South Pole party: Frank Wild, Shackleton, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams
WE brought back with us from the journey towards the Pole vivid memories of how it feels to be intensely, fiercely hungry. During the period from November 15, 1908, to February 23, 1909, we had but one full meal, and that was on Christmas Day. Even then we did not keep the sense of repletion for very long, for within an hour or two it seemed to us that we were as hungry as ever. Our daily allowance of food would have been a small one for a city worker in a temperate climate, and in our case hunger was increased by the fact that we were performing vigorous physical labour in a very low temperature. We looked forward to each meal with keen anticipation, but when the food was in our hands it seemed to disappear without making us any the less ravenous. The evening meal at the end of ten hours’ sledging used to take us a long time to prepare. The sledges had to be unpacked and the camp pitched. Then the cooker was filled with snow and the Primus lamp lit, often no easy matter with our cold, frost-bitten fingers. The materials for the thin hoosh would be placed in the boiling-pot, with the addition, perhaps, of some pony maize, and the allowance of tea was placed in the outer boiler. The tea was always put in a strainer, consisting of a small tin in which we had punched a lot of holes, and it was removed directly the water had come to the boil. We used to sit round the cooker waiting for our food, and at last the hoosh would be ready and would be ladled into the pannikins by the cook of the week. The scanty allowance of biscuit would be distributed and we would commence the meal. In a couple of minutes the hot food would be gone, and we would gnaw carefully round the sides of our biscuits, making them last as long as possible. Marshall used sometimes to stand his pannikin of hoosh in the snow for a little while, because it got thicker as it cooled, but it was a debatable point whether this paid. One seemed to be getting more solid food, but there was a loss of warmth, and in the minus temperatures on the plateau we found it advisable to take our hoosh very hot. We would make the biscuits last as long as possible, and sometimes we tried to save a bit to eat in the sleeping-bag later on, but it was hard to do this. If one of us dropped a crumb, the others would point it out, and the owner would wet his finger in his mouth and pick up the morsel. Not the smallest fragment was allowed to escape.
We used to “turn backs” in order to ensure equitable division of the food. The cook would pour the hoosh into the pannikins and arrange the biscuits in four heaps. Perhaps some one would suggest that one pannikin had rather less in it than another, and if this view was endorsed by the others there would be a readjustment. Then when we were all satisfied that the food had been divided as fairly as possible, one man would turn his back, and another, pointing at one pannikin or group of biscuits, would say, “Whose?” The man who had his back turned, and therefore could not see the food, would give a name, and so the distribution would proceed, each of us always feeling sure that the smallest share had fallen to our lot. At lunchtime there would be chocolate or cheese to distribute on alternate days, and we much preferred the chocolate days to the cheese days. The chocolate seemed more satisfying, and it was more easily divided. The cheese broke up into very small fragments on the march, and the allowance, which amounted to two spoonfuls per man, had to be divided up as nearly as possible into four equal heaps. The chocolate could be easily separated into sticks of equal size. It can be imagined that the cook for the week had no easy task. His work became more difficult still when we were using pony-meat, for the meat and blood, when boiled up, made a delightful broth, while the fragments of meat sunk to the bottom of the pot. The liquor was much the better part of the dish, and no one had much relish for the little dice of tough and stringy meat, so the cook had to be very careful indeed. Poor old Chinaman was a particularly tough and stringy horse.
We found that the meat from the neck and rump was the best, the most stringy portions coming from the ribs and legs. We took all the meat we could, tough or tender, and as we went south in the days when horse-meat was fairly plentiful, we used to suck frozen, raw fragments as we marched along. Later we could not afford to use the meat except on a definite allowance. The meat to be used during the day was generally cut up when we took a spell in the morning, and the bag containing the fragments was hung on the back of the sledge in order that the meat might be softened by the sun. It cut more easily when frozen than when partially thawed, but our knives gradually got blunt, and on the glacier we secured a rock on which to sharpen them. During the journey back, when every ounce of weight was of great importance, we used one of our geological specimens, a piece of sandstone, as a knife-sharpener. The meat used to bulk large in the pot, but as fresh meat contains about 60 per cent. of moisture, it used to shrink considerably in the process of cooking, and we did not have to use very much snow in the pot.
We used the meat immediately we had started to kill the ponies in order to save the other food, for we knew that the meat contained a very large percentage of water, so that we would be carrying useless weight with it. The pemmican and biscuits, on the other hand contained very little moisture, and it was more profitable to keep them for the march further south, when we were likely to want to reduce the loads as far as possible. We left meat at each depôt, to provide for the march back to the coast, but always took on as much as possible of the prepared foods. The reader will understand that the loss of Socks, which represented so many pounds of meat, was a very severe blow to us, for we had after that to use sledging stores at the depôts to make up for the lost meat. If we had been able to use Socks for food, I have no doubt that we would have been able to get further south, perhaps even to the Pole itself, though in that case we could hardly have got back in time to catch the ship before she was forced to leave by the approach of winter.
When we were living on meat our desire for cereals and farinacious foods became stronger; indeed any particular sort of food of which we were deprived seemed to us to be the food for which nature craved. When we were short of sugar we would dream of sweet-stuffs, and when biscuits were in short supply our thoughts were concerned with crisp loaves and all the other good things displayed in the windows of the bakers’ shops. During the last weeks of the journey outwards, and the long march back, when our allowance of food had been reduced to twenty ounces per man a day, we really thought of little but food. The glory of the great mountains that towered high on either side, the majesty of the enormous glacier up which we travelled so painfully, did not appeal to our emotions to any great extent. Man becomes very primitive when he is hungry and short of food, and we learned to know what it is to be desperately hungry. I used to wonder sometimes whether the people who suffer from hunger in the big cities of civilisation felt as we were feeling, and I arrived at the conclusion that they did not, for no barrier of law and order would have been allowed to stand between us and any food that had been available. The man who starves in a city is weakened, hopeless, spiritless, and we were vigorous and keen. Until January 9 the desire for food was made the more intense by our knowledge of the fact that we were steadily marching away from the stores of plenty.
We could not joke about food, in the way that is possible for the man who is hungry in the ordinary sense. We thought about it most of the time, and on the way back we used to talk about it, but always in the most serious manner possible. We used to plan out the enormous meals that we proposed to have when we got back to the ship and, later, to civilisation. On the outward march we did not experience really severe hunger until we got on the great glacier, and then we were too much occupied with the heavy and dangerous climbing over the rough ice and crevasses to be able to talk much. We had to keep some distance apart in case one man fell into a crevasse. Then on the plateau our faces were generally coated with ice, and the blizzard wind blowing from the south made unnecessary conversation out of the question. Those were silent days, and our remarks to one another were brief and infrequent. It was on the march back that we talked freely of food, after we had got down the glacier and were marching over the barrier surface. The wind was behind us, so that the pulling was not very heavy, and as there were no crevasses to fear we were able to keep close together. We would get up at 5 a.m. in order to make a start at 7 a.m., and after we had eaten our scanty breakfast, that seemed only to accentuate hunger, and had begun the day’s march, we could take turns in describing the things we would eat in the good days to come. We were each going to give a dinner to the others in turn, and there was to be an anniversary dinner every year, at which we would be able to eat and eat and eat. No French chef ever devoted more thought to the invention of new dishes than we did.
It is with strange feelings that I look back over our notes, and see the wonderful meals that we were going to have. We used to tell each other, with perfect seriousness, about the new dishes that we had thought of, and if the dish met with general approval there would be a chorus of, “Ah! That’s good.” Sometimes there would be an argument as to whether a suggested dish was really an original invention, or whether it did not too nearly resemble something that we had already tasted in happier days. The “Wild roll” was admitted to be the high-water mark of gastronomic luxury. Wild proposed that the cook should take a supply of well-seasoned minced meat, wrap it in rashers of fat bacon, and place around the whole an outer covering of rich pastry, so that it would take the form of a big sausage-roll. Then this roll would be fried with plenty of fat. My best dish, which I must admit I put forward with a good deal of pride as we marched over the snow, was a sardine pasty, made by placing well-fried sardines inside pastry. At least ten tins of sardines were to be emptied on to a bed of pastry, and the whole then rolled up and cooked, preparatory to its division into four equal portions. I remember one day Marshall came forward with a proposal for a thick roll of suet pudding with plenty of jam all over it, and there arose quite a heated argument as to whether he could fairly claim this dish to be an invention, or whether it was not the jam roll already known to the housewives of civilisation. There was one point on which we were all agreed, and that was that we did not want any jellies or things of that sort at our future meals. The idea of eating such elusive stuff as jelly had no appeal to us at all.
THE HUT IN SUMMER TIME: COAL BAGS AT THE LEFT
ANOTHER VIEW OF THE HUT IN SUMMER. THE METEOROLOGICAL STATION CAN BE SEEN ON THE EXTREME RIGHT
On a typical day during this backward march we would leave camp at about 6.40 a.m., and half an hour later would have recovered our frost-bitten fingers, while the moisture on our clothes, melted in the sleeping-bags, would have begun to ablate, after having first frozen hard. We would be beginning to march with some degree of comfort, and one of us would remark, “Well, boys, what are we going to have for breakfast to-day?” We had just finished our breakfast as a matter of fact, consisting of half a pannikin of semi-raw horse-meat, one biscuit and a half and a pannikin of tea, but the meal had not taken the keenness from our appetites. We used to try to persuade ourselves that our half-biscuit was not quite a half, and sometimes we managed to get a little bit more that way. The question would receive our most serious and careful consideration at once, and we would proceed to weave from our hungry imaginations a tale of a day spent in eating. “Now we are on board ship”, one man would say. “We wake up in a bunk, and the first thing we do is to stretch out our hands to the side of the bunk and get some chocolate, some Garibaldi biscuits and some apples. We eat those in the bunk, and then we get up for breakfast. Breakfast will be at eight o’clock, and we will have porridge, fish, bacon and eggs, cold ham, plum pudding, sweets, fresh roll and butter, marmalade and coffee. At eleven o’clock we will have hot cocoa, open jam tarts, fried cods’ roe and slices of heavy plum cake. That will be all until lunch at one o’clock. For lunch we will have Wild roll, shepherd’s pie, fresh soda-bread, hot milk, treacle pudding, nuts, raisins and cake. After that we will turn in for a sleep, and we will be called at 3.45, when we will reach out again from the bunks and have doughnuts and sweets. We will get up then and have big cups of hot tea and fresh cake and chocolate creams. Dinner will be at six, and we will have thick soup, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, cauliflower, peas, asparagus, plum pudding, fruit, apple pie with thick cream, scones and butter, port wine, nuts, and almonds and raisins. Then at midnight we will have a really big meal, just before we go to bed. There will be melon, grilled trout and butter-sauce, roast chicken with plenty of livers, a proper salad with eggs and very thick dressing, green peas and new potatoes, a saddle of mutton, fried suet pudding, peachesà la Melba, egg curry, plum pudding and sauce, Welsh rarebit, Queen’s pudding, angels on horseback, cream cheese and celery, fruit, nuts, port wine, milk and cocoa. Then we will go to bed and sleep till breakfast time. We will have chocolate and biscuits under our pillows, and if we want anything to eat in the night we will just have to get it.” Three of us would listen to this programme and perhaps suggest amendments and improvements, generally in the direction of additional dishes, and then another one of us would take up the running and sketch another glorious day of feeding and sleeping.
I daresay that all this sounds very greedy and uncivilised to the reader who has never been on the verge of starvation, but as I have said before, hunger makes a man primitive. We did not smile at ourselves or at each other as we planned wonderful feats of over-eating. We were perfectly serious about the matter, and we noted down in the back pages of our diaries details of the meals that we had decided to have as soon as we got back to the places where food was plentiful. All the morning we would allow our imaginations to run riot in this fashion. Then would come one o’clock, and I would look at my watch and say, “Camp!” We would drop the harness from our tired bodies and pitch the tent on the smoothest place available, and three of us would get inside to wait for the thin and scanty meal, while the other man filled the cooker with snow and fragments of frozen meat. An hour later we would be on the march again, once more thinking and talking of food, and this would go on until the camp in the evening. We would have another scanty meal, and turn into the sleeping-bags, to dream wildly of food that somehow we could never manage to eat.
The dysentery from which we suffered during the latter part of the journey back to the coast was certainly due to the meat from the pony Grisi. This animal was shot one night when in a greatly exhausted condition, and I believe that his flesh was made poisonous by the presence of the toxin of exhaustion, as is the case with animals that have been hunted. Wild was the first to suffer, at the time when we started to use Grisi meat with the other meat, and he must have been unfortunate enough to get the greater part of the bad meat on that occasion. The other meat we were using then came from Chinaman, and seemed to be quite wholesome. A few days later we were all eating Grisi meat, and we all got dysentery. The meat could not have become affected in any way after the death of the pony, because it froze hard within a very short time. The manner in which we managed to keep on marching when suffering, and the speed with which we recovered when we got proper food, were rather remarkable, and the reason, no doubt, was that the dysentery was simply the result of the poison, and was not produced by organic trouble of any sort. We had a strong wind behind us day after day during this period, and this contributed in a very large measure to our safety, for in the weakened condition we had then reached we could not have made long marches against a headwind, and without long marches we would have starved between the depôts. We had a sail on the sledge, formed of the floorcloth of a tent, and often the sledge would overrun us, though at other times it would catch in a drift and throw us heavily.
