Tom Crean, The Solo March & The Albert Medal.
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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.
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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’s frostbite, and upon reaching their depots, they discovered an alarming 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 little or no benefit to them. Not only that, but the frozen surface had become almost impossible to haul their 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 →
Scott’s Ponies and Amundsen’s Dogs Immortalized.
Southern Aeronautical Waypoints named in their honour.
The names of the many great Antarctic explorers of the Heroic Age, are well known, widely documented and duly remembered. The feats of Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton, Worsley, Crean and Wild, to mention but a few, still evoke passion, admiration, pride and indeed much discussion and debate.
The map of Antarctica is very much comprised of landmarks and features named by, or in honour of these great pioneers. As was the wont of the great explorers who first tread unseen lands, they named every natural anomaly they discovered, as they so wished. The names chosen tended to stem from the royalty of the day, expedition sponsors, previous expeditions, explorers and crew, and of course those near and dear to them.
But nowhere, or no place on the vast white continent was named after the animals that played such a crucial role in each and every southern expedition.
Nowhere that is, until one man decided to address the issue, and have the contributions of the canine and equine contingents remembered. Because international rules prohibits the naming of Antarctic landmarks after animals, Col. Ronnie Smith of the US Air Force, turned to an area of Antarctica that he was very familiar with – the skies above.
Ronnie J. Smith was born of U.S. Air Force parents in Udine, Italy, and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. He attended Loyola College (B.A.) and the University of Maryland. Ron entered the U.S. Air Force in 1983 to fly C-130 aircraft and has traveled the world as a professional aviator. After many years flying in the polar regions, he was selected to be the in-theater commander of Operation DEEP FREEZE, the DoD logistics support to the U.S. Antarctic Program from 2005-2008.
“I can tell you that these men were quite an inspiration to me and many others who lived and worked in both north and south polar climes. We walk on their shoulders.” That was Ronnie’s thought on the men of the heroic age, in a correspondence, earlier this year. Of the animals that toiled alongside these men, Ronnie said in an article for Equus Magazine, “The animals never got their due credit. There’s a statue around here and there. And as a poet, I saw this as not just a heroic/romantic period of history, but one of neglect for the animals who made it possible for the success of the brave men. They literally could not have done it without the animals. They did not have the technology.” Continue Reading →
The Death of Captain Lawrence Oates.
Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica, March 17th, 1912.
“Tragedy all along the line..”
“We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman. We all hope to meet the end with a similar spirit, and assuredly the end is not far.”
― from “Journals: Captain Scott’s Last Expedition (Oxford World’s Classics)”
Antarctica’s ferocious elements, enveloped the tiny camp – a solitary anomaly on the vast white landscape, of the once named Great Ice Barrier. Within the tent, huddled four men, in desperate condition and circumstance, but none more so than Lawrence Oates. None yet, as it would inevitably transpire. Tragedy was stalking all of them, and they sensed it tangibly.
Outside in the white scree noise, of the frigid weather that churned around them, it was -40º C, at midday, and they were cold to their very bones. On reaching the previous two depots the weary group had discovered that the cached oil had evaporated, and so too had dissipated their hopes of survival. Any notion that a dog team would meet the returning party, would never materialize. They were on their own.
March 17th, 1912, was Lawrence Oates’ 32nd birthday, and was the day he would walk from the tent of the doomed Polar Party, and into the annals of Antarctic heroes. “I am just going outside and may be some time”, his parting words, before disappearing into the raging blizzard. Gone. Lost forever in a desert of endless ice, that would never yield him back. His final thoughts were of his Mother, Scott had recorded. That curious maternal haunting that afflicts men, who have been afforded that moment in time, to realize that they are going to die. The mortally wounded soldiers of countless battlefields, have expelled their final breath, desperately calling for the comfort of their mothers cradling presence.
