Sussex Life June 2015 Poetry + solution

PUBLISHED: 10:02 22 May 2015 | UPDATED: 10:02 22 May 2015

Solution for the ‘Endurance’ piece by Tony Ward in the Sussex Life June issue

May solution

April solution


Who is it? Endurance

Eight years before the mast,

Master Mariner, Explorer,

Hero in an age of heroes.

A leader of a different type,

small wages, bitter cold,

darkness, danger, doubts –

but a man to bring us safe

through triumph or disaster.

In British waters – War.

In Polar seas, another foe,

The stirring ice, the giant below.

Endurance trapped, a lethal vice,

a broken hull, the giant’s price.

Endurance tested.

The open boat,

six men against the storms,

against the odds.

His men – stranded, rescued,


They never doubted.

The Boss,

inspired, inspiring,

“spouting lines from Keats”,

lines by heart,

but a heart that failed.

Now written in stone,

A line to remember a life.

A name to live in the minds of men,

ships, boats, trains and planes,

a crater on the moon. Legacy,

a name that lives in history.


Solution - Sir Ernest Shackleton KCVO, OBE, FRGS - Polar Explorer and Leadership role-model

Explanation of embedded clues

Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) and his wife Emily (nee Dorman)(1868-1936) lived at 14 Milnthorpe Road, Meads, Eastbourne from 1916 to 1922, the year of his death at the age of 47 in South Georgia on his last expedition. Emily lived on at the house for some years before moving to Coldwaltham, West Sussex, where she and their unmarried daughter Cicely are buried. Their joint gravestone can be found in St. Giles Churchyard. Another Sussex connection is that Emily’s father, Charles Dorman, was ‘of Towngate Farm, Wadhurst, Sussex’, although Emily was born and later met Ernest Shackleton after the family had moved to Sydenham, South London. The two families lived only a short distance apart. Emily, six years older than Ernest, was a friend of Ernest’s sister, which is how they first met in 1897. They were married in 1904 following a courtship interrupted by Shackleton’s absences at sea.

In November 1994, Eastbourne Borough Council (following a suggestion by the Eastbourne (Civic) Society) erected a Blue Plaque at 14 Milnthorpe Road, marking Shackleton’s last years there - when not on expeditions! In a letter, Shackleton wrote that it was “the dearest little house” that he had ever lived in.

Having left Dulwich College at the age of 16, “I never learned much geography at school”, he served an eight year apprenticeship to gain a Master Mariner Certificate, starting on the square-rigged sailing ship Houghton Tower. This qualified him to command a British Merchant Navy ship anywhere in the world.

It was during these years at sea that he learnt to be at ease with all kinds of men. In his first Antarctic expedition, Discovery (1901-1903), led by Captain Robert Scott, he was described as “the most popular of the officers among the crew, being a good mixer”. On the return journey of his own second expedition, Nimrod (1907-1909), racing against starvation, he gave his one daily biscuit to an ailing companion, who wrote in his diary “the remembrance of that sacrifice will never leave me”. At that time, he and three companions had made the largest advance to the Pole in exploration history. On his return home he was knighted by King Edward VII. After the miraculous rescue of his men on his third expedition, the ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition Endurance (1914-1917), and already a “Hero in an age of heroes”, one of Captain Scott’s team wrote “If I am in the devil of a hole and want to get out of it, give me Shackleton every time”. In the poem this is expressed as... “a man to bring us safe through triumph or disaster”. This also echoes a line from his contemporary, Rudyard Kipling’s well-known poem ‘If’ ... “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/ And treat those two imposters just the same”.

Shackleton’s outstanding leadership qualities are still used as a role model in corporate management courses today. He was “A leader of a different type”. The next lines in the poem quote from a famous, but perhaps mythical, advertisement for men to join the Endurance expedition:

“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.” – Ernest Shackleton.

Whether this was really the way that he announced the expedition or not, as his requirement was made public ... “The first result of this was a flood of applications from all classes of the community to join the adventure. I received nearly five thousand applications, and out of these were picked fifty-six men.” – Sir Ernest Shackleton, Preface to ‘South’, London, Heinemann, 1919.

Despite the outbreak of World War I on 3rd August 1914, Endurance was directed by Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, to “Proceed”. The ship left British waters five days later. In the play ‘Shackleton’s Carpenter’ (reference in the sources) the Endurance is described as stopping overnight at Eastbourne Pier on August 4th where they were “warmly welcomed by thousands. The ship continued to Plymouth on August 5th, from where it sailed to Buenos Aires and the Antarctic.”

“In Polar seas, another foe,/The stirring ice, the giant below” ... in the poem the second line is extracted from a longer quote from Shackleton’s description of the fate of the Endurance. Trapped in pack ice over the Antarctic Winter and Spring she was slowly crushed ... “Endurance trapped, a lethal vice,/ a broken hull, the giant’s price.”

The crew had to abandon the sinking ship and camp on the sea ice. Realising they would not be found, they launched their three lifeboats and sailed the 346 miles to Elephant Island. However, this was also not on any trade routes. Shackleton then selected the strongest boat which the ship’s carpenter, Harry McNish, further toughened up for a seemingly impossible 720 nautical mile stormy ocean voyage, at times through hurricane force winds, to the inhabited island of South Georgia. The boat was christened The James Caird after the Scottish manufacturer who helped finance the expedition. (In today’s terms he gave over £1 million, more than twice the contribution of the British Government).

