Curated by Glenn M. Stein, FRGS.

Launched: 20 August 2009. Last updated: 3 September 2016

Arranged in order of posting, the last listed being the most recent.

Timothy McCarthy's Polar Medal
Frank Wild's Medals
Antarctic Fidelity Rewarded: Sergeant William Cunningham, Royal Marines
Men of Bronze: Netmen of the Antarctic, Preservers of Life in The Southern Ocean
Medals and Decorations of The French South Seas & Antarctic Expedition, 1837-40
The German Atlantic Meteor Expedition Medal 1925-27
Could it have been different? Boatswain Feather with Scott in the Antarctic
Admiral Edward Joseph Bird, Royal Navy (1799-1881)
The Challenger Medal (1895)
Ice Crash Antarctica: Pilot "Tommy" Thomson, DSC
Dr. Lindsey's Special Congressional Medal: Keeping Alive Memories of the Byrd Antarctic Expedition II, 1933-35
The Honored Polar Explorer Badge: A Russian Award for Polar Exploration and Research
Medallic Whispers of a Dog Sled Driver: Louis P. Colombo and his US Antarctic Expedition Medal, 1939-41
Collection of Bronze Polar Medals at Dix Noonan Webb, London
Surgeon David Lyall, RN, FLS: Polar Botanist
South Polar Race Medal
A Unique Casualty from Scott's First Expedition
Shackleton's Medals


A historically important Polar Medal awarded to a heroic Irish sailor who was one of five men chosen by the explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton to accompany him on what is arguably the greatest open-boat journey of all time is to be auctioned by Dix Noonan Webb in London on 22 July 2016. The unique bronze medal awarded to Able Seaman Timothy McCarthy, Royal Naval Reserve, for the epic 800-miles journey across the stormy sub-Antarctic Ocean, is expected to fetch £15,000 to £20,000 (US$19,500-26,000) at the sale of orders, decorations, medals and militaria.

McCarthy, from Kinsale, County Cork, sailed with Shackleton in the 20ft-long boat James Caird for 16 days from Elephant Island to South Georgia in 1916 to get help for the rest of their shipmates from the Polar exploration vessel Endurance, who were stranded and running out of food in Antarctica. Shackleton and his crew of five put their own lives in imminent danger to save their comrades from a lingering death.

It remains one of the greatest maritime stories in history.

Shackleton later paid tribute to the Irishman in his memoirs writing:

"McCarthy, the best and most efficient of sailors, always cheerful under the most trying circumstances and who for these reasons I chose to accompany me on the boat journey to South Georgia."
But tragically McCarthy, who had survived the perils of the southern ocean, was thrust into wartime service immediately he returned to Britain and was killed when his ship was sunk by a German submarine in 1917. He never lived to see his hard-earned Polar Medal.

"McCarthy was indomitable, a true hero and just the sort of man needed for a hazardous mission such as the voyage of the James Caird," says Pierce Noonan, a director of Dix Noonan Webb. "When handing over the tiller he always joked that it was 'a fine day' as the wind howled and the waves crashed around them. His natural optimism shone like a beacon throughout the voyage. Today his Polar Medal acts as a memorial to a sailor who survived Shackleton's expedition but not the slaughter of the First World War."

McCarthy's medal with the clasp 'Antarctic 1914-16' is the only bronze Polar Medal awarded for Shackleton's voyage in the James Caird. Shackleton himself and two men received the silver version of the medal, while two other crewmen were not recommended for any award. The McCarthy medal was in the possession of an Irish collector who is now deceased and has never been on the open market before.

Born in County Cork in 1885, McCarthy was an Able Seaman in the Royal Naval Reserve when he applied to join Shackleton's Antarctic expedition in 1914. He was one of just 26 men selected to crew the expedition's vessel Endurance. The aim was to cross the Antarctic continent, a journey of 1,800 miles, and the expedition was given permission to set sail in August 1914 despite the outbreak of the First World War. However by January 1915 Endurance was held up by solid pack ice in the Weddell Sea and in October of that year the ship, damaged by the pressure of the ice, was abandoned and later sank.

The crew established camp on an ice flow and in April 1916 embarked on a hazardous five days journey to Elephant Island in the James Caird and two other ship's boats. Once there it was clear that rescue would have to be sought because food supplies and the men's morale were both dwindling. Shackleton decided to undertake a dangerous 800-miles journey across one of the most tempestuous areas of water in the world to South Georgia, where he knew there were whaling stations. He selected McCarthy and four others and set off on 24 April 1916.

"The tale of the next 16 days is one of supreme strife amid heaving waters for the sub-Antarctic Ocean fully lived up to its evil winter reputation," Shackleton later wrote. "Cramped in our narrow quarters and continually wet from the spray, we suffered severely from cold throughout the journey. We fought the seas and winds and at the same time had a daily struggle to keep ourselves alive."

One of the crew, Frank Worsley, later recorded that when McCarthy had finished his time on watch at the tiller, he always displayed his "cheerful optimism and his habit of handing over the helm with 'it's a fine day, sorr'." After surviving a massive wave which threatened to overwhelm the James Caird, they reached South Georgia on 10 May 1916. Shackleton and two others set off to find the whaling stations, while McCarthy stayed behind to look after the other two crew members, who were in a weak condition. Both they and the rest of the crew of Endurance left behind on Elephant Island were subsequently rescued. McCarthy was sent back to Britain with Shackleton's warm expressions of gratitude but the authorities there showed little sympathy for his ordeal and almost immediately thrust him into service aboard the armed oil tanker S.S. Narragansett. The ship was torpedoed and sunk off the south-west coast of McCarthy's native Ireland on 16 March 1917 and he was one of 46 sailors who lost their lives. Shackleton later praised McCarthy saying that he was "killed at his gun".

Tragically McCarthy never lived to see his Polar Medal and his First World War medals were never claimed or issued. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial. A joint bust of McCarthy and his brother Morty, also an Antarctic explorer, was unveiled in Kinsale in September 2000.

RESULTS: It sold for £65,000. (Unclear whether this includes the buyer's premium or not.)


Timothy McCarthy (1885-1917) was the son of John and Mary McCarthy of Kinsale, County Cork. He was serving as an Able Seaman in the Royal Naval Reserve when he applied to join Sir Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914. McCarthy was one of 26 men chosen to crew the Endurance for the expedition.

Little elaboration of this, one of the most famous of Polar expeditions, is required here. McCarthy's prominent role, however, is worthy of further illustration. After leaving home shores the Endurance was held up by solid pack ice in the Weddell Sea in January 1914. This was before Shackleton's trans-continental party could even reach its starting point. Prior to this occurrence common consensus amongst the whaling captains at Grytviken, South Georgia, with whom Shackleton had consulted, was that it was the worst year in living memory for currents and ice patterns. Shackleton had ploughed on regardless, and this indomitable spirit was to be tested countless times over the coming months.

Through January, and into February 1915, the ice continued to pack tightly around the Endurance as she drifted with the ice. It became apparent that the crew would have to winter with the ship in the ice. The pressure of the ice caused damage to the ship, and she began to leak. On 27 October 1915 the ship was abandoned and a camp set up on the ice. After a failed attempt to sledge to Robertson Island, another camp called Ocean Island was established on a large ice floe. As many supplies as possible were rescued and accumulated here before the Endurance eventually sank on the 21st November.

In December 1915 several reconnaissance journeys were carried out, but all were painfully slow due to the disintegrating ice. A new more secure camp was established some 10 miles from the old one. At Patience Camp the party waited for conditions to improve so that they may be able to use the three boats (Dudley Docker, James Caird and the Stancomb Wills) that they had with them. At the end of the first week of April 1916 Clarence Island and Elephant Island had been sighted. Shackleton realised with anxiety that beyond these islands there was no refuge. All this time the ice pack was breaking up and the situation becoming more fraught with danger. It was impossible at this juncture to use the boats, due to the risk of them being crushed in the ice.

Nonetheless it was imperative that action be taken and on the 10th April they embarked on their 5 day journey to Elephant Island. Conditions were perilous, 'a terrible night followed, and I doubted if all of the men would survive it. The temperature was below zero and the wind penetrated our clothes and chilled us almost unbearably. One of our troubles was lack of water, for we had emerged so suddenly from the pack into the open sea that we had not had time to take aboard ice for melting in the cookers, and without ice we could not have hot food. The condition of most of the men was pitiable. All of us had swollen mouths and could hardly touch the food... we were all dreadfully thirsty, and although we could get momentary relief by chewing pieces of raw seal meat and swallowing the blood, our thirst was soon redoubled owing to the saltiness of the flesh.' (South, The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition 1914-17, refers).

Elephant Island - Wild and McCarthy Find a Base

Exhausted, Shackleton's men hauled their supplies on to an inhospitable landing place on Elephant Island. After a reconnaissance it was quickly apparent that the beach was unsuitable for a long term base. On the 16th April Shackleton decided to send a party, under Frank Wild, to find a more suitable site for a camp. The party was to be comprised from some of the more hardier individuals, and McCarthy was amongst them, 'I had decided to send Wild along the coast in the Stancomb Wills to look for a new camping-ground, on which I hoped the party would be able to live for weeks or even months in safety.

Wild, accompanied by Marston, Crean, Vincent and McCarthy, pushed off in the Stancomb Wills at 11am and proceeded westward along the coast... The Stancomb Wills had not returned by nightfall, but at 8pm we heard a hail in the distance and soon, like a pale ghost out of the darkness, the boat appeared. I was awaiting Wild's report most anxiously, and was greatly relieved when he told me that he had discovered a sandy spot, seven miles to the west... Wild said that this place was the only possible camping-ground he had seen, and that, although in very heavy gales it might be spray-blown, he did not think that the seas would actually break over it. The boats could be run on a shelving beach, and, in any case, it would be a great improvement on our very narrow beach.' (Ibid)

On the 17th April the three boats set off for the new site. The seven mile pull took most of the day, as they almost immediately encountered a gale on the open water. Most of the members of the Expedition were suffering severely from salt water boils, and to a slightly lesser extent frostbite. The new camp, however, appeared to offer relative safety for as long as the dwindling food supplies lasted.

The Greatest Open-Boat Voyage of All Time...

With the onset of winter near, however, it was clear that Shackleton had to do something. It was unlikely that there would be enough food for all of the men, and the latter were becoming weaker and more demoralised as the days went by. What ensued was to become one of the greatest open-boat voyages of all time:

'The conclusion was forced upon me that a boat journey in search of relief was necessary and must not be delayed. The nearest port where assistance could certainly be secured was Port Stanley, in the Falkland Islands, 540 miles away; but we could scarcely hope to beat up against the prevailing north-westerly wind in a frail and weakened boat with a small sail area.

It was not difficult to decide that South Georgia, which was over 800 miles away but lay in the area of west winds, must be our objective. I could count upon finding whalers at any of the whaling-stations on the east-coast, and, provided that the sea was clear of ice and that the boat survived the great seas, a boat party might make the voyage and be back with relief in a month.

The hazards of a boat journey across 800 miles of stormy sub-Antarctic ocean were obvious, but I calculated that at the worst this venture would add nothing to the risks of the men left on the island. The boat would not require to take more than one month's provisions for six men, for if we did not make South Georgia in that time we were sure to go under....

The perils of the proposed journey were extreme, and the risk was justified solely by our urgent need of assistance. The ocean south of Cape Horn in the middle of May is known to be the most tempestuous area of water in the world, and the gales are almost unceasing. We had to face these conditions in a small and weather-beaten boat, already strained by the work of the previous months.... I had at once to tell Wild that he must stay behind, for I relied upon him to hold the party together while I was away... I determined to take Worsley with me as I had a very high opinion of his accuracy and quickness as a navigator... Four other men were required, and, although I thought of leaving Crean as a right-hand man for Wild, he begged so hard to come that, after consulting Wild, I promised to take him.... I finally selected McNeish, McCarthy and Vincent, in addition to Worsley and Crean.... The crew seemed a strong one, and as I looked at the men I felt confidence increasing....

After the decision was made, I walked through the blizzard with Worsley and Wild to examine the James Caird. The 20-foot boat had never looked big, but when I viewed her in the light of our new undertaking she seemed in some mysterious way to have shrunk. She was an ordinary ship's whaler, fairly strong, but showing signs of the strain she had endured. Standing beside her, and looking at the fringe of the tumultuous sea, there was no doubt that our voyage would be a big adventure.

I called McCarthy [McNeish], the carpenter, and asked him if he could do anything to make the ship more seaworthy. He asked at once if he was to go with me, and seemed quite pleased when I answered "Yes." He was over fifty years of age and not altogether fit, but he was very quick and had a good knowledge of sailing-boats. He told me that he could contrive some sort of covering for the James Caird if he was allowed to use the lids of the cases and the four sledge-runners, which he had lashed inside the boat for use in the event of a landing on Graham Land at Wilhelmina Bay. He proposed to complete the covering with some of our canvas, and immediately began to make his plans.' (Ibid, in this account, written in 1919, Shackleton occasionally confuses McCarthy with McNeish, the latter was in his 50's whilst McCarthy was in his 20's)

The voyage commenced on 24 April 1916, 'the tale of the next sixteen days is one of supreme strife amid heaving waters, for the sub-Antarctic Ocean fully lived up to its evil winter reputation. I decided to run north for at least two days while the wind held, and thus get into warmer weather before turning to the east and laying a course for South Georgia.

We took two-hourly spells at the tiller. The men who were not on watch crawled into the sodden sleeping-bags and tried to forget their troubles for a period. But there was no comfort in the boat, indeed the first night aboard the boat was one of acute discomfort for us all, and we were heartily glad when dawn came.... Cramped in our narrow quarters and continually wet from the spray, we suffered severely from cold throughout the journey. We fought the seas and winds, and at the same time had a daily struggle to keep ourselves alive. At times we were in dire peril. Generally we were encouraged by the knowledge that we were progressing towards the desired land, but there were days and nights when we lay hove to, drifting across the storm-whitened seas, and watching the uprearing masses of water, flung to and fro by Nature in the pride of her strength.

Nearly always there were gales. So small was our boat and so great were the seas that often our sail flapped idly in the calm between the crests of two waves. Then we would climb the next slope, and catch the full fury of the gale where the wool-like whiteness of the breaking water surged around us.... Much bailing was necessary, but nothing could prevent our gear from becoming sodden... There were no dry places in the boat, and at last we simply covered our heads with our Burberrys and endured the all-pervading water. The bailing was work for the watch.

None of us, however, had any real rest. The perpetual motion of the boat made repose impossible; we were cold, sore and anxious. In the semi-darkness of the day we moved on hands and knees under the decking. By 6pm the darkness was complete, and not until 7am could we see one another under the thwarts.... The difficulty of movement in the boat would have had its humorous side if it had not caused so many aches and pains. In order to move along the boat we had to crawl under the thwarts, and our knees suffered considerably. When a watch turned out I had to direct each man by name when and where to move, for if all hands had crawled about at the same time the result would have been dire confusion and many bruises.' (Ibid)

During this testing period Worsley records that when McCarthy had finished his time on watch at the tiller, he always displayed his 'cheerful optimism' and his habit of handing over the helm with "It's a fine day, sorr."

By the seventh day, the weather finally started to improve to the extent that the party were able to calculate that they had travelled roughly over 380 miles towards South Georgia. Over the course of the following three days steady progress was made, despite increasing suffering caused by exposure and a diminishing supply of food.

On the eleventh day, 5th May, the weather changed for the worse, 'a hard north-westerly gale came up... The sky was overcast and occasional snow-squalls added to the discomfort produced by a tremendous cross-sea - the worst, I thought, which we had encountered. At midnight I was at the tiller, and suddenly noticed a line of clear sky between the south and the south-west. I called to the other men that the sky was clearing, and then, a moment later realised that what I had seen was not a rift in the clouds but the white crest of an enormous wave.

During the twenty-six years' experience of the ocean in all its moods I had never seen a wave so gigantic. It was a mighty upheaval of the ocean, a thing quite apart from the big white-capped seas which had been our tireless enemies for many days. I shouted, "For God's sake, hold on! It's got us!" Then came a moment of suspense which seemed to last for hours. We felt our boat lifted and flung forward like a cork in breaking surf. We were in a seething chaos of tortured water; but somehow the boat lived through it, half-full of water, sagging to the dead weight and shuddering under the blow. We bailed with the energy of men fighting for life, flinging the water over the sides with every receptacle which came into our hands; after ten minutes of uncertainty we felt the boat renew her life beneath us. She floated again, and ceased to lurch drunkenly as though dazed by the attack of the sea. Earnestly we hoped that never again should we encounter such a wave.' (South, The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition, Sir Ernest Shackleton refers)

McCarthy First to Sight South Georgia

Privations continued among the men, with Vincent having collapsed under the strain and water now running desperately low. The 6th and the 7th May, 'passed for us in a sort of nightmare. Our mouths were dry and our tongues swollen. The wind was still strong and the heavy sea forced us to navigate carefully. But any thought of our peril from the waves was buried beneath the consciousness of our raging thirst... Things were bad for us in those days, but the end was approaching. The morning of May 8th broke thick and stormy, with squalls from the north-west. We searched the waters ahead for a sign of land, and, although we searched in vain, we were cheered by a sense that our goal was near. About 10am we passed a little bit of kelp, a glad signal of the proximity of land. An hour later saw two shags sitting on a big mass of kelp, and we knew then that we must be within ten or fifteen miles of the shore.... We gazed ahead with increasing eagerness, and at 12.30pm, through a rift in the clouds, McCarthy caught a glimpse of the black cliffs of South Georgia, just fourteen days after our departure from Elephant Island. It was a glad moment. Thirst-ridden, chilled, and weak as we were, happiness irradiated us. The job was nearly done.' (Ibid)

On the 10th of May, despite being tormented by one last hurricane, the James Caird finally managed to land in a small cove, with a boulder strewn beach guarded by a reef on the south side of King Haakon Bay. The crew had not drunk anything for 48 hours. Completely exhausted, and unable to pull the boat out of the water they landed their stores and rested for a few days in a cave. They hunted for birds, and slowly recuperated some strength thus enabling them to embark again on the 15th May for the 8 mile trip to King Haakon Bay.

