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Term 4 2015 - Ernest Shackleton

For Terms 3 and 4 our core values are perseverance and diligence. This is the last message I'll share on this topic this year. We have talked about many great people and this week my last one is on the great explorer Ernest Shackleton. This (abridged!) story has been written by Biblical Foundations Coordinator Dan Fennell who is based in Indonesia:

Have you ever been extremely cold? Imagine being trapped in Antarctic ice for 634 days. For 21 months, from morning to night you are frozen! That was Sir Ernest Shackleton's experience.

Ernest Shackleton was an Irish polar explorer. His family's motto was "Fortitudine Vincimus" – 'By Endurance We Conquer.' The Shackleton family prized perseverance as a great virtue. In 1914 Shackleton advertised for volunteers to join the first overland crossing of the Antarctic. His appeal was designed to recruit only the most dedicated men.

"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."

Would you have volunteered? Thousands did, but only 27 were chosen (a 28th joined later as a stowaway).

In August 1914, as World War I engulfed Europe, the explorers sailed from England on a ship aptly named 'Endurance'. They sailed first to Argentina and then on to South Georgia Island.

On reaching Grytuiken Whaling Station the men received disturbing reports. Ice had moved farther north than usual. Undaunted they set sail again on December 5 and headed for the Antarctic coast. Shackleton had calculated that the crossing would take 120 days, however, 45 days after leaving the whaling station, the ice closed around the ship. They were stuck in frozen seas with 60 miles to go to land.

Using picks and saws they tried to free the ship but after making only 50 metres more they resigned themselves to spending the winter there. They were imprisoned in snow and ice and high winds were increasing the ice pressure. Two flows jammed the ship and a third ripped the rudder off.

By October 26th 1915 the ship photographer, Frank Hurley, wrote, "The ship groans and quivers, windows splinter, whilst the deck timbers gape and twist."

When the ship sank, Frank Wolsely, the ship's captain recounted the emotion, "To talk was impossible. Each man knew that it was the end of the ship. We had lost our home in that universe of ice. We had been cast out into a white wilderness that might well prove to be our tomb."

Shackleton's dream of crossing Antarctica was gone and his mission was now to save his men.

Imagine now this was you. Your ship is gone, you have four weeks food left and you can't contact the outside world. What would you do? Shackleton decided to march across hundreds of kilometres of ice pulling their lifeboats on sleds. Their circumstances were dire but Shackleton knew his duty was to inspire. "I feel sure that it is the right thing to attempt a march … It will be much better for the men in general to feel that even though progress is slow, they are on their way to land, than it will be simply to sit down and wait for the tardy north westerly to take us out of this cruel waste of ice."

After two days trekking they had travelled three kilometres. Finding a small ice flow, they decided to drift on it hoping it would take them closer to Paulet Island – where food could be found. They drifted for two months.

By April 1916 the ice flow had shrunk to 180 metres. On day 491 the ice pack opened and they launched their lifeboats into rough seas that filled their boats to their knees. Sea spray froze instantly as it hit them. After 5 ½ exhausting days of rowing they made Elephant Island and stood on firm ground for the first time in 497 days. They were weary but still had to build survival huts out of the old lifeboats, sails and clothing. But they had two choices: stay and starve, or sail a lifeboat 1100 kilometres across the most dangerous water in the world, into freezing gale force winds and against enormous waves, to try to reach South Georgia Island.

Shackleton chose five men to go with him for help. The next 16 days were harrowing and heroic. There was no sleep because of the soaking rain. There was no fresh water and nearly everyone suffered sea sickness. Adding to the peril were Killer Whales continually hissing at the surface and threatening to capsize them. A film of ice formed across the sea and when men weren't on watch they huddled for warmth in each others arms.

On May 10th 1916 they spotted South Georgia Island but relief soon turned to despair because they had rowed to the wrong end of the island. The whaling station was still 220 kilometres away by sea. Too weak to continue rowing Shackleton decided to take two men and do what no men had ever done. They set off to cross the unexplored, uncharted glacial mountains of South Georgia. The trip started at 3AM and they went without resting for 36 hours. They had two compasses, 20 metres of rope and a small axe.

Upon reaching the top of a 1500 metre glacier, fog closed in. They couldn't wait there or they would have frozen to death so Shackleton suggested they take a risk. They would slide down the glacier risking the fact that anything in their path could kill them. Coiling their rope into a seat and straddling legs and arms they slid down the glacier. Miraculously they hit nothing.

As they finally closed on the whaling station they met a glacial waterfall blocking their way. They conquered this by lowering each other down the waterfall by rope with the last one jamming the rope into some rocks before going down too. They arrived at 3PM on May the 20th 1916.

Back on Elephant Island the situation was critical. The men had been waiting four months wondering if they would be rescued. Unbeknown to them Shackleton had attempted to rescue them four times before he made it to them. The previous three times the ice pack had caused him to retreat. On the fourth attempt the pack opened up for a few hours allowing him to get in and out again with his men. 634 days after originally setting off they were all saved.

What incredible perseverance! Shackleton also had a Saviour. In his biography he wrote, "When I look back upon those days, with all their anxiety and peril, I cannot doubt that our party was divinely guided, both over the snowfield and across storm swept sea. I know that, during that long and racking march 36 hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia, it seemed to me very often there were, not three, but four! I said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards Worsley said to me, "Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us." Just as the Jewish boys Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had discovered in a Babylonian fire, there was a fourth man on the freezing ice.

Persevering through unimaginable hardship, Shackleton found God to be his guide, strength and shelter on both snow and sea. His favourite Psalm was Psalm 139:9 – 10. "If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand lead me, and your right hand will hold me."

What God was to Shackleton He can be to you and me too. Do you feel like giving up? Are you ever afraid to go on? Are you facing uncertainty? Remember Ernest Shackleton! Then remember our Saviour!


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