On This Day – January 22nd 1913
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
The search party continued to the point where Oates had disappeared, but despite locating his sleeping bag, no other trace of him was found.
Having returned to McMurdo Sound the men began work on the memorial cross which bears all five names. Much deliberation was made regarding the inscription that should be placed on the cross. many favoured a quote from the Bible, as they thought it would be of comfort to the wives and mothers, of the men. Chosen eventually was the line from Alfred Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses,” which reads – “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
On January 21st 1913, the business of erecting the jarrah wood cross was undertaken, and it was not without incident. The party which consisted of Crean, Atkinson, Wright, Lashly, Keohane, Debenham, Davies and Cherry-Garrard, left the ship and began sledging the cross towards Hut Point.
Wind and drift hampered their progression, as did the very unstable thawing and thinning ice. Atkinson cursed his luck when his foot went through, and into the frigid water. Almost immediately Crean plunged straight through the ice. Shocked and freezing, he was pulled to safety, and a precarious path was weaved through the melt pools and slush. Slowly they floundered forward, when suddenly Tom Crean disappeared through the ice again, almost pulling the sledge down with him. The panicked party pulled the partly submerged sledge and stayed hauling until Crean too emerged from the icy waters.
At Hut Point Crean got some dry clothes and the cross was given a coat of white paint.
“You would not think Crean had had such a pair of duckings to hear him talking so merrily to-night….”
― from “The Worst Journey in the World: Antarctic 1910-1913 – Apsley Cherry-Garrard
The following morning the men started off at 6 a.m. and began the gruelling process of dragging the cross, in sections, to the summit of Observation Hill. It was 5 p.m. before the memorial was standing, and it could even be seen by those on the Terra Nova, which was anchored, nine miles away.
The cross faces out across the great ice shelf, that will forever be the tomb of the bravest of the brave – Scott, Wison, Bowers, Oates and Evans.
Men who had set out to reach the South Pole, and gallantly succeeded in doing so. That they arrived there second to Amundsen, seems meaningless when measured against their last desperate battle. A protracted struggle to return to Cape Evans that they would ultimately lose, and pay for with their lives.
All later efforts to locate Scott’s tent proved fruitless, and it is now estimated that the bodies lie under 75 feet of ice, and are situated as much as 40 miles from where the men died, such is the movement of the ice on the Barrier.
On This Day – March 29th 1912 – Tom Crean
Source – The Worst Journey In The World – Apsley Cherry-Gerrard.