Tuesday, 11 December 2012

More Polar Medals from the RC Witte Collection

Back at the end of August when I reviewed the last medal auction from DNW, I focused on what they termed 'Exceptional Naval and Polar Awards from the Collection of RC Witte' and talked about the medals of Frank Wild, who had commanded the party Shackleton left on Elephant Island.  In the sale this Thursday, there are 24 more items from this collection, and they are crackers, covering some of the most iconic naval engagements of the First World War and the interwar period.

But again my eyes are drawn to the polar medals.

Sir Ernest Shackleton
Here there are three more of the men who were member of Shackleton's ill-fated Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-16.  Their ship, the Endurance, became trapped in the ice of the Weddell Sea and had to be abandoned in November 1915. Left with three lifeboats and meagre rations, Shackleton and his men undertook a remarkable journey, camping out on floes that eventually took them 1600 miles north. Then, at last, in early April 1916, the ice began to break up, allowing them to launch their lifeboats in a bid to reach Elephant Island, 60 miles distant. Shackleton mounted what was to become one of the great open-boat voyages of all time, namely his remarkable journey in the James Caird to South Georgia, 800 miles distant, from whence a successful rescue mission was mounted to collect the 22 men who had been left on Elephant Island.

Medals of A.H. Macklin, physician, polar explorer and soldier
The first of these men is the expedition's surgeon, Alexander Hepburne Macklin.  Remarkably, after their terrible experiences Shackleton's men all joined in the war effort on their return from the South Atlantic.  Macklin joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and earned a Military Cross for treating wounded under fire in Italy in 1918.  He then volunteered for service in North Russia, where he was awarded the OBE and the Russian Order of St. Stanislaus, 2nd Class, with swords, in addition to being mentioned in despatches.

After the war, Macklin joined up with Shackleton again for a further expedition South, sailing in the Quest.  He was attending Shackleton in the early morning of 5 January 1921 when the great explorer suffered a fatal heart attack and died.  

Macklin settled in Dundee and practiced medicine, but his adventures weren't over - during the Second World War he saw service as a Lt-Col in the RAMC, seeing action in East Africa.

Mount Macklin in the Salvesen Range on South Georgia is named after him.

Medals of C.J Green, cook to the Endurance expedition
The second group is to Charles John Green who was serving as a baker aboard the P & O’s Andes when Shackleton’s Endurance called in at Buenos Aires in October 1914.  Hearing that the expedition was looking for a cook, he signed up.  Green was obviously a valued member of the crew - he agreed to go on Shackleton's next expedition while they were still abandoned on the ice in 1916!  Accordingly he, too, was a member of the Quest expedition.

Tom Crean
Lastly, there is the polar medal to one of the great Antarctic heroes, Chief Petty Officer Tom Crean.

Crean was a member of Scott's of both of Scott’s Antarctic expeditions and Shackleton’s 1914-16 expedition.  This medal is for Scott's first expedition, where he made a great impression.  On Scott's second voyage, Crean was in the running to be a member of the final polar party but (luckily for him) was not selected.  Instead, it was Crean who found the abandoned tent that contained the bodies of Scot and his companions.  In the meantime, Crean had saved the life of Edward R. G. R. Evans, the expedition's second-in-command.  He was awarded the Albert Medal for his gallantry.

On Shackleton's Trans-Antarctic Expedition, Crean took command of one of ship’s boats in the epic boat-hauling journey that finally brought the team to open water - and their eventual arrival on Elephant Island.  Shackleton selected Crean as one of the crew of the boat that he proposed to take to South Georgia, one of the greatest - if not the greatest - survival stories in the annals of Polar exploration.  Shackleton later wrote:
Crean's polar medal
One of the memories that comes to me from those days is of Crean singing at the tiller. He always sang while he was steering, and nobody ever discovered what the song was. It was devoid of tune and as monotonous as the chanting of a Buddhist monk at his prayers; yet somehow it was cheerful.
On arrival at South Georgia in May 1916, the three weakest crew members were left with the James Caird, while Shackleton, Worsely and Crean undertook a momentous 36 hour trek, via mountain tops and glaciers, to reach the safety of the whaling station on the other side of the island - a journey never undertaken before. And after collecting their fellow crew members from the James Caird, as well as the boat itself, Shackleton, Worsley and Crean succeeded, after frustrating delays, in rescuing all 22 castaways on Elephant Island.

These are just three of the lots from the 1714 on offer.  There's loads else to see - not least a lovely collection of lifesaving awards.

Edit - 14 Dec 2012

Macklin's group (estimate  £18,000-£22,000) hammered for £31,000
Green's group (estimate £4,000-£5,000) hammered for £8,000
Crean's medal (estimate £25,000-£30,000) hammered for £23,000

To these prices should be added about 25% to cover fees and taxes.

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