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British Antarctic Territory:
Centenary of the end of World War I – Shackleton’s Men
Sir Ernest Shackleton's plan for the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition
was audacious and, to some polar experts, foolhardy. One party, aboard
the Endurance, would sail to the southern coast of the Weddell Sea and
set up a base with six of the men then setting out on a 1,500-mile
journey across the continent, via the South Pole, to another base on the
coast of the Ross Sea. On the way they would pick up supplies set out
for them by a party from the Ross Sea base that had landed from the
Both halves of the expedition faced near disaster. Endurance was crushed
in the pack-ice and the crews fight for survival and eventual rescue has
become legendary. On the other side of Antarctica, Aurora was trapped in
the ice and barely made her way back to New Zealand, having left 10 men
stranded ashore. Despite enormous hardships, and the deaths of three
men, they managed to lay the depots of food that would have been vital
for Shackleton and his crossing party.
The onset of World War I meant that the expedition nearly did not take
place. On 3 August 1914, as Endurance was about to depart, Germany
declared war on France and Britain mobilised her forces. The immediate
effect on the expedition was that three members left to rejoin their
units. Shackleton cabled the Admiralty in London offering Endurance and
her complement. The First Sea Lord, Winston Churchill, replied 'Proceed'
and, with the backing of King George V, Endurance set sail for
Antarctica on 8 August.
There was criticism at home that Shackleton and his men should be
fighting for King and Country rather than 'messing about on icebergs'.
Shackleton countered that they were engaged in the 'White Warfare of the
South'. As proved to be the case, the expedition was sometimes as
fraught with danger as facing enemy fire.
When the men returned to civilisation, they found the world was still at
war. The war with Germany had been expected to be short-lived but, three
years later, it continued to engulf Europe. Almost to a man, the
explorers joined the armed forces or returned to their previous lives in
the Merchant Navy. Even Perce Blackborow, despite having the toes of his
left foot amputated on Elephant Island, joined the Merchant Navy. Some
made the ultimate sacrifice for doing so. Tim McCarthy was killed when
his ship was torpedoed. Alfred Cheetham and Ernest Wild, Frank Wild's
brother, also died at sea. James McIlroy, James Wordie and Clarence
Mauger were badly injured.
At 42 years of age and too old for conscription Shackleton was gazetted
as a temporary Major and joined Syren Force, a multinational force sent
to Murmansk in northern Russia, first to defend it against the Germans
and then, after the Armistice, to support the White Russians against the
Red, Bolshevik, forces. His task was to organise winter equipment and he
was joined by Alexander Macklin, Leonard Hussey, Joseph Stenhouse and
Alexander Macklin was surgeon aboard Endurance and on his return to
Britain, he was commissioned into the Royal Army Medical Corps and
reached acting rank of major in 1919. He served first with the infantry
but transferred to the Tank Regiment. He moved from the Western Front to
Italy where he was awarded the Military Cross for bravery in tending the
wounded whilst under fire. Macklin volunteered for Syren Force in
northern Russia where he was later joined by Shackleton.
Joseph Stenhouse, First Officer of the Aurora, assumed command when the
Captain Æneas Mackintosh was stranded ashore at the Ross Sea base. With
great difficulty, he brought Aurora back to Port Chalmers, New Zealand.
On his return to Britain, Stenhouse, a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval
Reserve, joined Frank Worsley's PQ61 as Gunnery Officer. For his part in
the sinking of the U-boat UC33 Stenhouse was awarded the Distinguished
Service Cross. He joined Shackleton in northern Russia and took command
of a flotilla of boats on Lake Onega. For this service he was awarded
the Distinguished Service Order.
Text by Robert Burton.
The Government of the British Antarctic Territory will make a donation
from any profits to the Royal British Legion, which helps members of the
Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force, veterans and their families.
Designer Andrew Robinson
Joseph Stenhouse image Courtesy of Dix Noonan Webb
Process Stochastic lithography
Perforation 13 ¼ x 13 ½ per 2cms
Stamp size 42 x 28mm
Sheet layout 20 (2 x 10 Se-tenant pairs)
Release date 4 November, 2018
Production Co-ordination Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd