23 January 2012

Men of Action: Tom Crean, Unsung Hero

On Friday we reported on the Antarctic team who had reached the South Pole just in time for the one hundred year anniversary of the Terra Nova expedition.

Captain Scott's expedition is a story of legend and tragedy. Although Scott's team reached the South Pole on 17th January 1912, they died on the return journey. This is a testament to the perils of the unpredictable environment. But there is an unsung story of heroism tied to the Terra Nova Expedition: Tom Crean's return journey. 

Born in County Kerry, Ireland, Crean was already an experienced Antarctic explorer by the time of the Terra Nova Expedition, having explored the area four times before. Infamous for being a tough explorer, who had already worked hard to conquer the region, Captain Scott admired Crean and was one of the first men he invited to join the expedition. 

However, after crossing the majority of the course, Captain Scott determined that only five men would continue on to the South Pole. 168 statute miles (270 km) from the Pole, Crean was told to turn back. Although this decision was made logically - based on the amount of rations and weight that could be carried - Crean wept at the prospect of leaving the expedition. 

Captain Scott continued on with Edward Wilson, Lawrence Oates, Edgar Evans and Henry Robertson Bowers. As Scott's team they drew closer to the South Pole, Crean turned back with William Lashly and Lt. Teddy Evans. Crean was faced with a 750 mile trek which would make him the unsung hero of the Terra Nova Expedition. 

On their way back, Crean's team lost their trail and were faced with a long detour around an icefall a plateau tumbled onto the glacier they needed to cross. With their food supplies short, this was turning into a race against time. But like The Wild Geese before him, Crean and his team showed courage in the face of this dreadful adversity. They decided to take control of their own fates and took to their sledge to slide 2000 feet to the glacier. Dodging crevasses and navigating uncontrollable surfaces, they safely reached the glacier. Their courage had paid off, but their journey was not over. 

As they tried to navigate the glacier, Lt. Evans removed his goggles, trying to spot a way down. He was caught by a barrage of snow, partially blinding him. Crean and Lashly carried Evans across the glacier, resilient in the promise that they wouldn't leave him behind. However, as they continued on, Evans fell ill. Displaying symptoms of scurvy, his limbs were swollen and was in great pain. But Crean and Lashly carried on to the Corner Camp depot, where they were able to rest - 35 miles from where they wanted to be, at Hut Point. 

While at the Corner Camp, Crean calculated what lay ahead for the remainder of the journey. Evans' condition meant four or five days of hauling, but the group only had three days food rations at most. Again showing the degree of courage that has become associated with the story of The Wild Geese, Crean continued on alone, in an attempt to fetch help. With a few chocolate bars and biscuits to fuel him, he powered across the remainder of the Antarctic. Knowing how unforgiving this environment could be, he travelled the 35 miles in 18 hours, avoiding a deadly blizzard that would have killed him. 

Tom Crean and Teddy Evans 
Crean's resilience and courage saved Lashly and Evans. A rescue team were able to set off and bring them back to Hut Point. He received the Albert Medal at Buckingham Palace on his return to England, but mourned the loss of his good friend Captain Scott. 

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