Sir Ernest Shackleton’s latest expedition to Antarctica on the ‘Quest’ has received much publicity, including an article in ‘The Times’ yesterday. When the ‘Quest’ finally left Plymouth on Saturday 24th September, it was a Dragon family who were amongst the last to see Sir Ernest as he departed our shores.
Commander GH Freyberg – whose accounts of the Battle of Jutland and the surrender of the German High Seas fleet in 1918 so enriched the pages of ‘The Draconian’ – is now the King’s Harbour Master at Plymouth and we are grateful to Geoffrey for this account of the arrival of ‘Quest’ at the harbour on Friday and subsequent events.
“Shortly after Captain Worsley had berthed his ship, Sir Ernest Shackleton came aboard, having made the journey from London by train the same morning.
Stores, sledges, instruments and fresh provisions were brought aboard until the tiny upper deck was stocked with packing cases containing anything from vegetable marrows and Scotch whiskey to cedar-built sleighs and theodolites.”
The following morning the wharf was crowded with spectators, newspaper reporters and photographers, ready to give Sir Ernest a good send-off on his expedition. Once all visitors had left the boat, the KHM’s steamboat (with Geoffrey aboard) and a motor launch towed the ‘Quest’ off the wharf.
“Most of the officers of the Royal Marine Barracks at Stonehouse, headed by the Colonel-Commandant, Lieut.-Col HW Channer RMLI, were gathered on Longroom hill, together with their wives, to give the little ‘Quest’ a parting cheer. Colonel Channer, who is an Old Dragon, served with distinction at Gallipoli, where he lost his left leg when charging the Turkish trenches. This gallant officer, now a well-known figure in Plymouth, had previously served for ten years with the Egyptian Army, and he holds many Egyptian decorations besides the French Croix de Guerre.”
There followed a period of time when the ‘Quest’ was moored at a buoy whilst adjustments to the compasses on board were made.
“Whilst this business was in progress a small boy, a future Dragon, was observed to clamber quickly over the ‘Quest’s’ nettings in search of his father from the KHM’s steamboat alongside. Sir Ernest spotted him and said to him, ‘I knew you were the son of a sailor by the way you came over the side. Well, you will have to lunch aboard with me now.’ But Master Richard Freyberg had other views on the subject (he is only eight) and could not be persuaded to go below, having visions of being transported to the land of the polite penguin while the meal was in progress! So Mr Douglas, the geologist of the expedition, dived below and shortly reappeared with a plateful of tinned peaches, which Richard required but little pressing to demolish!”
During this interlude, Sir Ernest had invited Geoffrey and his wife aboard to inspect his ship.
“Our party was shown everything from the cook’s galley and Sir Ernest Shackleton’s cabin to the Sperry Gyro compass and the baby Avro aeroplane… It is hoped to accomplish much useful surveying from the air. A major in the RAF is with the expedition, besides which Shackleton himself is an expert pilot of the air.
Shackleton’s cabin is a small hutch, about 6 feet square, on the port side of the deck house forward of the bridge. There is just enough room for a bunk, a folding washstand, a tiny writing table and a solitary chair. The silk Union Jack presented by HM Queen Mary was spread out on the bunk for our inspection.”
Whilst this was going on, some 200 gallons of lubricating oil were loaded and the ‘Quest’ was finally ready for departure.
“By 5 pm. the last of the oil drums was on board and stowed below. The ship’s bell rang to clear the visitors into the numerous boats alongside and we bade farewell to our kind host… We climbed over the ‘Quest’s’ nettings for the last time, taking with us Mr J Rowett the financier, and several of his friends.
The last we saw of Shackleton was when, just as the ‘Quest’ and our steamboat parted company, the explorer himself, leaning over the side of the bridge, called, cap in hand, for ‘three cheers for the British Navy.'”
Not many people get the opportunity to meet and spend some time with someone of the stature of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who made a great impression on Geoffrey:
“That Shackleton is a great leader there is no shadow of doubt. Or else why did men like Wild and Worsley leave their farms in Africa or their homes in New Zealand, at a moment’s notice, at the call of this man?
Shackleton’s personality is, I should say, as magnetic as that of Captain Scott or the great David Beatty. His deep commanding voice, with just the suspicion of an American accent, and his deliberate manner of speaking, compel the attention of those who listen. Nature, so sparing of her gifts, has endowed this man with all the attributes of leadership. A superb physique, a pair of deep thoughtful eyes, with a most determined mouth and chin complete this picture of the greatest of living explorers – ‘The Boss’ as he is known on board to ‘The Boys.'”
We will follow the progress of Sir Ernest’s expedition over the coming months with great interest.