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Tom Crean, cont.

Part 3 - Endurance

It was on Endurance that Tom truly excelled. His reliability, formidable resolve and great mental strength were vital to Shackleton - particularly when the going got really tough. Shackleton's biographer, Roland Huntford, declared that at the expedition's darkest moments, Frank Wild and Tom Crean were the only men that Shackleton could really trust.

Crean rose to the occasion after Endurance had sunk and the men launched the three life boats to sail for Elephant Island.

He was in the Stancomb Wills, the smallest and most vulnerable of the craft. Initially the boat was under the command of the navigator, Hubert Hudson. But Hudson was struggling under the intense strain so Crean quietly assumed control. Despite some nasty scrapes, of the three little boats he managed to get Stancomb Wills --with Shackleton on board -- to Elephant Island first.

It was typical that Crean should volunteer to make the 800 mile crossing of the Southern Ocean to South Georgia in the 22ft James Caird. While mere mortals might have quaked at the prospect of sailing the Southern Ocean in an open boat, Crean actually volunteered!

Shackleton, as we know, was a master of man management and Tom Crean was an ideal lieutenant. Crean was man for tight spots and Shackleton knew that the Irishman was someone who would never quit. He was as near to being indestructible as any human could possibly be. At the end of the momentous 17-day journey, only three men were still standing - the indomitable Shackleton, the peerless navigator Worsley and the indestructible Tom Crean.

It was almost inevitable that Crean would then make the astonishing forced march across the unknown interior of South Georgia to reach the whaling station at Stromness. No one had crossed it before. Duncan Carse, who retraced their steps in the 1950s, was astonished at their achievement and said:

I do not know how they did it - except they had to.

Stephen Venables, the first Briton to climb Everest without oxygen, made the journey as recently as last year, supported by all the latest equipment and technology - including a tent. He later wrote:

I was filled with intense, almost incredulous admiration for what they achieved.

And when Shackleton went back to Elephant Island to rescue Wild and the other castaways, Crean was standing alongside him as they rowed ashore to pick up the 22 castaways.

Part 4: Beyond Endurance

Copyright © 2000 Michael Smith; about framheim; about the author