Sailors from HMS Protector paid tribute to legendary Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton – a century after he died pushing the boundaries of polar research.
Crew of the icebreaker held a memorial service at his graveside on the island of South Georgia – the latest stop for the survey ship as she heads to the frozen continent for a summer of scientific research.
The explorer – a Royal Navy reservist – died after suffering a heart attack aboard his ship Quest at the beginning of an expedition to circumnavigate Antarctica in January 1922.
He was buried in Grytviken cemetery, where Protector’s sailors – dressed in woollen sweaters in keeping with early 20th Century polar explorers – gathered for a service of remembrance to celebrate Shackleton’s achievements.
Although he never reached the South Pole, Shackleton was highly regarded among his contemporaries as someone who could get his men out of a fix – notably his successful effort to save his colleagues when their ship Endurance was crushed by the ice in 1915.
The explorer famously sailed across 800 miles of ocean in a small boat, then crossed the mountains of South Georgia to raise the alarm at a whaling station, ultimately leading to rescue of his expedition party.
A century later, Protector’s Executive Officer Commander Thomas Boeckx outlined those deeds at Shackleton’s graveside, while Commanding Officer Captain Mike Wood laid a wreath on the grave.
“It was a privilege to remember Sir Ernest Shackleton with HMS Protector’s ship’s company at his grave on South Georgia, nearly 100 years from his burial in March 1922,” said the survey ship’s Chaplain Mike Chatfield.
“The stories of his expeditions and the epic 800-mile journey he and his companions made from Elephant Island to South Georgia to find help, demonstrate his courage, leadership and commitment to look after those in his care.”
The service took place after the ship had delivered Covid vaccines to the team at the British Antarctic Survey and helped the scientists move some timber to a remote location on the island.
Over several days in South Georgia – berthed at the new jetty at King Edward Point, built to accommodate RRS Sir David Attenborough (aka Boaty McBoatface) – Protector used her hi-tech Survey Motor Boat James Caird IV to improve seafaring charts around the quay.
Not only will it benefit the British Antarctic Survey, but also visiting cruise liners on ‘eco tours’ around the fringe of the frozen continent.
The ship also kept an eye out for illegal fishing activity on her journey from the Falklands; the waters around both islands are conservation areas which need to be protected against over-fishing to safeguard local wildlife.
“I first came to South Georgia in HMS Gloucester in 2011 and feel privileged that I was able to come back for another visit in Protector,” said Hydrographic Officer Lieutenant Max Parsonson.
“This deployment is going to be full of challenges but we’re so lucky to be able to visit places like Grytviken. I know my mum and dad are incredibly jealous. I’ve been lucky enough to survey in some fantastic places over my career but this has got to be one of the most spectacular.”
Protector has conducted survey work around St Helena and Ascension Islands on her voyage south and taken on board supplies and stores in the Falklands before continuing into the Antarctic region.
The ship is now heading for the Antarctic Peninsula, where she’ll spend Christmas.