Tom Crean, the Solo March, and the Albert Medal for Lifesaving.
Terra Nova Expedition – Medal Awards Ceremony.
Buckingham Palace – July 26th, 1913.
The Terra Nova Expedition is probably better remembered for it’s tragic failures than it’s heroic triumphs. The deaths of Scott, Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Edgar Evans on their return from the South Pole, sent shockwaves around the world..
They had arrived at the pole, on January 17th, 1912, to find that the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen had preceded them there over a month beforehand. It was a cruel blow, but the worst was yet to come for the polar party. Their return journey became a desperate battle for survival. One that they were destined to lose.
Misfortune and mishap would contribute to their deaths, but it was cold and hunger that ultimately killed them. Having crossed the polar plateau, and descended the Beardmore Glacier, the party had expected that the most grueling stages of their journey were behind them. Edgar Evans had died on February 17th 1912, near the foot of the Beardmore. As they progressed across the Barrier, the temperature plummeted beyond anything they could have expected. Their advancement was slowed by Oates’s frostbite, and upon reaching their depots, they discovered an alarming shortage of fuel.
Oates walked to his death on March 17th, no longer able to withstand the agonies he was enduring. It was his 32nd birthday. The temperature continued to fall and the air was deathly still. With no wind at their backs, their sledge sail was of little or no benefit to them. Not only that, but the frozen surface had become almost impossible to haul their sledge over. Gradually they weakened, and sequentially they starved and froze to death. Scott’s last diary entry was on March 29th, twelve days after the disappearance of Lawrence Oates. In that time Scott, Wilson and Bowers had only managed to cover a further 20 miles. They died in helpless limbo, 11 miles from One Ton Depot.
After the long Antarctic winter, a search party left Cape Evans on October 29th, in an attempt to uncover the fate of their comrades, whom they knew were dead. On November 12th the men found the tent containing the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers. Scott’s diaries would outline the prologue to their fate, and tell the tragic tale of the demise of Evans and Oates. Efforts to locate the body of Lawrence Oates, only yielded his discarded sleeping bag, and the party returned to base on November 25th.
It was February 10th, 1913, however, before the world would learn of the tragedy that had befallen the Terra Nova Expedition. That was almost a year after Amundsen had publicly announced his victory, after returning to Hobart, Australia, on 7th March, 1912. Dr Edward Atkinson and Lieut. Harry Pennell rowed ashore at the New Zealand port of Oamaru, and contacted the expedition’s agent Joseph Kinsey, with the news. The report was delivered in the strictest confidence, because of an agreement with the Central News Agency in London, and out of respect to the families of the men who had perished.
Atkinson and Pennell then caught a train to Christchurch to meet up with the Terra Nova and it’s crew. As part of the arrangement, the ship was required to spend 24 hours at sea, after the cable had been sent.
Telegram from Commander Evans to London.
Probably February 10th 1913.
Christchurch, N.Z., Monday Captain Scott reached the South Pole on January 18 of last year, and there found the Norwegian tent and records. On their return [a word here is undecipherable] the southern party perished. Scott, Wilson, and Bowers died from exposure and want during a blizzard about March 29 when eleven miles from One Ton Depot, or 155 miles from the base at Cape Evans. Oates died from exposure on March 17. Seaman Edgar Evans died from concussion of the brain on February 17. The health of the remaining members of the expedition is excellent.
E. R. G. Evans, Lieut. R.N.,
Source – The Guardian
Speculation among the public and press was rife, and the suspicion was that some tragedy had befallen the expedition, which was not due to return until March or April. It was the following morning, February 11th, before the news that had broke in London, filtered back to New Zealand. At 10 am on February 12th, the Terra Nova sailed into Lyttelton, with flags at half mast.
The public were consumed by the tragedy. The story ran for weeks in the press, as front page news, and the outpouring of grief was tangible. Remembrance services were held and those that died were hailed as true national heroes.
Amundsen’s glory of being first to reach the pole, faded into the background, and became a mere factual footnote in the epic saga of Captain Scott’s heroic Southern Journey. Forgotten too in the immediate dither of emotion, were the many other daring episodes that had transpired, during the Terra Nova Expedition.