Shackleton's men arrived at the head of the bay, and proceeded to establish Peggotty Camp under the beached and upturned boat. From here it was decided that Shackleton, Worsley and Crean would set out on foot for Stromness Bay, and the whaling stations. On the evening of the 18th May, 'we turned in early that night, but troubled thoughts kept me from sleeping. The task before the overland party would in all probability be heavy, and we were going to leave a weak party behind us in the camp. Vincent was still in the same condition and could not march. NcNeish was pretty well broken up. These two men could not manage for themselves, and I had to leave McCarthy to look after them. Should we fail to reach the whaling station McCarthy might have a difficult task.' (Ibid)

On the 19th May the three men set off to cross the mountains to Stromness. They managed the journey, despite their weakened state, by the following day. They had traversed a completely unexplored mountain range. Worsley set off in a whaler to rescue McCarthy and his two charges that night. They returned to Stromness on the 22nd May, 'McCarthy, McNeish and Vincent were landed on the Monday afternoon, and quickly began to show signs of increasing strength under a regime of warm quarters and abundant food. McCarthy [McNeish] looked woefully thin after he had emerged from a bath. He was over fifty years of age and the strain had told upon him more than upon the rest of us. The rescue came just in time for him.' (Ibid)

Shackleton arranged for McNeish and Vincent to be returned to England. He also arranged passage for McCarthy to be sent home, with both his and Worsley's warm expressions of gratitude.

The Great War - Ultimate Sacrifice

Whilst Shackleton eventually rescued the rest of his men from Elephant Island, McCarthy, who had barely survived the ordeals of the Antarctic was almost immediately thrust into service during the Great War. He returned to the Royal Naval Reserve, and served as a Leading Seaman in S.S. Narragansett. She was a defensively armed British Steam Tanker, and on the 16th March 1917 was employed on a voyage from New York to London transporting lubricating oil. On the latter date she was torpedoed and sunk by U-44 off the south-west coast of Ireland. Forty-six sailors lost their lives, including McCarthy.

As Shackleton remarked himself of his crew, 'The same energy and endurance which they showed in the Antarctic they brought to the Greater War in the Old World. And having followed our fortunes in the South it may interest you to know that practically every member of the Expedition was employed in one or other branches of the active fighting forces during the war. Of the fifty-three men who returned out of the fifty-six who left for the South, three have since been killed and five wounded. McCarthy, the best and most efficient of sailors, always cheerful under the most trying circumstances, and who for these reasons I chose to accompany me on the boat journey to South Georgia, was killed at his gun in the Channel.' (Ibid)

Tragically McCarthy never lived to see his hard earned Polar Medal, nor does it appear from the roll that his Great War medals were ever claimed or issued. He is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.

Note: Neither McNeish nor Vincent were recommended by Shackleton for the Polar Medal and neither received it. Thus, of the six gallant men of the James Caird, Shackleton, Worsley and Crean received Silver medals or clasps, whilst McCarthy alone received the Bronze medal and clasp.

The James Caird, named after one of the sponsors of the expedition, survives to this day and is proudly displayed at Dulwich College, South London.

Source: Dix Noonan website.


The Unique and Historic Polar Medal to Commander Frank Wild,
Veteran of Five Heroic Age Antarctic Expeditions

by Glenn M. Stein, FRGS

July 9, 2009

Through the kindness of Robert Stephenson, Coordinator of the website The Antarctic Circle, and polar book author Angie Butler, I have been corresponding and speaking with the family of Commander John Robert Frances "Frank" Wild, RNVR, CBE, FRGS (1873-1939).

When his widow died in 1970, Frank Wild's British War Medal and Victory Medal (LIEUT. F. WILD, R.N.V.R.), geographical society medals, British National Antarctic Expedition Sports Medal (FRANK WILD), and a dress miniature Polar Medal with clasps Antarctic 1902-04 & Antarctic 1907-09, along with a quantity of original documentation, were sold at Sotheby's in June 1971. They were last sold at Dix Noonan Webb on Dec. 13, 2007, and are now part of a London physician's collection.

It has been known for many years that Wild's unique Polar Medal with clasps Antarctic 1902-04, Antarctic 1907-09, Antarctic 1912-14 and Antarctic 1914-16, remained with his family in South Africa. The medal was issued officially engraved: A.B. F. WILD. "DISCOVERY". Only two four-clasp Polar Medals have ever been issued, the other being to Ernest Joyce, featuring the clasps Antarctic 1902-04, Antarctic 1907-09, Antarctic 1914-16 and Antarctic 1917. Joyce also received a duplicate medal and both medals are known to exist. Wild's Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE, New Year Honours List, 1920) and dress miniature medals accompany his Polar Medal. The miniatures are mounted for wear: CBE, Polar Medal with 4 clasps, British War Medal, Mercantile Marine War Medal and Victory Medal.

Wild's family sought my advice concerning parting with the medals, since various interested parties in South Africa and the UK have attempted to acquire them over the years. I strongly recommended the best way to preserve Frank Wild's memory and the medals' provenance was to auction them through a leading London firm, and recommended Dix Noonan Webb. Consequently, the family has informed me that the CBE, Polar Medal and miniatures will be offered in the rooms of DNW (September 17-18, 2009).

Frank Wild had more Antarctic experience than anyone else during the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration (1895-1922), participating in five expeditions between 1901 and 1922. Wild's work and leadership were universally respected by his Antarctic comrades, who virtually never had a critical word to say or write about the Skelton, Yorkshire native.

Wild first went to Antarctica as an Able Seaman with Scott during the British National Antarctic Expedition of 1902-04, having had 12 years in the merchant navy before joining the Royal Navy in 1900. He took part in several sledge journeys, including the tragic first attempt to reach Cape Crozier. His spirited leadership brought several men back to the ship after the death of Able Seaman George Vince, who drowned after slipping down a steep ice slope during a blizzard. Scott thought highly of Wild's service and specially mentioned him in despatches, thus Wild was duly promoted to petty officer. During the expedition, Wild struck up a friendship with the third lieutenant, Ernest Shackleton.

As a member of Shackleton's Nimrod Expedition (1907-09), Wild was placed in charge of provisions, and was one of the four-man sledge party to reach just 97 miles from the South Pole. Fellow Yorkshireman and expedition geologist Douglas Mawson afterwards wrote that his experiences during this time, "acquainted me with Wild's high merits as an explorer and leader." Upon his return, Frank Wild left the Royal Navy by purchase.

Though Scott asked Wild to join his second Antarctic venture, Wild declined, as he felt Scott was "too much the navy man." Instead, he joined Mawson's 1912-14 Australian Antarctic Expedition as a sledging expert and was appointed leader of the Western Base. Under him were seven untried men—none had previously served in the polar regions. In spite of terrible sledging conditions, Wild led successful sledge parties to open up a new region, Queen Mary Land.

Wild then played a vital role as second-in-command of the Endurance during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17. After the ship sank, the men made their way by sledge and boat to land on the desolate Elephant Island. Here, Wild's leadership abilities were tested to the fullest, as he was left in charge while Shackleton went on his epic boat journey to get help on South Georgia. Wild never gave up hope that Shackleton would return to rescue them, and whenever the sea ice cleared, he would say, "Roll up your sleeping-bags, boys: the boss may be coming today."

On returning home, Wild volunteered for duty and was made a Temporary Lieutenant, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. After a Russian language course, he became the RN transport officer at Archangel, superintending arriving war materials during the Allied Intervention in Russia.

After the war, Wild went to South Africa where he farmed with two former Antarctic comrades. They worked the soil in British Nyasaland until 1921, the beginning of Wild's final Antarctic adventure. They cleared the then virgin forest and planted cotton, and loved the life, though suffering from intermittent bouts of malaria.

From 1921-22, Wild was second-in-command of the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition, a poorly-equipped venture, with no clear plan, and a small ship—the Quest. Shackleton died of a heart attack on South Georgia, and Wild took over and completed the journey, combating unfavorable weather to Elephant Island and along the Antarctic coast.

He returned to South Africa to continue to farm. Frank Wild died on Aug. 19, 1939, in Klerksdorp, where he was employed as a storeman at the Babrosco Mine. He was cremated on the Aug. 23, 1939, in the Braamfontein Cemetery in Johannesburg.

Frank Wild's younger brother was also a polar explorer. Petty Officer Harry Ernest Wild, RN, looked after the stores and dogs of the Ross Sea Party during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Harry Wild died of typhoid in 1918, and in 1923 was posthumously awarded the Albert Medal (Second Class/Land) for the expedition. His Albert Medal, Polar Medal with clasp Antarctic 1914-16 and Italian Messina Earthquake Medal (1908) exist together, while his First World War Memorial Plaque is known in a separate collection. H.E. Wild was also entitled to the Antarctic 1917 clasp, and though sent to brother J.R. Wild in 1921, it was never attached to his Polar Medal.

Glenn M. Stein, FRGS
Florida, USA

Left: Wild's Commander of the Order of the British Empire and Polar Medal with four clasps.
Right: Wild's miniature medals.
(Courtesy Dix Noonan Webb, auctioneers, London)


by Glenn M. Stein, FRGS

Copyright 2009, Glenn M. Stein, FRGS
To reproduce or distribute, visit:

In April 2009, Captain Richard Campbell, OBE (RN), published The Voyage of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror to the Southern and Antarctic Regions. Captain James Clark Ross, R.N. 1839-1843. The Journal of Sergeant William K. Cunningham, R.M. of HMS Terror in the online Hakluyt Society Journal, Log on to our new website dedicated to the school: I had long been aware of this very important Antarctic document, and afterward corresponded with Captain Campbell, applauding his splendid work in bringing it to the public stage.

Although the Captain's paper features lengthy footnotes regarding Sergeant Cunningham's only two medallic awards during his 24-1/2 years of service—the Royal Marines Meritorious Service Medal (RM MSM/Type dated '1848') and Naval Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (LS&GC/Wide Suspender Type)—the reason behind the MSM's bestowal remained untold. My intention within these writings is to unfold a scarlet-coated soldier of the sea's Antarctic fidelity.

In 1998, while reading M.J. Ross' Ross in the Antarctic, I was struck by Capt. Ross' penned remarks to the Royal Marines Colonel Commandant at Chatham, upon paying off in 1843:

The exemplary conduct of Serjeant [Samuel] Baker of this ship [Erebus] and of Serjt. Cunningham of the Terror, during a period of four years of arduous service in the Antarctic Regions, requires that I should make an especial application to you in their favour. More deserving or better conducted non-commissioned officers I have never known. . . I beg leave particularly to solicit for the Serjeants your favourable consideration of their services, and that you will afford them any advancement or privilege which it may be in your power to bestow and which, I assure you, they have well merited.
(Letter book of HMS Erebus; Letter No. 370, Sept. 22, 1843)
Cunningham was subsequently advanced to Color Sergeant, and then to Quarter Master Sergeant in 1846. But I wondered if the Captain's felicitous scribbles would translate into tangible rewards for his Marine sergeants? As I pondered the possibilities, the Royal Marines MSM soon came sharply into focus.

The story of this sparingly awarded medal can be traced to the Army during the final month of 1845, during which time a Royal Warrant authorized the issue of a medal, with annuity (annual allowance), for meritorious service to serving sergeants. The following year, it was suggested the Treasury should extend this honor to Her Majesty's maritime infantry, but nothing came of this until an Admiralty Circular in January 1849. At that time, £250 was made available for annuities '"for distinguished or meritorious service", to Sergeants who are now, and who may be hereafter, in the service, and such annunities are to be enjoyed either while the sergeants are serving on shore, or after their discharge with Pension, in sums not exceeding £20 a year.'

In consulting the writings of naval historian Captain Kenneth Douglas-Morris, his article titled 'The Meritorious Service Medal for Royal Marines History and Roll: 1849 to 1884' revealed that Cunningham was awarded the medal in 1854. And there it was—for a second time, Cunningham's superiors took advantage of the opportunity to reward him with 'any advancement or privilege which it may be in [their] power to bestow'.

I next acquired Cunningham's service papers, which state: 'Received the Honorary Medal and a Gratuity of £15 for Long Service and Good Conduct 19th January 1852. Awarded the Honorary Medal and an Annuity of Ten Pounds as a reward for Meritorious Service 15th Feby 1854.' (ADM 157/21) In fact, he was invalided from the service only four months later.

The identity of Cunningham's MSM is unmistakable, since it is an extremely rare type, and was issued officially engraved on its edge: 'QR. MR. SERGT. WM. KEATING CUNNINGHAM, CHATHAM DIVN. R.M. 30: JAN: 1854'. (Spink) In addition, he was the first RM sergeant to receive an MSM on the death of another recipient. (Bilcliffe to Stein, Oct. 25, 2005)

Douglas-Morris knew Cunningham's MSM survived the ravages of time—but where was it now? Between 1999 and 2004, I hunted the medal, beginning at a medals convention, through a dealer, and finally at auction—but each time, that historic scrap of silver slipped through my fingers. Then, in the summer of 2006, my casual perusal of a Glendining's catalogue spun the clock a century backwards: Cunningham's MSM and LS&GC were sold as a pair on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 1902 (lot 605), £4, 5 shillings. Surely the LS&GC also survives to this day. Strikingly, at no time during the several offerings was there any hint of Cunningham's Antarctic service.

Sadly, Sergeant Baker did not receive a much-deserved MSM, and though one might conjecture as to the reason why, any such guesswork may cast an unwarranted shadow on this man's memory. With or without medallic recognition, Sergeant Samuel Baker honorably carried out his duties in frozen seas.

On a more positive note, from the start of my wonderings, William Cunningham's reference to his 'dearly beloved friend Sergt Kelly' sent me searching for a possible connection among the names in Douglas-Morris' LS&GC Medal listings. One individual quickly rose to the surface: Color Sergeant Jeremiah Kelly, Chatham Division (the same as Cunningham). His LS&GC (Anchor Type) was issued in 1843, and was last recorded as being sold at Sotheby's, June 23, 1972. Captain Campbell kindly confirmed my strong suspicion that the two Kellys were indeed one and the same.

Picture Credits:
Cunningham's Royal Marines Meritorious Service Medal (courtesy of Spink).

Erebus and Terror pushing through the pack during a fog in January 1842. (Sir J.C. Ross' narrative, Vol. 2)
John Bilcliffe
Captain Richard Campbell, OBE (RN)
Gale Hawkes
G.W. Hawkes, Ph.D.
Peter John
T.F. Minneice
D.A.E. Morris
David J. Scheeres
Jerome K. Voigt
Copy letter book of HMS Erebus. Ross Family Papers.

Cunningham, W.K., Attestation for the Royal Marines (ADM 157/21). The National Archives.

Cunningham, W.K. Diary of Sergeant Cunningham, Royal Marines, H.M.S. Terror. Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (ref. no. D869).

Douglas-Morris, Capt. K.J. 'The Meritorious Service Medal for Royal Marines History and Roll: 1849 to 1884'. OMRS Journal, Vol. 13, No. 4, Winter 1974.

_________________. 1987. Naval Medals 1793-1856. London: privately printed.

_________________. 1991. The Naval Long Service Medals 1830-1990. London: privately printed.

Glendining's. Feb. 5, 1902.

Liverpool Medal Company. September & November 1999.

McInnes, I. 1983. The Meritorious Service Medal to Naval Forces. Chippenham: Picton Publishing.

Muster Book for HMS Erebus, 8 April 1839-23 September 1843 (Admiralty ADM 38/8045). The National Archives.

Muster Book for HMS Terror, 11 May 1839-23 September 1843 (Admiralty ADM 38/9162). The National Archives.

Ross, Capt. Sir J.C. 1847. A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions During the Years 1839-43. (Volumes 1 & 2). London: John Murray.

Ross, M.J. 1982. Ross in the Antarctic: The Voyages of James Clark Ross in Her Majesty's Ships Erebus & Terror 1839-1843. Whitby: Caedmon of Whitby. Sotheby's. June 23, 1972.

Spink. Nov. 30, 2004.


by Glenn M. Stein, FRGS

Copyright 2008 Orders and Medals Society of America
All rights reserved.

As early as 1917, it was recognized that the leviathans of the oceans were in danger of being hunted to extinction. A British Government interdepartmental committee was set up to review the excesses of the whaling industry, which then flourished in the Antarctic. However, it was not until 1923 that a committee with the required finances and authority was established to make 'a serious attempt to place the whaling industry on a scientific basis.'

The key to any operation of this magnitude was gaining control of whale catching, thus avoiding the depletion of whale stocks. But effective control was out of reach for one simple reason: not enough was known about the habits of whales, their distribution and migration, or of their main food—the 4-6 cm.-long shrimp known as krill.

George Ayres and Duncan Kennedy were two individuals intimately connected with catching krill—after all, they were netmen. They became part of an historic scientific program which spanned over a quarter-century, resulting in the award of white-ribboned decorations formed in that deceptively humble medal of bronze.

A netman was a petty officer responsible for the operation of various-sized nets used to collect marine specimens. Long hours were dedicated to raising and lowering these spider webs in all variety of weather and seas—demanding endurance of mind and body, and causing agony to the fingers.

Initially, Scott's former ship, Discovery, was purchased by the newly named Discovery Committee. Then in 1926, the steam vessel William Scoresby was built for the Committee and joined the effort, tasked with general oceanographic work, commercial scale trawling and whale marking experiments.

However, it was decided to replace Discovery with a new steel ship, specially built for an indefinite and ambitious series of scientific studies called the Discovery Investigations. The Royal Research Ship Discovery II carried a great deal of scientific and other research equipment, and to meet unknown conditions, her construction required careful planning and original thought. To expend large sums of money at all on serious long-term scientific research was admirable enough, but when one considers the international financial crisis of the early 1930s, this points to the vital importance of this scientific program.

Not all eyes were focused on science; amidst a web of political intrigue surrounding the Southern Continent, the old Discovery headed south again as part of the separate British-Australian-New Zealand-Antarctic Expedition (BANZARE). Norway, France and the United States had been gaining interest in the polar lands, and adjacent waters (filled as they were with seals and whales)—and territorial claims were also at stake.

Londoner George Ayres sailed across the Antarctic threshold with the BANZARE; though the 31-year-old Great War merchant navy veteran signed on as Able Seaman, he was elevated to Netman during the expedition. And he sailed in good company—onboard as Photographer was Endurance veteran Frank Hurley. The Australian was described by a former shipmate as 'a warrior with his camera, [who] would go anywhere or do anything to get a picture'. It was not empty praise either.

