Frank Edwards 1938-2023 – A tribute by Peter Burgess

It is with regret that I have to report that Frank Edwards, who joined the club soon after its inception in 1967, passed away on 18th November at a care home in St. Leonards, near Hastings. Frank had been a resident there since the summer of 2022, after being diagnosed with serious dementia. I attended his funeral on 13th December with Mary Albury and many of his friends from scouting, walking and climbing groups.

I have been searching our archives for some insight into how Frank became involved in our club way back in the 1960s. The earliest letter we have from Frank is from March 1968. He wrote to Martyn Beales, who more or less ran the club himself in the early days, and it is clear from this and other correspondence that they had known each other for some time before the club was established. Frank wrote in his capacity as ADC (Training) of Brighton District Venture Scouts. He explained that he had become involved with the Brighton Explorers Club, catering for 16 to 30 year olds, in a variety of activities including pony trekking, caving, archaeology, underwater swimming, rock climbing etc., and he was asking if it was possible to arrange a talk for them about the Merstham mines. He also stated that a number of the Brighton Venture Scouts were proud owners of Nife cells, and were ready for some sump diving! The BEC affiliated to Unit Two for a while and thus began a long association between us and Frank.

A few weeks later Frank wrote again, from which we learn that he had got a job with West Kent education authority, teaching climbing at Harrison’s Rocks, and was off to the Dolomites in the summer. As well as his involvement with Scouts, and the Brighton Explorers, he was trying to establish a mountaineering federation for climbing clubs in Sussex in conjunction with the Sussex University Mountaineering Club.

He wrote again in January 1970 asking to become a full member which he did in March the same year. Within three years, however, Unit Two was in sharp decline. Membership numbers fell to 11, and Frank was one of those few who remained. Nevertheless, even though by 1975 the club was recovering well, not least due to the efforts of a core of Sussex members and Malcolm Tadd in Surrey, Frank allowed his membership to lapse by 1975.

A chance meeting in the Queen Vic in Priddy between Frank and Terry Pratt and friends in February 1977 saw Frank renewing his membership, which he kept up for the rest of his life.

Frank was always on the periphery of the club until he retired, his main passion being climbing, especially in the Alps and Dolomites. Having moved away from Sussex to set up a business in Leamington Spa, this did rather separate him from the core of the club. His name appears occasionally in the Cabin Log, and on a few trips to the Surrey Mines. He would also attend AGMs from time to time.

When Frank retired, he moved back to Sussex, buying a house in Burgess Hill. Now he was back closer to his native town of Brighton and within the geographical core of the club. With time on his hands, he became a volunteer at Reigate Caves as a guide, and also helped out with maintenance and upkeep, and was very good at it. He particularly liked painting the steps white – perhaps a reflection of his career in home décor. Frank remained a member of the Sussex Mountaineering Federation which at one time had over 200 members and organised one or two caving and walking weekends for them, staying at The Stump.

Outside caving and climbing, Frank became a volunteer at Stanmer Park, Brighton, where he helped open up the church and the wellhouse on open days. When I was providing IT support for Southern Water based in Falmer, we would occasionally meet up at lunchtime and we would either go for a meal at the pub in Falmer or the little café at Stanmer, on one occasion finding the time to take a look in the old church, as he had the key with him. Frank’s last season at Reigate Caves was 2021. This was when we had to follow firm guidelines on party size and social distancing etc.  Not put off by the risk of infection, Frank was just happy to get involved.

When Frank moved to Peacehaven in 2022, I visited him to see how he was settling in, and he seemed fine. We looked though some old photos he had got out of his days in the Dolomites helping with some training for the Italian military many years previously, and I also saw a few photos of him doing his National Service in Egypt. Sadly, his plans for his new home never came to fruition and following a spell in hospital he was judged not capable of caring for himself alone, and he spent the rest of his days in a care home.

Frank was a very sociable person, and it was gratifying to see how many of his friends from a number of circles attended his funeral and social event at The Swan in Falmer afterwards. He will be missed by a great many people.

Peter Burgess, December 2023