There were many journey’s during the course of the expedition. Northern, Southern, Western, Eastern and of course the Winter Journey. The Winter Journey, was exactly that. A journey undertaken in the depths of the long, dark and desperately cold Antarctic winter. They went in search of emperor penguin eggs.
It was Wilson’s idea and he proposed to bring Bowers and Cherry-Gerrard with him. Scott was rightly of the opinion that it was a ludicrous and highly dangerous notion. However he eventually yielded to Wilson’s pleas and gave the venture enough of his approval for it to go ahead.
On June 27th 1911 the three men left for the rookery at Cape Crozier, which lay 60 miles away. It took them almost 20 days to reach the destination. They built a shelter which would afford them access to the rookery, where they collected five emperor eggs. A severe storm would wreck their refuge and they turned back for Cape Evans, arriving there on August 1st. Three of the five eggs survived the return trip, as somehow did the three men.
Cherry-Garrard would later recount their ordeal in the aptly titled The Worst Journey In The World. The horrors he describes include temperatures as low as -60º C, and how their clothes had frozen solid as they struggled to cover little more than a mile a day. He tells of the trio trying to sleep at night, shivering so violently that they feared their backs would break. This was not fanciful exaggeration. Cherry-Garrards teeth did shatter from the excessive clattering they endured in the frigid temperatures. He would need extensive dental treatment for the rest of his life as a result.
The Northern Party, under the command of Campbell, had been dropped at Evans Cove, by the Terra Nova on January 4th 1912, and were due to be picked up on February 18th. But the ship could not penetrate the heavy pack ice, and the men were stranded, with little by way of shelter, rations or hope. As the Antarctic winter enveloped them they excavated a snow cave, in which they spent months, enduring the extreme cold and the subsequent privations of starvation, dysentry and frostbite.
Atkinson had attempted a relief effort to try to reach the men, in April, but they were beaten back by the ferocious weather, and unfavourable sea ice conditions. It was not until September that Campbell’s party realised if they were to be rescued, they would have to rescue themselves.
Miraculously they made it back to Cape Evans on November 7th, to learn of the search for the Polar Party.
Whilst the Northern Party could supplement their dwindling rations with fish and seal meat, due to their proximity to the coast, the survival of all the teams returning from the southern journey relied upon covering the required distance between their depots of cached food.
The last supporting team which had accompanied Scott and the polar party to within 150 miles of the pole, turned for home on January 4th 1912. It consisted of Tom Crean, Bill Lashly and Lieutenant Edward Evans. They were returning as a three man team, as Scott had opted to increase the number of the polar party to five.
The trio no doubt harboured deep disappointment that they had not made the selection, but once the first steps were taken on their homeward march, that then became their only focus. With 750 miles of Antarctic expanse to traverse, and depots to locate and reach on time, their journey and very survival was now what mattered.
Despite Crean suffering badly from snow blindness during the first few days, their progression was steady and constant, until January 16th. They suspected they may have strayed somewhat off course. The following two days confirmed their worst fears. They found themselves lost in a maze of pressure ridges and crevasses, on the Beardmore Glacier “If we had only had a camera we could have obtained some photographs that would have surprised anyone living,” Lashly had wrote.
Eventually they negotiated safe passage and located their depot. Their relief was short lived as Evans began to suffer from snow blindness. Crean and Lashly were now doing the bulk of the man hauling as Evans was completely blind.
As they travelled they marvelled at how the terrain had changed, since they had passed on the outward journey. They could see their old sledge tracks abruptly halted at the edges of giant crevasses. The chilling realisation that sections of the ice they had trudged across only weeks before, had since collapsed.
At 6.45 p.m. on 21st January they reached another depot near the foot of the glacier, and knew they would be clear of the treacherous Beardmore, and onto the more stable Barrier, in a day or so.
“We none of us minds the struggle we have been through to attain the amount of success so far reached. It is all for the good of science, as Crean says.”
Diary of William Lashly, 21/01/1912. Quoted from The Worst Journey In The World – Apsley Cherry-Garrard.
