A most fascinating piece of history, written up by Ernest from the diaries, logs and journals that survived his calamitous attempt at crossing the Antarctic. It seems that if it could have gone wrong, it did go wrong.
There’s that all pervasive, Victorian attitude of bloody minded, arrogant perseverance throughout this book, and it certainly feels that that is all that kept these people alive, but it’s also what got them into the mess in the first place.
Having been beaten to be the first to get to the South Pole by Roald Amundsen, Shackleton decided to turn his sights on being the first to cross the Antarctic. It certainly seems to me that this need to be the first, to always be proving that the British could do something quicker and better than any other nation, caused Shackleton to rush into something he was completely unprepared for. Whereas Amundsen, being Norwegian, was obviously very used to dealing with very cold temperatures, was fully trained with sled dogs and their uses, and set out fully trained and physically fit, Shackleton appears to have just taken the bloody minded, arrogant approach of, ‘We’re British, we know what we’re doing and nothing, not even Nature, can stand in our way. For King and Country, stiff upper lip, tally ho! — and all that!’
I just get the feeling that Shackleton’s attitude was, ‘Let’s just get going, we can’t afford to wait, we can sort it all out when we get there.’
While this book is, without a doubt, an incredible testament to the incredible bravery, fortitude and perseverance of humans to survive when pushed well beyond all imaginable limits, it’s also a testament to some incredible stupidity.
Yes, i realise, that that was the zeitgeist: to just keep throwing people, lives and equipment at a problem until it was dealt with. Human life was not held in such high regard back then as it is today. Spending a few years properly planning and training was simply unacceptable when other nations would have no such restraint and do it before us. So one does have to weigh this account in that regard, and when weighted in that light Shackleton did an incredible job, and it’s always so easy to criticise with hindsight. If the weather had been with him those years then what could have been achieved?
Anyway, while we’re on this topic, and if you want to hear more about Antarctic expeditions, the full traverse of Antarctica, solo and unaided, was only recently completed for the first time. Have a listen: