Shackleton’s Endurance Lyrics & Narration

1. The Prologue

It was 1914 on the eve of the Great War. Roald Amundsen had been the first to set foot on the South Pole two years earlier. He had been followed shortly after by Captain Robert Scott who perished on the return journey. Sir Ernest Shackleton was a veteran explorer of Antarctica himself, and had previously got to within 100 miles of the Pole. He felt that the last great adventure for an explorer would be the first complete land crossing of the Antarctic continent. He formed ‘The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition’ with this aim. The plan was to cross from Vahsel Bay on the Weddell Sea (the stretch of land facing South America) to Ross Sea (facing New Zealand), going via the South Pole. The adventure began as a scientific and geographic expedition to capture the public’s imagination. However it became one of the greatest rescue and survival stories in history.

2. The Last Great Adventure (Part 1) (Leonard Hussey)

The last great adventure
At the bottom of the world
To be the first to cross Antarctica.
We answered the ad
People thought we were mad
And this is what the advertisement said:

C) Men wanted for a hazardous journey
Small wages and it’s bitter cold
Long months of darkness
Danger always around
Unlikely to return home safe and sound

The Endurance left Margate
As August began
All the talk was of impending war.
But the powers that be
Gave their blessing to our scheme
A little boost for national morale.

And so we set course for Argentina
At Buenos Aires we stocked up on supplies
And then our final port
Was Grytviken, South Georgia.
A whaling base at the edge of the world.
C)

The pack ice hit us before we got to Vahsel
We never got to walk on solid ground
The ice froze in tight
Held our ship like a vice
And did it make the wooden timbers creek?

So we drifted south,
On our ice floe.
We drifted for a full 9 months
Playing football on the ice
Helped to keep us all alive
Waiting for the ice to finally melt.

C)

3. 76° 58’S – Drifting

...It was ten months after leaving South Georgia. Endurance started to break up under the pressure of the ice. Endurance had drifted about 1,200 miles while trapped on the ice floe. The crew had lived through the Antarctic winter, complete with winds of over 70 miles an hour and sub zero temperatures, and had been hoping for a spring thaw to allow them to escape. The wooden ship was finally beaten.

4. The Last Great Adventure (Part 2) (Leonard Hussey)

And then it happened
In late October
Endurance finally gave in to the ice.
Crushed like a bug
It was now looking tough
Stranded at the bottom of the world.

So here we were
No ship, no communications
Back at home
Were we still at war?
Things were looking bleak,
Floating on the Weddell Sea,
The exploration plan would have to go on hold.

C)

5. Packing Up:

Shackleton ordered his men to pack all essential supplies, ready for a journey on foot. We were told to dump all but 2lbs of personal possessions and prepare to move out. The only exceptions were Frank Hurley’s photographs and Leonard Hussey’s banjo. Yes morale is very important to The Boss! All supplies, including the three life boats, would have to be dragged to the open sea.

6. Marching off:

The crew of 28 set off on 30th October 1915. After an exhausting three days of hard labour they had only covered two miles. They then set up Ocean Camp on the drifting ice. A few days later some of the crew went back to the broken ship to salvage more supplies. Amongst them was Hurley who dived into the flooded ship to rescue more glass plate photographs.

Shackleton and Hurley argued over how many photographs could be taken with them. They agreed to keep 120 and smashed the remaining 400 to prevent Hurley being tempted to risk his life to return for them.

7. Wheat from the chaff (the photo debate)

Shackleton: View from the bow of Endurance – keep!
Hurley: Keep!
Shackleton: Wuzzles directing the helmsman through the ice - keep!
Hurley : Keep!
Shackleton: Penguins on ice – that can go! (smash). Penguins group photo – go!
(smash). Penguins close up – go! (smash). Penguins with glazed expression – that can definitely go! (smash). Penguins! (smash). Penguins! (smash). Penguins! (smash). Penguins! (smash) – Not another penguin!”

8. The Penguin March

9. The Sinking of Endurance

On 21st November (1915) we were alarmed to hear the sound of wood splitting and breaking, prompting the final demise of Endurance as she finally sunk beneath the ice. Her final resting place was 68° 38.5’S, 52° 28’W. Two days later, encouraged that the ice was drifting northwards, the crew started walking again and then set up Patience Camp, in hope that the ice floe itself would drift and take them further in the right direction.

