Tom Crean – The Complete Endurance Odyssey

The Endurance Expedition (1914 – 1917).

“Tom Crean’s role in the escape from the ice, is unique in that he was the only member of the Endurance Expedition to take part in every aspect of it.”


Tom Crean Antarctic Explorer

Tom Crean

The term ‘challenge’ is without doubt a gross understatement, if used in the context of the unbelievable survival story, that was the Endurance Expedition. Odyssey probably is too. Yet after much research, I settled on it, as perhaps the most suitable of existing words, to somehow convey the magnitude of what the men of the sunken ship Endurance, undertook in the wake of it’s loss.
Being trapped in the ice of the notorious Weddell Sea, in February 1915, was not a cause for huge concern, despite the unseasonableness of it’s occurrence. The ship being pulverised and eventually sunk, by the immense pressures of the ice floes, however, was!
Endurance, snapping and shattering, in it’s frigid white vice, was abandoned on October 27th 1915. The wreckage remained abob, awhile, until finally slipping below the surface, on November 21st.
The enormity of their predicament had of course registered with the group, long before the precipitation of the ship’s timbers, to the fathomless depths below.
All that separated them from an identical fate, was the very ice they stood upon. Ocean Camp, established within plundering distance of their shattered ship, had been their first settlement on the drifting floes.
Twenty eight men, a pack of dogs, one cat, stock, store and lifeboats, drifting helplessly in the southern ocean, on an immeasurable sheet of ice. They had made attempts to march westwards across the ice, hauling their provisions in two of the lifeboats. It was back breaking work, that yielded little distance. As Frank Hurley had noted, there was scarcely a square yard of flat ice. The conditions underfoot were in fact atrocious. The men sank in soft snow and the icy surface was a series of hummocks and pressure ridges.

Imperial_Trans-Antarctic_Expedition,_map_and_timeline

Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, Map & Timeline

The plan had been to strike for Paulet Island, Robertson Island or Snow Hill Island, all of which lay over 300 miles away. After a week of heavy exertion, which had seen the group cover a distance of only seven miles, Shackleton aborted the operation, citing that it would take them over 300 days to complete the trek. An optimistic calculation, given that it was formulated at their initial pace, and hardly factored in the inevitable deterioration of the participants over the course.

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The Voyaging in the Lifeboats Begins – The Endurance Expedition

The Escape From the Ice.

“There were twenty-eight men on our floating cake of ice, which was steadily dwindling under the influence of wind, weather, charging floes, and heavy swell. I confess that I felt the burden of responsibility sit heavily on my shoulders; but, on the other hand, I was stimulated and cheered by the attitude of the men. Loneliness is the penalty of leadership, but the man who has to make the decisions is assisted greatly if he feels that there is no uncertainty in the minds of those who follow him, and that his orders will be carried out confidently and in expectation of success.”
― from “South: The Story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition”

The expedition ship Endurance, was snared by the ice of the Weddell Sea, in February 1915, in latitude 77º south. Over the course of more than 1,000 miles, the ship and it’s helpless crew, would drift, at the mercy of the ice sheet that held them captive. At latitude 69º south the Endurance finally yielded to the immense pressures of the crushing floes, and sank.
The twenty eight men of the expedition, had no other choice but to remain on the ice, and try to eke out an existence. Foresight on their part had ensured they had afforded themselves a future chance of survival; as they had salvaged three lifeboats from the ship, before it was pulverised.
In order to sail however, they needed leads of water, when all about them was heavy pack ice. But even in Antarctic climes, ice melts, and once it begins it can be an alarmingly rapid process.
It would take months though, before the men of the Endurance would witness this. Their first settlement on the floes was dubbed Ocean Camp. From here the first escape from the ice was planned. All of the groups supplies were loaded into two boats, which the men attempted to drag across the ice. It was backbreaking work, that ultimately proved futile, and almost caused a mutiny.

Ocean Camp - Their first settlement on the ice.

Ocean Camp – Their first settlement on the ice.

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Tom Crean announced as Norwegian’s first Irish ‘Tail Fin Hero’

Tom Crean honoured on Norwegian’s Boening 737Max.

Recognition for Ireland’s Unsung Hero.


Ireland’s legendary Antarctic explorer to appear on Norwegian’s brand new Boeing 737MAX aircraft on Irish transatlantic flights this summer.

Norwegian and the Crean Family have announced that Irish Antarctic explorer Tom Crean will become its first Irish tail fin hero – the explorer’s portrait will appear on the airline’s new 737MAX aircraft that will serve new transatlantic routes from Cork, Shannon and Dublin to the US East Coast this summer.

Norwegian has always honoured iconic figures on the tails of its aircraft, featuring personalities who symbolise the spirit of Norwegian through innovation, pioneering achievement and inspiring others. Many of Norwegian’s existing tail fin heroes feature Scandinavian figures but to reflect the airline’s rapid growth in other markets, a series of new tail fin heroes is now underway featuring figures from the UK, Spain and now Ireland – Tom Crean will become Norwegian’s first Irish tail fin hero.

A young Tom Crean, from his days aboard HMS Ringarooma.

