Tom Crean Retires From The Royal Navy
On March 24th 1920, Tom Crean retired from the Royal Navy, after almost 27 years of service, having officially enlisted as Boy 2nd Class on July 10th, 1893. While serving aboard HMS Fox, in April 1919, Crean had suffered a serious fall, causing a bad head injury, which would have lasting effects on his eyesight.
Almost a year later, whilst serving on HMS Hecla, Tom Crean was declared medically unfit to serve, because of his defective vision, and the giant Irishman retired on medical grounds.
Crean returned home to Annascaul, where he and his wife Eileen would later open the South Pole Inn, public house. In 1920 he also turned down the chance to venture south again, when requested by Ernest Shackleton to join him on the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition, aboard the Quest, stating that he now had ‘a long haired pal’ to look after.
Crean’s legacy in the Navy was that of an able, hard working, honest and most reliable seaman, but it is his exploits on three Antarctic expeditions of exploration, that have catapulted his name into the realms of heroes. His courage, compassion and selflessness, displayed during the harshest and most challenging of circumstances, in the icy climes of Antarctica, have led to him being regarded as one of the bravest men ever to have set foot on the frozen continent.
by Ronnie J. Smith.
I recently wrote an article about Ronnie J. Smith’s success in having Aeronautical Waypoints, in Antarctica, named after Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ponies, and Roald Amundsen’s sled dogs. It was during correspondence at this time that Ronnie shared with me, one of his many wonderful poems, written in honour of the Irish Giant – Tom Crean.
The poem is taken from one of his excellent poetry collections, which is entitled The Last White Ruby: The Vanishing Polar Circles, and among the many other poems are The Explorers, Shackleton, To The Sled Dog and Sonnet To The South Pole Ponies, to mention but a few.
Anchor From The Aurora.
Picture Of The Day.
The Ross Sea Party had been tasked with laying the supply depots, that Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic team would avail of, having come through the Pole from the Weddell Sea. Of course this would never happen as the Endurance was held fast in the ice of the Weddell, and never even made landfall on Antarctica.
As the expeditions second ship, the Aurora sailed to the other side of the continent, through the Ross Sea, and made landfall at McMurdo Sound. They followed in the footsteps of Scott, and laid supply depots across the Ross Ice Shelf all the way to the foot of the Beardmore Glacier.
On This Day – February 2nd, 1916.
Shackleton retrieves the Stancomb Wills, lifeboat from Ocean Camp.
The Endurance Expedition (1914-1917).
The smallest of the three boats – the Stancomb Wills – salvaged from the Endurance, had been left behind when the camp was abandoned, on December 23rd 1915.
The plan then had been to haul the James Caird and Dudley Docker, lifeboats, laden with their supplies to Paulet Island, some 340 miles away.
But the surface conditions, would see them cover less than 8 miles, after seven days of back breaking labour.
Shackleton abandoned the effort on December 29th and established Patience Camp. With supplies running low, in February, he sent Macklin and Hurley, back to Ocean Camp, to retrieve whatever food, had been left behind. Continue Reading →
Tom Crean’s Snow-blindness.
Terra Nova Expedition – Southern Journey.
On January 6th 1912, Bill Lashly recorded in his diary;
“Crean’s eyes are pretty bad tonight. Snow-blindness is an awful complaint, and no one I can assure you looks forward with pleasure when it begins to attack.”
Lashly, Crean and Lt. Edward Evans had parted company with Scott and the polar party, just 150 miles from the South Pole on January 4th. The three men faced into their 750 mile return trek to the base at Cape Evans.
Being a three man team, instead of the conventional four-man unit, they were accustomed to (as Scott had elected to bring an extra man to the pole) made their already arduous task, even more daunting. The last thing the trio needed was an early setback, but just one day into the journey, on January 5th, Lashly had noted;
“Crean has become snow-blind to-day through being leader, so I shall have the job to-morrow, as Mr. Evans seems to get blind ratherquickly, so if I lead and he directs me from behind we ought to get along pretty well. I hope my eyes will keep alright. We made good 17 miles and camped.”
Despite Tom Crean’s snow-blindness, it seems he was no burden on the team, as 17 miles was an excellent distance to have covered in a day, in the harsh Antarctic climate. On January 7th, Lashly noted that Crean’s eyes had improved, but he was still far from better. On the 10th of January 1912, Lashly’s last entry for that day, simply stated;
“Crean’s eyes have got alright again now.”
They could now push on at full strength, and already concern was mounting, regarding reaching their depots on schedule. Lashly was deducting, and holding in reserve, small portions from each ration, just in case they failed to reach their supply caches in time. They were however making good ground, and Lashly’s cautiousness was borne, more from the explorers dread of being unable to locate their tiny mound of supplies, on the vast white landscape, than from any discernible shortfall in effort or progress.
Snow-blindness, aka – Photokeratitis.