10. The Boss

This is how the Boss he runs his ship
Even if that ship is now no more
The answer to a successful trip
When morale is high you can keep your crew alive
Treat them all the same and keep them unified.

Be calm and confident, never show you’re blue
Do your best to give heart to the crew
Always keep them busy
Even if the task seems so futile
To prevent regret from not going that extra mile

Welcome to The Ice Floe Holiday Camp
We’ll keep you entertained if slightly damp
No time to get bored, learn a new trade
And a good old sing around ends the day

Be a cabaret artist, race a dog sled team
Even a scientist can scrub the decks clean
Pose for a photo, Play a football game
Dine on dodgy indigenous game

(Make a) toast to loved ones left behind
Build a dogloo on the frozen ice
Walk on water every day
Just one of the miracles during your stay.

Give orders for solutions,
Don’t specify the task
Let them work it out
If they need to they can ask
Let them show they have the answer
And not just ordered about.
Make them feel valued
Not a minion at the end of a shout

If one has problems or lags behind the rest
Don’t single out, just take time for a break,
Never underestimate warm milk served as breakfast in bed
To take the edge off the start of a challenging day

When we all drew straws For the sleeping bags
There were only 18 to go around
We couldn’t help think that there had been a fix
When they all went to the lower ranks

But the Boss by example led
And the attitude spread around
If we all looked out for each other
We might get home safe and sound

But my lasting memory, at the tiller of the lifeboat
Was him hanging on for dear life
Trying to keep us all afloat
Never showing us despair
On the 7 day ocean sail
As the boat was thrown across the sea
In the middle of a winter gale

This is how the Boss he runs his ship
Even if that ship is now no more
The answer to a successful trip
When morale is high
You can keep your crew alive
Treat them all the same and keep them unified.

11. Take to the Boats/Out of the Frying Pan:

The ice floe, carrying Patience Camp, finally reached the edge of the pack ice in April 1916. The crew took to Endurance’s three life boats: The Dudley Docker, The Stancomb Wills and The James Caird, all named after the expedition’s backers.

Out of the frying pan
Into the fire
Not the best saying
When you can’t strike a flame.
We thought things were bad, floating on a block of ice
But now on open sea
That all seems rather tame.

But this is our first proper bid for freedom
The first time we’re not
At the mercy of the ice.
Not doing time
On a frozen, floating earth
That could break up around (before) you
Any time before your eyes.

So to the open sea
To find a barren piece of land.
A needle in a haystack
A dot upon a map
If we’re slightly off course
We’ll miss it (our goal) by miles
But a vital stepping stone
To return to Enger-land.

In the meantime, back in England, there had been no news and Shackleton’s wife Emily was beside herself with worry.

12. Emily (Emily Shackleton)

Oh to be a polar explorer’s wife
Oh what a trial it can be
He’s always away
Can be years & not days
And you don’t know if you’ll ever see him again.

And when he comes home
He’s soon off again
Performing on his (next) lecture tour
Or courting would be backers
For his next dangerous quest
To take him off exploring again

What is this passion for Antarctica?
An unspoilt part of the globe
Is it a desire to be free
Or is it just me
Does he keep another woman-
Down-at-the Weddel Sea

But I hold the base camp together
In the wilds of London town
taken for granted?
But still I be
An essential part of the Shackleton team

But now it’s been nearly a year
Since we received any word
Something’s gone wrong
It seems so absurd
If Emily Shackleton
Is to get the men home.

I’ll pester the paper to send a ship
The Daily Chronicle should do its bit
It’s they who prosper on his return
From the story they publish.
From what the public (will) learn.

I know it sounds callous
In time of (global) war
To give this priority
When so many other lives
Are damaged
Or sadly no more
But my duty is to crack the whip
I’ll pester them again and again
(I’ll try but) I may not succeed.
But we’ll just have to see
But all will know I’m part of the Shackleton team

Oh to be a polar explorer’s wife
Oh what a trial it can be
He’s always away
Can be years & not days
And you don’t know if you’ll ever see him again.

