from hut to hut. The course cost 46gns by rail. Membership was 12/6d with a joining fee of 8/6d. I also did a tour Through the Zillertal travelling by Sleep Coach.
In 1964 the Club was based at F & W Ingham’s office in Old Bond Street, Audrey Salkeld was Secretary and later became a noted writer and mountaineering researcher. In 1968 the Club moved to the offices of Ramblers’ Holidays in Finchley Road in North London when Jill Riseley was Secretary. Jill was very keen on tennis and ski touring but left in 1972 to marry an ardent cricket fan. Diana Penny became secretary just before Ramblers moved to Welwyn Garden City. Both Jill and Diana were active in the Club attending meets and lectures. Diana moved on in 1975. Ollie Scarfe became secretary 1976-79 and was replaced by Doreen Dorwood 1979 – 1998: she and husband Wilf were both active club members.
In the 1970s and 1980’s I was very involved with the club serving on the Executive (boring) and Social Committees.
I remember earlier Chairmen: Hywel Lloyd (1972 – 1976, still active with the Alpine Club), Gerry Russell (1977 – 1982), Bank Manager Geoff Pearson (1983 – 1988, and President 1989 – 2000, who had competed as a professional runner in his teens), followed by Tony Freake (1989 – 2001 and also President 2001 – 2009).
By Jacky Brown
At the end of 2 years in Kenya, an experience of life-threatening cold in the snows of Mt.Kenya made me ask fellow members of the Mountain Club of Kenya how I could learn about safe travel in snow and on glaciers. They said “Join the Austrian Alpine Club and go on their Rock and Ice Course.” So on returning to UK in Sep 1970 I set about finding out how to join.
I headed for an AAC London lecture to find out more, and was given a warm welcome and advised to wait till January to join, as subs were for a calendar year. Even so I managed a couple of meets in 1970, and especially remember the Stair meet. Jill Evans ensured we were in correct dorms in the hut and supervised the mass cooking of Saturday dinner as well as leading the walks. Belinda Swift was there, enthusiastically telling us about the cottage in Wales which she had just bought. Ted Jackson and Bob Stewardson were there too and encouraged my enjoyment of an excellent cider in the cosy bar of Swinside Inn.
Stair was a luxurious hut compared with some I stayed in during those early years. The norm was to car share from London, leaving after work and heading to the Lakes or Wales, taking 5 or 6 hours. I recall one hut where we had to climb a ladder to a big matratzenlager in the roof. I woke next morning to find a beard in my face which definitely wasn’t there the night before!
Ironically I couldn’t afford to go on the Rock & Ice course but so enjoyed the UK meets and the London lectures that I became an enthusiastic member. In the 80s/90s we had a big meet every other year in the Alps aimed at getting many members together in one big hut., and eventually I did get to the Alps. When at last I went on the course it was no longer taught by the legendary Peter Habeler about whom all my friends had raved.
The Alpine meet in 2000 was to climb Grossglockner. There were some training days based at Oberwalderhütte, then a transfer to Erherzog-Johann-Hütte at Aldesruhe. Some of us opted to climb the further 350m to the Glockner summit, whereas others opted to try for it next morning. It was as busy as Blackpool beach especially at Glocknerscharte! Next day was to be the 200th anniversary of the first climb of the Glockners and the President was due to climb it with army support. The soldiers had already put in a fixed rope and it felt like the whole country was trying to do the summit for the anniversary. The last rope to reach the top that day was our AAC(UK) rope – which turned out to be the closest ascent to the actual anniversary! Next morning heavy wet snow and deteriorating weather prevented others, and we all beat a hasty retreat down a Klettersteig amid a raging storm.
I have one newsletter from 1973 which has some interesting facts.