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On 8 August 1914, as the lamps were going out all over Europe, the steam yacht Endurance left Plymouth for Antarctica. As Amundsen and Scott had already reached the South Pole, her owner, Sir Ernest Shackleton, looking for a new challenge, intended to cross the continent of Antarctica via the Pole. Despite his plans, a few days prior to Endurance’s departure, Shackleton had offered the ship and her crew to the Admiralty for the forthcoming hostilities, only to receive a reply directly from the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill: 'Proceed.'

Three years later, Shackleton and his men arrived in Punta Arenas in Chile, having failed even to set foot on the Antarctic mainland.

They had endured one of the great feats of human resilience: Endurance had been frozen into the pack ice in the Weddell Sea and drifted for 1300 miles and 282 days before being crushed. The crew had moved onto the pack ice, where they camped and drifted for another 165 days before taking to the Endurance's three open boats and rowing for six days to reach the desolate and uninhabited Elephant Island. The majority stayed there, living on what they could hunt, in a low hut roofed with two of the boats, whilst Shackleton and five companions sailed the third boat, the James Caird, across 800 miles of the world's stormiest seas to reach South Georgia. Once there, Shackleton, Frank Worsley and Tom Crean walked almost non-stop for 36 hours without equipment across the ice-capped, mountainous island to reach the whaling station at Stromness and help.

  • Charles Sergeant Jagger's bronze statue of Sir Ernest Shackleton, c.1932, Royal Geographical Society, London− © Rupert Shepherd
    c.1932, Royal Geographical Society, London

Charles Sergeant Jagger's bronze statue of Sir Ernest Shackleton