Friday, March 30, 2012

Frank Wild's Final Journey

Shackleton’s right hand man, Antarctic Explorer Frank Wild has recently been re-discovered and his memoirs, after years in obscurity, have finally been published by author Angie Butler in her book 'The Quest for Frank Wild'.

The Quest For Fran Wild book cover
Frank Wild on the cover of his published memoirs and biography by Angie Butler.

Frank Wild was born in Skelton Yorkshire on 10th April 1873 and believed himself to be the ‘secret’ great great grandson of Captain James Cook. From a young age Frank had wanted to join the Navy and at eight already had an interest in arctic adventure. When Frank was 11 his father took a headmastership at Eversholt School and the family moved to Bedfordshire. Frank joined the Merchant Navy at 16 years old and then the Royal Navy in 1900, allowing him to apply for the National British Antarctic Expedition under Captain Scott. He was selected from over 3,000 applicants to join the crew of the Discovery and was proved wrong in thinking Scott would only choose ‘big hefty men’.

Wild’s memoirs, which he began in 1934 but never completed, provide an insight into life on polar expeditions. Frank’s knowledge and survival techniques are fascinating as one of only a few men who had first hand experience of the perils of Antarctica. Despite the tests of each expedition Frank writes ‘Even now, after five Antarctic expeditions and one to the Arctic, that longing (for polar exploration) is not extinguished’.

Icebergs in Antarctica from Crossing Continents photo album
 He was held in high esteem by Captain Scott and his good friend Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton, who was quite critical of other expedition members, when interviewed simply said; 'There is nothing to say about Frank Wild, he is my other self'.

His most famous expedition was the Nimrod expedition with Shackleton, getting just 100 miles from the South Pole before being forced to turn home. It is the Imperial Trans-Atlantic expedition in 1914 though that shows Wild at his best in dire straits.
Within weeks of setting sail in early 1915, the Endurance was trapped in ice and 10 months later it was crushed; "It was a sickening sensation to feel the decks breaking up under one's feet, the great beams bending and snapping with a noise of heavy gun fire…”. Later, once the men had abandoned the ship and were camped on the ice, Shackleton shouted, 'She's going boys!'. "Running out, we were just in time to see the stern of the Endurance rise and then a quick dive and all was over… I felt as if I had lost an old friend."

Illustration of Frank Wild by artist David Litchfield, created  for the Bedford Clanger local newspaper 'Great Bedforidans' feature in the March 2012 issue. For more of David's drawings go to his website.

Having retrieved a banjo, and smuggled out a bottle of whisky from their sinking ship, Frank organised evening concerts, complete with liquid refreshment, to try to keep up the crew's spirits whilst they were forced to camp for many weeks exposed on the ice. When they finally travelled to Elephant Island Frank was heroic in his leadership in building a secure dry shelter from two upturned lifeboats, some rocks and wood. Shackleton left in the third life boat to alert others and bring a rescue team. This took him over five months and four attempts, being prevented by the extreme weather from reaching them. Two weeks after Shackleton had left for a rescue party Frank would roll up his sleeping bag remarking to the others, "Get your things ready boys, the boss may come today".  The men were kept alive by eating seal and penguin meat and seaweed and were very fortunate to survive the bitter cold of - 45C.

Despite his wishes to be buried with ‘the boss’ as he affectionately called Shackleton, Frank was cremated in South Africa on 19th August 1939. Angie Butler discovered his ashes whilst researching Frank Wild for her book and sought to return his remains to South Georgia to be re-united with Shackleton’s. You can listen to a recording about the journey that descendants from the Wild and Shackelton families took to attend Wild’s final journey back to Antarctica on the BBC Radio 4 Crossing Continents Podcast. You can view pictures of the trip on the Facebook Crossing Continents album.
There will also be a BBC2 programme about Frank Wild, due to be aired in April 2012 – so keep a look out in your TV guide.      

Lydia Saul,
Keeper of Social History

Thanks to: 
Angie Butler for her permission to reproduce quotes from her book 'The Quest for Frank Wild'
David Litchfield for the fantastic illustration of Frank Wild
Article reproduced from March Issue of the Bedford Clanger newspaper

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