Apsley Cherry-Garrard (final instalment)

26 Nov

I have spent some weeks writing a piece on the artist Sit Hubert von Herkomer RA – this has taken hours! Now, at last, I can return to Cherry Garrard’s experiences after the Terra Nova—the last comment on a man whose name is rarely recognized now, but a man who brought more clarity to life in Antarctica than virtually any other writer.

As previously, I acknowledge my indebtedness to Sarah Wheeler and her book Cherry: A life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard


There are several strands to the post Terra Nova narrative:

His book The Worst Journey in the World was published and republished. Written with the invaluable help of his  neighbour, George Bernard Shaw. It was to become a best seller (and, as Scott’s work had been distributed in the first world war, The Worst Journey became suggested reading for troops in the second).

Cherry’s general disillusionment with the government and the country post war – unemployment, poverty and industrial stagnation prevailed. As a member of the landowning class he felt that unfair taxes were levied to an extent that he could not continue to maintain his estates. He started to sell his properties.

He married

His physical and psychological health continued to give intermittent problems. Colitis, variably( and seriously) flared, he suffered from arthritis, but depression was always lurking. There was probably a familial trait to depression – his cousin, the publisher Reginald Smith committed suicide in 1916, and several other members of his family suffered from the illness.



The Worst Journey in the World had a long gestation. First published in 1922 when Cherry was 36, it was his eulogy to Edward Wilson and Birdie Bowers as well as a thoughtful appraisal of the Terra Nova expedition. The ‘Winter Journey’ was at the soul of the narrative. This expedition was organized by Wilson – it was a search to collect early specimens of Emperor Penguin eggs in order to investigate the theory that birds were descended from dinosaurs. Emperor Penguins were thought (wrongly), to be the most primitive of birds which is why Wilson wanted recently laid eggs (to see if these had teeth or scales). Wilson chose Lieutenant ‘Birdie’ Bowers along with Cherry, his protégée. The expedition was made in the dark, in temperatures that went down to -76° F. on a snow surface that resulted in progress of only a mile a day. At one point the three men were caught in a blizzard for many hours. They lay in their sleeping bags, without nourishment. They sang hymns. Cherry resigned himself to dying.

It was originally planned that Teddy Evans, Scott’s second in command on the Terra Nova (who Cherry and others distrusted), would write the account of the whole expedition, but Teddy became too busy to undertake the commission and Cherry was delighted to be asked take on the task. He originally planned a conventional account – stores, personnel, ship’s details, science etc. but gradually his vision changed and when he was given free licence over the work he moved from an ‘official’ account of the expedition to a personal, unique interpretation of the aims of Antarctic exploration, the hopes and the fears of the expedition, his personal assessment of his companions, psychological analyses. The work was not deferential. It was to evolve into a unique account of Polar exploration.

The help he received from Bernard Shaw was invaluable. Shaw could turn a poorly articulated concept into a beautifully crafted sentence and it was Shaw who suggested the eventual title, The Worst Journey in the World. Shaw ruled on punctuation, phrasing, typescript. Cherry appreciated Shaw’s help so much that he offered him co-authorship but Shaw refused saying that as his whole knowledge of ice dated from the great frost of 1878, his intrusion into the Antarctic Circle would be ridiculous! Shaw advised Cherry in relation to publishing and Cherry decided to retain editorial control by paying to have the work (original title Never Again: Scott, Penguins and the Pole), published. Emery Walker produced the illustrations for Never Again.

The book was first published in 1922- two volume boxed-sets, produced either with an expensive, or a cloth binding. The reviews were mainly excellent (‘A Glorious Narrative’ :…. ‘Impelling and Authentic’). One detractor was Kathleen (Scott) who objected to Cherry’s portrayal of her first husband and never forgave him for revealing Scott’s defects as well as his strengths.

The work was republished in 1927, again in 1929. In 1937, a two volume Penguin edition (the ninety-ninth and one hundredth in their series) was advertised by a penguin wielding a cricket bat and bowing – to celebrate the firm’s centenary.

The Worst Journey was hugely popular during the war. A film Scott of the Antarctic was produced in 1948. The book was adapted for television by Mark Gatiss—who also portrays Cherry-Garrard—in The Worst Journey in the World (2007). In 2017, Kat Eschner wrote in the Smithsonian.com that ‘This Catastrophic Polar Journey Resulted in One of the Best Adventure Books Ever Written’. The work remains in print.



Dissatisfaction with the government:

Along with many others before the war, Cherry had thought of war as a noble enterprise. Reality destroyed this myth brutally. The Versailles Treaty of 1919 brought peace but no return to the pre -war ways of life and Cherry felt under attack. He had been brought up in and assimilated the ‘patriarchal’ ways of life, where a landowner had responsibilities towards his tenants and land. Increases in his tax burden threatened this – he was opposed to the national claim for increased wages by workers. What he considered to be punitive duties on land owners resulted in him beginning to sell his lands and properties. As he wrote his book The Worst Journey in the World, he became increasingly disaffected with the bondage of possessions. In time he was to sell all his land assets including his family home Lamer.




Cherry married when he was 50. He met Angela Turner on a cruise in1937. She was 20 when he proposed in 1939, just before the abyss of the Second World War. They were married immediately. Both families, untroubled by the age difference, were pleased. Angela was a happy choice –it was said that her name was her nature. She was positive, good natured. She put up with Cherry’s oddities cheerfully. In contrast to Cherry she devoted time to the local village, Wheathampstead. The villagers responded warmly – many were christened ‘Angela’. Later in their marriage they were to leave Lamer, which she had grown to love, to move, uncomplainingly, into a service flat in London. She was to support Cherry through several mental breakdowns. She was a truly supportive partner.




Cherry clearly became seriously, though intermittently, incapacitated by a depressive psychoses. Unlike his wife he had never had a ‘half-full’, happy outlook. He was self absorbed, often unhappy and disinterested in events that did not relate to himself. In addition, as in all illnesses, the experiences he had gone through (the harrowing events of the Terra Nova expedition), provided an external trigger.

Over the years he had severe psychotic breakdowns. In 1941 he suffered from delusions –Germans were hiding in Lamer – this delusional phase might well have passed had not his brother–in -law employed the services of an eminent London psychiatrist. Incarceration in a mental hospital was advised.

Angela was appalled – she was sure that Cherry would recover given time. She immediately cycled to her near neighbours, Bernard Shaw and his wife Charlotte for help and advice. Shaw’s robust, sharp letter, which Angela copied, told the psychiatrist to keep away from her husband. Cherry recovered though he had memory loss for the whole period. He was amazed to hear of Pearl Harbour.

Although he had good and bad periods, depression was always a cloud on the horizon. In 1946, when living in his flat in London, he had what was described as a “complete nervous breakdown”. an incapacitating depression which immobilised him for a year. Angela with help from a day nurse, and a night nurse cared for him. Cherry, immersed in dread could hardly move, his arthritic pains aggravated. He lost stones in weight. He wanted Angela to be with him continuously; she took over all the administrative duties.


Later years

Lamer was sold in 1947. Cherry had shed his final responsibility, but his fluctuating psychological state was such that his doctor recommended a break in Eastbourne and in Eastbourne his psychological balance and peace of mind gradually returned. A further reprint of The Worst Journey sold over 165,000 copies. He and Angela went on cruises. He wrote a postscript to a new edition of The Worst Journey suggesting, amongst other things, that vitamin deficiency had been the cause of the disastrous return from the Pole.

Cherry returned to Eastbourne regularly throughout the early 1950s. He was thrilled when Churchill returned to power in 1951 He and Angela escaped from London by going to the Mediterranean. But through the 1950s he lost ground physically and mentally. He developed ‘lung congestion’, probably a symptom of heart failure. Seven years after the 1946 breakdown he was incapacitated for months by a further mental collapse. He suffered from skin rashes as well as arthritis. He became so obsessed by noise that he and Angela moved into the Berkeley Hotel. In May 1959 he slipped in The Berkeley and broke his arm. He died of pneumonia on the 18th May. 1959.

He was buried in Wheathampstead cemetery next to his father, Major General Apsley Cherry-Garrard. His life was illuminated and dominated by his experiences in Antarctica and his writing. The Worst Journey gave a unique insight into the fascination and the lure of the Antarctic and Antarctic exploration. He was blessed in his marriage to Angela who supported him throughout.

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