The following day things continued to improve. Briefly. Evans felt his eyes were much better, and then they sighted the Barrier, sprawled out before them. “Crean let go one huge yell enough to frighten the ponies out of their graves of snow…” Lashly remembered.
But again their joy was compounded by Evans’ admission of stiffness behind his knees. They all there, knew this to be a telling symptom of the onset of scurvy. An inspection of his gums did little to allay their fears.
Yet they continued to progress steadily. On January 27th, Evans was noted as suffering from “looseness of the bowels.” Crean had suffered similarly a few days hence, and it had passed off, so they dared to hope that this too was a temporary ailment.
It was not. Over the next few days the ‘looseness’ persisted, and many stops delayed their progression. Lashly’s observation that Evans was turning black and blue and several other colours, did not bode well.
Evans condition deteriorated. Day by day he worsened and got weaker. But day by day they were inching ever closer to home. They struggled with bad surfaces, and thick climate conditions, but mercifully the weather had not adversely affected them. That is, they had not been confined to their tent, to seek shelter from the elements.
By February 10th Evans had been passing blood, and Crean and Lashly, agreeing that they were both in good health, vowed to do everything in their power to get him to Hut Point. It lay 120 miles away. Evans was at this point still managing to walk on his skis, but was fainting frequently. On February 13th he could no longer stand. Crean and Lashly decided to jettison all but the most crucial of their supplies and strapped Evans onto the sledge. He pleaded with the two men to leave him behind and save themselves. This, they told him, they would never consider. Evans then issued them a direct order. This they completely ignored.
And so it was, the three man team had become a two man team, hauling forward one man, on top of their dwindling provisions.
Not only had Crean and Lashly the added strain of hauling Evans across the difficult Antarctic surface, but they had both decided to extend their hours in the harness, such was the urgency of the situation. With food now running out, they had to sustain their efforts on reduced rations, and accordingly they weakened.
On the morning of February 18th, they feared Evans had died. They revived him with their last drops of brandy, and continued their desperate slog forward. The bad surface underfoot and their wearying limbs conspired against their gallant efforts. Try as they might, they struggled to cover little more than a mile an hour. It was admirable progression given the atrociousness of their situation, but they knew they would not get to Hut Point, in time to save Evans’ life.
It lay 35 miles away, and at their current pace they estimated it would take them five days to get there. Not only would this timeframe be damning to Evans’ chances of survival, but they had only one days food remaining.
They set up camp and told Evans of their plan, for one of them to strike out alone for Hut Point, to raise rescue. Lashly had offered to do the journey, but Crean insisted it should be him, adding that he would much prefer Lashly to remain behind and tend to the patient.
Lashly held the tent flap open, to afford Evans a view, as Crean set off at 10 am on Sunday, 18 February 1912. ‘He strode out nobly and finely,’ Evans recalled. ‘I wondered if I should ever see him again.’
Crean left with no skis as they had been long since discarded, in an effort to lighten the sledge load. He brought no sleeping bag, as he did not intend sleeping, until he had completed the course. He refused the drink the men had set aside for him, and left with only a piece of chocolate and a few biscuits in his pocket.
Lashly watched Crean until he disappeared from view, and immediately began to worry. Crean was alone. One slip or fall was all it would take. The weather could catch him up and he had no way of sheltering from it. He had no means of navigating, nor for that matter did he know anything of the skill of navigation. All manner of scenarios plagued Lashly’s thinkings.
He decided to busy himself. Leaving Evans behind in the tent, he walked to Corner Camp which lay a mile away, to search for food. He found little, but a note left there by Day, warning of treacherous crevasses between there and Hut Point. His stomach lurched.
He could not warn Crean, and opted not to worry Evans with the news.
He fashioned a flag from a piece of Burberry he had discovered at Corner Camp, and planted it outside the tent, as a marker for the rescuers they hoped would arrive. There was little else to do but wait. And worry.
Crean meanwhile had found the surface quite good and estimated he covered sixteen miles before he stopped for a brief rest. He ate the piece of chocolate and two of his three biscuits. The other he put back in his pocket, in case of an emergency.
