Antarctic expeditions became the symbol of ordeals, especially during the Heroic Age of Exploration when Ernest Shackleton capably led a pack of 27 officers, scientists and seamen for almost two years in a trapped, stranded and then crushed expedition ship named Endurance. Polar explorers of the time were held up as heroes, often tragic ones, by the people for their unusual sacrifices. Shackleton earned the praise and recognition to a superior degree for the way he managed his team and the daring he exuded during the 1914-1916 British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. These 27 men and millions will always remember how he placed his crew's total well-being above all other considerations in those most trying and nearly desperate times in the pack ice of the Weddell Sea
His leadership style could be gleaned right at the start when he screened his crew for the expedition. He was selective and began with two who had faithfully served him and performed exceptionally during the Nimrod Expedition from 1907 to 1909. In recruiting the rest of the team, he was honest and precise about what successful applicants should expect. He posted a notice with these words of warning:
'Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.
He was in search of strong-willed and stout-hearted men like himself. His objective was sky-clear:
"After the conquest of the South Pole by Amundsen ... there remained one great main object of Antarctic journeying -- the crossing of the South Polar continent from sea to sea.
Shackleton's objective was to cross the Antarctic content from coast to coast through the South Pole with a distance of approximately 1800 miles from the Weddell Sea, south of South America, a completely un-explored region of Antarctica. From there, he and his crew would proceed to the South Pole and into the Ross Sea south of New Zealand. They were on board a newly constructed ship intended for tourist cruises in the Arctic shipyard in Norway. Despite Shackleton's warning, applications from volunteers poured in. Funding even first became a problem and Shackleton desperately sought money while recruiting and preparing those he selected. Funding was finally secured by July 1914.
Upon reaching the great bay in the Antarctic and obstructed by pack ice, Shackleton displayed resourcefulness by ordering his crew to cut the ship away from the icy jaws of the Weddell Sea with the use of any possible means, including ice picks and saws. Their efforts, however, failed. It was easy to get disappointed or to blame them. But Shackleton exhibited, not disappointment, but calm and confidence in those gnawing and perilous circumstances, according to the ship doctor, Alexander Macklin:
"It was at this moment Shackleton showed one of his sparks of real greatness.
He did not show ... The slightest sign of disappointment. He told us simply and calmly that we would have to spend the winter in the pack.
He sustained the crew's morale by keeping everyone busy. In those 15 months of danger and discouragement, he disregarded the prevailing class differences of the time by having his scientists and seamen scrub the floors together and university professors eat beside Yorkshire fishermen.
Shackleton fostered work-based friendships and camaraderie among his men. They played football in the ice where their ship was stuck against. They also had nightly singing and toasts to loved ones back home and held highly competitive dog-sled races among themselves. They even shaved their heads and posed for their photographer, Frank Hurley.
A few times, some crew members disagreed with the team work philosophy. Seaman John Vincent, for example, was reported to have been bullying the others. Shackleton quickly reprimanded them and demoted Vincent, to set an example.
Shackleton was recognized and called "the Boss" by the crew, but he did not separate or differentiate himself from them. When the crew members had to move from the deteriorating ship to a camp on the ice, Shackleton assured them that he or his officers would not be given privileges or preferential treatment. His men attested to Shackleton's fairness of treatment, as did the ship's carpenter Chippy McNeish:
"There were only 18 sleeping bags and we cast lots for them ... I was lucky for the first time in my life for I drew one."
And so did the seaman Bakewell:
"There was some crooked work in the drawing, as Sir Ernest and Mr. Wild.
Captain Worsley and some of the other officers all drew wool bags. The fine warm fur bags all went to the men under them.
It was a difficult task to abandon the ship and Shackleton knew it. Knowing it well, he showed his compassion by helping his crew men get over that trauma by serving them himself. He rose early in the morning and made them hot milk, which he hand-carried to every tent in the camp.
In showing compassion, he infused unity and humanity among his crew members, especially in moments of pain and terrible deprivation. Following his example, his crewmen exchanged acts of compassion among themselves. First Officer Lionel Greenstreet accidentally spilled precious milk on the ice and began to feel despondent over the accident, until the seven who shared his tent, one by one, contributed some of their own milk from their mugs until Greenstreet's mug was refilled.
During the devastating seven-day lifeboat voyage to Elephant Island, Shackleton kept his crewmen's morale high by standing at the tiller, every hour. In the crew's 17-day journey to South Georgia Island, he monitored the health conditions of his five companions constantly. Captain Frank Worsley wrote:
"Whenever Shackleton notices that a man seems extra cold and shivering, he immediately orders another hot drink served to all.
" and explained that Shackleton was careful not to focus too much on the crewman who was suffering the most so as not to frighten or depress him.
Shackleton was also an optimist who was dauntless in the face of constant danger. He remained decisive despite the most pressing conditions and this lifted the sagging courage of his men. The consequence was that, through the 22 months of the Endurance expedition, he was able to bring out the best from each of his crew members in such a way as having each of them contribute to the survival of the team. Captain Frank Worsley displayed excellent navigation skill in leading the men to Elephant and South Georgia Islands. Carpenter Chippy McNeish lend support to the lifeboats and cook Charles Green prepared daily meals even from limited resources. Doctors Alexander Macklin and James McIlroy saved the life of steward Perce Blackbarrow from gangrene because of frostbite. Second-in-command Frank Wild capably led the 21-man team on Elephant Island when Shackleton and companions left for South Georgia.
Shackleton and his crew were hounded by the mortal threat of frostbite, which began to affect exposed fingers and hands in that cold and constantly wet atmosphere. Bad weather also made navigation quite difficult. On their seventh day at the sea, Worsley managed to calculate that the Endurance had traveled 380 miles and that they were almost half-way to South Georgia. The ice turned less dense. On their 11th day at sea, Shackleton took to the tiller as the sea became tougher. He said:
"I called to the other men that the sky was clearing and then a moment later I realized that what I had seen was not a rift in the clouds but the white crest of an enormous wave. During twenty-six years' experience of the ocean in all its moods, I had not encountered a wave so gigantic. It was a mighty upheaval of the ocean, a thing quite apart from the big white-capped seas that had been our tireless enemies for many days.
Shackleton's men wrote accounts of the hardships and perils they braved under his exceptional leadership:
"During the night, (we) take (took) flashlight of ship beset by pressure. This necessitated some 20 flashes, one behind each salient pressure hummock, no less than 10 flashes being required to satisfactorily illuminate the ship herself.
Half-blinded after the successive flashes, I lost my bearings amidst hummocks,
Bumping shins against projecting ice points and stumbling into deep snow drifts.
Shackleton described the icy peril that he and his men must subdue:
"The ice is rafting up to a height of 10 or 15 ft in places, the opposing floes are moving against one another at the rate of about 200 yards per hour. The noise resembles the roar of heavy, distant surf. Standing on the stirring ice, one can imagine it is disturbed by the breathing and tossing of a mighty giant below."
He continued to describe the mighty struggle a year after:
"Thus, after a year's battle with the ice, we had returned ... To almost the same latitude we had with such high hopes and aspirations twelve months previously, but under what different conditions now! Our ship crushed and lost and…