But Oates was calm and reflecting. His mother had always been the dominant character in his life, and she simply adored her Lawrie. Resigned to the fact that he was going to die, Oates would have wanted her to know, that he was thinking of her.
February 4th 1902
On 4 February 1902, Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Expedition, landed on the Barrier and unloaded an observation balloon which Scott had brought along for the purpose of achieving aerial surveys. Scott himself was first to climbed aboard the balloon and it rapidly ascended to a height of 180 m, but thankfully the balloon was firmly tethered. Ernest Shackleton piloted the second ascent, and as with Scott, the only thing observable, even at that height was the seemingly endless expanse of icy whiteness that constituted the Barrier. The expeditions junior doctor and zoologist, Edward Wilson privately thought the flights to be “perfect madness”.
Scott’s Polar Party Reach The South Pole.
Terra Nova Expedition.
“Great God! This is an awful place …..”
Robert Falcon Scott, Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Edgar ‘Taff’ Evans and Lawrence Oates arrived at the South Pole on January 17th 1912. It was an enormous achievement, but this fact was all but lost on the Polar Party, as they realised they had been beaten to the accolade of ‘First to the Pole’, by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his team. As they had approached the Pole they had spotted a black flag, dog tracks and footprints. The sickening realisation that they had lost the race, dawned upon them.
For Scott, reaching the South Pole had been eleven years and two expeditions in the making. For the achievement to be shrouded in such disappointment, was a cruel blow to the great Antarctic pioneer.
Scott summed up their despair in a particularly poignant journal entry, where he wrote – “The Pole. Yes, but under very different circumstances from those expected … Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority. Well, it is something to have got here.”
No solace could have assuaged their disappointment, and tragically the men would not survive to pluck eventual satisfaction from the enormity of their feat.
Crean and Scott’s Last Farewell
Terra Nova Expedition
January 4th 1912
On January 4th, 1912, Tom Crean would bid a final farewell to Captain Robert Falcon Scott, on the Polar Plateau, approximately 150 miles from the South Pole. Crean had served with Scott on the Discovery Expedition 1901 – 1904, and afterwards at Scott’s request, Crean joined him as a member of the crew of the Victorious in 1906. The two men would serve together from this point, right up until Scott’s untimely demise on his return from the South Pole, and they had formed a strong mutual respect for each other.
Above: Camp on the polar march taken during the last, tragic voyage to Antarctica by Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his crew, among them Lieutenant Henry Robertson (Birdie) Bowers who took this photograph, circa December 1911. Bowers and Scott were both tutored by Herbert Ponting, the renowned photographer who was the camera artist to the expedition, which enabled them to take their own memorable pictures before perishing on their return from the South Pole on or after 29th March 1912. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
On the 3rd of January Scott had announced that his Polar Party would consist of 5 men, namely Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Taff Evans and Oates, while Tom Crean, Bill Lashly and Lieutenant Teddy Evans were to return to base, as the last supporting team. Crean was sorely disappointed, not to have been among the number of the Polar Party, and privately he had surely thought he would have been selected. When one takes into consideration, the amount of time he had served under Scott, coupled with his vast experience on the ice, he probably should have been. Crean had also been spared the rigours of man hauling the sledges, on the 400 mile Barrier section of the outward journey, as he had been tasked with leading one of the ponies. He did not fall into harness until the ascent of the Beardmore Glacier, and as a result would have had more reserves of strength than some in the Polar Party, who had hauled for the duration.
Scott referred to the returning party in his diary on January 3rd, 1912 – “They are disappointed but take it well.” But it appears Scott did have a lingering sense of guilt, regarding his decision not to elect Crean. On hearing Crean clearing his throat, Scott by way of a justifiable excuse, opined, “that’s a bad cold you have Crean.” While Crean was not a man to hold a grudge, or indeed question the orders of his Captain, he knew Scott was dishonestly trying to validate his decision.
“I understand a half-sung song, sir,” was his curt response.
