The Memorial at Halley Bay


Mike (Muff) Warden, doggyman 1970/71

The relentless wind numbed our right cheek. We tried to shrink our heads, tortoise like into our shoulders. Our windproof anoraks and trousers shielded our bodies but our faces were exposed. Layers of gloves inside huge leather mitts kept our hands warm. Knitted double thick woollen headbands protected our ears, but our faces faced the full brunt of the relentless east wind.

It was 8/8th cloud cover, low stratus. The world was dull and grey. There was no contrast between snow and sky. The surface was hidden by a layer of constantly drifting snow, sand like, ever moving. The short April afternoon was slowly turning to the dark of night.

We didn't speak. We didn't need to. There was nothing to say. Graham Wright was on the right side of the sledge: I was on the left. We had taken a dog team heading for Third Chip and a small dark speck about a mile away sited near the top of a gently rising slope, slightly higher than the surroundings, close to the high vertical cliffs of the shelf ice, high above and giving panoramic views of the frozen pack ice below stretching endlessly to the north and further than we could see.

The wind cut away all sound except that of the wind itself. The moisture in our breath froze on our faces and built up a layer of white, our eyes and mouth dark recesses in an ice encrusted face. We kept our thoughts to ourselves as we pressed on towards that dark speck.

We reached the exposed upper part of a white painted post otherwise buried by snow. The dogs seemed to know and stopped a respectful distance away. We took our shovels and dug down to reveal first the cross, then a stone plinth mounted on a board, and then the skis on which the whole was mounted. We used the dog team to pull the memorial out and move it on to higher ground where it would once again face the winter blizzards.

Raising the Memorial was one of the last tasks that we, the doggymen did at the end of the sledging season before the dark polar night of winter gripped the continent once more. The Memorial was a stark reminder of the ever present risks of polar travel. There were four names on the Memorial. One name commemorates Neville S. Mann, who on a spring dog training run in 1963 was carried away when the pack ice on which he was travelling broke out and drifted off into the Weddell Sea. Three names commemorate Jeremy Bailey, John Wilson and David Wild, three men who were killed in 1965 when their tracked vehicle plunged down a hidden crevasse - a remote and lonely grave. But even in those bleak surroundings there was love too: a small vase of flowers, a token, I believe, from someone in the Falkland Islands.

Both Graham and I knew that the margin between raising the Memorial and being another name on it was small. Our task reminded us of those occasions when, for us, the margin had been too close to call. Our task completed, we paused in silence, oblivious to the wind and impending darkness. Then we turned the dog team round and headed back to base as the darkness closed around us.

Many years have passed, but when April comes around each year I remember that cross. I was delighted that the Memorial was again refurbished in 2011, but saddened that another name has been added, that of Miles Mosley who was killed in 1980.

[27 February 2014]

7 March 2014

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