Men wanted for hazardous journey.
Small wages, bitter cold,
long months of complete darkness,
constant danger, safe return doubtful.
Honour and recognition in case of success.
– Ernest Shackleton, 4 Burlington Street
Endurance takes its title from the ship used by Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1914-15. After many months of fundraising (and reputedly running the above advert in The Times) the Endurance set sail from Plymouth on 6 August 1914. Whilst at sea news of the outbreak of war led Shackleton to put his ship and crew at the disposal of the Admiralty, but their services were not required and they were encouraged to continue. On October 26 1914 they left Grytviken on South Georgia for the Antarctic continent, hoping to find the pack ice shrinking in the Antarctic spring. Two days later, however, they encountered unseasonable ice which slowed their progress considerably. On 15 January 2015, when Endurance was only 200 miles from her intended landfall at Vahsel Bay, the ship became beset by ice which had been compressed against the land to the south by gale force winds. Trapped in the ice of the Weddell Sea, the ship spent the Antarctic winter driven by the weather further from her intended destination until, on 21 November 1915 Endurance broke up forcing the crew to abandon ship and set up camp on the ice at a site they named “Patience Camp”.
The crew spent several weeks on the ice. As the southern spring started to reduce the extent of the ice shelf they took to their three lifeboats, sailing across the open ocean to reach the desolate and uninhabited Elephant Island. There they used two of the boats to build a makeshift shelter while Shackleton and five others took the largest boat, an open lifeboat named the ‘James Caird’ and sailed it for 800 terrifyingly dangerous miles across the vast and lonely Southern Atlantic to South Georgia – a journey now widely regarded as one of the greatest and most heroic small-boat journeys ever undertaken. After landing on the wrong side of the island and having to climb over a mountain range in the dark with no map, Shackleton and his companions finally stumbled back into the Grytviken whaling station on 19 May 1916.
After resting very briefly to recover his strength, Shackleton then began a relentless campaign to beg or borrow a ship to rescue the rest of his crew from Elephant Island; whaling ships were not strong enough to enter polar ice, but on 30 August 1916, over two years after their departure from Plymouth, Shackleton finally returned to Elephant Island aboard a steam tug borrowed from the Chilean government. Although some were in poor health, every member of the Endurance crew was rescued and returned home alive.
Endurance is dedicated to the memory of my mum, who passed away in September 2017.