Photokeratitis or ultraviolet keratitis is a painful eye condition caused by exposure of insufficiently protected eyes to the ultraviolet (UV) rays from either natural (e.g. intense sunlight) or artificial (e.g. the electric arc during welding) sources. Photokeratitis is akin to a sunburn of the cornea and conjunctiva, and is not usually noticed until several hours after exposure. Symptoms include increased tears and a feeling of pain, likened to having sand in the eyes.
The injury may be prevented by wearing eye protection that blocks most of the ultraviolet radiation, such as welding goggles with the proper filters, a welder’s helmet, sunglasses rated for sufficient UV protection, or appropriate snow goggles. The condition is usually managed by removal from the source of ultraviolet radiation, covering the corneas, and administration of pain relief. Photokeratitis is known by a number of different terms including: snow blindness, arc eye, welder’s flash, bake eyes, corneal flash burns, flash burns, niphablepsia, or keratoconjunctivitis photoelectrica.
Source – Wikipedia
Tom Crean On The Polar Plateau.
December 25th 1911.
The Terra Nova Expedition 1910-13.
Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s, assault on the South Pole began on November 1st 1911. The southern journey was a mammoth undertaking – a 900 mile march, on foot, with provisions being hauled on sledges. Dog teams and ponies played supporting roles to the physical efforts of the men, but once the team had reached the foot of the Beardmore Glacier, manpower was the only mode of progression.
The dog teams turned back at this point, and the last of the surviving ponies, including Crean’s pony Bones, were shot. Their meat was cached.
The journey can be summarised in three main stages;
1. Across The Barrier (Ross Ice Shelf), from their base at Cape Evans, to the foot of the Beardmore Glacier. A journey of approximately 400 miles.
2. Traversing the Beardmore Glacier. A steady climb of 10,000 feet over a 120 mile crevasse riddled glacier.
3. The Polar Plateau – From the top of the Beardmore to the South Pole. Approximately 380 miles.
Shambles Camp was the name given to their last Barrier depot, before the group began the ascent of the fearsome glacier. Three sledge teams began the treacherous clamber on December 10th, 1911:
Sledge 1 – Scott, Wilson, Oates and P.O. Evans
Sledge 2 – E. Evans, Atkinson, Wright and Lashly.
Sledge 3 – Bowers, Cherry-Gerrard, Crean and Keohane.
On Friday , December 22nd the three teams had reached the top of the Beardmore, made their Upper Glacier depot, and Scott now had to decide which team would return to base, and who would forge ahead. There was no pre-planning by Scott, regarding returning teams, and decisions were made, it seems, only at the point when they needed to be made. This probably allowed Scott to monitor the physical and mental conditions of the men, and make his choices based on that diagnosis.
Man hauling on the Beardmore Glacier, December 13th 1911. Front from left – Cherry-Garrard and Bowers. Rear from left – Keohane and Crean, while Wilson pushes.
Atkinson, Wright, Cherry-Gerrard and the Irishman, Keohane, were selected to return, and begin the weary descent of the Glacier they had just scaled. “Affecting farewell’s” were made and the two sledge teams continued their heavy hauling south.
Sledge 1 – Scott, Wilson, Oates and P.O. Evans.
Sledge 2 – E. Evans, Bowers, Crean and Lashly.
On This Day – November 21st 1908.
The first of Shackleton’s ponies, is killed.
On November 3rd 1908, Ernest Shackleton, Eric Marshall, Jameson Adams and Frank Wild, left Hut Point. Their destination, as Shackleton had put it, was “the last spot in the world that counts as worth striving for” – the South Pole.
It was not Shackleton’s first attempt at reaching the pole, as he had joined Robert Falcon Scott and Edward Wilson, on the Discovery Expedition’s southern journey in 1902. The aim of that endeavour was “to get as far south in a straight line on the Barrier ice as we can, reach the Pole if possible, or find some new land.” Hardly a battle cry of inspiration, or intention. In truth the venture was a pioneering journey, deeper into the unexplored realms of Antarctica, than anyone had ever dared before.
Scott and the two men were supported by teams of sled dogs, which over the course of their travels struggled with the extreme conditions, and did not perform as expected, or indeed hoped. Continue Reading →
Tom Crean, The Solo March & The Albert Medal.
Free iBook Download.
From the Tom Crean Discovery post of the same name, Tom Crean – The Solo March & The Albert Medal is now free to download in iBook format.
Widely considered as the single most, greatest act of bravery, in the history of exploration, Tom Crean’s solo march to raise rescue for Lt. Edward Evans, earned him the Albert Medal for Gallantry in Saving Life On Land. Both he and Bill Lashly, who had hauled the stricken Evans on their provisions sledge, as they made their return from Scott’s southern journey, were awarded the medals, at Buckingham Palace, on July 26th 1913.
For the moment this iBook is only compatible with Apple Devices.
Download Free – Tom Crean – The Solo March & The Albert Medal
Terra Nova Expedition – Medal Awards Ceremony.
