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 →
Arrival at Punta Arenas, Chile.
The Endurance Expedition.
“The Yelcho had arrived at the right moment. Two days earlier she could not have reached the island, and a few hours later the pack may have been impenetrable again.”
Within one hour of locating the 22 men of the Endurance, on Elephant Island, on August 30th 1916, Shackleton, Crean and Worsley, with the help of the captain Luis Pardo and his crew, had succeeded in getting all of them safely aboard the Yecho, and they steamed northwards for South America.
Rescue From Elephant Island.
The Endurance Expedition.
August the 30th 1916 would have dawned no different than any of the previous 127 days, for the 22 men stranded on Elephant Island, since their six comrades had departed the outcrop aboard the James Caird lifeboat, on a mission to raise rescue for them on April 24th 1916. As they had watched the tiny vessel disappear over the horizon into the monstrous Weddell Sea, Frank Wild optimistically opined that they would all be saved within four or five weeks.
But four long months had passed, and despite a daily rostered watch to keep lookout for an approaching ship, the castaways hopes had almost entirely diminished. It was all too probable that the Caird had been enveloped in the fearsome Southern Ocean, and the six brave crew had perished long before they had reached land. And no-one would know of the men on Elephant Island, and no-one was coming to rescue them either.
And as their hopes had dwindled, so too had their spirit, health, sanity and food supplies. Frank Wild, who had been given the unenviable task of commanding the group in Shackleton’s absence, had forbidden the stockpiling of seals and penguins, at a time when they were in plentiful abundance, as he deemed it a defeatist gesture. Now that the ice was closing in and encasing the island, the creatures had practically disappeared, and the group faced up to the very real threat of starvation. The ever fractious Thomas Order-Lees had noted “We shall have to eat the one who dies first …. there’s many a true word said in jest”* Continue Reading →
The Irish War of Independence
1919 – 1921
The ‘Black and Tans’ rolled into Ireland in 1920, their existence and purpose as devised by Winston Churchill was to provide numerical backup to an ever beleaguered R.I.C. force, who had become the bane of republican insurgents. Their initial brief was chillingly straightforward – revenge, retaliation and retribution.
And when a force compiled of men, most of whom had just returned from the atrocious theatres of death and destruction of World War 1, was allowed to dispense its own justice, unchecked and unquestioned, against an almost invisible enemy who had adopted guerrilla tactics , there was an unperturbed certainty that the civilian population would be recipient to the swift and brutal avengement.
Even today, almost a century later, there is scarcely a village or community across the land, that cannot recount some local tale of the barbarity and savagery, of the days when the ‘Tans’ rolled into town, or came knocking on the doors of rural homesteads. In a largely unmotorised Ireland, the wheels of nightmares were set in motion, upon hearing the approach of engines, winding menacingly through the ditch flanked, grass middled lanes, of the countryside.
Shackleton’s Third Rescue Attempt
The Endurance Expedition – Elephant Island
On July 12th 1916, Ernest Shackleton launched his third effort to reach the 22 men left stranded on Elephant Island, since the beginning of the rescue mission, which began on April 24th, with the voyage of the James Caird. Shackleton, Crean and Worsley had twice previously attempted to reach their comrades stranded on the desolate, rocky outcrop, and had twice seen their gallant efforts thwarted by the impenetrable expanse of pack ice, which encased the tiny island.
On May 23rd the three men left Husvik, South Georgia aboard the Southern Sky, a vessel they had been helped acquire by the generosity and understanding of both Mr. Sorlle of Stromness and Husvik’s magistrate, Mr. Bernsten. With a crew of volunteer whalers on board the mission made good early progress, but ultimately the endeavour was halted by sea ice, and despite every effort to probe a progressive pathway, with fuel running out Shackleton had no option but to abort the effort, on May 29th.
The ship was steered toward the Falkland Islands which lay 500 miles away, but 100 miles closer to their position than South Georgia. The Southern Sky arrived at Port Stanley on May 31st 1916, and the world would soon learn the tale of the phenomenal plight of the Endurance Expedition. Whereas the island of South Georgia had no means of contacting the outside world, Port Stanley did have a cable link, which Shackleton used to contact London with a message to His Majesty King George, with the first account of the still unfolding saga.
