‘Not a life lost, and we have been through Hell!’ Shackleton rescue, 1916 August 30th

The day of the rescue.

August the 30th 1916 would have dawned no different than any of the previous 127 days, for the 22 men stranded on Elephant Island, since their six comrades had departed the outcrop aboard the James Caird  lifeboat, on a mission to raise rescue for them on April 24th 1916. As they had watched the tiny vessel disappear over the horizon into the monstrous Weddell Sea, Frank Wild optimistically opined that they would all be saved within four or five weeks.

We invite you to tine in the live on air broadcast KRNN JUNEAU @ 08:00 hours Alaska time on Monday August 30th. Link – https://www.ktoo.org/listen/krnn/

Twenty-two men, the majority of the crew of the Endurance – the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition – marooned for months on the barren and bleak rock that is Elephant Island in the far south Atlantic. Their only two boats, upturned and made into a shelter (nicknamed ‘the Snuggery’) as protection from the harsh elements. Penguins and seals keep them alive, providing meat to eat and blubber for cooking and to melt ice for drinking water. Winter sets in, freezing cold, dark and oppressive.

Twenty-two men, the majority of the crew of the Endurance – the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition – marooned for months on the barren and bleak rock that is Elephant Island in the far south Atlantic. Their only two boats, upturned and made into a shelter (nicknamed ‘the Snuggery’) as protection from the harsh elements. Penguins and seals keep them alive, providing meat to eat and blubber for cooking and to melt ice for drinking water. Winter sets in, freezing cold, dark and oppressive.

Thankfully, Shackleton and his crew successfully – and miraculously – make it to South Georgia, and, following an historic crossing of the island in just 36 hours, a feat never accomplished before, Shackleton, Frank Worsley (captain) and Tom Crean (second officer) are able to arrive at Stromness, a whaling station on the north of the island. ‘Our first night at the whaling station was blissful,’ writes Shackleton.

Finally, over four months after first landing on the island, hope arrives for the men. ‘Day of Wonders,’ writes Hurley. The men are gathered around a lunch of soiled seal carcass, some shelling limpets, when George Marston, the expedition’s official artist, is able to cry the words they had all been dying to hear. ‘Ship!’

Lunch is abandoned, and the air fills with cheering, as the men run to the shoreline to see the Yelcho heading towards them from the horizon. Shackleton, on his fourth attempt, has finally completed the journey back to Elephant Island, and is pleased to see his men have made it through the long and dark winter without losing a single member of the party.

Two years and 22 days since first leaving Plymouth, and nearly 21 months since they first set sail from South Georgia, the men are finally safe and heading home. Four days later the Yelcho docks in Punta Arenas, Chile, where a crowd turns out to witness the triumphant arrival. ‘I have done it,’ writes Shackleton, in a message to his wife Emily. ‘Not a life lost, and we have been through Hell!’

Six years later when looking at Shackleton’s grave and the cairn which we, his comrades, erected to his memory on a wind-swept hill of South Georgia, I meditated on his great deeds. It seemed to me that among all his achievements and triumphs, great as they were, his one failure was the most glorious. By self-sacrifice and throwing his own life into the balance he saved every one of his men – not a life was lost – although at times it had looked unlikely that one could be saved.

His outstanding characteristics were his care of, and anxiety for, the lives and well-being of all his men.”

Quoted from – F.A. Worsley, Shackleton’s Boat Journey.