Saturday, January 16, 2016

Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition – Royal Mail First Day Cover

The new Royal Mail First Day Cover is dedicated to Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition. Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17 aimed to make the first coast to coast crossing of Antarctica. After setting sail from Plymouth in August 1914, Endurance and her 28-man crew entered the Weddell Sea in Antarctica in mid-December, but by 19 January 1915 she had become trapped by the dense pack ice. The currents carried Endurance past the Antarctica coastline into uncharted waters and by February 1915 all hopes of release had gone. Cut off from civilisation with no means of communication, the crew prepared for the bitter Antarctic winter when the sun disappeared for over four months and temperatures plummeted far below zero. As the months passed, Endurance was slowly crushed by the enormous build-up of ice pressure. By the end of October 1915, Shackleton had no choice but to abandon both ship and expedition. Endurance sank a month later, leaving the crew camped in flimsy tents on a slowly moving ice floe, a thousand miles from safety.

Since entrapment, the currents had carried the party around 2000 miles but by April 1916 open water was sighted and the group’s three small lifeboats were finally put to sea. After a week in turbulent waters, the men reached Elephant Island and stood on dry land for the first time in 497 days. Shackleton then made the brave decision to leave 22 men behind and take five men on the James Caird lifeboat to fetch rescue from South Georgia. Using minimal navigational aids, the 800 mile voyage took 17 days. After battling hurricanes, exhaustion and severe thirst, the beleaguered party landed on South Georgia on 10 May 1916. A few days later, Shackleton and two men trekked for 36 hours across South Georgia’s unmapped mountains and glaciers before reaching Stomness Whaling Station on 20 May 1916. Heavy park ice foiled three attempts to rescue the 22 crew members stranded on Elephant Island, but Shackleton finally broke through with his fourth effort and picked them up with the help of the Chilean Navy on 30 August 1916. It would be over 40 years before the first successful overland crossing of Antarctica was achieved in 1958. 

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