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South Georgia: 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
Frank Worsley.

Thomas Orde-Lees, a captain in the Royal Marines, joined ITAE as the
motor expert and developed two models of motor-sledge. During the
expedition he was placed in charge of stores. On return to Britain he
transferred to the Royal Flying Corps with the help of Shackleton, and
served in the Balloon Service on the Western Front. He became an active
proponent of the use of parachutes. To convince military commanders of
their practicality and value, Orde-Lees jumped, headfirst, from the top
of the Tower Bridge into the River Thames, barely 50 metres below. He
later made low level descents from aircraft to demonstrate parachutes at
home and abroad. Orde-Lees was awarded the Air Force Cross for this
pioneering work.

Frank Worsley, a New Zealander and a veteran of sailing ships, was
appointed captain of Endurance. He has become famous for navigating the
James Caird from Elephant Island to South Georgia. A member of the Royal
Navy Reserve, he was given command of the 'mystery ship' PQ61 and sank
the U-boat UC33 by ramming, for which Worsley was awarded the
Distinguished Service Order. In 1918 Worsley joined Shackleton in
northern Russia and helped organise equipment and stores in Archangel.

Text by Robert Burton.

South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands issue Centenary of the end of
WWI - Shackleton’s Men is part of a complimentary issue of stamps being
made by South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands and British Antarctic
Territory in 2018 to mark this milestone anniversary, both issued on 4th
November 2018.

Technical Details

Designer Andrew Robinson

Thomas Orde-Lees image Scott Polar Research Institute

Frank Worsley image National Library of New Zealand

Printer Cartor

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

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