Shackleton: Well, he offered his ship and men to Winston Churchill, who was
Secretary of the Admiralty at the time. But he received a telegram back
saying simply, "Proceed." So he felt it was perfectly honorable for him to
proceed. He was then 40 years old, which would have been too old to fight,
and he did lose two members of the expedition who were already in the army.
The thing one has to remember is that nobody thought the First World War
would last more than a few months. It was a huge shock when they got back to
South Georgia after their many, many adventures and found that the war was
NOVA: How do you think your grandfather felt at the moment when the Endurance
was finally stuck in the ice, and he realized he would never attain his goal
of crossing Antarctica?
Shackleton: Well, when the ship got locked in the ice, it wasn´t a sudden
event, of course. The realization gradually dawned on them that the ship was
not going to get out, that she was stuck-I think one of the crew members
said "like an almond in toffee." Eventually, it became clear that she was
being crushed by the ice and had no chance of rising above it. And my
grandfather said to the captain, (Frank Worsley), "the ship can´t live in
this, skipper." Then he started making plans for what could be done when the
ship finally had to be abandoned. He was a great planner who was always
working out what to do in every conceivable eventuality.
For several weeks the ship had been letting out terrible creaking and
groaning noises like a human in agony, and then eventually my grandfather
called out, "she´s going boys," and they saw her disappear. He wrote in his
diary, "I cannot write about it." He found it extremely distressing. Of
course, it was the abandonment of his dream.
Yet he said to his men, quite calmly, "ship gone, stores gone, now we will go
home." And he wrote in his diary, "a man must set himself to a new mark
directly the old one goes." And what became his new mark was bringing every
one of his 27 men home alive, from a part of the world where nobody knew they
were. He knew there was no chance whatsoever of rescue. There were no
communications. They might as well have been in space.
NOVA: That was probably one of the toughest tests of his character, because
he must have been bitterly disappointed.
Shackleton: Bitterly. Also, a ship is more to a sailor than just a floating
home. It is a symbol. It´s distressing for any captain, any leader of an
expedition, to lose his ship.
NOVA: And yet he held himself together.
Shackleton: Indeed, and the men apparently felt reassured. After losing the
ship, they felt rather adrift in every sense of the word, and yet he helped
them to feel reassured. There was something to set themselves to do.