Shackleton and five companions set out in the 20-foot open boat taking only four weeks supplies, knowing that if they hadn’t reached South Georgia within that time both boat and crew would be lost. They made landfall in fifteen days, only to be faced with a 36-hour hike over mountainous terrain to reach the whaling station at Stromness. Shackleton took just two companions on this last leg. In 1955, the British Explorer Duncan Carse who successfully crossed the same overland route wrote ... “I do not know how they did it, except they had to – three men of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration with 50 feet of rope between them – and a carpenter’s adze”.

The James Caird was retrieved and, when not away on display elsewhere, is now preserved at Dulwich College, Shackleton’s old school in South London. She sits in the North Cloisters on a bed of rocks imported from South Georgia.

Shackleton then immediately set about arranging the rescue of the rest of the party on the other side of South Georgia, those back on Elephant Island and also the men from their supply ship Aurora, the Ross Sea Party, who had become stranded at Cape Evans in McMurdo Sound. Their ship had broken loose from its anchorage and driven out to sea.

However, Shackleton had such a reputation as a leader that ... “His men – stranded, rescued, returned./They never doubted”.

“The Boss,/ inspired, inspiring”, also had a poetical streak, as a Union-Castle line shipmate remarked “spouting lines from Keats (and Browning),/ lines by heart.” He enjoyed poetry and himself penned evocative phrases and the occasional poem. “Teachers should be very careful not to spoil [their pupils] taste for poetry for all time by making it a task and an imposition”.

“But a heart that failed” refers to his fatal heart attack on his last (1921) expedition. He died on 5 January 1922 while his ship Quest was moored in South Georgia. At his wife’s request he was buried there, in the polar regions that meant so much to him. “Now written in stone,/A line to remember a life” refers to the quotation from Robert Browning on Shackleton’s gravestone in Grytviken Cemetery, South Georgia --- “ I hold that a man should strive in the uttermost for his life’s set prize”.

The final four lines of the poem are concerned with the many ways in which the name of Shackleton and the Endurance still live on. HMS Endurance, a modern Class 1 icebreaker built in Norway in 1990 deploys for seven months of the year to the Antarctic and South Atlantic. Her motto, in the spirit of Shackleton, is “Fortitudine Vincimus” (“by Endurance We Conquer”). The RRS Shackleton, a research ship also built in Norway, in 1995, was acquired and so named by the British Antarctic Survey in August 1999. A Virgin Super Voyager Train is named Sir Ernest Shackleton and active in maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine work in the 1950’s and 1960’s was the Avro Shackleton used by the Royal Air Force. One of the more unusual tributes was the naming of a crater on the moon as the Shackleton crater. It is of course near the moon’s South Pole. For philatelists, there is also the chance to collect postage stamps picturing Shackleton or the Endurance. At various times these have been issued in particular by the Falkland Islands and the British Antarctic Territory. In 2014 the Post Office also issued the ‘Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition Stamp Cover – BCSP32A’ to celebrate the Centenary of the Endurance expedition. This is particularly appropriate, as following Shackleton’s second, Nimrod, expedition, the New Zealand authorities had appointed him as Antarctic Postmaster.

His legacy also “lives in history” through the Shackleton Foundation (2007), in people-centred leadership courses and events in the UK, in Ireland (his birthplace), and in the USA – Shackleton being cited by the US Navy as a model leader. He has also been the subject of many books, a Channel 4 Emmy Award winning TV serial, and several re-enactments of his expeditions have taken place. The 8th August 2014 also marked the start of the centenary of the Endurance expedition. A full calendar of events (2014 – 2017) can be found on

The expedition is recognised as an unsurpassed epic feat of endurance and survival, the last major expedition of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. Shackleton has provided an enduring model of Leadership, as relevant to today’s business executives and to those in authority in all walks of life, as it was among the ice floes and stormy seas of the Antarctic.

Finally, perhaps we all need to bear in mind Shackleton’s advice... “Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.”


Acknowledgement of sources:

‘South: The Endurance Expedition’, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Penguin Classics 2004/ Penguin 2013 (PB). (First published 1919, various editions available).

‘Shackleton – By Endurance We Conquer’, Michael Smith, The Collins Press, October 2014 (Michael Smith has written a number of books on Polar Exploration for both adults and children).

‘The Times Concise Atlas of the World’, Times Books, 2006 (Antarctica, South America, South America South – inset map of South Georgia showing the location of Grytviken).

‘Shackleton’s Carpenter’, a play by Gail Louw, Eastbourne Theatres brochure Autumn 2014 and previewed in the Eastbourne Herald, Friday November 21st 2014.

‘Poetry Please’, Roger McGough, Faber & Faber, 2013. (selected Browning, Keats, and ‘If –‘ by Rudyard Kipling p61-2) (The Society, established in 1994, is dedicated to keeping the memory of Sir Ernest Shackleton alive, named after the open-boat in which Shackleton and five companions made their epic 800-mile journey. A very extensive website.). (llag stands for Low-Latitude-Antarctic-Gazetteer, again very extensive, p59 has a facsimile of Shackleton’s plan for the South Pole expedition which he sketched on Grand Hotel, Eastbourne, headed notepaper) (contains detailed accounts of the expeditions) (a calendarof events, 2014 to 2017, to celebrate the Centenary of the Endurance expedition).

Relevant websites found by searches for ‘Sir Ernest Shackleton’, ‘Ernest Shackleton Quotes’, ‘Eastbourne Blue Plaques’. ‘Endurance Centenary Events’, ‘Shackleton crater on the moon’

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