"They're All Safe!"
The Yelcho Rescues the Men
on Elephant Island


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A ship went out immediately to rescue the men left on the other side of South Georgia. But the rescue of the men still on Elephant Island was to prove more problematic. Finding a suitable ship was hard because of the war, but the weather didn't cooperate either. Three separate attempts, about a month apart, turned back because of ice around Elephant Island. On August 25th, the Yelcho, a totally inappropriate little Chilean tugboat, set off.

August 30, 1916. Four months after the James Caird had left Elephant Island.

Worsley: As I manoeuvred the Yelcho between stranded bergs and hidden reefs, Shackleton peered through his binoculars with painful anxiety. I heard his strained tones as he counted the figures that were crawling out from under the upturned boat. "Two. Five. Seven." And then an exultant shout, "They're all there, Skipper. They are all safe! " His face lit up and years seemed to fall off his age. We three solemnly shook hands as if we were taking part in some ritual.
The Yelcho returning with the crew of the Endurance.

Endurance meteorologist Leonard Hussey was one of the 22 men who lived on limpets and seal meat on Elephant Island for four months, and who could scarcely believe their eyes when the Yelcho appeared on the horizon. As he told the BBC, the rescue was still bright in his memory more than forty years later.

Hussey: It was just before lunchtime that Marston saw a ship emerging from the mist than hung over the sea. At first, when Marston yelled "Ship-O!" we took no notice, mistaking it for the much more customary call of "Lunch-O!" It was not long, however, before he came running up towards the hut, breathless. In a state of great excitement he gasped up to Wild, "Wild, Wild, there's a ship! Hadn't we better light a flare?!"

As one man we made a dive through the narrow door of the hut. It was a scrum. Those who couldn't get through the door went through the sides. And our lunch, precious limpets and seaweed, I remember, waiting for distribution in the pot, was kicked over in the rush. Who cared. It was a much better tonic to see approaching us a small ship flying the Chilean flag. We tried to cheer, but excitement had gripped our vocal chords.Macklin had made a rush for the flag staff. The running gear wouldn't work and the flag was frozen into a solid mass. So he tied his jersey to the top of the pole for a signal. Wild put a pick through our last remaining tin of petrol, and soaking mitts and socks in it, carried them to the top of Penguin Hill, and soon they were ablaze.

Caroline Alexander considers how the survivors lives were changed.

Then, the ship stopped. A boat was lowered and we were able to recognize Shackleton as he got into her. Again, we gave a cheer, with more feelings from the heart than I could express in words. We said to each other, "Thank God the Boss is safe." When the boat was within calling reach, Shackleton stood up in its bows, crying out to Wild, "Are you all well?" To which Wild answered, "All safe, Boss, all well." And we could almost feel the joy that this answer must have given to the Boss.

They made it. After a year-and-three-quarters at the mercy of the elements, all 28 men were safe and sound. The worst casualty was frostbite that claimed a few toes from a foot of one of the men on Elephant Island.

All photographs by Frank Hurley unless otherwise noted

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