The Coquet Valley has been enjoying some lovely weather, but the nights can be chilly, although members at Thropton’s April meeting learned what chilly really means for those who venture to the South Pole.
Our enthusiastic Antarctic expert Wilma Hunter was inspired by the book South with Scott.
She described the first 20 years of the 20th century as the “heroic age of Antarctic exploration” and enlightened us with facts about the region and details of the courageous early expeditions.
She described the inhospitable continent, where darkness reigns for five months, and said the outward journey from coast to Pole is 800 miles.
Undaunted, British adventurers wanted to be the first to reach the Pole. Scott led the first expedition, sailing in the Discovery and spending 1901-03 on Antarctica. This expedition reached 82 degrees south, but was unable to get any further. The Discovery became trapped in ice and an escape channel had to be blasted by two Dundee trawlers.
A second expedition was led by Shackleton between 1907 and 1909. This reached closer to the Pole.
Scott’s final expedition is the stuff of history. Wilma described Scott as single-minded and stubborn, explaining that he took ponies to pull the sledges, rather than the dogs favoured by the more experienced Nordic explorers.
Of course, it was a Norwegian, Amundsen, who was first to the Pole, beating the British party of five, who all perished on their way back to base.
Wilma described subsequent expeditions and tales of extreme bravery.
We heard about the sinking of Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, the stranding on Elephant Island, and the subsequent lifeboat voyage to South Georgia to bring help.
Then there was Wilma’s favourite, “the boy from Bradford”, Douglas Mawson, who charted a lot of the Antarctic coast between 1911 and 1913. With three companions, he set out to explore a 600-mile area, but he was the only one to survive the trip, showing immense courage in the face of incredible odds. In later life he achieved much and was knighted.
Wilma brought her talk to a close explaining how the Antarctic Heritage Trust in the UK and New Zealand has preserved the expedition huts and does not allow them to be visited.
Our speaker was warmly applauded, then given the task of judging this month’s competition, A Postcard To The South Pole. The winner was Jean Boyle and Wilma is arranging for her card to be sent to the South Georgia post office to be stamped, much to Jean’s delight.
Our business meeting seemed very tame in the shade of all that heroism. We have a full quota for our summer expedition, no further than Beamish, and the plans for our 95th birthday are coming along well.
Vicky Ewing spoke about the Warm Hub she is hoping to initiate in Thropton and requested help from members.
We were offered free Smart meters and learned of various local events. Our secretary made a plea for donations of women’s sanitary items to be donated via the food bank.
Our next meeting will be our annual meeting on Wednesday, June 7.