Apsley Cherry Garrard (CHERRY), CONTINUED

25 Jul

I wrote about Cherry’s childhood and his appointment to the ‘Terra Nova’ on 5th July.           This is part 2

 

The TERRA NOVA expedition, 1910-1914.

 

Cherry loved the life on the ‘Terra Nova’, but the expedition, which started so well, was to leave an indelible scar. Cherry was Wilson’s assistant zoologist, he became expert at skinning birds and animals. He enjoyed the on–board camaraderie and joined enthusiastically in any work that needed to be done. He was able to laugh at himself. Wilson wrote that Cherry ‘really is splendid’.

 

Scott’s brief was to continue the exploratory, scientific and geographic work begun on the Discovery expedition and to get to the South Pole (Wilson wrote, we must get to the Pole). In addition, Wilson had a personal aim – to investigate a possible link between dinosaurs and birds by investigating penguin embryology. A German zoologist and naturalist Ernst Haeckel, had promoted and popularised Charles Darwin‘s work and developed the theory “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” which suggested that an individual organism’s biological development, (ontogeny), parallels its species’ evolutionary development (phylogeny) i.e. if Wilson could obtain early specimens of Emperor Penguin eggs he might find scales to back up this theory i.e. that the birds had descended from dinosaurs.

 

Wilson chose Emperor Penguins for his investigation because they were flightless and he thought (wrongly), that they were amongst the most primitive of birds. Apart from Wilson’s scientific enthusiasm, there was the added incentive that if the theory of development could be substantiated it was entirely possible that the connection would earn the expedition the highly influential Darwinian Prize.

 

Wilson picked Cherry and his friend ‘Birdie’ Bowers for the 60 mile trek to the Emperor Penguin colony; a round trip of 5 weeks. The trip was to be Cherry’s first serious trial on the ‘Terra Nova’ expedition.

 

Emperor Penguin chicks had been found on the Discovery expedition and Wilson, thinking that the eggs would be laid towards the end of June, set out at the end of that month. Cherry embarked on a potentially suicidal journey, enduring almost continuous darkness, freezing temperatures – at one point down to -77°F, ice surfaces like sand, progress of about a mile per day, lurking crevasses and permanent fatigue. He developed blisters on his fingers that leaked puss by night and froze by day.

On the trip meteorological information on the Antarctic Ice Barrier was recorded. Cherry gave up hope of survival. His hope was to die without much pain.

I don’t believe minus seventy temperatures would be bad in daylight, not comparatively bad, when you could see where you were going, where you were stepping, where the sledge straps were, the cooker, the primus, the food….when it would not take you five minutes to lash the door of your tent and five hours to get going in the morning.

 

 

The Winter Journey around Ross Island to obtain Emperor Penguin eggs

 

The three men reached the penguin colony in nineteen days. In order to investigate the eggs in situ three precious days were spent building a stone igloo on a high ridge below the top of a hill (the remains of the hut were discovered by Sir Edmund Hillary on his journey to the Antarctic in the 1950s).

 

Penguin Colony

 

Finally the men collected five eggs, but Cherry’s eyesight was so bad that he fell repeatedly on the return to the hut and smashed the two he had been given to carry. Later the three endured another ghastly complication -with the wind was blowing ‘as though the world was having a fit of hysterics’ the canvas roof of their ‘hut’ was blown away and the three lay exposed to the raging elements, mummified in snow, in darkness and with no food or drink. They sang songs and hymns. Cherry’s admiration for his two older companions was without bounds.

They had also carried a tent. This was blown away by the storm, this loss made a successful return virtually impossible. When the storm abated, the tent was found. It was weighted down by ice and had dropped out of the sky like a closed umbrella. Wilson insisted they returned to their base.

 

Cherry, Wilson and Birdie Bowers after the journey to the penguin colony. Cherry’s fingers are stiff and swollen with puss. The trio were voraciously hungry and, when they warmed up, smelt horribly.