The BANZARE took place over two southern summers (1929-30 & 1930-31) and sought to chart large areas of coastline, make landings to plant the flag, and carry out inland surveys using a floatplane. In addition, the voyagers were tasked with hydrographic surveys, studies in meteorology, geology and fauna—especially the numbers, species and distribution of whales.

In 1934 Ayres received the Polar Medal with clasp ANTARCTIC 1929-31 for his recent contributions to polar exploration, but by this date he was well into further Antarctic adventures with shipmate Duncan Kennedy.

Kennedy was a Scot, born at Greenock toward the end of the first month in 1888. Not unusually, he took up the fishing trade, and eventually bore a scar in the center of his forehead as a probable reminder of many difficult days at sea. During the First World War Kennedy served in the Pilotage Service and received the British War Medal and Mercantile Marine War Medal. When he joined the RRS Discovery II in 1929, given his fishing background, it seemed only natural that he was rated a Netman.

In December, as Discovery II stood ready at London's St. Katherine's Dock, she received a visit from the King of Norway, who possessed a keen knowledge of everything to do with whaling. The beginning of her three-year odyssey was captured by an Oxford Mail reporter:
Hundreds of People gathered to witness the departure of the vessel and after two hours' skilful maneuvering she was steered into the Thames, where much larger crowds were watching.
As the ship glided from her berth girls crowded to the windows of the factories overlooking the dock and waved good-bye to the crew.
One very pretty girl, more daring than the rest, climbed out on to a ledge and shouted 'A Merry Christmas next week,' and the sailors responded with a cheer.
At 234 feet long, and displacing 2,100 tons, Discovery II was only a fraction of the size of the 10-12,000 ton whaling factory ships active in Antarctic waters. Still, up until that time, she was the largest research ship ever to explore the Southern Ocean; for both the scientists and crew, it took time to get used to a new ship under conditions of intense cold, storm and pack ice. In addition, working the instruments and winches required constant practice. The surveys, biological collections and hydrographic work were more comprehensive than ever before attempted in southern waters.

The silk nets used for collecting sea plants and animals and were of six different sizes and mesh. The mouth of one tow net was the size of a dinner plate, while another was believed to be the largest in the world—so big that a man could stand upright inside it.

Each vertical net had a silk bag and it was lowered on a wire to whatever depth was being fished, and when a sample of the life in that layer had been obtained the mouth was cloased by a messenger, a weight that travelled down the wire and closed the mouth, trapping the contents—an operation that kept two scientists and a deck hand busy for two hours and often a great deal longer at each daily station.

While carrying out these duties during the agreeable weather of the sub-tropical zone, getting a soaking in one's short-sleeved shirt and shorts mattered little, but in Antarctic waters, climatic conditions convinced everyone Hell had indeed frozen over. Discovery II was transformed into a Christmas tree by a combination of gale and freezing seas that sprayed the ship's deck, bulwarks and upper works, thickly encrusting them with ice. Torches of burning waste and paraffin were sometimes necessary to thaw the blocks and sheaves over which ran the wires used to lower nets and instruments into the sea.

Under such difficult conditions, a sense of humor was a valuable asset onboard and greatly appreciated by all. Official Photographer Alfred Saunders grinned at Duncan Kennedy's amusing ways of speech:
He had a persistent but unwitting habit of mispronouncing names. One of his jobs was to look after chemical and other scientific stores in the hold. To him sulphuric acid became 'sulfricated acid', hydrochloric acid became 'hydraulic acid', and formalin became 'formamint'. Once when he met a sailor who had had a violent fall on deck still walking about, he said that he thought he had 'discolated' his leg.
In these brief writings, it is impossible to do justice to the many achievements and adventures of the steel explorer and those who served aboard her. However, the drama of one particular incident during the second commission (1931-33) deserves a spotlight. It was during this period that Discovery II became the fourth vessel to circumnavigate Antarctica, and the very first to accomplish this feat in wintertime.

In January 1932, the ship was on her initial voyage deep into the Weddell Sea—the first steel ship to penetrate those waters and the sixth vessel of any type. Near where Shackleton's Endurance began meeting ice in 1916, Discovery II was caught in a frozen trap and her hull and rudder sustained damage (including a leaking starboard fuel tank).

At one point, on January 26, the captain wrote, 'Scientific staff and all spare hands employed this day poling ice floes clear of rudder and propeller.' Only with great difficultly was the ship extricated from her perilous situation.

In spite of such danger, the wholly natural surroundings never failed to make a marked impression on one's senses. William Peachey, who served from 1931-35 as a fireman/greaser, declared solemnly in a 1991 interview: 'it is impossible to describe the stillness and the quietness in the Antarctic, not a sound to be heard.'

During Discovery II's third commission (1933-35) her crew made a major impact on Admiral Byrd's Second Antarctic Expedition. On February 5, 1934, Byrd was faced with a severe crisis. Plagued with high blood pressure, his only doctor would have to go home on the support ship Jacob Ruppert, leaving only a single medical student. Byrd could not even consider keeping 95 men in the Antarctic with no doctor, and later wrote, 'I determined then to get a doctor, or else cancel the expedition.'

The previous month, Byrd had been surprised to hear the British ship's radio operator tapping out morse messages on the airwaves. Not that far from each other, the two expeditions exchanged greetings. Now, with an acute crisis at hand, Byrd fired off a radiogram to the captain of Discovery II, then at Auckland replenishing her supplies. In the end, New Zealander Dr. Louis Potaka sailed onboard to rendezvous on February 22 with Byrd's Bear of Oakland in the Ross Sea—the American expedition was saved!

Up until the end of this commission, Ayres was serving as an able seaman on Discovery II, but with Kennedy's departure from the ship in 1934, he was promoted to the familiar position of Netman. In spite of not yet reaching his 40th year, Ayres was a man of the days of canvas, when iron men sailed wooden ships; he hated fuss and 'liked to go quietly and efficiently' about his job. Saunders painted an image of the man and his work:
Ayres became the right-hand man of the scientific staff; conscientious and ever-willing, he performed a multitude of jobs. He kept the scientific equipment and chemicals of all kinds safely stowed in the hold and knew where everything was to be found. He was always mending the nets used for towing, and was always present on stations. His average working day was about sixteen hours, yet he was always helpful and cheerful. When walking along the deck during a station, one could hear him joking with his companions if the din of a raging storm permitted. Only if things went wrong did the tone of his voice change. He sometimes regaled us with numerous sea shanties which he sang at the top of his voice. He was a bachelor, wedded only to the sea.
After two more fruitful voyages, the onset of the Second World War prevented Discovery II from venturing into the Southern Ocean during those tumultuous years—bringing an end to an era for the men of bronze. All told Kennedy served through six Antarctic seasons and received a well earned Polar Medal sporting the uniquely dated clasp ANTARCTIC 1929-34. At the start of the Second World War, he was Boatswain of HMS Alice, and when The London Gazette announced his Polar Medal two years later, Kennedy was still serving with this rank. Meanwhile, George Ayres was doing duty as an Able Seaman when the same Gazette heralded the ANTARCTIC 1931-39 clasp to his medal, representing in total 11 seasons in the southern Frozen Zone.

Of a mere 82 bronze Polar Medals and four individual clasps issued for Antarctic research between 1925 and 1939, only two netmen were so honored. Ayres' decoration was just one of eight medals representing two separate awards (including four medals with dates on the rims and single clasps).

The engraved naming in serifed capitals displays the recipients' full names. In cases of naval officers, abbreviated ranks and post nominals were included; for scientists, post nominals were also featured in the naming. Regrettably, ratings and the ships' details were not placed on the edge.

During 1950-51 (on her sixth commission) Discovery II sailed to the Antarctic one last time; so too did the William Scoresby, on her eighth commission. A few years later the Scoresby was sent to the ship breakers. Discovery III replaced her hardworking predecesor in 1962, and the latter was broken up the following year.

By 1963, the greatest scientific effort in the history of exploration had accumulated research filling 34 volumes: without the detailed research of the Discovery Committee, its scientists and sailors, no whale conservation would have been possible.

During interviews of Antarctic veterans for his book, John Coleman-Cooke was overwhelmed by the Frozen Zone's effect on its human intruders:
How then does it come about that every man who has visited the south polar seas always refers to it as the greatest of life's experiences? Everyone with whom the writer has discussed this stressed the powerful hold over the imagination of vast oceanic regions with the frozen, deserted continent to the south and the phenomena of the Southern Lights, ice patterns, daylight round the clock at one time of the year and almost total darkness at another. "It is a world apart," said one man, and that sums it up.

Picture Credits:
George Ayres on his 1920 Mercantile Marine identity certificate. (Identity Certificates (CR.10), Mercantile Marine Records, The National Archives)

Discovery II in the pack ice. (National Institute of Oceanography library)

The high-speed net used to catch krill. (National Institute of Oceanography library)

Handling a tow net on Discovery II. (Alfred Saunders, FRPS)

Bronze Polar Medal/Antarctic 1929-34 awarded to Duncan Kennedy, Netman, RRS Discovery II. (Courtesy Dix Noonan Webb, auctioneers, London)
Kevin J. Asplin
Keith Metcalfe
William A. Peachey
Coleman-Cooke, John. 1963. Discovery II in the Antarctic: The Story of British Research in the Southern Seas. London: Odhams Press Ltd.

Cornish, Richard. 'New Merchant Navy Records at the P.R.O.,' The Life Saving Awards Research Society Journal 30 (June 1997): 79.

The London Gazette (May 1, 1934 & October 7, 1941).

Jacka, Fred & Jacka, Eleanor (editors). 1988. Mawson's Antarctic Diaries. Sydney: Allen & Unwin Australia.

Mercantile Marine Medal Index Cards (CR.1, CR.2 Cards); Identity Certificates (CR.10). Mercantile Marine Records, The National Archives.

Metcalfe, Keith Interview with Mr. William Arthur Peachey, Fireman/Greaser, RRS Discovery II, 1931-35. (June 9, 1991).

Muster Book of RRS Discovery (BT 100/350). Board of Trade Records, The National Archives.

Ommaney, Francis D. 1938. South Latitude. London: Longmans, Green & Co.

Poulsom, Lieut. Col. Neville W. & Myres, Rear Adm. J.A.L. 2000. British Polar Exploration and Research: A Historical and Medallic Record with Biographies 1818-1999. London: Savannah Publications.

___________________ 'Polar Medal Statistics,' OMRS Journal 42 (December 2003): 266-270.

Reader's Digest. 1990. Antarctica: The Extraordinary History of Man's Conquest of the Frozen Continent. Surry Hills: Reader's Digest.

Rice, Tony. 1986. British Oceanographic Vessels 1800-1950. London: The Ray Society.

Saunders, Alfred. 1950. A Camera in Antarctica. London: Winchester Publications Ltd.

'Setting Out on Antarctic Voyage,' Oxford Mail (December 1929).

Yelverton, David E. 'The First Environmental Campaign Medal: the bronze George VI Polar Medal' (Parts I & II), Medal News (April 1989): 11-13 & (May 1989): 15-18.

Yelverton, David E. 'The Bronze George VI Polar Medal: a surprising find,' Medal News (October 1989).


by Glenn M. Stein, FRGS

Copyright 2007, Glenn M. Stein, FRGS
To reproduce or distribute, visit:

The French claim, with some justice, that Dumont d'Urville can rank with James Cook, the greatest navigator of them all. Like Cook he made three voyages round the world and important contributions to all the sciences, most of which were then in their lusty infancy.
        —Helen Rosenman, translator and editor of D'Urville's accounts of South Seas voyages

Jules Sébastien César Dumont d'Urville was born in Normandy in 1790, and his childhood saw the development of a keen intellect that served the makings of a future explorer. A lifelong passion for the study of languages first showed itself so early that by the age of ten d'Urville was fluent in Latin. Past voyages of discovery were also on the boy's mind and he devoured volumes about Cook, Anson and Bougainville. At 17, d'Urville joined the French Navy, but the service had fallen into disrepair after its defeat at Trafalgar and the Royal Navy's blockade kept French ships in port.

Not being one to waste time, d'Urville filled the void of inactivity by studying languages. At this time, he penned his motivations for joining the navy:
I found that nothing was more noble and worthy of a generous spirit than to devote one's life to the advancement of knowledge. There was this feeling that my interests were pushing me towards the navy of discovery rather than the purely fighting navy. Not that I was afraid of battle, but my naturally republican spirit could not envisage any real glory attached to the act of risking one's life and killing one's fellow men for differences of opinions over things and words.
By 1810, d'Urville was posted to the Mediterranean port of Toulon, and still with a good deal of free time on his hands, he reignited his youthful interest in botany in the hills behind the port. Passions for this and other areas of science would only grow with time, and over a decade later, d'Urville's botanical work earned him membership in the Britain's Linnean Society and he became a founding member of the French Geographical Society.

In 1814, d'Urville had a brush with his future. After Napoleon's exile to the island of Elba, the Ville de Marseille (with Ensign Jules Dumont d'Urville onboard) sailed to Palermo with the Duke of Orleans, so the latter could retrieve his wife and children. The Duke was the future King Louis Philippe, who nearly a quarter-century later would sponsor d'Urville's expedition to the South Pacific—and the Antarctic. It was to be France's last great scientific expedition carried out under sail.

From 1822-25, Lieut. d'Urville circumnavigated the world as the executive officer on the Coquille during a South Seas expedition, and afterwards published a favorably received volume on the flora of the Falkland Islands. Between 1826-29, he commanded the Astrolabe (the renamed Coquille; an astrolabe is an instrument used for observing the positions of celestial bodies), tasked with augmenting the scientific knowledge amassed on the previous expedition. In his official instructions to d'Urville, Secretary of the Navy Comet de Charbol wrote:
A large collection of books, instruments and charts etc. was to have been sent to you by courtesy of the Director-General of Navy Stores.
Also 30 silver and 450 bronze medals that I had struck to commemorate the
Astrolabe expedition have recently been forwarded to you, you will be able to distribute them in the countries you visit and wherever you deem it useful to leave some mark of your passage.
Supplying such medals to exploring expeditions can be traced back for several decades before this time and includes not only French, but British and Russian expeditions as well. The medals were given to native dignitaries in silver or bronze, presumably depending upon the individuals' social/political position. The very few number of silver medals carried on the above expedition would seem to indicate such pieces were only presented to very highly placed individuals.

During the voyage, d'Urville successfully searched for the wreckage and remains of the LaPérouse expedition, which vanished 40 years before. Among the relics recovered from native peoples were some of the 100 medals carried by that expedition.

Along with the following years of domestic life and mundane naval desk duties, d'Urville devoted time to continued studies of the ethography and linguistics of South Pacific peoples. But as his research progressed, he noted missing pieces of knowledge, which could be remedied by a new expedition. By the end of February 1837, King Louis Philippe had seen and enthusiastically approved d'Urville's new expedition—but with a twist. Not only was the King interested in extending French influence and furthering hydrography, trade and science, he knew about British and American interests in the Antarctic regions, and ordered d'Urville to 'extend your exploration towards the Pole as far as the polar ice will permit.' D'Urville was also in search of another pole—the South Magnetic Pole—'the point it was so important to fix for the solution of the great problem of the laws of terrestrial magnetism.'

The King was well aware that the British Antarctic explorer and sealer James Weddell had reached 74°15'S in 1823—and now an opportunity to bring honor to France presented itself. Though d'Urville admired British polar explorers like Cook, Ross and Parry, he wrote:
I had never aspired to the honour of following in their wakes; on the contrary, I had always declared that I would prefer three years of navigation under burning equatorial skies to two months in polar climes.
Two ships would carry the flag of France to frozen shores. The Astrolabe and Zélée (zealous). The former carried 17 officers and 85 men, while the Zélée's compliment was 14 officers and 68 men (the actual number of crewmen for each ship varied over time due to those invalided, deaths, desertions and new recruits). To promote interest in the expedition's progress, d'Urville asked for and received royal approval promising monetary rewards related to degrees of southern latitude attained by the Astrolabe and Zélée. Once 75°S was reached, each man would receive 100 francs, and then 20 francs for each additional degree above this latitude. Weddell had reached 74°15'S. As d'Urville flatly stated, 'It was not much, but it was enough for the purpose.'

As with his previous voyage, d'Urville took with him a supply of silver and bronze medals with which to mark his passage throughout the southern Pacific Ocean. The 50 mm. diameter medals depict a profile of the King on the obverse, surrounded by the translated wording: LOUIS PHILIPPE I./KING OF FRANCE. Wording on the reverse specifically highlights the King's interest in Antarctic exploration. The encircling translated words read: VOYAGE AROUND THE WORLD, EXPLORATION OF THE SOUTHERN POLE, enclosing: CORVETTES/THE ASTROLABE AND THE ZÉLÉE/MR. DUCAMPE DE ROSAMEL/VICE-ADMIRAL/SECREATRY OF THE NAVY/MR. DUMONT D'URVILLE/CAPTAIN IN COMMAND OF THE EXPEDITION/MR. JACQUINOT/COMMANDER OF THE ZÉLÉE/1837.

I have yet to find any documentation noting the number of silver and bronze medals struck for the 1837-40 expedition, but feel the figures are very close (if not identical) to those for the 1826-29 voyage. A bronze medal exists that is attributed to Gunner First Class Paul Plagne (Astrolabe), who received the Legion of Honor for his performance during the expedition. This suggests that some of the leftover medals were given to certain participants as mementos of their valued efforts and many hardships endured.

The Astrolabe and Zélée twice entered Antarctic waters during their three years away from home. In January 1838, they followed Weddell's track, but the weather and ice that had been kind to that British sailor in 1823 was now unkind to the Frenchmen. He retreated north and sought respite in the South Orkney Islands, partly charting them. Upon returning south, an ice floe held the ships for five days, and it was not until 9 February that they escaped nature's grasp. Later on that month, d'Urville claimed Louis Philippe Land for his country (first charted by Bransfield in 1820 and named Trinity Land), in addition to Joinville Land (later known to be an island). The ships remained in the area of what is now the northern extreme of Graham Land on into March, surveying the discoveries, but they never got beyond 66°S. Afterwards, the expedition made for Chile with several cases of scurvy aboard each vessel. Two years later, he would again challenge the Antarctic.