He forged ahead, passing Safety Camp some five hours later. He was starting to feel the cold, and the weather was ‘coming on thick.’ At 12.30 a.m on Monday 19th February, he reached the point where the Barrier ended and the sea ice began. Crean suffered many falls on the sea ice, but each time he got up again. Onward, always onward.
The wind was now blowing hard, drifting and snowing. He began to sink through slush.
He somehow summoned the strength to climb Observation Hill in order to bypass the precarious ice, and once atop he scanned the area below for signs of activity, but all was quiet.
The hut was one of two being used by the expedition, and there was a real possibility that it could be empty. If so then Crean faced the prospect of a further slog of 15 miles to the hut at Cape Evans.
As the blizzard began to take hold behind him, he made for the hut, and then noticed the presence of dogs outside, which could only mean the hut was occupied. His elation, one can hardly imagine, let alone put to words.
Tom Crean collapsed through the door at Hut Point at around 3.30 AM on 19th of February, almost delirious with hunger and exhaustion. His epic solo march had taken him 18 hours.
By chance Atkinson, the expeditions doctor and Dimitri, the dog handler, were at the hut as they were on their way to meet with Scott, on his return from the Pole. Rescue for Evans and Lashly was delayed as the blizzard Crean had managed to outrun, hit with powerful ferocity. But once it had abated Atkinson and Dimitri headed out in search of the men, and politely refused Crean’s plea to join them, stressing that he needed food, rest and warmth.
“This effort was made, it should be remembered, at the end of a journey of three and a half months, and over ground rendered especially perilous by crevasses, from which a man travelling alone had no chance of rescue in case of accident. Crean was walking for eighteen hours, and it was lucky for him, as also for his companions, that the blizzard which broke half an hour after his arrival did not come a little sooner, for no power on earth could have saved him then, and the news of Evans’ plight would not have been brought.”
Apsley Cherry-Garrard ― from “The Worst Journey in the World: Antarctic 1910-1913”
20th February 1912 “Tuesday not a nice day. A low drift all the morning and increased to a blizzard at times.” So started that day’s diary entry by Lashly. He continued on, scribbling his thoughts about having to stay in the tent, as the only means of keeping warm, Evans seriously ill, yet cheerful, and the fact that their food had, but for a few biscuits, run out.
Then “Hark!” They heard the dogs approaching. Crean had made it! Lashly leapt from the tent and saw the Doctor and Dimitri approach.
“How did you see us?”
“The flag Lash,” says Dimitri.
Atkinson tended to Evans, administering fruit, vegetables and seal meat, but the weather would prevent them leaving for base that day. And the next. It was 3 a.m. on February 22nd before they endeavoured to move. Evans was placed on Dimitri’s sledge, and Lashly and Atkinson took turns sitting on their sledge, or running alongside, as the dogs hauled them home. They reached Hut Point at 1 p.m.
Dimitri and Crean then set off for Cape Evans, to inform the men there of the dramatic developments. Atkinson’s plans to trek southwards and meet up with the returning pole party, were no longer possible. As the only doctor, he had to remain behind to tend to Evans. He sent word to Cape Evans with Crean, that either of Wright or Cherry-Garrard, should team with Demitri, and head for One Ton Depot.
And so it was, that the last support party, of Crean, Lashly and Evans, would transpire to be the last team to make it back from the southern journey. Scott and his polar party would never return. The expected dates of their arrival came and went. Nagging doubts turned to grave concerns. Many mirage-like sightings of the group approaching Cape Evans were reported, to great excitement, but all evaporated as did even the most optimistic of hopes. Ultimately accepted was the grim realisation that the men had perished, and lay dead, southwards, somewhere in the vast icy realms, that stretched between the Cape and the South Pole.
There was no hint of concern for Scott and his men at the time the Terra Nova had sailed for New Zealand, with Edward Evans aboard. Atkinson had felt Evans’ best chance of a full recovery was to leave Antarctica. This he did a, along with a number of other men who were already scheduled to depart. For the remaining men, including Crean and Lashly, they would stay behind, for a third season.
Evans was bedridden for the entire voyage, which reached New Zealand in April. After partial recovery he met with Amundsen, neither man knowing that Scott and his men had reached the pole, or for that matter, that they had died returning from it.
Evans next headed back to England, for the summer, as it would be beneficial to his recovery. Here he raised funds for the expedition and was invited to meet King George V, who promptly promoted him to the rank of Commander.
It was at this meeting that Evans recounted his ordeal and near death experience to the King. How his two comrades had dragged him back across the Barrier, to a point that rendered them exhausted. Of Crean’s epic solo march to Hut Point. Of Atkinson and Dimitri’s arrival with two dog teams, and his eventual arrival at Hut Point. He proposed that both Crean and Lashly were truly worthy of being awarded the Albert Medal for Gallantry. The King agreed.
Commander Evans sailed south again on the Terra Nova, to pick up the men of the expedition. He arrived on January 18th, 1913, and only then learned of the tragedy that had befallen the polar party.
On 26th July 1913 the surviving members of the expedition were awarded Polar Medals by King George and Prince Louis of Battenberg. Crean and Lashly were both awarded the Albert Medal, 2nd Class for saving Evans’s life. These were presented by the King at Buckingham Palace.
Below are two newspaper articles which reported on the event.
THE SCOTT EXPEDITION
WEST COAST TIMES, 31 JULY 1913
PRESENTATION OF MEDALS.
King George, at Buckingham Palace , pinned Polar medals on 59 members of the Scott expedition, including Lady Scott, Mrs Wilson, and Mrs Edgar Kvans, and the mothers of Lieut. Bowers and Captain Oates. He also gave Albert Medals to Chief-Stoker William Lashley and Petty-Officer Thomas Crean. Silver Polar medals were given to those who had made more than one voyage, and bronze medals to the rest.
THE ALBERT MEDAL.
WHY LASHlY AND CREAN RECEIVED IT.
The news that the King has personally decorated the men of the British Antarctic Expedition, and the mothers and wives of those who lost their lives in doing its work, will be received with satisfaction in New Zealand. That Chief-Stoker William Lashly and P.O. Thomas Crean have been awarded the Albert medal by the King is particularly pleasing, as it is a special recognition of their magnificent bravery and their unflinching devotion to duty.
When Commander Evans, R.N. (then Lieutenant) parted from Captain R. Scott and his little party of four men (Dr. Wilson, Captain Oates. Lieut. Bowers, RIM. and Chief P.O. Edgar Kvans, R.N.). about 150 miles from the South Pole in February sic (should read January), 1912, he was accompanied by Lashly and Crean on the long journey to the main base. A fortnight later Commander Evans felt that he was feeling too weak from the attack of scurvy to “carry on” much further, and finally he became unable to walk. He ordered the two men to go on and leave him, as he felt he was too great a drag on them and was imperilling their lives. With tears in their eyes Lashly and Crean said they had never disobeyed orders before, but they were going to do so on that occasion. They flatly refused to leave their leader, and he, being weak and almost unconscious, was lashed on the sledge and man-hauled by these magnificent men for many weary days over frightful country and through terrific weather. At last, thirty-five miles from Hut Point, Lashly and Crean, weak from the strain of continued travel and the hauling of the sledge, were in a bad way. Their food was well nigh exhausted — only a few biscuits remained and desperate measures were necessary. Lashly stood by the sledge on which Lieut. Evans was in a dying condition, and Crean set off alone to get help. With nothing but a distant hill to guide him, Crean did a marvellous feat. He covered the thirty-five mile stretch as fast as he poor weak legs would let him. A howling storm overtook him, but still he struggled on with desperation, and in the blackness of the blinding blizzard he reached the goal and fell into the arms of Dr Atkinson, who had gone to Hut Point in the hope of helping the returning supporting party. He told his story in a few words, and a forced sledge journey by Dr. Atkinson and his men found Lashly waiting by the side of Lieut. Evans. They were taken to the base and Evans nursed back to life. Lashly and Crean remained in the Antarctic for another year, but Lieut. Evans went to England. He was sent for by the King and promoted to the rank of Commander. He told the King and Queen the story, and suggested that Lashly and Crean should get the Albert Medal.
