1916 - Ernest Henry Shackleton
The Rescue of the Crew of the Endurance after Eleven Months on the Ice
It is largely due to Wild, and to his energy, initiative, and resource, that the whole party kept cheerful all along, and, indeed, came out alive and so well. Assisted by the two surgeons, Drs. McIlroy and Macklin, he had ever a watchful eye for the health of each one. His cheery optimism never failed, even when food was very short and the prospect of relief seemed remote. Each one in his diary speaks with admiration of him. I think without doubt that all the party who were stranded on Elephant Island owe their lives to him. The demons of depression could find no foothold when he was around; and, not content with merely "telling," he was "doing" as much as, and very often more than, the rest. He showed wonderful capabilities of leadership and more than justified the absolute confidence that I placed in him. Hussey, with his cheeriness and his banjo, was another vital factor in chasing away any tendency to downheartedness.
Once they were settled in their hut, the health of the party was quite good. Of course, they were all a bit weak, some were light-headed, all were frost-bitten, and others, later, had attacks of heart failure. Blackborrow, whose toes were so badly frost-bitten in the boats, had to have all five amputated while on the island. With insufficient instruments and no proper means of sterilizing them, the operation, carried out as it was in a dark, grimy hut, with only a blubber-stove to keep up the temperature and with an outside temperature well below freezing, speaks volumes for the skill and initiative of the surgeons. I am glad to be able to say that the operation was very successful, and after a little treatment ashore, very kindly given by the Chilian doctors at Punta Arenas, he has now completely recovered and walks with only a slight limp. Hudson, who developed bronchitis and hip disease, was practically well again when the party was rescued. All trace of the severe frost-bites suffered in the boat journey had disappeared, though traces of recent superficial ones remained on some. All were naturally weak when rescued, owing to having been on such scanty rations for so long, but all were alive and very cheerful, thanks to Frank Wild.
August 30, 1916, is described in their diaries as a "day of wonders." Food was very short, only two days' seal and penguin meat being left, and no prospect of any more arriving. The whole party had been collecting limpets and seaweed to eat with the stewed seal bones. Lunch was being served by Wild, Hurley and Marston waiting outside to take a last long look at the direction from which they expected the ship to arrive. From a fortnight after I had left, Wild would roll up his sleeping-bag each day with the remark, "Get your things ready, boys, the Boss may come to-day." And sure enough, one day the mist opened and revealed the ship for which they had been waiting and longing and hoping for over four months. "Marston was the first to notice it, and immediately yelled out 'Ship O!' The inmates of the hut mistook it for a call of 'Lunch O!' so took no notice at first. Soon, however, we heard him pattering along the snow as fast as he could run, and in a gasping, anxious voice, hoarse with excitement, he shouted, 'Wild, there's a ship! Hadn't we better light a flare?' We all made one dive for our narrow door. Those who could not get through tore down the canvas walls in their hurry and excitement. The hoosh-pot with our precious limpets and seaweed was kicked over in the rush. There, just rounding the island which had previously hidden her from our sight, we saw a little ship flying the Chilian flag.
"We tried to cheer, but excitement had gripped our vocal chords. Macklin had made a rush for the flagstaff, previously placed in the most conspicuous position on the ice-slope. The running-gear would not work, and the flag was frozen into a solid, compact mass so he tied his jersey to the top of the pole for a signal.
"Wild put a pick through our last remaining tin of petrol, and soaking coats, mitts, and socks with it, carried them to the top of Penguin Hill at the end of our spit, and soon, they were ablaze.
"Meanwhile most of us had gathered on the foreshore watching with anxious eyes for any signs that the ship had seen us, or for any answering signals. As we stood and gazed she seemed to turn away as if she had not seen us. Again and again we cheered, though our feeble cries could certainly not have carried so far. Suddenly she stopped, a boat was lowered, and we could recognize Sir Ernest's figure as he climbed down the ladder. Simultaneously we burst into a cheer, and then one said to the other, 'Thank God, the Boss is safe.' For I think that his safety was of more concern to us than was our own.
"Soon the boat approached near enough for the Boss, who was standing up in the bows, to shout to Wild, 'Are you all well?' To which he replied, 'All safe, all well,' and we could see a smile light up the Boss's face as he said, 'Thank God!'
"Before he could land he threw ashore handsful of cigarettes and tobacco; and these the smokers, who for two months had been trying to find solace in such substitutes as seaweed, finely chopped pipe-bowls, seal meat, and sennegrass, grasped greedily.
"Blackborrow, who could not walk, had been carried to a high rock and propped up in his sleeping-bag, so that he could view the wonderful scene.
"Soon we were tumbling into the boat, and the Chilian sailors, laughing up at us, seemed as pleased at our rescue as we were. Twice more the boat returned, and within an hour of our first having sighted the boat we were heading northwards to the outer world from which we had had no news since October 1914, over twenty-two months before. We are like men awakened from a long sleep. We are trying to acquire suddenly the perspective which the rest of the world has acquired gradually through two years of war. There are many events which have happened of which we shall never know.
"Our first meal, owing to our weakness and the atrophied state of our stomachs, proved disastrous to a good many. They soon recovered though. Our beds were just shake-downs on cushions and settees, though the officer on watch very generously gave up his bunk to two of us. I think we got very little sleep that night. It was just heavenly to lie and listen to the throb of the engines, instead of to the crack of the breaking floe, the beat of the surf on the ice-strewn shore, or the howling of the blizzard.
"We intend to keep August 30 as a festival for the rest of our lives."
You readers can imagine my feelings as I stood in the little cabin watching my rescued comrades feeding.
Shackleton, Ernest Henry