Approaching Antarctica from the Australian side, by mid-January 1840, d'Urville's ships were in the midst of icebergs, as passionately related by 27-year-old Ensign Joseph Duroch of the Astrolabe:
Never shall I forget the magical spectacle that then unfolded before our eyes!
But for the awesome grandeur, we could have believed ourselves amongst the ruins of those great cities of the ancient Orient just devastated by an earthquake.
We are in fact, sailing amidst gigantic ruins, which assume the most bizzare forms: here temples, places, with shattered colonnades and magnificent arcades; further on, the minaret of a mosque, the pointed steeples of a Roman basilica...
On 21 January, two boats landed on a rocky islet, a few hundred meters from the shore which d'Urvile named after his wife—Adèlie Land. The surrounding waters are now know as the Dumont d'Urville Sea. The Zélée's First Lieutenant, Joseph Du Bouzet recorded the historic occasion in his diary:
It was nearly 9 p.m. when, to our great delight, we landed on the western part of the highest and most westerly of the little islands. Astrolabe's boat had arrived a moment before us; already the men from it had climbed up the steep sides of this rock. They hustled the penguins down, who were very surprised to find themselves so roughly dispossessed of the island of which they were the sole inhabitants. We immediately leapt ashore armed with picks and hammers. The surf made this operation very difficult. I was obliged to leave several men in the boat to keep it in place. I straight away sent one of our sailors to plant the tricolour on this land that no human before us had either seen or set foot on.
Du Bouzet further penned an insightful and hopeful observation about France's Antarctic territorial claim:
...we did not dispossess anyone, and as a result we regarded ourselves as being on French territory. There will be at least one advantage; it will never start a war against our country.
Oddly, a little over a week later, the Astrolabe had an unexpected encounter with the USS Porpoise, a brig commanded by Lieut. Cadwalader Ringgold. She was part of a six-ship squadron forming the United States Exploring Expedition (1838-42). Before leaving Hobart, Tasmania, D'Urville knew of both American and British polar expeditions. An unfortunate misunderstanding, resulting from the handling of the two vessels, caused a failure of the ships to make contact and each continued on its way. D'Urville left Antarctic waters for good without discovering the South Magnetic Pole; a series of coastal observations by the British expedition in the following two years put the Magnetic Pole well inland and nowhere near the French discoveries. Still, d'Urville had every right to be proud of his men and their significant Antarctic achievements.

After further South Pacific exploration over the next several months, the Astrolabe and Zélée arrived back in France in November 1840. D'Urville had a great many things to attend to, including 'overseeing the despatch of the numerous objects destined for the Hydrographic Office, the Museum of Natural History and the Naval Museum'. Ever mindful of his men, he officially requested from the Navy Minister at least three, and as many as six months' leave for his sailors. D'Urville also submitted a carefully drawn up list, citing those he wished to be promoted and/or decorated. These requests were immediately acted upon and resulted in the Legion of Honor being awarded to several individuals by January 1841 (see list below). In spite of not achieving the intended 75°S latitude goal, the French government awarded 15,000 gold francs to be divided among expedition members.

Instituted by Napoleon on 19 May, 1802, the Legion of Honor is still awarded for distinguished military and civil services. The order exists in five classes: Knight, Officer, Commander, Grand Officer and Grand Cross. Though certain elements of its design have varied over the many years, the Legion of Honor remains today basically as it was when Napoleon created it. The decoration issued for the French South Seas Expedition was a white enameled silver or gold badge (depending upon the class), with five rays with double points. In between the rays was a green enamel wreath of oak and laurel. The obverse center featured the effigy of King Henry IV (the first monarch of the Bourbon dynasty), and the reverse center had two crossed tricolor flags. The badge was suspended by a royal crown with a ring on top, through which passes a red ribbon.

Legion of Honor Recipients of the French South Seas & Antarctic Expedition (1837-40)

DUMONT D'URVILLE, Jules Sébastien César. Captain 1st Class. Promoted to Rear Admiral on 31 December 1840 and made an Officer of the Legion of Honor. He also received the Gold Medal of the French Geographical Society.

BARLATIER DE MAS, Lieutenant Franois Edmond Eugène.

VINCENDON DUMOULIN, Clément Adrien. Hydrographer 3rd Class & Cartographer. Took over editing the publication of the voyage after D'Urville's untimely death in 1842.

DUCORPS, Louis Jacques. Purser 3rd Class. Promoted to Purser 2nd Class, 26 December 1838 and Purser 1st Class, 2 September 1840.

HOMBRON, Jacques Bernard. Surgeon 2nd Class. Promoted Surgeon 1st Class, 11 October 1838.

DUMOUTIER, Pierre Marie Alexandre. Naturalist & Phrenologist

LE BRETON, Louis. Surgeon 3rd Class (Assistant Surgeon). He did additional duty as the expedition's Artist, replacing Ernest Auguste Goupil, who died of dysentery at Hobart, 4 January 1840.

PLAGNE, Paul. Gunner 2rd Class (petty officer). Promoted Gunner 1st Class, 1 September 1837.
THANARON, Lieutenant Charles Jules Adolphe

JACQUINOT, Honoré, Surgeon 3rd Class (Assistant Surgeon)

AUGIAS, Pierre Joseph. Coxswain 1st Class (chief petty officer)
It is noteworthy that of the 11 recipients of the decoration, all but three were from the Astrolabe. This was probably due to the fact that the Astrolabe was d'Urville's ship and there existed a natural positive prejudice on d'Urville's part. Also, only one rating from each vessel received the Legion of Honor—both of whom were senior ratings.

The Zélée's Commander Charles Hector Jacquinot, d'Urville's closest friend and second-in-command, was not decorated. On d'Urville's recommendation, he previously received the Cross of Honor for the 1826-29 expedition, but reading between the lines of his naval service, one very much gets the sense that Jacquinot probably cared very little about medals. After d'Urville's death, he assumed overall supervision for publication of the expedition's narrative. Through sheer hard work Jacquinot eventually became a Vice Admiral. During the 1854-55 Crimean War he was in command at Piraeus, Greece (receiving the Greek Order of the Redeemer). He died soon after retiring from the Naval General Staff in 1879; in keeping with his modesty, he had requested to be buried without any fanfare or military honors.

D'Urville wrote a lengthy letter to the Secretary of the Navy in 1841, explaining why one man was specifically excluded from being recommended for the Legion of Honor; this was Surgeon 2nd Class Elie Jean Françios Le Guillou (Zélée). A detailing of this man's behavior is out of place in these writings, but suffice to say that Le Guillou was a determined man and eventually received the medal in 1860—after years of wearing down the opposition. During the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian War, he was the medical officer to the Corps de Francs-Tireurs (snipers). Interestingly, Cape Leguillou (note the spelling) appears on the Antarctic map to this day, located on the northern point of Tower Island, at the northeast end of the Palmer Archipelago.

After the 1837-40 expedition, with his health strained from three around-the-world voyages, D'Urville's days of exploring were behind him. He began writing up the narrative of his latest expedition, and just as the fourth volume was nearly ready for the publisher, tragedy overcame d'Urville and his family. Rear Admiral Jules Dumont d'Urville, his wife and son, were returning by train from an outing to Versailles on 8 May 1842, when the two locomotive engines jumped the track. The leading wooden carriages ran atop the engines and caught fire, and d'Urville and his family were engulfed in flames.

Picture Credits:
Astrolabe and Zélée emerging from the pack ice, Feb. 9, 1838, by Louis Le Breton.

François Edmond Eugène Barlatier de Mas. (Courtesy of E. Barlatier de Mas Santerre)

Jules Sébastien Dumont d'Urville, by Gérôme Cartellier.

Knight of the Legion of Honor (1830-48). (Courtesy of Morton & Eden Ltd.)

French South Seas & Antarctic Expedition Medal from author's collection. (Photograph by Spencer J. Fisher Photography)
E. Barlatier de Mas Santerre
Dr. Dominique Dirou
Michel Gontier
Morton & Eden Ltd.
Main References:
Archives of the Musée de la Marine, Paris

Dorling, H. Taprell. 1974. Ribbons and Medals: The World's Military and Civil Awards. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc.

Dunmore, John. 1965. French Explorers of the Pacific (Vol. 1). Oxford: Oxford University Press

Jacob, Yves. 1995. Dumont d'Urville, Le Dernier Grand Marin des Découvertes. Grenoble: Glnat

Rosenman, Helen (translator and editor). 1985. An Account in Two Volumes of Two Voyages to the South Seas by Captain (later Rear-Admiral) Jules S-C Dumont D'Urville of the French Navy, etc. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press


by Glenn M. Stein, FRGS

Copyright 2009, Glenn M. Stein, FRGS
To reproduce or distribute, visit:

After the defeat of Germany in the First World War, the German people had little to bolster their national pride. Out of the political and economic chaos came one of the most important oceanographic expeditions of the 20th century.

In order to salvage German scientific research and the specialized knowledge and experience gained from it, the German Scientific Research Aid Council was formed in 1920 (also called the Emergency Association for German Science in some sources). The Council's task was to put public and private funds to their best possible use to this end.

In 1924, Vienna-born oceanography Professor Alfred Merz (University of Berlin) asserted that the ocean offered an open door of opportunity for exploration. Merz suggested a well-planned voyage would invite solutions to important problems of the deep. The president of the Council recognized an extraordinary opportunity and things rapidly moved forward.

Fitted with a brigatine rig to reduce reliance on fuel, the Meteor (and her specially trained crew) was chosen as the expedition ship, and commanded by Captain F. Spiess, with Merz heading the scientific team. The crew numbered 123, including 10 officers, 29 petty officers, 78 ratings and 6 civilians.

The Meteor departed in April 1925 and conducted a shakedown cruise to the Canary Islands to ensure readiness for the voyage. Afterward, a strenuous around the clock program of scientific measurements was launched: water temperatures, depths, atmospheric observations and collecting water samples and marine life.

The Meteor crisscrossed the Atlantic 14 times, from the northern tropics to Antarctica, using the ship's early sonar, profiles of the ocean floor were created between 20° N and 55° S. The ship established 310 hydrographic stations and made 67,400 depth soundings to map the topography of the ocean floor, and released over 800 observation balloons. In fact, deep water echo sounding was extensively pioneered during the expedition. An analysis of 9,400 measurements of temperature, salinity and chemical content at varying depths established the pattern of ocean water circulation, nutrient dispersal and plankton growth.

The ship's adventures in the Southern Ocean included an oceanographic profile through the Drake Passage, while sailing from Cape Horn to the South Shetland Islands (the narrowest part of the Passage); observations of the volcanic crater on Deception Island; and stations off glacier-rich South Georgia Island. The last include Moltke Harbor, a mile-wide section on the northwest side of Royal Bay. A German contingent was stationed at Royal Bay during the first International Polar Year (1882-83), in order to observe the transit of Venus.

Next came Bouvet Island, followed by a push to the Meteor's furthest south—61° 51' S. Heading north again, a notable discovery thereafter was the extension of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge around the Cape of Good Hope toward the Indian Ocean.

When the ship returned to Germany in May 1927, she had spent 512 at sea and sailed over 67,500 nautical miles. The Meteor was the first to record an entire ocean's currents and make extensive studies of surface evaporation.

In order to commemorate the successful enterprise, the Research Aid Society of German Science created a tangible mark of distinction—the German Atlantic Meteor Expedition Medal:
Obverse: The Meteor under full sail upon stylized waves. The decision to depict the ship under sail was probably an aesthetic one, as the image would have appeared somewhat bare without the spread of canvas.

Reverse: An albatross in flight, with 'DEUTSCHE ATLANTISCHE EXPEDITION METEOR 1925-27,' above and below in serifed capital letters.

Size: 41.5 mm. diameter

Weight: 25 grams

Metal: The edge is stamped 'BAYER HAUPTMÜNZAMT. FEINSILBER' (Bavarian Central Mint. Fine Silver)

Ribbon: A heavy weave in light blue, with 1 mm. dark grey and 1 mm. silver stripes side by side, at each outer edge.

NOTE: The ribbon of the medal pictured evidently has privately mounted pin brooch, but also a loop of heavy cloth sewn on the back, in order to slide the medal onto a bar with other medals. This would seem to suggest this example was awarded to a naval officer, as such a recipient would likely have possessed other awards from the First World War.

Suspension: The First Class features a gilt oak leaves suspension for naval officers and civilian scientists, while the Second Class has a silver oak leaves suspension for crewmen.

Designer: Bavarian Central Mint.

Manufacturer: Bavarian Central Mint.

Naming: The medal was issued unnamed, but it is unknown if it was issued with a certificate bearing the recipient's name and/or rank/rate/position.

Number issued: 211 (23 First Class and 188 Second Class)

Case: The case is covered with red cloth, and interior lined with black cloth, featuring a recessed space for the medal and ribbon (but no space for a pin brooch). Stamped in upper and lower case serifed gold letters on the lid is:
'Erinnerungs-Medaille an die DEUTSCHE ATLANTISCHE EXPEDITION METEOR 1925 - 1927 überreicht von der Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft' (Memorial Medal to those of the GERMAN ATLANTIC METEOR EXPEDITION 1925 - 1927 presented by the Emergency Association of German Science)
The German Atlantic Meteor Expedition Medal is rarely encountered, particularly in its case of issue. Considering the complement aboard the Meteor numbered 123, and 211 medals were issued, one can assume some men were switched out during the voyage due to injury/sickness. However, it appears clear that other individuals connected with the expedition, but not onboard, were also eligible. The latter is borne out in Speiss' book: 'Every member of the expedition and every crew member received a medal from the Research Aid Society of German Science as a reward.' (English translation of Spiess, p. 360).

During the period between the end of the First World War and the onset of yet another worldwide conflict, the German Atlantic Meteor Expedition was a peace victory for science, and for Germany. The resulting medal is a lasting symbol of the pursuit of knowledge, rather than discord, within Neptune's undersea domain.

Picture Credits:
The survey vessel Meteor. (Spiess)

Officers and civilian scientists onboard the Meteor (with a visiting admiral). (Spiess)

An albatross with a 2.8 meter wingspan captured by crewmen. (Spiess)

German Atlantic Meteor Expedition Medal (First Class) and case of issue, from author's collection. (Courtesy of Dix Noonan Webb, auctioneers, London)
The Earl of Sandwich. 1950. British and Foreign Medals Relating to Naval and Maritime Affairs (Second Edition). Greenwich: National Maritime Museum.

Elfer, G. 1991. 'Die Medaille fr die Deutsche-Atlantische-Expedition des Forschungsschiffes "Meteor"'. Order-Militaria-Magazin, Bund Deutscher Orden-sammler; October 1991.

Floyd, J.B. 'The Medal of the German Atlantic Expedition, 1925-1927'. (The Medal Collector (OMSA Journal), Vol. 47, No. 1; January/February 1996.

Spiess, F. 1985. (edited by William J. Emery). The Meteor Expedition: Scientific Results of the German Atlantic Expedition, 1925-1927 (English translation). New Delhi: Amerind Publishing Co.


by Glenn M. Stein, FRGS

Copyright 1996, 2008 & 2011, Glenn M. Stein, FRGS
To reproduce or distribute, visit:

Updated April 18, 2011.

In July 1895 the International Geographical Congress met in London, and it was decided that Antarctica would be the primary focus of new exploration. Up until this time, no one had explored the hinterland of the frozen continent, and even the vast majority of its coastline was still unknown. The meeting touched off a flurry of activity, and soon thereafter, national expeditions from Britain, Germany and Sweden, as well as private ventures, started organizing. The Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration had begun.

When 31-year-old Thomas Alfred Forster Feather was appointed Boatswain of Discovery in May 1901, the Norfolk native and First Class Petty Officer had no idea that his performance during the upcoming expedition would net him an appointment as a warrant officer in the Royal Navy. Feather was a post office boy in Stalham before joining the Navy in 1885 as a Boy 2nd Class. By May 1888, he was an Able Seaman, and between 1893 and 1895, Feather rocketed from Leading Seaman to First Class Petty Officer. His ability to handle men evidently showed itself, accounting the quick succession of promotions.

Though appointed to the position of Boatswain of Discovery, such an appointment was usually held by a first class petty officer, if a warranted boatswain was not present to fill the billet. One is inclined to conjecture that Feather's "people skills" aided his appointment. This attribute, along with Feather's professionalism, were later warmly laid out by Scott:
Our boatswain, Thomas Feather, was a thorough seaman, and took that intense pride in his charge which was so well known in the old sailing days. A sailor will understand well the merits of a boatswain who can make the proud boast that the Discovery circumnavigated the world without losing a rope or sail. Our boatswain, like the rest of us, under new conditions had to turn his talents into fresh channels; in the Far South all that pertained to sledge equipment was placed in his charge, and with him rested the responsibility that everything was in readiness when we started out on our sledge journeys. And here, as before, he proved his excellence, for I do not remember a single complaint or breakdown that could have been obviated by more careful preparation. (Scott (1905), Vol. 1, p. 73)
After Discovery arrived in Antarctica, "Taff" Feather (a nickname derived from his initials) and many of the sailors fostered misconceptions about their strange new home. Believing that Ross Island (on which they were camped) was very small and could be walked around in a few hours by keeping on the ice floe and following the coast. In fact, it measures 60 miles in length. A bit of foolhardiness in mid-May 1902, nearly cost Feather and Second Engineer James Dellbridge dearly. After dinner, they went out for a walk at two in the afternoon, and after six hours had not returned, so three search parties were making ready when the pair turned up onboard. They had gotten lost in the snow drift and were in pitch darkness. Nearby, a sledge party had already suffered a fatality two months previous, when Able Seaman George Vince drowned after slipping down a steep ice slope during a blizzard. His body was never recovered.