When we were travelling along during the early part of the journey over the level Barrier surface, we felt the heat of the sun severely, though as a matter of fact the temperature was generally very low, sometimes as low as zero Fahr., though the season was the height of summer. It was quite usual to feel one side of the face getting frozen while the other side was being sunburned. The ponies would have frozen perspiration on their coats on the sheltered side, while the sun would keep the other side hot and dry, and as the day wore on and the sun moved round the sky the frosted area on the animals would change its position in sympathy. I remember that on December 4 we were marching stripped to our shirts, and we got very much sunburned, though at noon that day the air temperature showed ten degrees of frost. When we started to climb the glacier and marched close to the rocks, we felt the heat much more, for the rocks acted as radiators, and this experience weighed with me in deciding to leave all the spare clothing and equipment at the Upper Glacier Depôt, about seven thousand feet up. We did not expect to have to climb much higher, but, as the reader knows, we did not reach the plateau until we had climbed over ten thousand feet above sea-level, and so we felt the cold extremely. Our windproof Burberry clothing had become thin by this time, and had been patched in many places in consequence of having been torn on the sharp ice. The wind got in through a tear in my Burberry trousers one day and I was frost-bitten on the under part of the knee. This frost-bite developed into an open wound, into which the wool from my underclothing worked, and I had finally to perform a rather painful operation with a knife before the wound would heal. We were continually being frost-bitten up on the plateau, and when our boots had begun to give out and we were practically marching on the sennegrass inside the finnesko, our heels got frost-bitten. My heels burst when we got on to hard stuff, and for some time my socks were caked with blood at the end of every day’s march. Finally Marshall put some “Newskin” on a pad, and that stuck on well until the cracks had healed. The scars are likely to remain with me. In the very cold days, when our strength had begun to decrease, we found great difficulty in hoisting the sail on our sledge, for when we lifted our arms above our heads in order to adjust the sail, the blood ran from our fingers and they promptly froze. Ten minutes or a quarter of an hour sometimes elapsed before we could get the sledge properly rigged. Our troubles with frost-bite were no doubt due in a measure to the lightness of our clothing, but there was compensation in the speed with which we were able to travel. I have no doubt at all that men engaged in polar exploration should be clothed as lightly as is possible, even if there is a danger of frost-bite when they halt on the march.
The surface over which we travelled during the southern journey changed continually. During the first few days we found a layer of soft snow on top of a hard crust, with more soft snow underneath that again. Our weight was sufficient to break through the soft snow on top, and if we were pulling the increased pressure would cause the crust to break also, letting us through into the second layer of soft snow. This surface made the travelling very heavy. Until we had got beyond Minna Bluff we often passed over high, sharp sastrugi, and beyond that we met with ridges four to six feet high. The snow generally was dry and powdery, but some of the crystals were large, and showed in reflected light all the million colours of diamonds. After we had passed latitude 80° South the snow got softer day by day, and the ponies would often break through the upper crust and sink in right up to their bellies. When the sun was hot the travelling would be much better, for the surface snow got near the melting-point and formed a slippery layer not easily broken. Then again a fall in the temperature would produce a thin crust, through which one broke very easily. Between latitude 80° South and 83° South there were hard sastrugi under the soft snow, and the hoofs of the horses suffered in consequence. The surface near the land was broken up by the pressure from the glaciers, but right alongside the mountains there was a smooth plain of glassy ice, caused by the freezing of water that had run off the rocky slopes when they were warm under the rays of the sun. This process had been proceeding on the snow slopes that we had to climb in order to reach the glacier. Here at the foot of the glacier there were pools of clear water round the rocks, and we were able to drink as much as we wanted, though the contact of the cold water with our cracked lips was painful.
The glacier itself presented every variety of surface, from soft snow to cracked and riven blue ice, by-and-by the only constant feature were the crevasses, from which we were never free. Some were entirely covered with a crust of soft snow, and we discovered them only when one of us broke through, and hung by his harness from the sledge. Others occurred in mazes of rotten ice, and were even more difficult to negotiate than the other sort. The least unpleasant of the crevasses were those that were wide open and easily seen, with firm ice on either side. If these crevasses were not too wide, we would pull the sledges up to the side, then jump over, and pull them after us. This was more difficult than it sounds from the fact that the ice gave only a very uncertain footing, but we always had the harness as a safeguard in case of a fall. If the crevasses were wide we had to make adétour. The sledges, owing to their length, were not liable to slip down a crevasse, and we felt fairly safe when we were securely attached to them by the harness. When the surface was so bad that relay work became necessary we used to miss the support of a sledge on the back journeys. We would advance one sledge half a mile or a mile, put up a bamboo pole to mark the spot, and then go back for the other. We were roped together for the walk back to the second sledge, but even then we felt a great deal less secure than when harnessed to one of the long, heavy sledges. On some days we had to travel up steep slopes of smooth ice, and often it became necessary to cut steps with our ice-axes, and haul the sledges after us with the Alpine rope. When we had gone up about sixty feet, the length of the rope, we would haul up the sledge to which we had attached the lower end, and jamb it so that it could not slide back. Then one of us would slide down in order to fix the rope to the other sledge.