Source – Papers Past
THE COLONIST, VOLUME LV, ISSUE 13824, 22 SEPTEMBER 1913
DECORATED BY THE KING.
The King received at Buckingham Palace the other morning between forty and fifty officers and men of the Terra Nova, the scientists attached to the Antarctic expedition, and the lady relatives of those who perished in the ice-bound South, in order to decorate them with the Antarctic medals specially struck by order of His Majesty to commemorate Captain Scott’s last journey. The men (states the London correspondent of the Auckland “Star”), most of whom were in blue-jacket uniform, marched from Caxton Hall to the Palace, and were enthusiastically cheered all along the line of route, but most of the officers and the ladies drove to the Palace, and so escaped the plaudits of the people. The ladies were first admitted to the Royal presence, and were presented to the King by Prince Louis of Battenburg. They were: Lady Scott, Mrs Wilson, Mrs. Bowers, Mrs. Edgar Evans, and Mrs. Brissenden. Mrs. Oates was to have received Captain Oates’ medal, but being medically unfit to attend, she deputed Commander Evans to accept it on her behalf.
His Majesty personally pinned on the medal in each case, shook hands with each of the ladies, and said a few words of sympathy to them in the loss of their brave relatives. The ladies having withdrawn, the male recipients of the decoration were admitted. A hook had been previously attached to the breast of each man’s uniform or coat (the scientists were in civilian dress), and the King personally placed the medals in position, and shook hands with each in turn. The decoration bestowed is officially known as the “Polar Medal.” The medal and clasp were in silver for those who have served more than one Polar voyage, and in bronze for those who had made one voyage only. In the case of those who possessed already the previous Polar medal, the clasp alone was given on this occasion. Two men of the crew — Chief Stoker Wm. Lashly and Petty Officer Thomas Crean, received an additional decoration — the Albert Medal for gallantry in saving or attempting to save life. As is usual in the case of the bestowal of this medal, a brief account of the deed for which it was awarded was read to the King by Prince Louis of Battenburg.
This was the story of the deed that won for Crean and Lashly the Albert Medal: At the, end of a journey of 1,500 miles on foot, the final supporting party to the late Captain Scott’s expedition towards the South Pole, consisting of Lieutenant Evans, Chief Stoker Lashly, and Petty Officer Crean, were 238 miles from the base, when Lieutenant Evans was found to be suffering from scurvy. When 151 miles from the base he was unable to stand without support on his ski sticks, and after struggling onward on skis in great pain for four days, during which Lashly and Crean dragged their sledge 53 miles, he collapsed, and was unable to proceed further. Lieutenant Evans requested his two comrades to leave him, urging that unless they did so, three lives would be lost instead of one. This, however, they refused to do, and insisted on carrying him forward on the sledge. Lashly and Crean dragged Lieutenant Evans on the sledge for four days, pulling for thirteen hours a day, until a point was reached 34 miles from a refuge hut, where it was possible assistance might be obtained.
During the following twelve hours, however, snow fell incessantly, and it was found impossible to proceed further with the sledge. As the party had now only sufficient food for three more meals, and both Lashly and Crean were becoming weaker daily, it was decided that they should separate, and that Crean should endeavour to walk to the refuge hut, while Lashley stayed to nurse Lieutenant Evans. After a march of eighteen hours in soft snow, Crean made his way to the hut, arriving completely exhausted. Fortunately, Surgeon Atkinson was at the hut with two dog teams and the dog attendant, and his party effected a rescue of Lashley and Lieutenant Evans, who, but for the gallant conduct throughout of his two companions, would have undoubtedly lost his life.
Source – Papers Past
New Zealand History
Tom Crean – An Illustrated Life – Michael Smith
The Worst Journey In The World – Apsley Cherry-Garrard (Featuring extracts from the diary of William Lashly)
Tom Crean’s Albert Medal – Kerry County Museum