Despite his wanderlust, the Tom Feather displayed his mettle during a preliminary southern sledging reconnaissance that September. The party consisted of Scott, Third Lieut. Shackleton and Feather. The trio's two dog teams were not always kind to the party, as Second-in-Command Lieut. Albert Armitage wrote:
On one occasion, as they were crossing a crevasse which was 3 1/2 feet broad, and when Mr. Feather was harnessed to the traces, in front of the dogs that were dragging the sledges, the dogs stopped short in front of the crack, and dragged the boatswain back into it, and he was suspended by his harness just below the surface of the ice. Shortly after he had been dragged up and had resumed pulling, the toggle connecting him to the traces carried away, so he had a near shave. When asked if he was hurt, he only replied: 'Damn the dogs!' On another occasion one of their sledges, on which were stowed most of the provisions, went down one of these treacherous places, and Mr. Feather was lowered down to unpack it before it could be recovered. (Armitage (1984), p. 141)
The sledging expedition had been a closer brush with Death than Feather realized at the time, as Scott related, 'This evening the boatswain has shown me his harness; one strand was cut clean through where it fell across the ice-edge. Altogether he had a pretty close call.' (Scott (1905), Vol. 1, p. 529) Feather was often Captain Scott's first choice to be a member of his personal sledge.

During the 1903 sledging season, Feather saw no less activity on the ice. After the trail was blazed up to the icecap (on what was subsequently named Ferrar Glacier), Antarctica's interior was revealed. The main journey from Discovery began on October 12, and the advance party (including the Boatswain) commenced its march across the vast plain of snow by mid-November. As the men headed west, the unforgiving conditions began to take their toll - the strain was telling on the party. Feather suffered agonizing back pains, but did not utter a word of complaint as he pulled at the traces just behind Scott. The Commander knew his sledge mate was suffering terribly, but when he cast an eye at Feather, the Boatswain straightened up and pretended nothing was wrong. With pride, Scott wrote, 'What is one to do with such people?' (Scott (1905), Vol. 2, p. 257)

On a virtually unknown continent, Scott had the luxury of bestowing intangible honors on faithful companions like Feather. It was during this journey that Mount Feather was christened (just past the Ferrar Glacier, in Victoria Land).

The time had come to divide the party. Feather and two other men were sent back to Discovery with a sledge on November 22, while Scott and two men struggled westward until 1 December, when they too headed for the ship—their adventure was drawing to a close. By mid-February, due almost solely to efforts by the men from the relief ships Morning and Terra Nova, Discovery was able to break out of her ice prison and leave Antarctica in her wake.

When Scott submitted a lengthy dispatch to the Admiralty, praising all expedition members in the highest terms, he selected six individuals who were specifically Mentioned in Dispatches (MID): Dailey, Dellbridge, Evans, Lashly, Wild and Feather. (Huxley (1978), p. 140)

The MID was sometimes the basis for a medal or promotion in rank, and the Navy came through for Feather. He was promoted Acting Boatswain on September 10, 1904, and confirmed in that rank almost exactly two years later. And though the newly established Polar Medal was being issued to expedition members, not everyone received it from the hand of King Edward VII, as did Boatswain Feather that December. Fate had smiled on him during his first Antarctic expedition, but things would be quite different for Feather—and Scott—the second time around.

By September 1909, Scott declared he was going to the frozen continent again, with the primary objective being the South Pole. He enlisted several old Discovery shipmates, and Feather was officially part of the new venture in April 1910. However, by November the following notation appeared on his service record: 'Sent home as unsuitable for Antarctic Expedition' (ADM 196/35/6937). What could this have meant? After seven months' involvement with the new expedition, the man who was previously described by Scott as 'a thorough seaman', and afterward by several officers as 'decidedly temperate', 'capable and zealous' (ADM 196/35/6937), was now 'unsuitable'?

According to family legend, through Feather's daughter Letty Feather and grandson Dr. John A. Feather, Boatswain Feather and Second-in-Command Lieut. E.R.G.R. Evans (later Lord Mountevans of the Broke) did not get on well. Evans was said not be too keen on a man who came up through the ranks, and that Feather 'had "the ear" of Scott.' In addition, supposedly Feather believed Evans was a self-opinionated officer, who would not be advised or told anything, and would not listen to what Feather was telling him about the supply chain and arrangements.

There is also another Feather family story that the Boatswain had fallen aboard ship on the way out to New Zealand and injured his knee, and this injury allowed him to bow out of the expedition without losing face.

However, Scott's original journals offer something more concrete regarding Feather's departure from the expedition:
Oct. 29, 1910 'Heard Feather has been insubordinate to [Lieut.] Rennick very much annoyed Feather suspended from duty'
Oct. 31, 1910 'Saw Feather again I'm afraid he must go.'
(SPRI, B.M. Add.MSS. 51024-51038)
The late polar historian A.G.E. Jones asked former Terra Nova stoker Bill Burton about Feather during a 1982 interview; 'He said Scott rejected [Feather] as he was too "navy-fied". That is strange for a naval officer and a stickler for things that didn't matter. It did not interfere with his career.' (Jones to Stein, March 16, 1994).

Naval history enthusiast David Slade (who spoke with Letty Feather in the 1980s) wrote afterward:
Bosuns were never popular men, especially with the Stokers, so just how much one reads into Burton's comments is open to conjecture. My father was a bosun in the RN, so I know! Stokers under the orders of seamen were known to be less than charitable in their opinions. Mercantile crew even less so!!
(Slade to Stein, Sept. 20, 1994)
The story may have ended then and there, except for the tragic death of the South Pole Party in March 1912. Feather's family recalls that he partly blamed himself for the tragedy, and felt things may have turned out differently if he had been available to advise and assist with sledging arrangements. There was no evident bitterness toward his old commander after Feather was sent home, and if any existed, it was likely wiped away by Scott's death and the circumstances that led up to it.

Feather was replaced with Boatswain Cheetham, RNR, an Antarctic veteran who served on the Morning (with Second Officer Evans) and Shackleton's Nimrod Expedition. Evans wrote of Cheetham:
The seamen were excellent, and Captain Scott seemed delighted with the crowd. He and Wilson were very loyal to the old Discovery men we had with us and Scott was impressed with my man, Cheetham, the Merchant Service boatswain, and could not quite make out how 'Alf,' as the sailors called him, got so much out of the hands—this little squeaky-voiced man—I think we hit on Utopian conditions for working the ship. There were no wasters, and our seamen were the pick of the British Navy and Mercantile Marine. Most of the Naval men were intelligent petty officers and were as fully alive as the merchantmen to 'Alf's' windjammer knowledge. Cheetham was quite a character, and besides being immensely popular and loyal he was a tough, humorous little soul who had made more Antarctic voyages than any man onboard. (Evans (1921), pp. 31-32)
Alfred Buchanan Cheetham's incredible Antarctic record speaks plainly through his medallic entitlement: Polar Medal in bronze/no clasp/engraved '1902-04' on edge (Boatswain/Morning) and Polar Medal in silver/Antarctic 1907-09 (Third Officer & Boatswain/Nimrod), Antarctic 1910-13 (Boatswain/Terra Nova) & Antarctic 1914-16 (Third Officer/Endurance).*

Ironically, Feather probably learned of Scott's fate before most of the outside world, since during this time he was based out of Sydney, serving aboard the surveying vessel Sealark. He remained in the vicinity, joining the sloop Torch in November 1914, based in New Zealand.

Was it mere coincidence that his naval duties put the Boatswain "in the neighborhood" of Antarctica when Scott died? A lingering question surrounding "Taff" Feather and Robert Falcon Scott's fatal Antarctic expedition.

Just prior to the end of the First World War, Boatswain Feather became Chief Boatswain, retiring with the honorary rank of Lieutenant in 1922. He passed from the scene on July 1, 1943.

* Cheetham went on to serve in the Mercantile Marine after his return from Antarctica, and was Second Officer of the SS Prunelle when she was torpedoed and sunk on Aug. 22, 1918, two miles southeast of Blyth. The captain and 11 crewmen lost their lives; among the dead was Cheetham.

Medals and Related Artifacts of Lieutenant T.A.F. Feather, RN

Letty Feather wrote to a collector who had her father's medals in 1989, and related the story as to how they came to leave the family:
My Father left them to my brother, or I suppose to his wife. He was killed in a cycle accident when the will was 'proved'. She asked if I wanted the medals back. I said I thought my brother would have wanted my nephew to have them and it was left like that. That's when I made a mistake and it wasn't till she died that I learned my nephew didn't want them—can you believe it?—and they had been sold, hence, they appeared on the market.
(Feather to Kroulik, March 6, 1989)
Letty inherited her father's officially named Royal Geographical Society Special Award (a silver striking of The Scott Medal in gold). The medal was in her possession in 1989, and when she died in March 1993, it presumably passed to a family member.

A member of the Feather family purchased the following medals and artifacts at a December 2006 Morton & Eden auction:

1914-15 Star (Bosun, R.N.)

British War Medal (Ch. Bosun, R.N.)

Victory Medal (Ch. Bosun, R.N.)

Polar Medal/Antarctic 1902-04 (P.O. 1 Cl., H.M.S. Discovery)

Naval Long Service & Good Conduct (EdwVII, P.O. 1 Cl., H.M.S. Excellent)
a) original silver bosun's pipe and chain

b) silver cigarette case, ornately engraved leaf decoration and initials 'T.A.F.F.' (Birmingham, 1899)

c) enamelled brass souvenir vesta case, stamped 'Official memento of the visit of the Channel Fleet to Blackpool, 9th, 10th & 11th August 1907'

d) a plain silver napkin ring, with engraved initials 'T.F.' (London, 1929)

Two gilt 'Discovery' buttons (Firmin & Sons) were also originally part of the above collection.
Note: This article is an updated version of one that was first published in the New Zealand Antarctic Society's Antarctic (September 1996), and then republished as "T.A.F. Feather and Scott's Antarctic Expeditions" on the IPY 2007-09 website (

Picture Credits
Three four-man sledge parties prior to their departure from base camp at Hut Point. Feather is standing second from left. (courtesy Feather family)

Lieutenant Feather's medals, portrait and artifacts, from author's collection. (photograph by Dorothy H. Stein)

Lieutenant Feather's medals. (courtesy of Morton & Eden Ltd.)

Lieutenant Armitage's narrow escape from a crevasse mirrored Feather's experience on the sledging trail.
Special thanks to Karen May for her valuable assistance.

Rick Broad
Dr. H.J.G. Dartnall, FRGS
Dr. John A. Feather
the late Letty M. Feather
Margaret Feather Fowler
The late A.G.E. Jones
Alfred R. Kroulik Jr.
Heather Lane
George Lewis
James Morton
Rear Admiral J.A.L. Myres, CB
Baden Norris
David J. Scheeres
David Slade
The late David E. Yelverton, FRGS
Abbott, P.E. & Tamplin, J.M.A. 1981. British Gallantry Awards. London: Nimrod Dix & Co.

Antarctic. 1987. Vol. 11, No. 7.

Armitage, Lieut. A.B. 1984. Two Years in the Antarctic. Bluntisham: The Paradigm Press (originally published in 1905).

Commonwealth War Graves Commission,

Eastern Daily Press. July 9, 1943.

Evans, Rear Adm. E.R.G.R. 1921. South With Scott. London: Collins' Clear-Type Press.

Hocking, C. 1989. Dictionary of Disasters at Sea During the Age of Steam: Including sailing ships and ships of war lost in action 1824-1962. London: London Stamp Exchange edition (first published 1969 by Lloyd's Register of Shipping).

Huxley, E. 1978. Scott of the Antarctic. New York: Atheneum.

Morton & Eden Ltd. Dec. 15, 2006.

Officers' Service Records (Series 3; ADM 196/35). The National Archives.

Polar Medal Roll. (ADM 171/61). The National Archives.

Poulsom, Lieut. Col. N.W. and Rear Adm. J.A.L. Myres. 2000. British Polar Exploration and Reseach: A Historical and Medallic Record with Biographies 1818-1999. (London: Savannah Publications).

Private correspondence and conversations with the Feather family.

Ratings' Service Records (ADM 188/180). The National Archives.

Reader's Digest. 1990. Antarctica: The Extraordinary History of Man's Conquest of the Frozen Continent. Surry Hills: New South Wales.

Registers of Seamen's Services (ADM 188/180). The National Archives.

Rodger, N.A.M. 1988. Naval Records for Genealogists. London: HMSO.

Scott, Capt. R.F. 1905. The Voyage of the Discovery (2 Volumes). London: Smith & Elder & Co.

Scott, Capt. R.F. Facsimile of Scott's base and sledging diaries held in the British Library, covering the period October 1910-March 1912 (Add.MSS. 51024-51038). Scott Polar Research Institute.

Trotter, W.P. 1975. The Royal Navy in Old Photographs. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.

Wilson, Dr. E.A. 1966. The Diary of the Discovery Expedition to the Antarctic 1901-04. Dorset: Blanford Press.


The following is from the catalogue entry of Dix Noonan Webb, London auctioneers, lot 1055, Dec. 4, 2008:

The important pair to the noted Arctic and Antarctic explorer Admiral Edward Joseph Bird, Royal Navy, who first went to the Arctic Seas in the Hecla under Captain Lyon in his expedition of 1821-23, and in two subsequent expeditions in 1824-25 and 1827 under Hoppner and Parry, accompanied Sir James Clark Ross's Antarctic Expedition of 1839-43, and was Captain of Investigator during the Franklin Search Expedition of 1848-49; he features prominently in Stephen Pearce's historical painting 'The Arctic Council'.

Naval General Service 1793-1840, 1 clasp, Algiers (E. J. Bird, Midshipman); Arctic Medal 1818-55, unnamed as issued, nearly very fine, £10,000-12,000

[The winning bid was £12,000.]

Edward Joseph Bird was born in 1799, son of the Rev. Godfrey Bird, who was for forty years Rector of Little Waltham, in Essex. Bird entered the Navy on 9 September 1812, as First Class Volunteer on board the Boyne 98, in which ship, and as Midshipman in the Ville de Paris 110, each bearing the flag of Sir Harry Neale, he was employed at the blockade of Brest. From August 1814 until May 1819, he served in the Queen and Albion 74s, both commanded by Captain John Coode, under whom he fought in the Albion at the battle of Algiers, 27 August 1817.

In February 1821 he was appointed Mate of the Hecla, Captain George Lyon, fitting for a voyage to the Polar regions, from which he returned to England in November 1823. Appointed, with Captain Henry Parkyns Hoppner, in January 1824, to the Fury, he again sailed for the Arctic seas in company with Hecla. The following winter was spent at Port Bowen, in Prince Regent's Inlet, where the two vessels remained from September 1824 until July 1825, Shortly afterwards, however, Fury was wrecked and her crew were brought home by Captain Parry in the Hecla, arriving in October 1825.

Towards the close of 1826, after a short spell in Ganges, he was once more appointed for Arctic service to the Hecla, under the immediate command of Captain Parry. Proceeding to the northern shore of Spitzbergen, Bird accompanied Parry with the sledge-boats in an attempt to reach the North Pole across the ice. During an absence of sixty-five days from their vessel, the intrepid explorers, in spite of every hardship, penetrated a little beyond 82° 45', the most northern latitude so far attained. Upon his return to England, Bird was rewarded with the rank of Lieutenant, and was subsequently employed in various ships on the Home station and in the Mediterranean, latterly as First Lieutenant, until April 1839 when he was appointed in a similar capacity, to the Erebus, under Captain James Clark Ross. In the following September he sailed in Erebus, in company with the Terror, on a voyage of discovery to the Antarctic seas, where three persevering efforts to penetrate the icy limits of the Southern Pole resulted in the discovery of a large continent, fringed with a barrier of ice from 150 to 200 feet in height, which received the name of Victoria Land, and of an active volcano, known since then as Mount Erebus.

The expedition returned to England in September 1843, after an absence of four years, during which many perils had been survived and many interesting and important additions to geographic and scientific knowledge achieved. During his absence he had been advanced to a commander's commission, and, on his arrival home, he was at once rewarded with promotion to Captain.

Bird's last appointment, in February 1848, was to the command of the Investigator. In this vessel he was sent, with Sir James Clark Ross in the Enterprise, in quest of the missing expedition under Sir John Franklin. He returned to England with the expedition in November 1849, after having wintered at Port Leopold, Barrow Strait. Bird retired as a Vice-Admiral in 1869, was promoted to Admiral in 1875 and died in 1881.

Bird was one of the ten distinguished subjects who featured in Stephen Pearce's historical painting of 1851, 'The Arctic Council discussing the plan of search for Sir John Franklin'. The other sitters included Sir George Back, Sir William Edward Parry, Sir James Clark Ross, and Sir Francis Beaufort. The medals are accompanied by an original copy of W. R. O'Byrne's 'Descriptive Key' to this famous painting, published in 1851 in order to promote sales of the engraved print of the same. This has an ink inscription to 'John Jackson Bird, from W. S. Woodburn Esqre. with the Engraving. 7th Decr. 1853'.

[submitted by Glenn M. Stein, FRGS]

Picture Credits:
Admiral Bird's Naval General Service Medal 1793-1840 & Arctic Medal 1818-1855 (Courtesy of Dix Noonan Webb, auctioneers, London)

The Arctic Council planning a search for Sir John Franklin by Stephen Pearce; Admiral Bird is standing third from the left. (Wikipedia Commons)
Note: The painting is somewhat misleading in that it depicts a fictional meeting of Arctic experts who offered advice during the search for Sir John Franklin, but never met as a group.


by Glenn M. Stein, FRGS

Copyright 2006 & 2009, Glenn M. Stein, FRGS
To reproduce or distribute, visit:
The objects of the Expedition have been fully and faithfully carried out. We always kept in view that to explore the conditions of the deep sea was the primary object of our mission, and throughout the voyage we took every possible opportunity of making a deep-sea observation. Between our departure from Sheerness on December 7th, 1872, and our arrival at Spithead on May 24th, 1876, we traversed a distance of 68,890 nautical miles, and at intervals as nearly uniform as possible we established 362 observing stations.

—Professor Sir Charles Wyville Thomson
The birth of the science of oceanography can be traced to the historic voyage of HMS Challenger, whose commander, Capt. George S. Nares, RN, was a veteran of the Franklin Search. During the expedition, Challenger carried out a program of Subantarctic and Antarctic surveying and exploration. Among the islands explored were the Îles de Kerguelen, and the primary mission here was to establish an observation station form which the transit of Venus could be tracked in 1874. In February of that year, Challenger became the first steamship to cross the Antarctic Circle, and had the dubious distinction of colliding with an iceberg while attempting to gain shelter from a furious snowstorm that suddenly set upon her.

Two decades later, John Murray (who had served onboard Challenger as a Naturalist), addressed a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society, and described geological samples dredged from the seabed which hinted at the existence of a seventh continent.

