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.
The Voyage Of The James Caird.
April 24th – May 10th, 1916.
Tomorrow we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the James Caird reaching South Georgia, after a titanic 16 day, 800 mile journey, across the most volatile ocean on earth.
So slim were the chances of survival for the six man crew, as they left Elephant Island on April 24th 1916, that to all intents and purposes, it was their coffin that they dragged down the stony, perished beach, climbed aboard, and cast into the Weddell Sea.
The Weddell is a heaving, wind lashed, torturous monster, and the conditions the men endured, were simply horrific.
That they would emerge from a hurricane, 800 miles and 16 days later, and reach the rugged shores of South Georgia, is almost beyond comprehension.
But they did.
Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean, Frank Worsley, Timothy McCarthy, Harry McNish and John Vincent – Remember them!
The Endurance Expedition.
The Voyage Of The James Caird.
Even 100 years on from the epic boat journey, that was the voyage of the James Caird, it remains difficult to fully comprehend or appreciate, the enormity of the achievement of the six man crew.
Ernest Shackleton, Frank Worsley, Tom Crean, Timothy McCarty, Harry McNish and John Vincent spent 17 gruelling days in the modified lifeboat, traversing one of the most violent stretches of ocean on the planet. That they would somehow conspire to complete the feat, is without doubt one of, if not the single most greatest feat of open boat navigation, ever undertaken, and it was an act of sheer fortitude, brilliance, courage, endurance and pure seamanship that seldom gets the recognition or acclaim that it surely merits.
Below we remember the men of the Caird, in their own words. Lest we forget.
Captain Lawrence Oates.
A Brief Video Biography.
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 was among a group of five men, who were on their return march from the South Pole, which they had reached on January 17th 1912. Led by Captain Scott, the group had discovered, to their dismay, that Roald Amundsen‘s Norwegian team, had been to the pole before them.
Defeated they turned for home, and their journey gradually descended into a desperate battle for survival. Edgar Evans died at the foot of the Beardmore Glacier on February 17th, and one month later, Lawrence Oates also met his untimely demise. Oates took matters into his own hands and gallantly walked to his death, deeming his afflicted presence a burden upon the survival chances of his comrades. Continue Reading →
The Iconic Tom Crean Portrait
The Endurance Expedition 1914 – 1917
It is 102 years to the day, since Frank Hurley took this iconic photograph of the Irish explorer Tom Crean, during the Endurance Expedition. The setting for the powerful image was on the drifting ice floes of the Weddell Sea, where Crean, Hurley and the crew of Shackleton’s Endurance, had found themselves ensnared. It is, above all other photographs of Tom Crean, the one image that has become synonymous with his immense strength, unwavering courage and indomitable character.
Despite the unfavourable prospects of their situation, Crean fixes the camera with a stare of steely determination, yet somehow manages to exude the altruistic side of his aspect, that made him such a popular character with all who endeavoured with him. Continue Reading →
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, Shackleton and Wilson return to Discovery
Discovery Expedition 1901 – 1904
On February 3rd 1903, Scott, Shackleton and Wilson made it back to their ship Discovery, after their arduous Southern march, which had commenced on November 2nd 1902. The objective had been, according to Wilson’s Diary “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”, but it is safe to suggest it was never really likely that the Pole would be attained on this particular excursion. The men lacked the skill and experience required with dogs, and indeed the ice, and from the offset progress was slow, and planning poor.
Memorial Cross Raised On Observation Hill.
Terra Nova Expedition.
On January 22nd 1913 Tom Crean, and the Terra Nova expedition team, raised a memorial cross in honour of the Polar Party, all of whom had died on their return march from the South Pole. The cross was placed on the summit of Observation Hill, which is 754 ft high and looks out across the Ross Ice Shelf where the men tragically perished.
Prior to this Tom Crean was also part of the search party that had located the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers in their tent on November 12, 1912. The Relief Expedition had discovered the top of the tent protruding from the snow, at first thinking the mound was merely an old supply cache. History owes these men a huge debt of gratitude, for without their discovery, the fate of the Polar Party, would never be known. Their journeying, after January 4th 1912, when the last support team of Crean, Lashly and Evans, parted company with them, on the polar plateau, would be merely a subject of speculation and counter theory.
For those that discovered the frozen bodies of their three former comrades, and close friends, it was a truly horrific experience. Having identified the tent, it had to be excavated from the snow, before anyone could enter, with enough light to determine the gruesome scene within. Tom Crean wept bitterly, cradling Scott in his arms. It appeared that Scott was last to die. Bowers and Wilson looked at peace in their sleeping bags, perhaps as though Scott had tended to them, when they had passed.
Strewn about the tent were their belongings, journals, letters, and the paraphernalia of their efforts to survive there.
The equally grim fates of Edgar Evans and Lawrence Oates, were learned from Scott’s journal. So too, the fact that they had successfully reached the South Pole, as had Amundsen, a month prior to them; knowledge of which mattered little at that moment of intense grief.
“Then Atkinson read the lesson from the Burial Service from Corinthians. Perhaps it has never been read in a more magnificent cathedral and under more impressive circumstances—for it is a grave which kings must envy. Then some prayers from the Burial Service: and there with the floor-cloth under them and the tent above we buried them in their sleeping-bags—and surely their work has not been in vain.”
from “The Worst Journey in the World: Antarctic 1910-1913 – Apsley Cherry-Garrard