Buckingham Palace – July 26th, 1913.
The Terra Nova Expedition is probably better remembered for it’s tragic failures than for it’s heroic triumphs. The deaths of Scott, Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Edgar Evans on their return from the South Pole, sent shockwaves around the world, that reverberate to this very day.
They had arrived at the pole, on January 17th, 1912, to find that the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen had preceded them there over a month beforehand. It was a cruel blow, but the worst was yet to come for the polar party. Their return journey became a desperate battle for survival. One that they were destined to lose.
Misfortune and mishap would contribute to their deaths, but it was cold and hunger that ultimately killed them. Having crossed the polar plateau, and descended the Beardmore Glacier, the party had expected that the most grueling stages of their journey were behind them. Edgar Evans had died on February 17th 1912, near the foot of the Beardmore. As they progressed across the Barrier, the temperature plummeted beyond anything they could have expected. Their advancement was slowed by Oates’ frostbite, and upon reaching their depots, they discovered a shortage of fuel.
Oates walked to his death on March 17th, no longer able to withstand the agonies he was enduring. It was his 32nd birthday. The temperature continued to fall and the air was deathly still. With no wind at their backs, their sledge sail was of no benefit to them. Not only that, but the frozen surface had become almost impossible to haul the sledge over. Gradually they weakened, and sequentially they starved and froze to death. Scott’s last diary entry was on March 29th, twelve days after the disappearance of Lawrence Oates. In that time Scott, Wilson and Bowers had only managed to cover a further 20 miles. They died in helpless limbo, 11 miles from One Ton Depot.
After the long Antarctic winter, a search party left Cape Evans on October 29th, in an attempt to uncover the fate of their comrades, whom they knew were dead. On November 12th the men found the tent containing the bodies of the Scott, Wilson and Bowers. Scott’s diaries would outline the prologue to their fate, and tell the tragic tale of the demise of Evans and Oates. Efforts to locate the body of Lawrence Oates, only yielded his discarded sleeping bag, and the party returned to base on November 25th. Continue Reading →
Tom Crean’s Death.
July 27th 1938 – Bon Secours Hospital, Cork.
“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” – George Eliot
For many years it had been thought that Tom Crean was born on July 20th 1877, that is until Kay Caball discovered his birth certificate, which proved that he was in fact born on February 25th 1877. July 20th however is still a date that will always feature in the life story of the man from Annascaul, who had taken part in three major Antarctic expeditions. Tragically it was on that day in 1938, that his untimely demise was set in motion.
The Irish Giant, as he had been called by those that served with him, and had witnessed, first hand, his immense and heroic contributions, suddenly began to feel quite unwell.
Tom had complained of acute stomach pains, and had began vomiting. He was rushed to Tralee hospital, which was situated about 16 miles from his home at the South Pole Inn. Appendicitis was quickly diagnosed, but in a cruel twist of fate, there was no surgeon on duty to perform the necessary operation. A transfer was arranged to the nearest available hospital, which was the Bon Secours in Cork, but it lay a damning 75 miles away.
Creans appendix had burst prior to its removal and infection quickly took hold. His condition deteriorated over the course of the following week, while his loving wife Nell kept vigil with him throughout his final days, as he drifted in and out of consciousness. On July 27th 1938, Tom Crean slipped into un-consciousness and from this world, as unassumingly as he had lived his humble post Antarctic years.
The funeral of Tom Crean, was as large a gathering of mourners, as the village of Annascaul had ever witnessed. Tom had been an extremely popular character, and despite almost refusing to speak about his heroic past, most of his friends and neighbours were aware of his exploits to some extent.Tom was buried at Ballynacourty cemetery, in a tomb he had built himself. He was laid to rest beside his daughter Katie, who had died of ill health, at the tender age of four.
Placed on top of the tomb was a glass case of porcelain flowers, a tribute from Edward Evans, the man who’s life Crean’s solo march had saved, in February 1912. It read, “In affectionate remembrance from an Antarctic comrade.”
Crean’s passing was widely reported and his death would have caused quite a shock, and conjured great sadness among his former exploration comrades. Continue Reading →
Scott’s Discovery Hut – Hut Point Antarctica.
Discovery Hut was built by Robert Falcon Scott during the Discovery Expedition of 1901–1904 in 1902 and is located at Hut Point on Ross Island by McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Visitors to Antarctica, arriving at either the US Base at McMurdo or New Zealand’s Scott Base are likely to encounter Discovery Hut as both are located on Hut Point. Discovery Hut is just 300m from McMurdo Base. The hut has been designated a Historic Site or Monument (HSM 18), following a proposal by New Zealand and the United Kingdom to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting. Some confusion arises because Discovery Hut can correctly be referred to as Scott’s Hut, in that his expedition built it, and it was his base ‘ashore’ during the 1901–1904 expedition. But the title ‘Scott’s Hut’ correctly belongs to the building erected in 1911 at Cape Evans. Wikipedia. Continue Reading →