A group of specialists, men learned in their own subjects, spent many years after Challenger's return describing and drawing the specimens that filled storehouses and laboratories. Then, the daunting task of publishing the results fell for the most part on the shoulders of John Murray. For the authors of the Challenger Reports, they '…received nothing more than a copy of the publication and a small honorarium to cover their expenses. In further appreciation it was resolved that a Challenger medal be struck (sic). The Treasury refused to pay for it and John Murray had the medal designed and executed at his own expense and himself sent replicas to those who had shared in the expedition or in the preparation of the Report. He himself was honoured by the Royal Society when he was admitted Fellow in 1896. Official commendation by the Government was deferred until 1898, when the Queen conferred to John Murray the rank of KCB [Knight Commander, The Most Honourable Order of the Bath] in recognition of his outstanding contributions to science.'

Contemporary writings in the journal Nature stated the medal, '…is being presented by Dr. John Murray to the naval officers of the expedition, the contributors of memoirs to the report on the scientific results of the expedition, and to members of the civilian scientific staff, as a souvenir of Challenger work.' There were instances where medals were issued to individuals who fell outside this scope. One person concerned was Laurence Pullar. He had an engineering and business background, was a man of wealth, and took a broad view of public service. Pullar was also a life-long friend of Murray, and a Fellow of both the Royal Society and Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Numismatic Details of the Challenger Medal
Obverse: Commemorates the voyage. In the center is a head and shoulders left-facing profile of the Roman goddess of wisdom and war, Minerva (in one of her many roles). Next to her is the image of an owl, her sacred bird (which is why wisdom is associated with owls). These figures are superimosed upon a globe with lines of latitude and longitude. I know of at least one example of the medal with only the lines of longitude on the globe. Partially encircling Athena and the owl is what appears to be an evergreen laurel branch; to the Greeks and Romans the laurel symbolised acquired immortality, both in battle as well as in the arts. The whole is bordered by water, indicating the Expedition's round-the-world voyage. Figures from the sea include the Roman god of the sea, Neptune, who is grasping what appears to be a bottom sampler trawl in his right hand (disclosing treasures from the deep). He cradles his trident in the left hand. A stylized dolphin is close by, and two mermaids support a long ribbon, which tactfully conceals their charms. The ribbon bears the words: 'VOYAGE OF H.M.S CHALLENGER 1872-76'.

Reverse: Commemorates work on the Challenger Reports. The central figure is a standing armored knight, throwing the gauntlet from his right hand into the sea (presumably to Neptune), whose trident appears above the waves—this being the crest of HMS Challenger. The trident is partially wrapped in a long ribbon, which extends the entire circumference of the reverse. The ribbon bears the wording: 'REPORT ON THE SCIENTIFIC RESULTS OF THE CHALLENGER EXPEDITION 1886.95'.

Size: 75 mm.

Metal: bronze; possibly also manufactured in silver, and though I have never seen an example in this metal, one example supposedly exists (The Voyage of the Challenger, by Eric Linklater (1972), p. 280), and A Catalogue of British Historical Medals 1837-1901, by Laurence Brown (1987), states the medal was manufactured in silver.

Designer & Sculptor: William S. Black (Edinburgh artist who actively exhibited between 1881-97) and William Birnie Rhind, RSA (Edinburgh sculptor, 1853-1933).

How manufactured: Cast.

Manufacturer: Unknown maker in Paris.

Naming: Recipient's first name and surname were engraved on the edge at six o'clock, in sans serif capital letters. Sometimes, only the first and middle initials were engraved.

Case: A fitted hinged case, with 'James Crichton & Co., 47 George St., Edinburgh' printed on white fabric on the inside lid. The medal was issued from the Challenger Office, Edinburgh, and was sent with a simple handwritten document noting that it was a souvenir of Challenger work.

Number Cast: Unknown.

Method of Issue: Several medals were hand delivered by Dr. Murray, but the majority were sent by post.

Number Issued: According to the List of Recipients of the Challenger Medal, 120 medals were issued. Below, the List reveals the totals of issued medals from Aug. 29, 1895 - Feb. 15, 1897:

Until Aug. 29, 1895
95 medals have been despatched (as per list)
4 without names (1 to Mr. Irvine Smith—Aug. 27, 1895)
1 without names taken to Holland by Mr.(sic) Murray
1 engraved Monteith [this entry is struck through]
Dec.16, 1895
107 medals engraved
1 Dr. Murray
1 Mr. Irvine Smith
11 in office
Jan.14, 1896
111 medals engraved
1 Dr. Murray
1 Mr. Irvine Smith
7 in office
Feb. 15, 1897
118 medals engraved
1 Dr. Murray
1 Mr. Irvine Smith
The Challenger Medal Roll

For a medal roll of all recipients, acknowledgements and references, go to:

Picture Credits
The Challenger Medal and Dr. Alexander Buchan's issue document. (Courtesy of St. Columba's Hospice, Challenger Lodge, Edinburgh; colorization by Dr. David C. Bossard)

HMS Challenger among Antarctic icebergs. (The Illustrated London News)

Captain George S. Nares, RN. (Challenger Reports)


by Glenn M. Stein, FRGS

Copyright 2008, Glenn M. Stein, FRGS
To reproduce or distribute, visit:

On Christmas Eve morning 2007, as I listened intently to the steady and pleasing voice of 85-year-old William H. "Tommy" Thomson, I detected only a faint accent—not what one usually encounters with a Scottish native. Sensing a story, I asked Thomson about his accent, and the past began to roll smoothly off his lips.

In the early years of the Second World War, Thomson was at Glasgow University—and bored. Since the nearest recruiting station was a naval one, that's where he ended up. Given his education standard, it was suggested he try for the Fleet Air Arm, and Thomson duly became an RNVR officer. The obvious necessity for clear radio communications while flying meant only one thing: the suppression of Thomson's Scottish brogue.

Sub-Lieutenant Thomson was flying Swordfish with 842 Sqdn. beginning in August 1943, aboard the ex-USN escort carrier HMS Fencer on convoy duties in the Western Approaches. His subsequent combat report of the probable destruction of a U-boat on Feb. 10, 1944, puts us in the cockpit:
I started to dive from 500 feet and at the same time my Observer reported 'Tantivy Attacking'. As I approached, the swirl gradually increased until the first part of the conning tower of a U-boat appeared doing 7-8 knots on a course of about 210 degrees. I dived fairly low to about 20 feet and dropped my depth charges across a point just ahead of the conning tower, about two feet of which was showing. Attack was made from just abaft its port beam. My distributor setting was .3 seconds and speed of 120 knots. The depth charges went off straddling the target although for some reason the middle depth charge went off about three seconds later than the other two. The Observer and Air Gunner saw the bows of the U-boat lift out of the water with the first two depth charge explosions but the later one obscured everything although the height of the column was not so great as those of the first two. When the water subsided no part of the U-boat was visible but oil came to the surface and gradually spread out to about 350 feet. No wreckage was visible excepting a few pieces of wood. Although several aircraft were in the vicinity not one followed up my attack. I then dropped a Marine Marker to mark the spot. [ADM 199/466]
Fencer's active anti-U-boat campaign continued, and between April and May she escorted Convoy RA59 from Kola Inlet. Treacherous ice and snow storms battered her aircrews, but they doggedly carried out 62 sorties, making 16 sightings and 12 attacks on enemy submarines. As a result, three more U-boats were destroyed, and on May 1, Thomson circled the area after one such attack. states the following details:
May 1st - SWORDFISH aircraft "C" of 842 Squadron sank U277 in position 73.24N 15.42E, SW of Bear Island in defence of RA59. There were no survivors from the submarine.

May 2nd - SWORDFISH aircraft "B" of 842 Squadron sank U674 in position 70.32N 04.37E, NE of Jan Mayen Island in defence of RA59. There were no survivors from the submarine.

SWORDFISH aircraft "K" of 842 Squadron sank U959 in position 69.20N 00.20W, NE of Iceland in defence of RA59. There were no survivors from the submarine.
By War's end, Lieutenant Thomson sported a DSC ribbon on his uniform for skill and determination in attacking the surfacing U-boat. But the fighting was over—now what? A chance meeting at an officer's club led Thomson to join the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (renamed the British Antarctic Survey in 1962).

Roaming around the club were Dr. James M. Wordie, Geologist onboard Endurance (Polar Medal/Antarctic 1914-16) and James Marr, who was a Boy Scout during the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition, 1921-22 (later receiving the silver Polar Medal/Antarctic 1944 and bronze Polar Medal/Antarctic 1929-30 & Antarctic 1928-37). Marr was one of only 18 recipients of both silver and bronze medals.

Wordie and Marr were on a recruiting run for Antarctica and this piqued Thomson's interest, but when he told Marr that he was a pilot, the Antarctic veteran's reply was mixed: Marr said there were a lot of pilots around, but apply anyhow. Not having to be asked twice, Thomson applied and was accepted. However, two "small" details remained. He didn't have a pilot's license (no need for one in the Navy), so a temporary license to fly in Britain was acquired, and this served for "activities further afield". Secondly, Willie Thomson married his girl Nan before going south.

On his arrivial at the bottom of the world in November 1946, there were still strong echoes of Scott and Shackleton from childhood heroes, and tremendous enthusiasm in everything, with each person supporting one another.

Thomson was the pilot of the survey team at Base E, Marguerite Bay, on the Antarctic Peninsula. He flew the affectionately named Auster Ice Cold Katy, having with him Biologist Bernard Stonehouse as co-pilot (Polar Medal/Antarctic 1947-49) and Surveyor Reginald L. Freeman as navigator (Polar Medal/Antarctic 1946-47). Their missions were mostly short trips, in support of depot-laying work, to investigate other possible routes to the plateau---and weather was usually difficult or unpredictable.

During the latter part of 1947, a twin-engined American aircraft from the Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition (RARE, 1946-48), also based at Marguerite Bay, was set to carry out aerial photography with trimetrogon equipment. This is a system of aerial photography in which one vertical and two oblique photographs are simultaneously taken for use in topographic mapping. The results were to be tied in with mapping by sledgers across the plateau. Thomson explained his part in the mission:
It had been decided that I would fly over the plateau with two companions [Stonehouse and Freeman] in the Auster to a point about ninety miles south, land blind on the snow to check conditions for the landing of the heavier American aircraft, which would be carrying stores to the first depot. The problem was that there could be a thick layer of soft, fluffy snow into which the aircraft could sink and the Auster could more easily touch, taste and take off again.
Thomson and his crew reached the designated spot and touched down without incident. However, their consort was delayed taking off due to trouble starting its engines, so it was some time before the sound of another plane rang in their ears. Thomson 'set off the red smoke flare and it sent a thick, blood-red gash across the snow, marvellous and obvious. To our total astonishment, it was not seen and the American aircraft went droning past. Again we waited and waited, but it did not return.'

There was nothing to do now but head back to base:
We climbed up close to seven thousand feet before crossing the plateau and set off for base. The high cloud ceiling began to lower and I noticed that our ground speed was diminishing. I increased the throttle setting until even with full throttle we were making little progress into a tremendous wind. There was little point in maintaining this course so I turned across the plateau to head down to the sea ice on the same side of the peninsula as the base. The light was beginning to fade, but I could just see a glacier away on the left… I followed the glacier down, losing height, the aircraft was bucking about in the turbulence, someone was being sick in the back, it was snowing now, the air intake was becoming choked and the starved engine was coughing and spluttering. The glacier curved round to the left and I had to keep in close visual touch with both the steep wall and the ice underneath; it was becoming quite dark.

By the time we reached the sea ice I could see very little, but I thought that I could do a slow carrier-type landing and all would be well. I could only see straight down. Suddenly, to my horror, I saw the ghostly shape of a large tabular berg slide beneath the Auster… The skis touch and for a couple of seconds I thought we had made it safely. Then one ski caught on a small projecting piece of ice and the aircraft turned slowly onto its back. There was no fire, only a broken aircraft, no-one was hurt. I stuffed the little matelot monkey into my pocket and he has been with us ever since.


As we were supposed to fly in tandem, the American aircraft had most of our emergency gear… We had a pup tent, designed for one, one sleeping bag and inner, one petrol primus [stove] and seven pounds of pemmican.
The trio settled down to their first night, while outside 'the wind dropped and there was only the soft hush of snow on the tent and the penetrating cold. We dare not go to sleep so we talked about tomorrow.' The next day was decision time: stay with the aircraft and wait for help, or start walking the estimated 60 miles back to base. The plane was already camouflaged with fallen snow, making any search from the air a difficult one, so 'I suggested that we remove the petrol tank from the Auster and use it as a sledge to pull along our few pieces of equipment as well as having petrol for the stove.'

And off they went. 'When thirsty, we sucked pieces of ice, and walked for ten minutes, followed by five minutes of rest' and despite the soft snow making it tiresome travelling, they covered ten miles the first day.

The following day presented much the same picture as the first for the explorers, low clouds and just a whisper of wind---but then snow began to fall. Much less progress was made that day.
The third day gave us a clear blue sky, but our constant watching of the coastline towards the base brought no results and the fallen snow from the day before made walking very difficult. We floundered along, up to our knees, and made little real progress… The tent had become much heavier with breath turned to ice and the the makeshift sledge had become more difficult to drag through the soft snow… I sang to keep us awake and this was reasonably effective because I only caught the right note by accident. My songs were those learned during squadron days, sentimental, of longing, of lonliness, of love lost and waiting for the emptiness of war-time to go away.

In the middle of the night a tremendous storm raged down from the plateau and we could little but cower in our small tent, which was being gradually drifted over and the sides nudged in on us like unwelcome guests… Thoughts were more sombre. I knew that our position was perilous. Storms usually lasted at least two days. The aircraft would be searching on the other side of the plateau. The storm lasted for three days, but I had no way of measuring real time. The wind howled and filled our small world with noise that gradually diminished all thought. There was little light to indicate the passage of day and night…a tiny piece of pemmican twice a day gave us little nourishment, our mouths were fissured with sucking ice… There was a feeling of slowly shutting down.

Gradually, it broke through into my fuddled brain that the wind had eased a little and that I must get out of this prison. We pushed away at the snow heaped upon us and I broke out into a night sky with light from a bright moon and rags of thin cloud racing across it. We staggered about trying to get some movement into our limbs, broke out the tent which was little more than a block of ice; it would have been so easy, so simple, to remain in that collapsed tent and drift into a deep, deeper sleep. We set off shakily in the direction of the base.
Good fortune smiled on the men when they spotted a seal snoozing in the sun, only a few feet from its blow hole. Thomson killed it with an ice axe and the trio enjoyed some much needed nourishment. The sunshine and that humble acquatic creature 'had buoyed our spirits and we set off once again.'
Not long afterwards we stopped. No-one spoke. There was a suggestion, a mere hint of a sound, it was not the wind, not the hush of our dragging feet, not the rumour of growlers far out to the open sea. It became louder, it was an aircraft, but where was it? Then we saw it. It was about twenty miles away and circling to gain height to cross over the plateau. My two companions wanted to set off our one remaining smoke flare at once, but I took it over and waited until the pilot, in his circling, might just be looking in our direction, before releasing it.

The red gash bled across the white snow. We did not breathe. Would it be seen? We waited, hoping, promising in my head to do all sorts of extravagant things if we were saved, to be always kind to others, never say anything nasty, turn the other cheek, help old women across the street, help anyone across the street. The aircraft made a long lazy turn and lost height towards us. It made a quick circuit to check the ice and landed with a brisk hiss of its skis beside us. It was the
Nana. The very American voice of Jim Lassiter hailed us and he had us back at base in a few minutes.
[The Nana was a Noorduyn C-64 Norseman single-engine cargo plane named by Finn Ronne for the North American Newspaper Alliance, for which his wife was a reporter. It was piloted by Captain James "Jimmy" W. Lassiter and Lieutenant Charles "Chuck" J. Adams, USAF.]
We had lost some weight—Reg and Bernard twenty-eight pounds, while I lost eighteen. The cold had affected our feet and we had to wear slippers for a day or two, but apart from that we were fine.

Twenty-four hours later, there was another gale and the already weakened sea ice was swept out to sea. We had been so lucky. We could have gone with it.

There was another strange happening at that time. Nan was not informed that I was missing for about seven days and was completely distraught; the lurid headlines in the national press did not make it any easier. Then, just at the moment when we were rescued, she felt at peace and somehow knew that all was well. Although we had known each other for such a short time, it meant that there was something special between us. The official notification to Nan came a few hours later.
[The couple are still married and live in the UK.]
When Thomson departed the frozen continent in May 1948, he had no wish to return: 'I need to have people around, the world was outside and I had a beautiful wife waiting for me.'

Though he never went back, Thomson's name remains permanently fixed in Antarctica. When the west coast of Graham Land was resurveyed during 1948-49, a 780-foot headland on the east side of Bourgeois Fjord was dubbed Thomson Head.

During one of our conversations, Mr. Thomson told me he sold his medals in the early 1960s in order to assist a friend in financial distress. Afterward, he wrote something in an email that refuses to leave me, and I hope it never will:
It appears that most men wish to hang onto their youth as the best time of their lives, and I keep looking around the next corner—and finding it.

The Medals of Lieutenant William Harvie "Tommy" Thomson, DSC, RNVR
DSC (GVI issue/officially engraved on reverse '1944')

DSC, London Gazette, June 20, 1944—'For skill and determination in attacks on U-boats while operating from H.M. Ships Fencer and Vindex.'

1939-45 Star (privately engraved 'Sub. Lieutenant, D.S.C., R.N.V.R.')¹

Atlantic Star (privately engraved as before)¹

Defence Medal (privately engraved as before)

War Medal (privately engraved as before)

Polar Medal/Antarctic 1947 (EIIR issue; named: 'William H. Thomson')

Polar Medal, London Gazette (July 17, 1953), Pilot, Marguerite Bay, Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey. One of just six 'Antarctic 1947' clasps issued.

