Following in the footsteps of Antarctic giants

Lt Col Henry Worsley
Lt Col Henry Worsley

In November 2008, three intrepid men started a unique three-month expedition to the South Pole, following in the footsteps of the illustrious pioneers, led by Ernest Shackleton, who had, in 1909, came agonisingly close to achieving a goal realised three years later by Raold Amundsen.

The contemporary group was led by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Worsley who, with his companions Will Gow and Henry Adams, are all direct descendants of Shackleton’s crew.

Worsley explained: “I got in touch with the guys through polar societies and a network of relations of past explorers. We are now the best of friends which is interesting as we didn’t know each other at the outset of planning for the Shackleton centenary journey.”

The trials, tribulations and triumphs of the trio’s three-month conquest will come to life at the Eastgate Theatre in Peebles on Tuesday when Worsley gives a lecture, entitled In The Footsteps of Antarctic Giants, for the Borders group of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society at 7.30pm. In his talk, he will juxtapose the old and the new by comparing his own experiences of polar expeditions with those of his Edwardian heroes who died following their dreams.

Worsley is still an officer in the army and a man focused on achievement.

My discussion with him revealed someone who knows what he is interested in and does not waver. From childhood, the seed was set for his lifelong interest in polar exploration – and he has not faltered from the fascination of his youth.

“I was interested as a child in the stories of Shackleton and captivated by the photographic images of Frank Hurley,” he explained. “Then I read more of Shackleton’s exploits and became intrigued with his style of leadership which has helped me throughout my army career.

“Frank Worsley, who joined Shackleton on the Nimrod expedition, was a distant relative, although not really a dominant part of my upbringing.

“Army life has certainly helped me. Planning and leading polar expeditions requires meticulous planning, leadership, team building and selecting a team – all the bread and butter of being a soldier. Military life is dominated by the physical and mental arenas, and you are certainly stretched to your limits. All this helps you face difficult times on a long and arduous polar journey.”

This ethos was eloquently summed up by Shackleton himself.

When Worsley and his companions arrived in Punta Arenas they were invited to a nearby house which used to belong to a local influential family and, in their visitors’ book, was the following entry from the great man, written in July 1916:

We were the fools who could not rest

In the dull earth we left behind

But burned with passion for the South

And drank strange frenzy from its wind

The world where wise men sit at ease

Fades from our unregretful eyes

And thus across unchartered seas

We stagger on our enterprise

Last year, Worsley returned to the South Pole to retrace the journeys of Scott and Amundsen.

When asked what his plans were for the future he told me: “I’m off to Afghanistan in May where I will have 10 months to ponder a new journey. The North West Passage and Franklin’s journeys of the 19th century interest me, but the Antarctic has a beguiling way of calling you back.”

For more information about the Peebles lecture, contact David Langworth on 01896 822102 or the Eastgate on 01721 725777.