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Tom Crean, cont.

Part 4 - Beyond Endurance

Crean, like the other men from Endurance, returned from Elephant Island and was immediately plunged into the First World War. When Crean sailed back to Britain in the autumn of 1916, the Battle of the Somme was finally coming to an end.

Crean rejoined the navy, survived the war and retired from the navy in 1920 after serving 27 years.

He went home to marry Eileen Herlihy, the daughter of a publican from his village of Annascaul, in 1917. Shackleton sent them a delightful silver tea service. They settled down and had three children - all girls. Katherine sadly died at the age of four. But Tom's two other daughters, Mary and Eileen are alive and live in Tralee, near Annascaul.

Soon after returning home, Crean opened a pub. Appropriately enough it is called The South Pole Inn and it, too, exists to this very day. He was a popular figure in the village, affectionately known to the local people as Tom the Pole. His wife Eileen - who was always called Nell - was Nell the Pole. But all those alive today who met Tom Crean recall one thing about the man. It was that he never talked about his exploits. He never gave a single interview to a writer and would not talk about his life in public. There are two reasons for Crean's reluctance.

One is his incredible modesty. He was an unassuming character who did not seek the spotlight. All references to Crean's character mention his modesty. Nor is there ever anything triumphal about his feats.

The second reason for Crean's silence is different. When Crean returned home in the early 1920s, Ireland was in the grip of the war of independence. His brother, Cornelius, a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary was shot dead in Cork during The Troubles.

Tom's fame had been earned in the British Navy and anything to do with the British was - understandably enough - deeply unpopular. He was not an active political figure, but he was proud of his Irish heritage, and given the circumstances, he kept his head down and declined invitations to talk about himself.

Tom the Pole continued to live a quiet peaceful life, bringing up the children and overseeing the pub. But this all came to an abrupt end in the summer of 1938. Crean complained of stomach pains and was rushed to hospital where he suffered a burst appendix. He spent a week fighting for his life. But he lost the battle and Tom Crean died in July 1938, just one week after his 61st birthday.

The remarkable thing is that the apparently indestructible Irishman had survived everything that the hostile Antarctic Continent could throw at him. But he was finally brought down by what is today a comparatively minor ailment.

But Crean's memory has not been allowed to fade away. Appropriately enough, his name will live forever on the Antarctic Continent. There is Mount Crean, in Victoria Land which rises to 8,360 ft (2,550 metres). And on South Georgia, there is the Crean Glacier, which extends for almost 4 miles (6 kilometres).

Tom Crean was the great unsung hero of Polar exploration and it is time to set the record straight and give him his rightful place in history.

An Unsung Hero: Tom Crean - Antarctic Survivor, by Michael Smith, was released in Ireland in September of 2000 to critical acclaim. It was the #1 best seller for 2 weeks running. Both the British and American printings have been released with a slight title change.

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