A young Tom Crean, from his days aboard HMS Ringarooma.

Born near Annascaul, County Kerry in 1877, Tom Crean enlisted in the Royal Navy aged 16, quickly becoming recognised as an accomplished sailor. In 1901, a chance encounter with Robert Falcon Scott saw Crean join Captain Scott’s ship ‘Discovery’ for a voyage of exploration into the unchartered realms of Antarctica. Like all the crew of Discovery, Tom Crean was a complete novice, in this freezing, white new world. However he soon established himself as a most valuable member of the pioneering endeavour, excelling in the newfound arts of sledging and man hauling.

Crean so endeared himself to Scott, that the Captain promptly recommended him for promotion, upon their return home, and asked that his entire expedition payments be back paid, to reflect his new position of petty officer, first class.
He returned to the comparative drudgery of regular Navy duty, based in Chatham, Kent. In 1906 Scott requested that Crean join him on Victorious, and the two would continue to serve together, from that point, until the day they parted company on Antarctica’s polar plateau, on January 4th, 1912.

Tom Crean at Cape Evans in 1912

Tom Crean at Cape Evans in 1912

That was on Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition (1910-1913), where Crean’s epic solo march, at the end of a 1,500 mile trek across the Antarctic wastes, would earn him the Albert Medal for Lifesaving. Tom Crean, Bill Lashly and Lt. Edward Evans bid their farewells to Scott and his polar party, 150 miles from the South Pole. They had been selected as the last supporting team, and would return to base, whilst Scott continued southwards with Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Edgar Evans. The five men reached the pole, only to discover that Amundsen had preceded them there, a month beforehand. All would die in wretched circumstances on their return march.
As the last support team made their homeward trek, Edward Evans’ condition gradually deteriorated; the consequences of which escalated from him being unable to assist in man hauling, to finding himself strapped onto the provisions sledge, being dragged forward by Lashly and Crean.
Over the course of the final 100 miles, the two exhausted men did everything in their powers to get their scurvy stricken Lieutenant to safety. But as they weakened, their progression slowed, and 35 miles from Hut Point, they thought their friend had died.
Evans would later recall how Crean’s warm tears fell onto his face and revived him, as the distraught Irishman wept over him. Buoyed by the partial recovery in Evans, Crean volunteered to walk the remaining distance to base, and raise rescue, whilst Lashly would remain with the patient. Sustained only by a couple of biscuits and a piece of chocolate,  Crean completed the perilous trek in 18 hours. The expedition’s doctor, Edward Atkinson, and the Russian dog handler Dimitri Gerov, mounted a rescue mission, returning with both men alive.
Edward Evans, later to become 1st Baron Mountevans, would make a full recovery and always humbly remembered the gallant efforts of both Crean and Lashly, in saving his life.

The Terra Nova Expedition - Tom Crean sits in front row, right.

The Terra Nova Expedition – Tom Crean sits in front row, right.

Within a year of returning from the Terra Nova Expedition, Tom Crean had been recruited by Sir Ernest Shackleton, for his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914 – 1917). Again the Irish Giant would prove himself to be a most invaluable asset, to an Antarctic campaign.
After their ship Endurance, was trapped in, and ultimately crushed by the ice of the Weddell Sea, the 28 men eked out an existance, surviving on the drifting ice floes. Their escape from the clutches of certain death, is an unbelievable tale of their collective determination, endurance, bravery and utter proficiency, tinged of course with a little luck!
A dreadful seven day voyage in the ship’s three lifeboats, to Elephant Island, would see the men stand on land, for the first time in 497 days. Soon all 28 men were at sea again, as they were forced to move camp to Cape Wild. It may have only been a 7 mile journey, but any passage in the churning southern ocean, was fraught with danger.
From Cape Wild, Shackleton, Crean, Worsley, McCarthy, Vincent and McNish would complete the greatest open boat journey ever undertaken. The Voyage of the James Caird was an 800 mile, 17 day crossing of the notorious Weddell Sea, in a mere lifeboat. That they survived the constant battering of the ocean, thirst, hunger, cold and a violent hurricane, is quite frankly unfathomable. But they did.
Their next obstacle was the unchartered and untamed interior of South Georgia. Having landed on the wrong side of the island, Shackleton, Crean and Worsley had to traverse peaks, crevasses and glaciers, to reach the whaling station at Stromness. From here the seeds of rescue, for their stranded companions, were sown. It would take many months and many failed efforts, but finally on August 30th 1916, the three men, aboard the ship Yelcho, were afforded passage through the ice that encapsulated Elephant Island.
All 28 men survived.

Launching the James Caird

Launching the James Caird

Tom Crean was the only member of the expedition to take part in every aspect of the escape from the ice, and subsequent rescue. Whilst he was joined by Shackleton and Worsley, in completing the escape, when arriving at Stromness, Crean’s inclusion in Frank Wild’s exploratory first voyage to Cape Wild, in the Stancomb Wills, is what sets him apart.

The news that Norwegian are to honour Ireland’s unsung hero is tremendous. It is rightful recognition for a righteous man. Tom Crean was not just a hero to his expeditionary companions, he was a friend, of immense character, who always instilled belief, such was his unwavering calmness in the face of every danger they faced. He was loved, respected and greatly admired by all who served with him.
As the press release states, “Crean perfectly captures the essence of Norwegian’s tail fin heroes.”
That Crean has yet to be honoured fittingly, by his own country, is truly disappointing. Dismaying in fact, that a man of such stature and accomplishment, is not afforded the national recognition he deserves.

No doubt it is a time for reflection, for the board of Kerry Airport, who recently balked at the proposal of incorporating his name, in tribute; following a hugely popular social media campaign by Ireland Should Honour Tom Crean.

And no doubt it is a day to celebrate the memory of the great man, who has finally achieved recognition, befitting of his caliber. It is a proud day for the Crean family, to finally see Tom not just honoured, but remembered.
For that we can thank Norwegian!

Irish Campaign

There is currently a campaign underway to honour Tom Crean by naming an Irish Navy vessel in his honour.
You can sign the petition HERE.

Norwegian

Crean’s modest and humble personality meant that it is only in recent years that his extraordinary career received widespread public recognition, including a bestselling book about his life and even a Guinness TV advert created in his honour. Nicknamed the ‘Irish Giant’ for his strength and stature as well as his leadership qualities, Crean perfectly captures the essence of Norwegian’s tailfin heroes.

Norwegian CEO Bjorn Kjos said: “As Norwegian prepares for rapid expansion in Ireland this summer, our ‘tail fin heroes’ offer us a perfect chance to pay tribute to some of the greatest Irish men and women of all time. Tom Crean is an unsung hero and a truly inspirational figure so it is a great honour to have him adorn our aircraft and become our first ever Irish tail fin hero.”

Tom Crean’s granddaughter Aileen Crean-O’Brien has recently been adding to the Crean family story by recreating his expedition on the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia – read more here.

The Crean family and Aileen Crean-O’Brien said: “We are delighted to honour our grandfather’s bravery and courage by bringing his name and exploits to Norwegian’s many US and European customers. As our family continues Tom Crean’s legacy with our own Antarctic exploits, we wish Norwegian the very best in their new endeavours.”

From July, Norwegian will launch a series of new low-cost transatlantic routes from Cork, Shannon and Dublin. The flights will serve smaller airports on the US east coast which offer good access into the New York, Boston and New England areas but carry significantly lower landing charges, allowing Norwegian to offer some truly affordable fares.

The new transatlantic routes will be operated on brand new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft – Norwegian is the European launch customer for this state-of-the-art new aircraft. Tom Crean will be one of the first tail fin heroes to appear on the new MAX aircraft.

Norwegian is Europe’s third largest low-cost carrier, carrying 30 million yearly passengers to more than 140 global destinations. Norwegian has been voted the Best Low-Cost Long-Haul Airline for two consecutive years at the renowned SkyTrax Awards, and the Europe’s Best Low-Cost Airline for four consecutive years.

Shackleton, Crean & Worsley – Salvation at Stromness.

Salvation At Stromness.

The Endurance Expedition (1914 – 1917).

“We had pierced the veneer of outside things. We had “suffered, starved, and triumphed, groveled down yet grasped at glory, grown bigger in the bigness of the whole.” We had seen God in his splendors, heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.”

One can completely understand why Sir Ernest Shackleton felt so poetic, when he stood above Stromness whaling station, with Tom Crean and Frank Worsley, on May 20th 1916. Whether the words came to him then, or in considered reflection afterwords, they tremor with the sheer magnitude of the moment.

For below the trio lay salvation. They had saved themselves. They would save their three companions, who had voyaged with them in the James Caird – McNish and Vincent, too ill to venture further, remained behind on the opposite side of the island, in the care of Timothy McCarthy. They would save their 22 comrades stranded 800 miles away on Elephant Island. And undoubtedly they had grown bigger in the bigness of the whole.

What they had overcome was simply colossus! How they had done it – unimaginable! How they conspired, endured, and overcame, to not just survive but to triumph, is quite frankly unfathomable.

And this was the moment! It was the moment the escape from the ice was over, and the rescue could begin. How glorious did the blubber drenched, whale stenched, galvanised garrison of Stromness, appear to the three men, that day?   Continue Reading →

Tom Crean – A Poem by Ronnie J. Smith.

Tom Crean.

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.

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Anchor From The Aurora – The Ross Sea Party

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.

Anchor from the Aurora (Shackleton's Ross Sea Party) and Erebus Robert Falcon Scott's Terra Nova Hut, Cape Evans Antarctica, September 2013

Anchor from the Aurora (Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party) and Erebus
Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova Hut, Cape Evans Antarctica, September 2013

Source

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On This Day, 02/02/1916 – Shackleton Retrieves the Stancomb Wills Lifeboat.

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

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 rather quickly, 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.

Man Hauling towards the Polar Plateau 1911

Man-hauling on the Beardmore Glacier.

 

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.

SourceWikipedia

Tom Crean On Antarctica’s Polar Plateau – Christmas Day 1911.

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 towards the Polar Plateau 1911
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.
Source

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.

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Shackleton Orders the Shooting of Chinaman – The Nimrod Expedition.

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 →