Volume 32 Number 3 Article 1
Some Memories of George Cornes
The day I first met George is still quite vivid in my memory. I had been a member of the Red Rose for a few months, and had a few illegal trips down Lancaster Hole, mostly at night to avoid detection by Cymmie and the BSA. I was still raw at the game and the complications of all the cave politics that were rife, had not fully sunk in. All I knew was that Wilf Taylor impressed on me "Don't get caught." I thought I would like to see Casterton Fell in daylight, and armed with a recently bought Pennine Underground by Norman Thornber, on March 12th 1950, Bill Leyland and I walked across the moor to Easegill.
If you look in the first edition of PU (1947) you will see that Lancaster Hole gets a mention, but the Easegill caves are numbered 1 to 7, No. 1 being Boundary Pot, all are above the waterfall (Cow Dub). No. 6 caught my attention, Thornber's description goes "A short narrow passage from a manhole at stream level, leads to a letter box with a four foot drop into a fine cave, apparently just below the corner of Easegill Beck. The most exciting and interesting of the whole series."
On arriving in Easegill, we first looked at Cow Dubs, and on climbing above saw the series of small caves in the cliff of east bank of the gill, none of which seemed to match any of the Thornber description. I was looking for the "manhole at stream level". I crossed the stream to a jumble of boulders and there it was. I shouted to Leyland "Found it", switched on my light and dropped into the hole.
Before my feet touched down I knew something was wrong. My inadequate light, a cycle front lamp connected to a bell battery, had shown me a floor about five foot down, but as I landed I realised it was only a ledge, and in front of me was blackness that my light did not penetrate, the ledge was sloping and slippery, my hands could find nothing to grab hold of.
From above, "is there room, shall I come down?" I wanted to appear calm but the crack in my voice as I screamed "NO!" kept Bill's face peering into the hole. He reached down and I managed to grab his hand and frantically scrabble out. I lay on the grass, heart pounding wildly, consulted the PU again, this was our bible, it couldn't be wrong.
Making no sense from the book we walked on upstream, my legs still shaking and thoughts racing round my head. "This caving lark could be dangerous." I don't think it had ever occurred to me that it might be so until today, perhaps I wasn't cut out for this sort of thing. My thoughts were interrupted as we rounded the corner of the dry stream bed, I heard a metallic knocking. A man was kneeling in a depression in the boulder floor and hammering a steel chisel with a lump hammer in a narrow bedding plane in the rock face.
We stood looking for a moment, and Bill whispered to me "It's George Comes." I knew the name, discoverer of Lancaster Hole, BSA, the enemy. He looked up "Hello." he said, "Who are you?" Hesitantly I replied "We're Red Rose, what are you doing?", and then for the first time I saw that broad smile appear on his face, and in his rich Oxfordshire accent he told us, "Behind here is an Ice Palace full of icicles, strawberry flavoured and raspberry flavoured". The tension was broken and we burst out laughing. I bent down to have a look into the bedding plane, and George thrust the hammer and chisel into my hands "Here, get in and you can have the biggest one, all to yourself."
The bedding plane was a few inches high, and rolling a pebble into it you could hear it drop several feet into an unseen passages below. We started work and as we laboured we chatted, I told him of my experiences in the hole lower down, and he told me that it was a pot he had found and was called Oxford Pot from his birth place. "Good job you didn't go all the way down, its 50ft!!" The thoughts came flooding back, but somehow it didn't seem to matter any more, life was good, there could be new caves only a few feet away.
Encouraged by Georges tales of caverns measureless to man, gold plated stalagmites, and naked women wanting to have their way with us, we toiled away but made little impression. Eventually we asked him if he knew of any caves we could get in that were nearby "Yes, there was one," he said. "It's like a spiral staircase, I found it some time ago, but the bottom was blocked and flooded, it's worth having a look at. I called it Swindon Hole because Swindon's near Oxford."
Leaving George still working, Bill and I walked back down the gill and followed his instructions we located the entrance on the west bank, behind a low wall. Down the spiral staircase until it appeared to end in a rift, the floor was cobbles but dry. I pulled away some of the cobbles and could see a low passage continuing on, passing more stones back to Bill I continued. Soon it was big enough to crawl along going gently downwards, before long I could stand up. I waited for Bill to join me, as the sound of his exertions and grunting came towards me, from the other direction I heard another familiar sound.
"What have you stopped for?" said Bill. "Listen, can you hear it?" I replied. We continued down the narrow twisting passage for a few yards. It was now several feet high and then in the roof we could see the daylight, and the hand with hammer and chisel. We started to make weird moaning sounds. The hammering stopped, we fell silent. The hammering resumed, we moaned even louder. Silence. "Who's that?" came the shout, as we tried to stifle our laughter. Eventually we relented and told him where we were and waited till he joined us, and the three of us went on to explore some 500ft of new cave.
I was hooked, the caving bug had bit me, but I sometimes wonder if I hadn't met George that day, would the terror of my experience down Oxford Pot have put me off caving forever?
We subsequently became good friends, he lived only a few minutes walk away from me, and we spent much time caving and on holidays, both at home and abroad. The first time I went to France we flew my old Ford Thames van across the Channel in some tatty old airplane held together with elastic bands and at a maximum speed of about sixty MPH - the wings flapped alarmingly. The service was not making much profit at £17 per car and three passengers so George was working out how to get more cars into the body of the plane. The company went bust the year after.
George was a master at making things work. Once, while hurtling across France in his Riley the engine seized solid. I managed to drag the car off the road with my Ford to the edge of a field. We set up camp and George dismantled the engine, took out the crankshaft and shaved a couple of microns from the offending big end with a penknife, working into the night with his caving lamp and up again at dawn. By breakfast it was ready for off again. "I'll go steady for a while till it's run in." he said and with a roar hurtled off in the direction of the Mediterranean.
But all this came in later years, I can still remember the second time I met George. It was a few weeks after the first and he turned up at my home one evening. "I've found another hole but I'm not telling the BSA, I'm giving it to the Red Rose." He gave me directions on how to find it and on Sunday Wilf Taylor, Jim Eyre, Bill Leyland, Harry Bewes and myself set off for Leck Fell. But that's another story.
George Comes - A short eulogy on occasion of the scattering of the ashes of George Comes at Lancaster Hole on Saturday 28th October 1995.
George Comes was a good friend of the Red Rose Cave and Pothole Club and the club made him an honorary member some years ago. He was a widely read man and possessed quite a literary mind. For many years George would read and assess the merits of each of the articles written in the Newsletter of the year and decided who should be awarded the annual literary prize. This he would present at the annual dinner after giving a discourse on each article and author. He never criticised a writer but would always extol there good points. George loved poetry saying that a good poem usually said and meant more than a few chapters in a story book. One of his best loved poems was by Christina Georgina Rossetti, trust him to pick a lady authoress. He wished it to be read at his funeral, so for George - here it is. It is entitled "Remember".
when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then to pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve;
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that I once had,
Better by far that you should forget and smile,
Than that you should remember and be sad.
C. G. Rossetti (1830-94)