¹ In a Sept. 24, 2008 telephone conversation, Mr. Thomson told me he has an Arctic Star ('The star, which will be made of white enamel with a red dot to represent Russia, is designed to be pinned to veterans' existing campaign medals, honouring their heroism for the first time. It is the first of its kind as it has been designed by the veterans themselves. It can be attached to either the Atlantic Star or the 1939-45 Star. All Arctic convoy veterans have at least one of these medals.'—Victory at last - a Star is born (, Dec. 23, 2005).
Accompanied by a quantity of original documentation, including:
a) Admiralty Letter of Notification for the DSC, which states, 'For courage, skill and determination shown as a Pilot of a Swordfish aircraft which operated from H.M.S. Fencer in an attack on a German Submarine on 10 February 1944, which resulted in the probable destruction of the enemy'. b) Campaign medal forwarding slip

c) Ship Appointment Certificate as Tempy. Actg. Sub-Lieut. (A), RNVR, HMS Kestrel (dated Oct. 21, 1942)

d) A wartime photograph of HMS Fencer (aircraft carrier)

e) Polar Medal Admiralty Letter and Buckingham Palace Investiture Letter, both for September 1953

f) Polar Midwinter's Day Dinner Menu for 1947, signed by team members

g) Several copy photographs
Note: This article first appeared in May 2008, on the International Polar Year 2007-2008 website. It appears here with numerous additional medallic-related details.

Phil Mussell
William H. Thomson, DSC
Karen Ronne Tupek
Lisa Ubert

Picture Credits:
Lieutenant Thomson's medals. (Courtesy of Dix Noonan Webb, auctioneers, London)

Tommy Thomson on the ice after his ordeal. (Courtesy of Dix Noonan Webb, auctioneers, London)

HMS Fencer. (Courtesy of

Ski-equipped Auster T 7. (Courtesy RAF Museum, Cosford)

The northeastern mouth of Marguerite Bay. (Photograph by Damien Carson, 2004)
Conversation and correspondence with William H. Thomson, DSC.

Naval-History.Net (

Poulsom, Lieut. Col. N.W. and Rear Adm. J.A.L. Myres. 2000. British Polar Exploration and Reseach: A Historical and Medallic Record with Biographies 1818-1999. London: Savannah Publications.

_____________________________________________. 'Polar Medal Statistics,' OMRS Journal, Vol. 42, No. 4, December 2003); pp. 266-70.

Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition 1946-48. 2006.

Seaver, G. 1937. Edward Wilson of the Antarctic. New York: E.P. Dutton and Company Inc.

Spink Medal Circular. No. 10, lot 20; September 1998. London: Spink & Son.

Stewart, J. 1990. Antarctica: An Encyclopedia (2 Volumes). London: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Thomson, W.H. Autobiography. (privately printed).


by Glenn M. Stein, FRGS

Copyright 2009, Glenn M. Stein, FRGS
To reproduce or distribute, visit:

Well after the British-dominated Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration (1895-1922), Richard Byrd carried the Stars and Stripes into the Southern Ocean, first reaching the Ross Ice Shelf near the end of the third decade of the 20th century. Two more expeditions followed, earning Byrd a place in Antarctic history for his systematic development of using aircraft and aerial photography, two-way radio communication with the outside world, and the successful use of motorized tracked vehicles.

Revealed here is a seldom seen glimpse behind an American Antarctic medal, which has carried the spirit of pre-World War II polar exploration right up until the present day.
This morning, just 62 years ago, Byrd and his Ice Party members, including Yours Truly, sailed up the Bay to the D.C. Navy Yard…
So wrote Dr. Alton A. Lindsey to the author on May 10, 1997—he had turned 90 only three days before. In the early years of the Great Depression, he was at Cornell University studying for his doctorate in biology, when he interrupted this pursuit to serve as the Vertebrate Zoologist on the Byrd Antarctic Expedition II, 1933-35. While the interior of the continent was canvassed by dog sled, tractor and airplane, Lindsey studied penguins, seals and other animals on the coast.

After the successful expedition, the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal, 1933-1935, was established by Act of Congress on June 2, 1936. Struck in sterling silver (oxidized, relieved and satin finish), 57 medals were issued, each having the recipient's name impressed in sans serif capitals on the edge, and contained in named cases. This figure represents 56 men in the Ice Party—those who spent the winter night (six months) at Little America—plus one to Lieutenant (JG) Robert A. J. English, USN, Master of the Bear of Oakland. The medals are rarely encountered in museums or private collections.

Hanging from a white ribbon, representing the snow and ice of Antarctica, the obverse depicts Admiral Byrd standing on ice in polar clothing; he is holding a ski pole in his left hand and a sled dog is seated on his right. In the background there are large ice formations. The dates "1933/1935" are to the right on the ice. The whole is encircled by "BYRD ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION".

The reverse features a central rectagular tablet with the wording:
The images surrounding the tablet evidently have not been fully described in before now. To the left are two radio towers of Little America, to the right is the Bear of Oakland under full sail, and above what has been described as a 'Ford Tri-Motor airplane' (without any landing skis); if true, this is the Floyd Bennett, salvaged from Byrd's first expedition. Finally, below the tablet is a team of four dogs pulling a man on a sled, with ice formations in the background.

Dr. Lindsey clearly remembered the October day in 1937 when he received his medal:
When the enclosed 1937 photo was taken by a Navy photographer (otherwise now unknown), the C[ongressional] medal had been pinned upon Wm. Haines, Byrd Antarctic Expedition II meteorologist, in the private office of Navy Dept. Secretary Claude Swanson, a famed statesman of that time (seated, because too feeble to stand). [Swanson wrote the 9-1/2-page introduction to Byrd's book Discovery: The Story of The Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition] He is only pretending to pin the medal on his friend Byrd (left, with famous Admiral Leahy behind his head), and even that was an ordeal. Everyone looks so grim & unhappy because we, especially Byrd his great friend, were affected by Swanson's condition. I am the only young man shown in this photo…
I had queried Dr. Lindsey about Byrd's feelings regarding the special congressional medal, and also asked Lindsey if he ever had the opportunity to wear his medal:
Dick Byrd also cherished this medal, even though habitually every time he stretched out his hand to shake hands someone would put a new medal or honor into it… I am quite certain Byrd deeply appreciated this medal, especially by receiving it the way he did from a practically dying friend.

In the present era, when dress is usually informal or worse and men don't wear vests or often not even coats with lapels, etc., it is natural enough that medals are accorded less prominence and respect. Not being a military man myself, I don't venture to say whether medals have lost or are losing status in that group in the population. Most likely the young (teen & twenties) of all classes today think less of such recognitions than was true in 1937, which means a downgrading in terms of future attitudes. Even today already, it is very difficult to mention one's medals, I think, without seeming immodest or even egotistical. Let alone actually wearing them.

I believe that those BAE II (1933-35) men who received the Special Congressional Medal held it in respect and gratitude. We are either gone or old-fashioned now.
Interestingly, Dr. Lindsey held a more important memory of an intangible reward for service in the frozen south:
The expedition ended with President F.D. Roosevelt meeting The Bear May 10, 1935 on arrival, waiting on the dock at Washington Navy Yard. I did, & still do, appreciate that handshake & conversation more than the Congressional medal. There were 56 men on the Ice Party, and the scientific staff of 10, the flyers, a few military officers (perhaps a third of the personnel of 56, received the medal by mail, late in 1937). Haines & I were living there in D.C.
In fact, the expedition formally ended six days later when the two main expedition vessels, the Bear of Oakland and Jacob Ruppert, sailed into Boston, where the participants were received at an official welcome home to Boston ceremony, hosted by the mayor.

The passing decades had not lessened memories of other former comrades on the ice. Lindsey laid down the names of the seven 'surviving Ice Party lads' he knew were still living in 1997:
Dr. Erwin H. Bramhall (Physicist)
Stevenson Corey (Supply Officer & Dog Driver)
Joseph Hill Junior (Tractor Driver)
Guy Hutcheson (Radio Engineer)
Alton A. Lindsey (Vertebrate Zoologist)
William S. McCormick (Autogyro Pilot)
Olin D. Stancliff (Dog Driver)
Just off the northwest tip of Canisteo Peninsula in the Amundsen Sea, the twelve Lindsey Islands are features on the map today (7337'S, 10318'W). Dr. Lindsey wrote that the archipelago was personally discovered by Byrd in 1940, and the US Board on Geographical Names (BGN) website states the islands were delineated from air photos taken during the US Navy's Operation Highjump in December 1946. The BGN named the group in January 1960.

Dr. Lindsey passed from the scene in the final days of December 1999, at the age of 92; he was believed to be the last living scientist from the Byrd Antarctic expeditions. I was tremendously grateful we shared those letters two years before, but had no inkling our exchanges would eventually lead to aid in keeping alive memories of Dr. Lindsey and the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition.

Beyond the 1937 photograph, I had never seen a picture of Dr. Lindsey's congressional medal, and over the years that followed, my curiousity finally prodded me into contacting the Lindsey family. During January 2009, I telephoned Louise W. Lindsey, the explorer's daughter, and explained my association with her father. She was extremely gracious and warm, and not only offered to take photographs of the medal, but also put me in touch with her mother, Elizabeth (who had just entered her 90th year).

In the early days of February, I heard Elizabeth's gentle and confident voice for the first time; like Louise, she was eager to help with my research and learn more about the medal's meaning. Soon images of the medal arrived by email, and initially I winced: a naked silver disc filled the computer screen. The two top rings, ribbon, and brooch pin had all gone astray. Upon asking Elizabeth if she knew the whereabouts of these pieces, she vaguely recalled seeing them at some point in time, but doubted they could now be pinpointed. On a positive note, some of the images clearly showed the edge naming, 'A . A . LINDSEY'.

Elizabeth's explanation as to how the medal was passed onto her speaks of Alton Lindsey's character. As his 90th birthday approached, his family wanted the celebration to be an extra special one—but Dr. Lindsey would not allow any presents---instead he turned the tables. He prepared several small gift boxes for some of his relatives, 'with treasures from his long life of expeditions and travels. My little box contained his Byrd Antarctic Expedition II Congressional Medal,' explained Elizabeth.

Before long, my brain cells were set apace, and I put forth an earnest suggestion to Elizabeth and Louise: restore the medal. I offered to hunt up a length of ribbon and pin brooch, and their local jeweler could attach the silver rings. My idea surprised and delighted them, and so I bounded one step further: What about having a portrait photograph taken, with Elizabeth wearing the medal in honor of her husband? This idea was received with equal good cheer.

My attention now turned to the task of acquiring a ribbon and pin brooch---neither of which were readily available items. As it happened, the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal was issued with a somewhat wider ribbon than what is standard for US medals, and consequently was fitted onto a wider pin brooch as well. A viable substitute for the first came in the form of a length of British Arctic Medal 1818-1855 ribbon, while the latter was satisfied by a pin brooch from a US World War I Victory Medal. Not perfect matches, but very close to the originals.

In late February, I dispatched the parts to Elizabeth, along with instructions for the repair. Within two weeks, the jeweler carried out the work in a most satisfactory manner, and Elizabeth handily sewed the ribbon onto the pin brooch. On March 17, Elizabeth and Louise sat for their portrait, the medal hanging from its snow white band stood out boldly out against Elizabeth's red lapel---Dr. Lindsey's congressional medal had been resurrected!

The late Alton A. Lindsey, Ph.D.
Elizabeth S. Lindsey
Louise W. Lindsey, JD
Hal Vogel, Ph.D.

Picture Credits:
Alton A. Lindsey during his Antarctic days. (Courtesy of Elizabeth S. Lindsey)

The Bear of Oakland in the Ross Sea, by Jack Woodson.

Byrd, Haines and Lindsey receiving their congressional medals from Secretary of the Navy Claude A. Swanson on Oct. 15, 1937. (Courtesy of Dr. Alton A. Lindsey)

Dr. Lindsey's restored Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal, 1933-1935. (Photographs by Louise W. Lindsey, JD)

Elizabeth S. Lindsey and Louise W. Lindsey, JD. (Portrait by JCPenny)
'Alton A. Lindsey, 92, Dies; Ecologist Left Global Imprint,' The New York Times, Dec. 23, 1999.

Byrd, Richard E. 1935. Discovery: The Story of The Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Foxfall Medals (

Icenhower, Joseph. 1970. American Sea Heroes. Maplewood: Hammond and Company. Illustrated by Jack Woodson.

Personal communications with Dr. Alton A. Lindsey and his family.

Strandberg, John E. & Bender, Roger James. 1994. The Call of Duty: Military Awards and Decorations of the United States of America. San Jose: R. James Bender Publishing.

US Board on Geographical Names (


by Glenn M. Stein, FRGS

Copyright 2009, Glenn M. Stein, FRGS
To reproduce or distribute, visit:

In 1935 the Main Board of the Arctic Sea Way, at the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR, founded the Honored Polar Explorer badge, which has been awarded to the most distinguished polar pilots, sailors, researchers and those who have over-wintered in the polar regions. By way of example, all of the participants of the first Soviet Antarctic expeditions during the 1950s were given these badges.

Approximately 7,000 badges in all have been awarded, and were issued with an engraved numbers on their reverses, which correspond to individual recipients. As far as the author is aware, at present there is no access to records allowing identification of recipients via these numbers.

The Honored Polar Explorer badge is an enameled screwback badge, measuring 30 x 24 mm., and at its center is a ship in ice, superimposed upon the upper portion of a globe with a distinct coastline (no doubt representing the Soviet Arctic). Atop the globe is an anchor stock, and behind is a flowing red banner, with the wording 'HONORED POLAR EXPLORER'; to the right is a hammer and sickle. Below the ice is a very thin horizontal stripe of dark blue enamel, and a pair of wings with an anchor in the center.

The author has never seen an example of this badge dating earlier than the 1940s. The example here is evidently silver-plated bronze/copper, having the number '1222' engraved on the reverse of the banner. The ship depicted is the icebreaker Joseph Stalin, and 'I. Stalin' is on the bow. She was built during 1937-39 at the Ordzhonikidze Yard, Leningrad.

The next example was issued in the 1970s/1980s, struck in brass, and is numbered 6970 on the reverse of the ship, along with a maker's mark in relief. The ship shown on the badge is the Lenin (the world's first nuclear-powered icebreaker), and that name is on the bow. The Lenin began her sea trials in September 1959.

When one considers the delicate ecosystems of the polar regions, the following is a noteworthy historical footnote. A major nuclear accident occurred aboard the Lenin in 1966 or 1967, and some reports even indicate a 'reactor meltdown'. As many as 30 crewmen died of radiation poisoning, and others were injured. After laying abandoned for more than a year, the Lenin was towed to a shipyard in the Arctic and rebuilt. A two-reactor plant was installed and she returned to service.

Finally, with the advent of the Russian Federation in 1991, the Honored Polar Explorer badge saw two design changes: the banner now featured white, blue and red stripes, and the hammer and sickle was replaced by a spray of laurel. An unawarded example is shown here, and the enamel on the right side of the globe is missing. There is a raised line on the reverse for the engraving of a number, and there is a maker's mark relief.

Picture Credits:
The three obverse images of Honored Polar Explorer badges are from the author's collection. The obverse and reverse image of the late Soviet-era badge was kindly supplied by Masha Tsurkernik.
Letter from Director V.M. Kotlyavkov (Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences) to Stein (rec.-Feb. 27, 1996).

Palmer, Norman. 1986. Guide to the Soviet Navy (4th edition). Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.


by Glenn M. Stein, FRGS

Copyright 2009, Glenn M. Stein, FRGS
To reproduce or distribute, visit:
Updated Oct. 6, 2009

Well after the British-dominated Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, Richard E. Byrd carried the Stars and Stripes into the Southern Ocean, first reaching the Ross Ice Shelf near the end of the third decade of the 20th century. Two more expeditions followed, earning Byrd a place in Antarctic history for his systematic development of using aircraft and aerial photography, two-way radio communication with the outside world, and the successful use of motorized tracked vehicles.

Though the Americans were at the forefront of what came to be called Antarctica's Mechanized Age, the trusty canine was still the locomotive mainstay for Antarctic explorers—and remained so for many, many years to follow. Revealed here is a seldom seen glimpse behind an American Antarctic medal to one of Byrd's dog sledge drivers, which has embodied the spirit of pre-World War II polar exploration right up until the present day.

On a typically brilliant Florida afternoon in January 2009, I strolled into the inviting surroundings of Bob Colombo's home, clasping his hand for the first time. Having corresponded with Bob about his uncle, Louis Patrick Colombo, in October 1994, he and his sons graciously opened a window into their family's past.

As a merchant seaman, Louis Colombo was a seaman and fireman on the Jacob Ruppert on her two voyages to Antarctica during 1933-1935, and also acted as an assistant mechanic to the Ice Party (but did not winter over). In January 1934, while help offloading supplies from the Jacob Ruppert, Colombo suffered a painful case of snowblindness—a sharp reminder of the nature of the polar beast.

Without being attached to the Ice Party, Colombo was not entitled to the medal for Byrd's second expedition, but he must have felt otherwise, as a 1948 watercolor portrait in his Army uniform shows him wearing the 1933-1935 ribbon bar after that of the 1939-1941 medal. However, a portrait photograph in uniform of the same period features only the latter ribbon, and thus hints of an "official correction". Today, the two Antarctic ribbons bars are mounted together, and grace the top of a homemade Antarctic wall hanging several feet long.

In 1939, Congress established the US Antarctic Service (USAS), and an expedition under Byrd was sent south "to consolidate previous American exploration and to examine more closely the land in the Pacific sector." East Base and West Base were organized (with Colombo serving as a dog sled driver and supply man at the latter), and a whole range of scientific studies were carried out. Due to rising international tensions, both bases were evacuated by March 1941. This was the first expedition to the region to bring back color photographs.

Congress established the US Antarctic Expedition Medal 1939-41 on Sept. 24, 1945, with three levels: gold (10k gold filled (plated) over copper alloy, satin finished with burnished highlights); sterling silver (oxidized), relieved and satin finish; and bronze (red brass, oxidized dark gray, giving a pale greenish-gold color), relieved and satin finish. Byrd's medal is said to have been a unique issue in genuine gold, but is not marked as such.

The obverse center of the medal features a globe viewed from an angle below, showing Antarctica surrounded by the following in very small lettering: 'SOUTH PACIFIC OCEAN', 'ANTARCTICA', 'LITTLE AMERICA', 'PALMERLAND' and 'SOUTH POLE'. Above, on a three-level ribbon is: 'SCIENCE', 'PIONEERING', 'EXPLORATION'. Encircling the globe are the words, 'THE.UNITED.STATES.ANTARCTIC.EXPEDITION. .1939 . 1941. .'