13. Elephant Island then South Georgia

Back in the Antarctic the crew of the Endurance sailed for six days, travelling the 160 miles north from the Antarctic Peninsula to Cape Valentine on Elephant Island. This was the first time the crew had stood on solid ground in 497 days. They were ill from lack of sleep, dehydration, hunger, exposure, diarrhoea and frost bite. They were still not safe. The high tides would have killed them so they continued around the coast to the more suitable Point Wild where they set up camp.

On 24th April 1916 Shackleton left with Captain Frank Worsley, 2nd Officer Tom Crean, carpenter Chippy McNeish, seaman Tim McCarthy and seaman John Vincent in the 23ft James Caird. They sailed 800 miles east back to South Georgia, the nearest civilisation. This was an amazing achievement to make in an open life boat in the winter Antarctic; a tribute to Worsley’s navigational skills.

The James Caird landed ashore at King Haakon Bay, still 40 miles away from the nearest life, the Norwegian whaling station at Stromness. Between the two was a 4,500 ft high mountain range.

14. The Last Final Mountain (Prelude)

Shackleton, Worsley and Crean marched on, leaving the others to set up camp under the upturned lifeboat. They travelled light, taking rope, and enough food for two meals each.

15. The Toboggan Run - Introduction

At the end of the first day panic set in. They were too high up and it was getting too cold, it was beginning to get dark and fog was rising. They had to get to a lower altitude quickly or they would freeze to death. They saw a steep slope but could not see the bottom. For all they knew the slope could have ended with a precipice and a drop into an abyss. They sat together on coiled rope to make a human toboggan and slid off down the hill. They dropped 1,500 ft in three minutes.

16. The Toboggan Run

17. The Toboggan Run – The Landing

Luckily they did find a safe bed of snow at the bottom of the slope. They were feeling rather sore and their trousers were ripped to shreds, but they were still alive.

18. The Last Final Mountain (Tom Crean)

The last final mountain
Rising to the peak
Weariness behind us
The summit’s in our reach
Our goal is in the distance
We can now see it clear
Smoke on the horizon
Smell of cooking in the air

We came here as a pilgrims to a new land
To tread where no-one’s been before
We may have bitten off
More than we could chew
And with the frost bite biting hard
What’s a chap to do?

Through hell and high water
Travelled for a thousand miles
Since we took to our boats
And left the floe behind.
Now 40 miles on foot
The last final climb
3 weary travellers
Have finally arrived.

We may have been beaten
By the snow and by the ice
But we escaped in open boats
And sailed to the Elephant Isle
But we’d learnt our lesson well
to reach South Georgia alive
When the greatest lesson you can learn
Is how to survive!

The last final mountain
Rising to the peak
Weariness behind us
The summit’s in our reach
Our goal is in the distance
We can now see it clear
Smoke on the horizon
Smell of cooking in the air
Smoke on the horizon
Smell of cooking in the air

The last final mountain
The last great adventure
At the bottom of the world
Rising to the peak
But we didn’t cross Antarctica
Weariness behind us
The summit’s in our reach
We walked across the sea
Sailed the crest of the wave
Our goal is in the distance
We can now see it clear
The prodigal returns
The Fatted Calf is near
The prodigal returns
The Fatted Calf is near

The last final mountain
The last great adventure
At the bottom of the world
Rising to the peak
To be the first to cross Antarctica.
Weariness behind us
The summit’s in our reach
We answered the ad
People thought we were mad
And this is what the advertisement said:

C) Men wanted for a hazardous journey
Small wages and it’s bitter cold
Long months of darkness
Danger always around
Unlikely to return home safe and sound

C)

36 hours after leaving King Haakon Bay they stumbled into the Norwegian whaling station at Stromness. They were finally safe.

19. Epilogue

Worsley promptly headed the party to pick up the three men at King Haakon Bay on the south coast. Shackleton made four attempts to rescue the 22 men stranded on Elephant Island. On the first three voyages his ships were forced to turn back because of continuing heavy pack ice. However he finally rescued them, sailing on the Yelco on 30th August 1916. It was now more than two years since they sailed from England. All 28 men of the Endurance had survived the ordeal.

Shackleton’s original quest to cross the Antarctic continent was not to be achieved for a further 41 years, until 1957-8. Even then with better technology it was achieved with great difficulty by Dr. Vivian Fuchs and The Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition.