30 Aug

The men on Scott’s expeditions to Antarctica in the early 1900s were resourceful, courageous, and determined. On the premise that characters do not change I thought it would be interesting, at this time when the First World War is so much remembered, to follow the fortunes of the officers in the First World War starting with the officers on ‘Discovery’. The subject of the subsequent careers of the early Antarctic explorers is   fascinating (many went on to very distinguished careers) and is one I will return to later.

On ‘Discovery’ Scott’s complement included six lieutenants, two doctors (one of whom took on the duties of botanist, the other artist and zoologist) a biologist, a geologist and a physicist. The average age was 28, five were 25 or younger

Scott and Dr Wilson died in 1912 on the return from the Pole. Dr Koettlitz the senior doctor went to South Africa after the expedition and died of dysentery in that country in 1916.

Of the remaining eight who served in WW1, remarkably, all survived.

The ‘father’ of the ‘Discovery’ expedition Sir Clements Markham often recorded his impressions on the men he would appoint and I include a few on the ‘Discovery’ men for interest. Sir Clements was frank in his assessment of men (for example, in relation to Dr Koettleiz, mentioned above, Sir Clements wrote that he was’ zealous and painstaking’, but that ‘his mind perhaps works rather slowly and he has no sense of humour, but on the other hand he is thorough and persevering’.

 Albert Armitage, RNR, Second in Command, Sir Clements was’ happy with this appointment’. Armitage was at sea throughout the war. He commanded a transport ship ‘Salsette’ which was torpedoed with the loss of 14 crewmembers. After the war he returned to work for the P&O Line.

Charles Royds, RN, First Lieutenant, Sir Clements thought he was ‘a first-rate seaman who should become one of the Antarctic heroes’, was, in 1915, given command of the battleship HMS ‘Emperor of India’ an appointment that was thought to be made at an unusually young age for a junior Captain. He was appointed Companion of St Michael and St George (CMG), in 1919, for his war service.

Michael Barne, RN, Second Lieutenant, was recorded by Sir Clements as ‘a charming young fellow and so zealous that he would have thrown up his commission rather than not go and a relation of mine which is also in his favour’ In 1914 he was awarded the Royal Humane Society’s Silver Medal for diving overboard in an attempt to rescue a sailor in an Atlantic gale and subsequently served with distinction in the Dardanelles (a strait in N.W. Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea with the Sea of Marmara, an important exit to the sea for Russia) and on the Dover Patrol, This patrol was a Royal Navy unit based at Dover /Dunkirk with the primary aim of keeping German shipping and submarines on their way to the Atlantic out of the English Channel.

Barne was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal (DSO) when in command of Monitor M27, a shore bombardment vessel.

Ernest Shackleton, RNR, Third Lieutenant ‘an excellent and zealous officer, the son of a doctor in Northwood but from Ireland. His great grandfather was the Quaker Shackleton who was the instructor of Edmund Burke’, Shackleton, Sir Clements wrote. was ‘steady, high-principled, strong hard working, good- tempered and well informed’. After the ‘Endurance’ expedition many of Shackleton’s crew played a part in WW1 but Shackleton had, what I imagine for him, was a disappointing war in terms of combat contributions. The government had had to arrange a rescue mission when Shackleton was trying to rescue all his crew after they were stranded, and although this expedition was not required eventually, I imagine Shackleton’s reception was muted when he reached England. He was too old to be conscripted (though he volunteered for an army post in France) and was appointed to a diplomatic position in Buenos Aires, where he hoped to persuade Chile and Argentina to join the war on the Allies side. This was followed by a position as an undercover agent in Spitsburgen (an island near Norway) and then a post in Murmansk to aid with supplies to beleaguered Russia.

George Mulock, RN, Third Lieutenant. Shackleton was replaced by Mulock when he returned to England in 1903. Mulock received letters of commendation in the early part of the war when leading convoys in the Far East. He then served with distinction in the Gallipoli campaign. The battleship ‘HMS Ocean’ sank after hitting a mine; Mulock rescued many sailors from the water. He was mentioned in dispatches and his actions recorded in ‘The London Gazette’

Reginald Skelton, Chief Engineer, RN. In May 1916, Skelton took part in the Battle of Jutland in the North Sea off Denmark, This was the largest naval battle of the war and the only full-scale clash between battleships and Skelton was A valuable officer whose deportment during the action reflected credit on his organisation’. He was awarded the DSO for his services in this battle. Subsequently, he served in submarines from 1917-1918.

Louis Bernacchi Physicist and Magnetic Observer Bernaacchi remarkably served in the Royal Naval Voluntary Reserve, The Admiralty and the United States Navy. Impressively he was awarded both the Order of the British Empire and the United States Naval Cross

Hartley Ferrar, Geologist He was a master at Christchurch College, New Zealand at the outbreak of war and joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force based mainly in Palestine His work involved aerial surveys and intelligence

Thomas Vere Hodgson, Biologist This is the only explorer about whom I was unable to find details of wartime experience. Aged 50 at the outbreak of the war, he was too old for service in addition he suffered from ill health. Having worked in the Plymouth Biological Laboratory and subsequently becoming curator of the Plymouth Museum, he probably spent the war years in this role.

These records underline the fact that we do not change. These men kept up their impressive records through and indeed after WW1


TAGS: WW1, Scott, Sir Clements Markham, Albert Armitage, Charles Royds, Michael Barne, Ernest Shackleton, George Mulock, Reginald Skelton, Louis Bernacchi, Hartley Ferrar, Thomas Vere Hodgson, Reginald Koettlitz, The Dover Patrol, The Dardanelles The Battle of Jutland,


  1. Kristoffer August 31, 2014 at 7:42 pm #

    Here’s Bernacchi’s citation for his Navy Cross:

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