South: The Story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition – Sir Earnest Shackleton CVO

This is an account of an impressive achievement. The expedition set out just as the First World War started…technology was very limited. All the things we take for granted now, mobile phones, satellites, motor sledges, wind-proof clothing and so on, none of it available. Men leaving Europe for a hostile environment with no hope of any immediate rescue should there be an emergency. Are there people like that around now?

The expedition had several thrusts. The main force on Endeavour to cross the Antarctic on foot. A further force to drop supplies along the route from the other side. Superb organisation was required.

The Endeavour struggled in the ice packs and eventually was trapped in the ice and was crushed. The drew then took to the ice and lived for several months on the ice floe, eventually managing to reach land and set up camp. Shackleton was in this group and leaving the bulk of his crew on land he and 5 others took a small boat and sailed to South Georgia (about 800 miles) for help. It took 2 weeks and when they landed three of them crossed the ice bound island to reach the whaling station and help. They then picked up the remaining crew on South Georgia before returning to the Antarctic to collect the men who had been left there.

The men laying supplies lost contact with their ship (whose travails are also described), but they continued with their task in laying supply drops. Eventually they too were rescued. Three men were lost.

On their return after more than 2 years away the men signed up to fight in the war.

This book describes a way of life that probably no longer exists. It is difficult to put yourself in the minds of these men who were so exposed and likely to lose their lives at any time. Dedication to the cause in the extreme. It was a fantastic feat, despite being a failure in its overall aims. The journey to South Georgia is impressive in itself, the whole expedition is just jaw dropping.

Shackleton is a man of his time. A great leader.


Would this expedition happen today I kept asking myself. Are there such people around now? I guess there are, just the challenges are different.

The journey to Mars is looking for volunteers, a possible one-way journey – I’d do it if I was young enough. Would I have gone to the Antarctic with Shackleton? Probably not – too cold for me.

At the end of the book are a series of short scientific articles. The main scientific research couldn’t be done due to the loss of the ship, but such was the dedication to the cause that the scientists measured what they could. Most interesting of these articles was the one of whaling which recorded the rapid reduction in the numbers of whales and which proposed an international body to oversee whaling.

A good read. Lots of description about the ice, but it still manages to hold the attention and describe just how close to utter disaster the whole expedition was.


2 Responses to “South: The Story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition – Sir Earnest Shackleton CVO”

  1. I read this book about 10 years ago. Superb read probably about time I read it again.

  2. Typo in email address on previous post. Corrected it.

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