The entire reverse is filled by the following inscription:

[blank space for the recipient's name]


In some instances, the recipient's name was officially engraved on the reverse in large and medium serifed capitals before being issued, but I know of one silver medal that was presented unnamed. When initially issued, the medal may have been contained in a named case.

The years after Colombo returned from the Frozen Continent for the last time continued to be filled with cold and ice—at the other end of the world. Embarking on a Army career (with his polar experience known to the higher ups) Colombo was sent to a secret weather and radio outpost on Baffin Island (in the Canadian Arctic archipelago), taught cold weather survival, served on Greenland's icecap. He was afterwards ordered to Belguim as a rescue unit specialist during the Battle of the Bulge, though the fighting had run its course by the time of his arrival.

Colombo passed away in October 1995, in his 84th year, but ensured the treasured mementos from his polar adventures were eventually placed in the care of his nephew. Among the two stately stuffed penguins, photographs, documents and letters, was an official letter dated Sept. 6, 1940, written to Colombo at West Base. It was from Arnold Court, USAS Chief Meteorologist:

It conformance with your request, it gives me great pleasure to assure you officially that at the time we were outdoors yesterday, that is just before noon local (180th meridian) time, the actual recorded temperature of the air was - 74.0° Fahrenheit, that is, 72 degrees below zero, or 104 degrees below freezing.

At some point during the six hours previous to writing the letter, Court went on to note that the temperature actually went down to -75°, "I believe, the lowest temperature ever recorded at a permanent station in this area, or by any station of the U.S. Weather Bureau." As chilly as that temperature was, it doesn't hold a candle to the record lowest temperature ever recorded on Earth: -129° F, on 21 July 1983, at Russia's Antarctic Vostok Station.

Colombo's gold medal, stately resting in its 1950s-era plastic award case, stood out among the many varied items spread across on his nephew's dining room table. Also in the case was a faded ribbon bar, lapel pin and a much-worn lapel rosette. Officially engraved on the medal's reverse was: LOUIS P. COLOMBO. It hung from a faded ribbon, and at some point, Colombo had affixed a miniature bronze 'WINTERED OVER' clasp to it, identical to one normally seen on a miniature US Antarctic Service Medal (established 1960). This dog sled driver was indeed proud of his service!

My attention then turned to the plush dark blue pad upon which rested the medal and other items. The pad seemed to ride a bit high in the case, creating within me a sixth sense that there was something more to this than meets the eye. Gingerly, I lifted the pad to reveal an ample reward: Colombo's Social Security card (issued during service at the Army's Alaskan Arctic Indoctrination School), and two neatly folded pieces of paper, one of which was frail and yellowish-brown with age.

Both of the papers were letters from Byrd, relating to the issuance of the medal. Byrd's writings spoke of a different age:


July 7, 1947.

Mr. Louis P. Colombo
24-31 24th St.
Astoria, L. I.
New York

As you perhaps know, Congress has awarded a medal to the members of the
1939-1941 Expedition. This medal was not finished until just before the
departure of Task Force 68
[Operation Highjump, launched in August 1946,
was a massive US naval expedition to Antarctica]. The Secretary of the Navy
decided, all of a sudden, that he wanted to give the medal to the members of
the 1939-1941 Expedition who were going down on this present Expedition.

There was not time enough to notify all of the other members or to get them
here. I would like to arrange for the presentation of this medal to you.
What would be best for you? Any one of the following procedures could be

1. We could perhaps have the Governor of the State present it to you.

2. We might have the Commandant of the Naval District you live in, or the
Commanding General of the Area give you the medal.

3. Or you might have the Secretary of the Army or Navy present it.

4. Perhaps you might prefer to have me present it to you.

You might have other ideas. Will you please write me at this office, room 4835,
Navy Department, how you feel about the medal. When you write, please
mark an "A" on the outside with a red "Personal". My assistant here
will then open the letter and will attempt to arrange things in accordance
with your wishes.


R. E. Byrd
[signed on his behalf]

R. Adm. R. E. Byrd, USN (Rtd.)

The other letter was undated and announced the medal's approval:


From: OINC, United States Antarctic
Service Expedition 1939-1941.

Your part in the 1939-1941 Antarctic Service Expedition
has at last been rewarded. By special Act of Congress
a medal has been bestowed upon you. It is thus the
expression of the appreciation of the American people
for your work in the Polar regions.

As Commanding Officer of this Expedition I desire to
congratulate you and to express my gratitude for your
part in helping to make this undertaking successful.

With this letter I send you my sincere good wishes for
your continued success and well being throughout your life.
I shall always be interested in your welfare.

[signed] R E Byrd

Richard E. Byrd
R. Adm. USN (Rtd.)

But that wasn't all. Not wishing to leave anything to chance, I gently removed the lining of the case, and spied a pristine length of spare ribbon, whose colors invited the touch of its durable, tight weave. Bob Colombo marveled at these discoveries, as he had no idea the items slumbered undisturbed all these decades.

According to the Papers of Admiral Richard E. Byrd, held at The Ohio State Univesity Archives, Colombo received his medal from the commanding general of the 9th Infantry Division, at Fort Dix, New Jersey (but the archives do not reveal the date). However, the front page of Fifth Corps' newspaper, The Guardian, sounded off on Jan. 8, 1954: 'Navy Decorates Cold Weather Expert'. An accompanying photograph showed Master Sergeant Louis Colombo (373rd Armored Infantry Battalion, Wildflecken, West Germany), having the medal pinned on him by the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel William N. Colyer. Between the newspaper report and the 1950s-era plastic award case, the 1954 presentation has solid support. For some reason, the intended Fort Dix presentation was never carried out.

The spirit of Jack Frost never left Dog Sled Driver Louis Colombo. During Byrd's 1928-30 expedition, the flight over Marie Byrd Land brought into view a mountain in the Edsel Ford Ranges (76°31'S, 144°44'W), and a decade later, Colombo and his dogs roamed the area with a USAS's biological party. On New Year's Day 1947, that mountain officially became Mount Colombo.

Picture Captions:
1 - Unloading the Jacob Ruppert, during the 1933-35 expedition. (Photograph by John Dyer, Chief Radio Engineer)

2 - Louis P. Colombo during the USAS Expedition, 1939-41. (Courtesy Robert L. Colombo)

3 - Louis P. Colombo, Indialantic, Florida, USA, February 1992. (Courtesy Florida Today)

4 - The obverse of Admiral Byrd's US Antarctic Expedition Medal 1939-41. (Courtesy Sotheby's)

5 - The reverse of Colombo's US Antarctic Expedition Medal 1939-41. (Photograph by Robert L. Colombo)
Mr. Joseph Colombo
Mr. Robert L. Colombo
Mr. Robert P. Colombo, Jr.
Ms. Leilani Rashida Henry
Ms. Laura J. Kissel
Byrd, Richard E. 1935. Discovery: The Story of The Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Correspondence & Conversations with the Colombo Family.

The Honours and Awards Presented to Admiral Richard E. Byrd. London: Sotheby's, Nov. 10, 1988.

________________ "Polar Awards of the United States: The Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal, 1933-1935," Journal of the Orders and Medals Society of America 40 (March 1989): 5-11.

________________ "Polar Awards of the United States: U.S. Antarctic Expedition Medal, 1939-1941," Journal of the Orders and Medals Society of America 40 (April 1989): 6-11.

Louis P. Colombo Papers (family possession).

"Navy Decorates Cold Weather Expert: Dog Sleds and Pemmican Recalled by Arctic Explorer," The Guardian, Jan. 8, 1954.

Papers of Admiral Richard E. Byrd. The Ohio State University Archives

Reader's Digest. 1990. Antarctica: The Extraordinary History of Man's Conquest of the Frozen Continent. Surry Hills: Reader's Digest.

Stewart, John. 1990. Antarctic: An Encyclopedia (2 volumes) Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Strandberg, John E. & Bender, Roger James. 1994. The Call of Duty: Military Awards and Decorations of the United States of America. San Jose: R. James Bender Publishing.

US Board on Geographic Names (US Department of the Interior),


Compiled by Glenn M. Stein, FRGS (March 23, 2010)

The following small collection of Bronze Polar Medals are from the catalogue entries of Dix Noonan Webb, London auctioneers, lots 321-323, March 31, 2010:

Lot 321: Petty Officer Telegraphist A. J. Williams, Royal Navy

Polar Medal 1904, G.V.R., 2nd issue, bronze, 1 clasp, Antarctic 1929-31 (P.O. Telegraphist A. J. Williams R.N.); Royal Navy L.S. & G.C. [Long Service & Good Conduct], G.V.R., 2nd issue with fixed suspension (J.13558 A. J. Williams, P.O. Tel., H.M.S. Victory) nearly very fine (2).
Estimate: £2,500-3,000.
Hammer: £2,900.

Arthur J. Williams served as a Petty Officer Telegraphist in Discovery during both voyages of the British, Australian, New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition 1929-31 (BANZARE). Bronze medals with this clasp were awarded to 22 members of the expedition, including Sir Douglas Mawson (London Gazette 1 May 1934 refers).

Lot 322: Chief Engine-room Artificer C. D. Buchanan, Royal Navy

Polar Medal 1904, G.VI.R., bronze, 1 clasp, Antarctic 1930-39 (Cecil Douglas Buchanan); Royal Navy L.S. & G.C. [Long Service & Good Conduct], G.V.R., 2nd issue with fixed suspension (271823 C. D. Buchanan, C.E.R.A.2 H.M.S. Marshal Soult) light contact marks, otherwise good very fine.
Estimate: £2,500-3,000.
Hammer: £3,100.

Unique clasp with these dates (London Gazette 7 October 1941 refers). A total of 82 George VI Bronze Polar Medals and four Bronze Clasps were issued, including 13 to veterans of 10 or more seasons in the Antarctic.

Cecil Douglas Buchanan spent 10 seasons, including winter voyages, in the Antarctic. He served as an artificer in the William Scoresby during 1930-32, and in the same capacity in the Discovery II during 1932-39.

Lot 323: James Purvis, OS/AB/Asst. Cook, Royal Navy

Polar Medal 1904, G.VI.R., bronze, 1 clasp, Antarctic 1925-35 (James Purvis) good very fine.
Esitmate: £2,500-3,000.
Hammer: £3,200.

Only three Polar Medals for 'Antarctic 1925-35' were issued (London Gazette 7 July 1941 refers), from a total of 82 George VI Bronze Polar Medals and four Bronze Clasps.

James Purvis served for seven seasons in the Antarctic, namely as an Ordinary Seaman in Discovery during 1925-27, in the same rate in Alert during 1928-30, as an Able Seaman in Discovery II during 1930-31 and as an Assistant Cook during 1933-35. He was later advanced to Petty Officer in the Royal Navy. The 'Purvis glacier' on South Georgia was named after him.


by Glenn M. Stein, FRGS
Copyright 2012

September 1, 2012

David Lyall (1817-95), was born at Auchinbrae, Kincardineshire, and received his medical education at Aberdeen. At some point after participating in a cruise to Greenland as whaling ship's surgeon, he joined the Royal Navy in 1839 as Assistant Surgeon. He immediately entered HMS Terror (Commander Crozier) in this capacity (and as botanical collector), for the historic 1839-43 Antarctic Expedition. His counterpart on Sir James C. Ross' HMS Erebus was Joseph Dalton Hooker, who became an eminent botanist and Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.

Ross' voyage set the stage for the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, which commenced fifty years later. Lyall distinguished himself in his contributions to the botanical results of the expedition, being mentioned in despatches and promoted to Surgeon.

In addition to notable adventures in botany in New Zealand and North America during his career, Dr. Lyall was appointed Surgeon and Naturalist to the Assistance in 1852, one of Sir Edward Belcher's Franklin Search squadron. During this expedition he received an acting order as lieutenant in command of a sledge party, and subsequently was Surgeon-Superintendent of the expedition (onboard HMS North Star).

After returning home in 1854, Lyall's naval career continued, and he rose to the rank of Deputy Inspector of Hospitals and Fleets, before retiring in 1873. From 1878 until passing from the scene in 1895, Dr. Lyall resided in Cheltenham, home to a polar scientist during the coming century—Dr. Edward A. Wilson.

For all of his botanical achievements, Lyall evidently never showed up on the radar of officialdom to receive the high honors bestowed upon his close friend, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, OM, GCSI, CB, FRS. Fittingly, Hooker penned his friend's obituary in The Journal of Botany, British and Foreign.

I have conducted extensive research into this Dr. David Lyall's life, and have been very fortunate in tracking down his descendants, who have kindly cooperated in my research efforts.

Lyall's Arctic Medal 1818-1855 and Baltic Medal are in my care, and when I acquired the medals it was their first appearance on the market. Both are contemporarily engraved and mounted as originally worn on silver pin broaches. Only 33 or 34 men who served on Ross' Antarctic expedition were entitled to the Arctic Medal, several of whom sailed with Sir John Franklin's last expedition, and thus did not live to receive their much-deserved awards.

See "
David Lyall (1817-1895): Botanical explorer of Antarctica, New Zealand, the Arctic and North America," by Andrew Lyall, FLS, in The Linnean, and the note and photographs of the plaque on his house in Cheltenham, England.

Dr. David Lyall, RN (standing on left), with officers of HMS Plumper in 1862. (British Columbia Archives)

Dr. Lyall's Arctic and Baltic Medals. (Collection of Glenn M. Stein, FRGS, copyright 2012)


by Glenn M. Stein, FRGS
Copyright 2012

September 1, 2012

The 100th anniversary of man's first attainment of the South Pole recalls a story of two iron-willed explorers committed to their final race for the ultimate prize, which resulted in both triumph and tragedy.

In July 1895, the International Geographical Congress met in London and opened Antarctica's portal by deciding that the southernmost continent would become the primary focus of new exploration. Indeed, Antarctica is the only such land mass in our world where man has ventured and not found man. Up until that time, no one had explored the hinterland of the frozen continent, and even the vast majority of its coastline was still unknown. The meeting touched off a flurry of activity, and soon thereafter national expeditions and private ventures started organizing: the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration had begun, and the attainment of the South Pole became the pinnacle of that age.

Excerpt from 'Background' by Glenn M. Stein, FRGS, in the medal's brochure.

Designer: Sim Comfort
Assistant Designer: Glenn M. Stein, FRGS
Sculptor: Danuta Solowiej
Engraver: Samantha Marsden
Casting: Niagara Falls Castings (UK) Ltd.
Polishing: Elliot Fitzpatrick Ltd.

metal: sterling silver
diameter: 2.4 inches/6 cms
weight: 3.0 troy ounces/93 grams
production: 100 medals, each medal signed by the artist and numbered

"The polished rim represents Ice, the letters of the legend are filled with Snow, and the men and their achievements are Frozen in time forever!" Sim Comfort

Contact: Sim Comfort Associates,


by Glenn M. Stein, FRGS
Copyright 2012

September 11, 2012

Dix Noonan Webb, London auctioneers, Sept. 13-14, 2012
Lot 996: George T. Vince, Able Seaman, Royal Navy

"We have felt that our last act before leaving the region which has been our home for so long should be one of homage to the shipmate who sacrificed his life to our work. We have had a large wooden cross prepared for sometime; it bears the simple carved inscription to the memory of poor Vince, and yesterday it was erected on the summit of Hut Point, so firmly that I think in this undecaying climate it will stand for centuries. Today our small company landed together for the last time, and stood bareheaded about his memorial whilst I read some short prayers."

Captain Scott's entry for 16 February 1904, The Voyage of the Discovery.

A rare and poignant Boer War and Polar Medal pair awarded to Able Seaman G. T. Vince, Royal Navy, who died in Scott's first Antarctic expedition in March 1902, after slipping down a steep ice slope during a blizzard while employed in a sledging party under Frank Wild.

Queen's South Africa 1899-1902, no clasp (G. T. Vince, A.B., H.M.S. Beagle); Polar Medal 1904, E.VII.R., bronze, no clasp (A.B. G. T. Vince, H.M.S. "Discovery"), edge bruise to last, very fine or better. Estimate: £5000-6000

Of the 60 Polar Medals in bronze issued for Scott's first Antarctic expedition 1902-04, just five were awarded to members of the Discovery's crew.

George Thomas Vince was born in Blandford, Dorset in September 1879 and entered the Royal Navy as a Boy 2nd Class in October 1895. Advanced to Able Seaman in March 1899, he served off South Africa in H.M.S. Beagle in the period May-October 1901, and, shortly thereafter, joined the National Antarctic Expedition under Scott at Simon's Town.

The following extracts from Scott's Voyage of the Discovery confirm the sad loss of Vince while serving in a sledging party under Frank Wild:

[4 March 1902]:

"The five who now remained submitted themselves to the guidance of Wild and followed him in single file as he again struck out for the direction in which they supposed the ship to lie. As they proceeded they found the slope growing steeper and the difficulty of foothold increased, especially for Vince, who was wearing fur boots, but they never doubted they would soon come to the bottom and find themselves in one of the valleys which would guide them to our winter quarters. In this manner they must have proceeded about 500 yards, when the leader suddenly saw the precipice beneath his feet, and far below, through the wreathing snow, the sea. Another step would have take him over the edge; he sprang back with a cry of warning and those behind him, hearing it, dug their heels instinctively into the slippery surface and without exception all succeeded in stopping. What followed was over in an instant. Before his horror-stricken companions had time to think, poor Vince, unable to check himself with his soft fur boots, had shot from amongst them, flashed past the leader and disappeared."

[13 March 1902]:

"We had now finally and sadly to resign ourselves to the loss of our shipmate, and the thought was grievous to all. From the moment when he joined us at the Cape of Good Hope, Vince had been popular with all; always obliging and always cheerful. I learnt that he had never shown these qualities more markedly than during the short sledge journey which brought him to an untimely end. His pleasant face and ready wit served to dispel the thought of hardship and difficulty to the end. Life was a bright thing to him and it was something to think that death must have come quickly in the grip of an icy sea."

Vince's Queen's South Africa and Polar Medals were despatched to his father, the former in September 1903. He is also commemorated in Blandford Parish Church; sold with copied research.

SHACKLETON'S MEDALS Medals and decorations presented to Ernest Shackleton are to be auctioned at Christie's on 8 October 2015. (See
—R. Stephenson
(27 September 2015)