Shackleton’s desperate shipwrecked survivors almost driven to cannibalism

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    Malcolm Lewis

      Great news that the sunken wreck of Ernest Shackleton’s HMS Endurance has at long last been discovered deep in South Antarctica’s Weddell Sea where she has lain for 107 years, and in what an amazing condition. The history of the ill-fated expedition has been much written about emphasising the bravery of the men aboard and Shackleton’s great leadership which brought them all home alive.
      When living in East Yorkshire in the 1960’s I attended a local history society meeting and listened to a fascinating talk given by Charles Green, then a Hull resident, who was the Endurance’s ship’s cook. He was one of the twenty-two men who were left behind on Elephant Island whilst Shackleton, Worsley and four others set out to get help from South Georgia 800 miles away, in a life boat they named James Caird.
      The remaining men lived together in a hut they built from the two remaining ship’s boats in appalling conditions. Hunger became worse as they ran out of food and after 100 days or so there seemed little hope of rescue. Talk turned to means of survival and, horror upon horror, even of eating one another. Green, the ship’s cook, said he was horrified at the thought of butchering and cooking his fellow shipmates. He appeared to agree with the suggestion and said he pointed at one more heavily built comrade and said he would be happy carve out and cook his heart. The rest of the gathered company dropped the suggestion there and then and the matter was never raised again!
      After 128 days the stranded men saw Shackleton return with much needed supplies aboard the Chilean tug Yelcho- they were all saved!
      In August 1916 all the crew were put on a steam ship for the return to England only then having realised England was at war with Germany. During the voyage Green told us they were stopped by a German U-boat but when the U-boat captain was informed the ship had Shackleton and the survivors of his expedition aboard, they were allowed to continue. Such is the camaraderie of the seas.
      Malcolm Lewis

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