The next day Shackleton received the following reply –
“Rejoice to hear of your safe arrival in the Falkland Islands and trust your comrades on Elephant Island may soon be rescued.
Meanwhile the island’s governor Douglas Young was striving to aid the men in their efforts, but could only succeed in determining that no vessel suitable to the required rescue was available. The British Admiralty soon informed Shackleton that any relief they could muster would not arrive before October of that year. This would simply be too late!
Shackleton was acutely aware that the decrepit circumstances of existence on Elephant Island, that he and the crew of the Caird had left behind on April 24th, had by now probably deteriorated to a point where men, who had endured so much utter deprivation and torture, were failing in the face of courage, to the laws of nature.
The Uruguayan government via the British British Minister in Montevideo, kindly offered the services of a fully equipped vessel, Instituto de Pesca No. 1, which they sent to the Falklands for immediate use. It’s departure from Port Stanley on June 10th was only just preceded by it’s arrival there, such was Shackleton’s haste to liberate his men.
Bobbed and bounced, float and flung, forward, onward through the Southern Ocean and on day three Elephant Island was sighted approximately 20 miles ahead, but the momentum of the rescue was immediately halted yet again by the damned persistent pack ice.
It’s crescent formation satillitically grinned down upon the 22 stranded desolate souls, that clung like parasites to Elephants Island’s manifestation of terra firma, among a relentless environ of ice, convulsive sea and hopelessness. And as Shackleton, Crean and Worsley approached, within miles, yet Antarctic inches, of rescuing their comrades, they were once again repulsed by the rapid and unpredictable formation of sea ice, that had relentlessly challenged, haunted, defeated and forged them.
But failure was now imminent, despite many cautious determined attempts to violate the pack ice, all of which proved hopelessly futile. To the relief of the retreating rescuers, despite their certain sighting of the ominous peaks of the islands icy mountains, a shroud of dense fog which clung to the shoreline, would have masked their presence from their bedraggled comrades, who had somehow strived to persist in awaiting their rescue.
With engines knocking and the fuel bunkers almost empty, Instituto de Pesca No. 1, limped back to Port Stanley, defeated but with the presence of HMS Glasgow at the port the men received a hero’s welcome. It has to be pointed out that at this juncture Shackleton was inundated with the demand of a modern day celebrity. The story of the Endurance and it’s men was going viral, as quickly as the media of the day could proffer, but nothing could detract or dissuade him from rescuing the men he had sworn to save.
Having returned to Port Stanley in defeat, hope flickered with the arrival of the British Mail boat Orita ,upon which Shackleton, Crean and Worsley would cross to Punta Arenas in the Magellan Straits. They were greeted on arrival there to more than a heroes welcome, entirely befitting of such men, but they merely sought help and not accolades, and shunning the obstacle of imminent fame, demanded priority for their crew mates.
It is at this point that one Mr. Allan McDonald, deserves respect and recognition, for as outlined by Shackleton – (he) ” was especially prominent in his untiring efforts to assist in the rescue of our twenty-two companions on Elephant Island. He worked day and night, and it was mainly due to him that within three days they had raised a sum of £1500 amongst themselves, chartered the schooner Emma and equipped her for our use. ”
And so it was on July 12th 1916, that Emma, with Tom Crean, Frank Worsley and Ernest Shackleton on board, set sail, in yet another – their third attempt to reach the men on Elephant Island – men who had no idea that their comrades had successfully conquered the notorious Weddell Sea and traversed South Georgia’s rugged uncharted interior, in an effort to rescue them. For those 22 men, they waited with almost hopeless optimism of a highly improbable rescue, that they must have naggingly thought had surely floundered somewhere long before the intended target of South Georgia.
Ice would again doom the relief effort and with a heavy heart Shackleton had to retreat again. As Emma splutterd defeatedly away from Elaphant Island’s shores, the castaways were oblivious to the fact that the attempts to rescue them before the onslaught of the Antarctic winter, had by now numbered three.
A Failed Rescue Aboard The Southern Sky.
The Endurance Expedition.
“The sea was freezing around us and the ice gradually grew thicker, reducing our speed to about five knots.”
Ernest Shackleton, South.
Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean and Frank Worsley had arrived at the whaling station in Stromness, South Georgia on the 20th May 1916, via a perilous, 36 hour crossing of the islands unchartered interior. The Norwegian’s who manned the station simply could not do enough for them, despite being justifiably wary and suspicious upon first glimpsing the three decrepit characters, who had crawled down from the icy peaks they had never dared to venture upon.
They listened with utter astonishment as the men relayed the fantastic saga of their almost impossible journey there. They had endured a purgatorial 800 mile journey across the violent and wholly unforgiving Weddell Sea, in a lifeboat, that under any aspect of consideration was mere fodder to a monstrous ocean , which reigned with terrible and truculent fury over the graves of the vessels it duly sundered. But not the James Caird would it sunder, nor the six shattered souls it had sloshed about in its fervent fury for weeks, in an almost futile battle of survival, that ultimately and unbelievably the men of the Caird would overcome and win.
The whalers at the station were nothing short of flabbergasted by the heroic and courageous achievements of the men from the Endurance, and their epic tale had entered the realms of nautical folklore, long before the final conclusive chapters had yet played out.
After hot baths, clean clothes and slap up meals had been generously provided, and gratefully accepted, Worsley set sail with some of the whalers aboard Samson, to rescue McCarthy, Vincent and McNish who were stranded on the other side of the island. Shackleton and Crean, despite their exhaustion, struggled to sleep in the unfamiliar ambience of the warmth and comfort their beds afforded them, that night.
The Rescue of McCarthy, Vincent & McNish.
The Endurance Expedition – South Georgia.
Having only arrived in Stromness earlier that afternoon, after the perilous crossing of South Georgia’s jagged, ice covered interior, Frank Worsley agreed to accompany the relief mission to pick up the three men stranded on the other side of the island. Harry McNish and John Vincent were in a desperate condition after the voyage of the James Caird. Shackleton had left them in the care of Cork man Timothy McCarthy, whilst he, Tom Crean and the New Zealander, Frank Worsley left Peggotty Camp to cross South Georgia’s uncharted interior, to reach Stromness whaling station.
Peggotty Camp had been named so by the men, after the family in the Charles Dickens novel, David Copperfield, who had made their home from a beached boat. Like their comrades back on Elephant Island, Shackleton and his men, having landed at what is today known as Peggotty Bluff, decided to use their upturned lifeboat as an improvised shelter.
Once the three men had reached Stromness, and identified themselves to the manager, Mr. Sorlle, their immediate attention turned to the rescue of McCarthy, Vincent and McNish. Sorlle, who at first, did not recognise any of the men, despite the fact that they had stopped over in Stromness, before departing for Antarctica in December 1914, immediately began readying a whaling vessel, for the task.
Meanwhile the men washed.
“Soon we were clean again. Then we put on delightful new clothes supplied from the station stores and got rid of our superfluous hair. Within an hour or two we had ceased to be savages and had become civilized men again. Then came a splendid meal, while Mr. Sorlle told us of the arrangements he had made and we discussed plans for the rescue of the main party on Elephant Island.”
Sir Ernest Shackleton – Quoted from “South”.
Worsley, being the expert navigator, as proven irrefutably, on the James Caird voyage, was the obvious choice to accompany the rescuers, and pinpoint the exact location of Peggotty Camp to the whalers.
The ship pulled out of Stromness at 10 pm, and Worsley promptly turned in for the night, for some well earned and much needed rest.
Meanwhile Shackleton and Crean would spend the night as guests of Mr. Sorlle, who’s hospitality they were eternally grateful for.
“Our first night at the whaling-station was blissful. Crean and I shared a beautiful room in Mr. Sorlle’s house, with electric light and two beds, warm and soft. We were so comfortable that we were unable to sleep. Late at night a steward brought us tea, bread and butter and cakes, and we lay in bed, revelling in the luxury of it all. Outside a dense snow-storm, which started two hours after our arrival and lasted until the following day, was swirling and driving about the mountain-slopes. We were thankful indeed that we had made a place of safety, for it would have gone hard with us if we had been out on the mountains that night. Deep snow lay everywhere when we got up the following morning.”
Sir Ernest Shackleton – Quoted from “South”.
The ship arrived in King Haakon Bay the following day, and Worsley reached the men at Peggotty Camp by boat shortly afterwards. McCarthy, Vincent and McNish emerged from beneath their makeshift camp and were elated, on realising that their three companions had safely traversed the island, and that rescue was at hand.
Then the men quizzed Worsley as to why none of their comrades had returned with the relief effort, to fetch them. A bemused Worsley asked them what they meant, and they replied that they had been certain at least one of the three men would have travelled with the whalers. Completely mystified, Worsley demanded “What’s the matter with you?” and suddenly they recognised that the clean shaven and groomed man that stood before them was indeed Frank Worsley, and not one of the whalers as they had assumed. One can only imagine the seismic alteration in Worsley’s appearance, when men he had spent almost a year and half in close confinement with, did not recognise him after a two day absence.
Arrival At Stromness
The Endurance Expedition
“Pain and ache, boat journeys, marches, hunger and fatigue seemed to belong to the limbo of forgotten things, and there remained only the perfect contentment that comes of work accomplished.”
In the early afternoon of May 20th 1916, three eerie creatures emerged from the rugged interior of South Georgia, and stumbled towards the buildings of Stromness whaling station. Their beards were long and unruly, their hair thick and matted, their skin blackened from smoke, scarred by cold and frostbite, unwashed for months, and the shreds of clothing that they had worn for over a year without change, hung in tatters from their weary, emaciated bodies. Their desperate countenance was also thoroughly augmented by the fact that all three, were saturated, freezing, utterly exhausted and starving.
Ernest Shackleton, Frank Worsley and Tom Crean had just completed the final leg of their unbelievable journey of escape, from the ice floes of the Weddell Sea, that had pulverised and sank their ship, Endurance in October 1915. Whilst the first leg of that journey was one of confinement on the drifting ice pack, once the floes began to melt and fracture beneath them, the crew took to sea in their three lifeboats, and the story became an epic saga of immense hardship, courage and pure determination.
Into The Unknown – Crossing South Georgia
The Endurance Expedition
The almost impossible had been achieved and for Shackleton, Crean, Worsley, McCarthy, Vincent and McNish the 16 day crossing of the Weddell Sea, in the James Caird, concluded as it had eventuated – in another desperate struggle! But try as they might, the shattered men simply could not summon the strength to drag the lifeboat from the icy water.
Food and rest would be required, before that task could be completed, and the Caird was lashed to a boulder, and a watch would be maintained to safeguard the vessel from being drove onto the rocks, by the incoming sea. Tom Crean was sent to seek out shelter, and in the darkness duly located a small cave, which would serve such purpose, and sleeping bags and cooking gear were moved there, and finally a hot meal was prepared.
After eating Shackleton ordered the men to get some sleep, and typical of his spirit he opted to man the first watch, and no doubt pondered and plotted their next move, as he kept vigil over the boat. The following morning, May 11th, the men prepared to get the James Caird ashore, by first consuming another hot meal, and with the sea receding somewhat, they then set about the task. It was a strenuous and difficult undertaking, and it highlighted to the men just how weak and undernourished they were after their gruelling voyage, but eventually they succeeded in dragging the boat onto the beach, and then clear of the high water marks. It was a great relief to the party to finally have the Caird out of the perilous waters, as it would be needed to sail again. Continue Reading →
The James Caird Reaches South Georgia
The Endurance Expedition
“We fought the seas and the winds and at the same time had a daily struggle to keep ourselves alive. At times we were in dire peril.”
Sir Ernest Shackleton – South
On May 10th 1916 Shackleton, Worsley, Crean, McCarthy, Vincent and McNish reached South Georgia aboard the James Caird lifeboat, which they had sailed from Elephant Island. The 800 mile journey across the planets most violent stretch of water had taken them 16 torrid days to complete. One can only wonder, as to whether the weary, frozen, starved and parched men realised the sheer enormity of their achievement, as they dragged themselves and their boat from the icy waters that day.
Traversing the Weddell Sea is never anything less than a mammoth task. Doing so in a 23 foot long lifeboat during the Antarctic Winter, is almost beyond comprehension. But that is exactly what those six men did. Continue Reading →