 

Cherry had contributed to the collection of meteorological records that would not be repeated for seventy years (and then by machines which malfunctioned). Despite this heroic journey for scientific advance when the eggs were finally examined, years later, the three eggs that Cherry left in the Natural History Museum did not prove the connection between dinosaurs and birds.

 

Cherry, aided by his friend and Hertfordshire neighbour George Bernard Shaw, later wrote The Worst Journey in the World, about the expedition. It is a best seller.

 

Cherry’s next big experience was the assault on the Pole. Scott divided the advance into three distinct sections: the Ice Barrier, the Glacier and the Plateau. The expedition set out with motor sledges, pony sledges (the ponies were to be sacrificed when they had got their loads to the glacier) and dog sledges. Cherry was a pony handler. His pony ‘gallant little Michael’, black eyes dulled with fatigue, was shot in early December. The next day Michael was eaten.

 

Cherry was one of the twelve men who strained and struggled to haul three laden sledges up the Beardmore Glacier — 120 miles long, 25 feet wide, riddled with crevasses and rising from 300 feet to 9000 feet. Scott whittled the advancing party down to eventually, five men. Cherry was sent back on the 20th December with three others. Characteristically he asked Scott if he had disappointed him—‘No, no, no’.

 

The assault on the South Pole

 

Scott sent the last party of three back on the 3 January 1912. The returnees, the Last Supporting Party, were led by Scott’s Second in Command, Teddy Evans who was to become seriously ill on the return.

 

Cherry’s personal trials were to evolve.

 

As is well known, Scott and his four companions all died on their attempted return from the Pole, but in February 1912, anticipation of a successful return was high. Scott had instructed that a sledge should be sent with supplies to ‘One Ton Camp’, a depot one hundred and fifty miles away on the Barrier. As arrangements were being finalized for this journey, news reached base that Teddy Evans had collapsed and was thought to be dying from scurvy, thirty –five miles out on the Barrier.

 

Dr. Atkinson, who had been going on the supply mission, clearly had to abandon these plans to go out and rescue Teddy Evans. There were few people at the Base – a decision had to be reached as to who should accompany Dimitri, the dog handler, on the supply mission. Of the men available, Wright, an oceanographer, was needed to continue scientific work. Cherry had to go; he was not a navigator, he had never driven dogs, he had awful eyesight, but with trepidation (‘I’m right in it’), he set out with Dimitri to find a depot 150 miles distant in a featureless barrier. His goggles misted, he struggled with the navigation; Dimitri had to pick out the cairns.

 

Scott had initially issued instructions that the dogs were to be saved at any cost (for a further attempt), but had apparently subsequently issued further verbal instructions, via Teddy Evans when he sent Teddy back, that the dogs should come further south to meet him (Scott) on his return. These orders were not transmitted to Cherry, probably in the confusion around Teddy’s collapse. Cherry, who would of course never disobey an order from Scott, thought his priorities were to save the dogs. In any case, as he set out for ‘One Ton Camp’ he had no reason to suppose the Polar party were in need of food.

 

But tragically, when Cherry was waiting in ‘One Ton Camp,’ Scott’s party were in desperate trouble, hoping against hope that the supply sledge HAD gone further south with the supplies that could have saved them.

 

At ‘One Ton’ Cherry and Dimitri were caught in a storm that made further progress pointless. The dog food was running out. Dimitri developed a paralysis of his right arm and side. Cherry had no idea that his leader was in desperate straits. On the 10th March, with just enough food for the return journey Cherry laid a small depot of food and turned north towards his base.

 

Dear Sir, We leave this morning with the dogs for ‘Hut Point’ (the base). We have made no depots on the way in being off course all the way, and so I have not been able to leave you a note before. Yours sincerely, Apsley Cherry Garrard.

(quoted in Sara Wheeler’s ‘A Life of Apsley Cherry Garrard’).

 

Scott Wilson and Bowers were to die later that month, just twelve and a half miles to the south of “One Ton Camp”

 

To be continued

 

 

 

 

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