It (among many other facets of the journey) has long since been argued that Scott made a grave error, by not selecting Crean, and denying the Polar Party the benefits of his indomitable spirit, character, strength and stamina. Many hold the opinion that, had the Irish Giant been among the polar party, things may not have taken such a tragic turn. The truth is we will never know.
The Death Of The Polar Party
Terra Nova Expedition
On the 29th of March 1912, in a blizzard battered tent on Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf, Robert Falcon Scott’s trembling frozen hand scribed his final words – “Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity but I do not think I can write more. R. Scott. Last entry. For God’s sake look after our people.”*
Scott, Bowers and Wilson had been trapped in their tent for nine days, unable to strike for One Ton Depot, which as Scott had stated lay a mere 11 miles away. It must surely have haunted Scott, to know that his decision not to establish the depot where initially intended, in February of 1911, would now definitively decide the mens fate.
Had he done so, the starving, scurvy stricken men would have reached the potentially life saving cache, approximately twenty miles south of where they currently lay dying. Ironically Lawrence Oates, who had protested in vain to Scott, during that depot laying excursion, that they should forge ahead and lay the supplies at the predetermined point, walked to his death in the vicinity of the intended depot on March 17th 1912.
Prior to Oates’ tragic demise the Polar Party had lost Edgar Evans on February 17th, through a combination of scurvy and a serious concussion he had suffered when falling into a crevasse on February 4th. The three remaining men made scant progress after the disappearance of Oates, perhaps covering a further 20 agonising miles, before the adverse weather trapped them in their tent, and slowly wrought their doom.
Lawrence Oates Walks To His Death
Terra Nova Expedition
On March 17th 1912, the day of his 32nd birthday, Lawrence Oates walked to his death, from the tent of the returning Polar Party, and into the realm of Antarctic heroes. Oates had been suffering intensely and privately throughout the return march from the South Pole. It was only on March 1st 1912 that he had revealed the true and horrific extent of his condition to Scott, Wilson and Bowers.
Scott arrives at Mount Hooper Depot
Terra Nova Expedition
Scott’s Journal – March 8th, 1912.
“The great question is, What shall we find at the depôt? If the dogs have visited it we may get along a good distance, but if there is another short allowance of fuel, God help us indeed. We are in a very bad way, I fear, in any case.”
― from “Journals: Captain Scott’s Last Expedition (Oxford World’s Classics)”
On the 9th of March 1912, Scott, Oates, Bowers and Wilson arrived at the Mount Hooper Depot, on their homeward march from the South Pole. At this point in their journey, Edgar Evans had died near the foot of the Beardmore Glacier on February 17th, and as the four remaining men had continued their struggle across the Barrier, they were subject to some of coldest and most severe weather conditions ever recorded in the area.
Scott had outlined in his journal, the difficulties they had encountered trying to haul the sledge across the ice shelf, and compared it to dragging over desert sands. The normally icy surface had become covered in crystallised snow, which caused friction beneath the sledges runners, and this had seriously slowed their progression.
To add to the mens woes, the Mount Hooper depot had not been restocked, and they discovered that there was a serious shortage of oil, as had been the case when they had reached the Mid-Barrier Depot on March 1st, as most of the supply had evaporated. It was a crushing blow to the men. With unseasonably low temperatures plummeting to as low as -40º C, the shortfall in oil was critical. It would deny the men the ability to prepare the necessary hot meals that their situation demanded, and left them with no means to melt ice for drinking water.
The party had also held out hope that they would encounter the dog teams, which would have been their salvation, but due to a prior order from Scott, not to risk the dogs unnecessarily, no relief team had ventured past One Ton Depot. Scott had initially hoped to spare the dogs for further sledging expeditions the following season, but had changed his mind when sending back Crean, Evans and Lashly as the last supporting team, 150 miles from Pole.
He had then issued Edward Evans with the instruction that Meares and the dog teams were to meet the returning Polar Party between latitude 82º S and 83º S, which was farther south than previously arranged.