• News/Talk
  • Music
  • Entertainment

by JOHN RABE

The story we're going to tell you for the next hour is true: 28 men lost in Antarctica for almost two years, fighting ice and the ocean. The world gave them up for dead; but every one of them survived. As fantastic as it sounds, it's all true. It's the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton, the Endurance, and the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914.

"Out of whose womb came the ice?
And the hoary frost of Heaven, who hath gendered it?
The waters are hid as with a stone,
And the face of the deep is frozen."



"'Don't you know me?' I said. 'My name is Shackleton.'"



"The real blessing to Shackleton was the fact that his ship was crushed. The miracle was that all 27 men survived it."



"I called to the other men that the sky was clearing, and then a moment later I realised that what I had seen was not a rift in the clouds but the white crest of an enormous wave. I shouted, 'For God's sake hold on! It's got us!'"



"I started to reread his accounts of the Endurance expedition because it was just his leadership qualities that I was trying to learn from."



"For scientific discovery give me Scott. For speed and efficiency give me Amundsen. But when you're in a hopeless case and disaster strikes, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton."



"'Two, five, seven,'" and then an exultant shout, 'They're all there skipper! They're all safe!' Shackleton stood up in its bows, crying out to Wild, 'Are you all well?' To which Wild answered, 'All safe, Boss, all well.'"



"We had pierced the veneer of outside things. We had 'suffered, starved and triumphed, groveled down yet grasped at glory, grown bigger in the bigness of the whole.' We'd seen God in His splendours, heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man."

When we hear about an airliner going down, or a cruise ship sinking, or a mountaineering team caught in an avalanche, we all have the same reaction . . . a response that goes beyond sadness or sympathy. There's something more. I think we all want to hear that at least some of the people didn't die after all. We want to turn on the radio and hear the newscaster say, "Miraculously, a dozen passengers of the downed jet clung to debris and managed to hang on until the rescue ship arrived." We want to hear about the plucky mountain climbers who huddled together for warmth in a snow cave and ate Hershey bars to survive. And we want to see them, worn out but alive, on the evening news after they make their way to safety.

In 1916, a world worn down by World War I was treated to just such a story. On June 2, 1916, almost lost in all the news from the front, readers of the Times of London picked up the paper and learned of a miracle:

The Times, 6/2/16, p. 8: Sir E. Shackleton safe. Marooned men in danger of starvation. The King yesterday sent a gracious message to Sir Ernest Shackleton on his wonderful journey.

The men of the Endurance had been lost in Antarctica for the better part of two years, and by the time the story ran in the paper, everyone had assumed they were dead. As one scholar put it, when they re-emerged in 1916, it was as if they were walking out of history.

All photographs by Frank Hurley unless otherwise noted

 ©2017 American Public Media