South: the story of Shackleton’s last expedition 1914-1917, by Ernest Shackleton

CHAPTER XVIII

The Final Phase

The foregoing chapters of this book represent the general narrative of our Expedition. That we failed in accomplishing the object we set out for was due, I venture to assert, not to any neglect or lack of organization, but to the overwhelming natural obstacles, especially the unprecedented severe summer conditions on the Weddell Sea side. But though the Expedition was a failure in one respect, I think it was successful in many others. A large amount of important scientific work was carried out. The meteorological observations in particular have an economic bearing. The hydrographical work in the Weddell Sea has done much to clear up the mystery of this, the least known of all the seas. I have appended a short scientific memorandum to this volume, but the more detailed scientific results must wait until a more suitable time arrives, when more stable conditions prevail. Then results will be worked out.

To the credit side of the Expedition one can safely say that the comradeship and resource of the members of the Expedition was worthy of the highest traditions of Polar service; and it was a privilege to me to have had under my command men who, through dark days and the stress and strain of continuous danger, kept up their spirits and carried out their work regardless of themselves and heedless of the limelight. The same energy and endurance that they showed in the Antarctic they brought to the greater war in the Old World. And having followed our fortunes in the South you may be interested to know that practically every member of the Expedition was employed in one or other branches of the active fighting forces during the war. Several are still abroad, and for this very reason it has been impossible for me to obtain certain details for this book.

Of the fifty-three men who returned out of the fifty-six who left for the South, three have since been killed and five wounded. Four decorations have been won, and several members of the Expedition have been mentioned in dispatches. McCarthy, the best and most efficient of the sailors, always cheerful under the most trying circumstances, and who for these very reasons I chose to accompany me on the boat journey to South Georgia, was killed at his gun in the Channel. Cheetham, the veteran of the Antarctic, who had been more often south of the Antarctic circle than any man, was drowned when the vessel he was serving in was torpedoed, a few weeks before the Armistice. Ernest Wild, Frank Wild’s brother, was killed while mine-sweeping in the Mediterranean. Mauger, the carpenter on the ‘Aurora’, was badly wounded while serving with the New Zealand Infantry, so that he is unable to follow his trade again. He is now employed by the New Zealand Government. The two surgeons, Macklin and McIlroy, served in France and Italy, Mcllroy being badly wounded at Ypres. Frank Wild, in view of his unique experience of ice and ice conditions, was at once sent to the North Russian front, where his zeal and ability won him the highest praise.

Macklin served first with the Yorks and later transferred as medical officer to the Tanks, where he did much good work. Going to the Italian front with his battalion, he won the Military Cross for bravery in tending wounded under fire.

James joined the Royal Engineers, Sound-Ranging Section, and after much front-line work was given charge of a Sound-Ranging School to teach other officers this latest and most scientific addition to the art of war.

Wordie went to France with the Royal Field Artillery and was badly wounded at Armentieres.

Hussey was in France for eighteen months with the Royal Garrison Artillery, serving in every big battle from Dixmude to Saint-Quentin.

Worsley, known to his intimates as Depth-Charge Bill, owing to his success with that particular method of destroying German submarines, has the Distinguished Service Order and three submarines to his credit.

Stenhouse, who commanded the ‘Aurora’ after Mackintosh landed, was with Worsley as his second in command when one of the German submarines was rammed and sunk, and received the D.S.C. for his share in the fight. He was afterwards given command of a Mystery Ship, and fought several actions with enemy submarines.

Clark served on a mine-sweeper. Greenstreet was employed with the barges on the Tigris. Rickenson was commissioned as Engineer-Lieutenant, R.N. Kerr returned to the Merchant Service as an engineer.

Most of the crew of the ‘Endurance’ served on minesweepers.

Of the Ross Sea Party, Mackintosh, Hayward, and Spencer-Smith died for their country as surely as any who gave up their lives on the fields of France and Flanders. Hooke, the wireless operator, now navigates an airship.

Nearly all of the crew of the ‘Aurora’ joined the New Zealand Field Forces and saw active service in one or other of the many theatres of war. Several have been wounded, but it has been impossible to obtain details.

On my return, after the rescue of the survivors of the Ross Sea Party, I offered my services to the Government, and was sent on a mission to South America. When this was concluded I was commissioned as Major and went to North Russia in charge of Arctic Equipment and Transport, having with me Worsley, Stenhouse, Hussey, Macklin, and Brocklehurst, who was to have come South with us, but who, as a regular officer, rejoined his unit on the outbreak of war. He has been wounded three times and was in the retreat from Mons. Worsley was sent across to the Archangel front, where he did excellent work, and the others served with me on the Murmansk front. The mobile columns there had exactly the same clothing, equipment, and sledging food as we had on the Expedition. No expense was spared to obtain the best of everything for them, and as a result not a single case of avoidable frost-bite was reported.

Taking the Expedition as a unit, out of fifty-six men three died in the Antarctic, three were killed in action, and five have been wounded, so that our casualties have been fairly high.

Though some have gone there are enough left to rally round and form a nucleus for the next Expedition, when troublous times are over and scientific exploration can once more be legitimately undertaken.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29