Yorkshireman John Robert Francis Wild CBE, RNVR, FRGS was one of only two men to earn the Polar Medal with 4 bars. He was a member of five Antarctic expeditions, including, the Endurance expedition under Sir Ernest Shackleton. Wild was left in command on Elephant Island while Shackleton effected their rescue. Wild served under Robert Falcon Scott and Douglas Mawson during their expeditions to the southern continent.
After his rescue, Wild volunteered to serve in the First World War. He was given a polar assignment – Royal Navy transport officer at Archangel, Russia. He learned Russian prior to the assignment.
Wild was with Shackleton when he died at South Georgia. To honour the boss’ obligations, he assumed command and continued the expedition to Antarctica. Wild eventually settled in South Africa, falling on hard times due to a struggle with alcohol. He died there in 1939.
Wild was cremated, but his ashes went astray. His last wish was to be buried on South Georgia near Shackleton’s final resting place. That is about to happen at last. What I wouldn’t give to be part of that historic return.
Why should you care? Neither Shackleton, nor Scott nor Mawson were polar medal with 4 bar recipients. All of them relied on Wild’s skill and commitment. He was a true Antarctic hero.
Recently I mentioned that I’m prepping for my cemetery tour of southern Ontario. One piece of homework has been reading Old Canadian Cemeteries: Places of Memory by Jane Irwin. Photographs by John de Visser. The book provides insight into the history, fashions and locations of…well…read the title.
I was leafing through when it fell open to a paragraph with ANTARCTIC EXPEDITIONS in caps. [No, I didn't know that the book would have a connection with my other travel obsession.]
Did you know that resting in the Cataraqui Cemetery, Kingston, ON, is Thomas MacLeod? He died December 16, 1960 – his marker reads – “Survivor of/Antarctic Expeditions/R. F. SCOTT 1910/E. SHACKLETON 1914/E. SHACKLETON 1920″
The Scotsman, honored with 2 polar medals, was 91 at his passing. He went to sea at 14 years of age, and had 27 years of seafaring under his belt when he enlisted as an able seaman.
Next time I’m passing through Kingston, I’m going to pay my respects. Good on ya, mate!