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.
They left behind their squalid camp, on the thin sand spit, which had been their refuge, and had provided an uncertain sanctuary from the monstrous ice cliffs behind, the raging ocean ahead and the relentless, torrid weather that had encompassed them.
Rescue had arrived just as food supplies and hope were at an all time low. “The men were down to the last Bovril ration, the only form of hot drink they had, and had scarcely four days’ food in hand at the time of the rescue.”
Though Wild had strived to maintain morale, and keep the notion of being saved, to the fore in all their thinkings, privately most of the men had arrived at the conclusion that the mission had floundered. It was all too conceivable that the ferocious Weddell Sea had swallowed the James Caird, and claimed the souls of their six brave comrades too.
“Roll up your sleeping-bags, boys; the boss may come to-day,” was how Wild positively greeted the men each morning. It had no doubt become tedious, but one day ‘The Boss’ did come, looming through the fog, like a mirage. It was Marston who had first sighted the Yelcho, and hearlded it’s arrival, with the shout of ‘Ship O.’
Despair was immediately cast aside, and replaced by an urgent desperation to ensure they were seen. A beautiful panic ensued, as men ran about the beach waving furiously, Marston on finding the flag frozen like a board on the ground, ripped off his jumper and ran it up in substitute. Wild gathered as much clothing as he could find and ran to Penguin Hill, where he put a pick-axe through the last tin of petrol and set the lot on fire.
The predetermined procedure for locating the tiny camp for the approaching rescuers, was to discharge a firearm, thus alerting the men on the beach to their presence, somewhere in the perpetual fogs that shrouded the islands approaches. The castaways were then to light fires, and use any means possible to signal, and provide beacon to the approaching vessel.
But no-one had heard a gunshot that day. All too often around the island, icebergs calved with a report almost identical to the discharging of a firearm. On many occassions the mens hope had been raised and dashed by just such happenings, and they had become practically numb to the sound.
But on this day no gunshots were necessary. Both parties had spotted each other almost simultaneously. Aboard the Yelcho, it was Worsley, the great navigator, who had identified the camp, barely discernible beneath a blanket of snow, and as they peered in attempt to detect life or movement, the men emerged like frantic ants from beneath the upturned boats.
Shackleton, Crean and some Chilean sailors went ashore and immediately began ferrying the men to the ship. Shackleton later wrote “There was no time then to exchange news or congratulations. I did not even go up the beach to see the camp, which Wild assured me had been much improved. A heavy sea was running and a change of wind might bring the ice back at any time. I hurried the party aboard with all possible speed…..”
It was only when all were safely aboard and the steamer sailed north that pleasantries and stories were shared.
The labouring Yelcho encountered some very bad weather on the homeward voyage, but bad weather was the wont of these men, and spirits aboard were high.
They reached the Straits of Magellan on September 3rd, and at 8 am they reached Rio Secco, where Shackleton went ashore to telephone the Govenor and those in Punta Arenas, and inform them of the safe rescue of the Elephant Island party.
Word quickly spread and by the time the Yelcho arrived in Punta Arenas, two hours later, huge enthusiastic crowds had assembled, to catch a glimpse of the great survivors. “The police had been instructed to spread the news that the Yelcho was coming with the rescued men, and lest the message should fail to reach some people, the fire-alarm had been rung. The whole populace appeared to be in the streets. It was a great reception, and with the strain of long, anxious months lifted at last, we were in a mood to enjoy it.”
The men received a rapturous welcome and were treated like royalty wherever they ventured, and Shackleton always gratefully remembered both the Chilean authorities for their unyielding assistance in his efforts, and indeed the Chilean people for the warmth and hospitality they bestowed upon the men of the Endurance Expedition. On September 3rd 1916, their suffering was finally over.
Source & Quotations – South, Ernest Shackleton.