Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (19 - 21 June 2013)

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Date of Auction: 19th - 21st June 2013

Sold for £58,000

Estimate: £25,000 - £30,000

‘The Crozier Party returned last night after enduring five weeks of the hardest conditions on record. They looked more weather-worn than anyone I have yet seen. Their faces were scarred and wrinkled, their eyes dull, their hands whitened and creased with the constant exposure to damp and cold, yet the scars of frostbite were very few and this evil had never seriously assailed them. The main part of their afflictions arose, and very obviously arose from sheer lack of sleep, and today after a night’s rest our travellers are very different in appearance and mental capacity ... Cherry-Garrard is slightly puffy in the face and still looks worn. It is evident that he has suffered most severely - but Wilson tells me that his spirit never wavered for a moment.’

Captain Scott’s journal, Wednesday 2 August 1911.

The important and emotive Polar Medal awarded to Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Assistant Zoologist to Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic Expedition 1910-13, in which he survived temperatures as low as -77 in “The Worst Journey in the World” with Dr. Wilson and “Birdie” Bowers - the title of his much acclaimed book - and accompanied Scott on the Southern Journey to the top of the Beardmore Glacier: above all, however, it was his misfortune to be compelled to turn back from One Ton Depot when Scott and his polar team were some 12 miles distant, a fate that haunted him for the rest of his life and one which was compounded by his presence at the discovery of the ill-fated team’s last tent

Polar Medal 1904, G.V.R., 1st issue, silver, 1 clasp, Antarctic 1910-13 (A. Cherry-Garrard, B.A., Terra Nova), in its original named card box of issue, together with The Royal Geographical Society’s Scott Memorial Medal, silver, by F. Bowcher, 55mm., in its fitted case of issue, extremely fine (2) £25000-30000


For the full story of the recipient’s remarkable life, interested parties are recommended to Sara Wheeler’s excellent biography Cherry - A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, in addition to his own masterpiece, The Worst Journey in the World.

Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard was born in January 1886, the only son of Major-General Apsley Cherry-Garrard, and was educated at Winchester and Christ Church, Oxford, where he was a distinguished oar, rowing for the crew which won the Grand Challenge Cup in 1908. After graduating, he travelled the world, and it was soon after his return home that he met Dr. Edward Wilson at a shooting party in Scotland - through whom he was introduced to Scott and selected for the Antarctic Expedition 1910-13.


Quiet and unassuming, the 24 year old Zoologist quickly made his mark, Scott noting in his journal how he somehow managed to do more than his share of work, even though afflicted by such poor eyesight. A participant in the depot-laying journey in early 1911, in which he suffered his first bout of frostbite, he settled down to editing the South Polar Times during the opening months of the first winter at Cape Evans. Ahead, however, lay fresh challenges that would inspire one of the great stories of polar exploration.

The Worst Journey in the World

Dr. Edward Wilson, “Birdie” Bowers and Cherry-Garrard departed Cape Evans for the Emperor Penguin breeding grounds at Cape Crozier on 27 June 1911, their objective being to acquire specimens of birds and eggs, and to make a record of travel conditions in region. The outward journey of some 70 miles took the party 19 days to accomplish, a reflection of the prevailing Polar winter conditions - so, too, of the fact each man had to drag the equivalent of 250lbs. of equipment, dispersed over two nine foot sledges. In fact, pretty well from the outset, the prevailing conditions lent credence to the argument that what followed was one of the greatest feats of human endurance on record - a story superbly related by Cherry-Garrard’s in The Worst Journey in the World.

Just two days out from Cape Evans, the snow surface changed completely, and grew progressively worse as they continued their slow, painful march, and the temperatures were such that no man had previously endured under canvas - for more than a week the thermometer fell to -60 degrees and at one point even registered -77, with 109 degrees frost. And on rounding Cape Mackay, they faced blizzard after blizzard, the sky for the most part overcast, rendering a more or less permanent state of darkness, a most unwelcome visitor to those charged with crossing crevasses and pressure ridges. Notwithstanding such perils they reached Cape Crozier after 19 days and, having constructed a hut of stone walls, with canvas top, set about their work.

However, the scant twilight at midday was so short that they had to start out in the dark and be prepared for the risk of missing their way in returning without light. On the first day in which they set forth under these conditions it took them two hours to reach the pressure ridges, and to clamber over them roped together occupied nearly the same time; finally they reached a place above the rookery where they could hear the Emperor Penguins, but from which they were quite unable to find a way down. The poor light was failing and they returned to camp. Starting again on the following day they wound their way through frightful ice disturbances under the high basalt cliffs, in places the rock overhung, and at one spot they had to creep through a small channel hollowed in the ice. At last they reached the sea ice, but now the light was so far spent they were obliged to rush everything. Instead of the 2,000 or 3,000 nesting birds which had been seen here in Discovery days, they could now only count about 100; they hastily killed and skinned three to get blubber for their stove, and collected six eggs, three of which alone survived their frantic dash for camp. The light had failed entirely by the time the party were clear of the pressure ridges on their return, and it was only by good luck they made it back.

That night a blizzard commenced, increasing in fury from moment to moment, and heavy blocks of snow and rock placed on the roof were whirled away and the canvas ballooned up, tearing and straining at its fastenings - its disappearance could only be a question of time. They had erected their tent with some valuables inside close to the hut - it had been well spread and more than amply secured with snow and boulders - but one terrific gust tore it up and whirled it away. Inside the hut they waited for the roof to vanish, wondering what they would do if it went, and vainly endeavouring to make it secure. And after 14 hours it did indeed disappear in a flurry into the blizzard, as they were trying to pin down one corner. The smother of snow was quickly on them, and they could only dive for their sleeping-bags with a gasp. Bowers put his head out once and said, “We're all right,” - in as near his ordinary tones as he could compass. The others replied “Yes, we're all right,” and then all were silent for a night and half a day whilst the wind howled on and the snow entered every chink and crevice of the sleeping-bags, the embattled occupants shivering and wondering how it would all end.

It was a memorable day, the 23 July, the team registering the maximum wind force of their trip. But at length the wind fell at noon the following day and the forlorn travellers crept from their icy nests, made shift to spread their floor cloth overhead, and lit their primus, thereby tasting their first food for 48 hours. Thoughts then turned to planning a means to building proper shelter on the homeward route and, at length, they decided that they must dig a large pit nightly and cover it as best they could with their floor cloth. But now fortune befriended them, for a search to the north revealed the tent lying amongst boulders a quarter of a mile away, and, strange to relate, practically undamaged, a fine testimonial for the material used in its construction.

On the following day they started homeward, and immediately another blizzard fell on them, holding them prisoners for two days. By this time the miserable condition of their effects was beyond description. The sleeping-bags were far too stiff to be rolled up, in fact they were so hard frozen that attempts to bend them actually split the skins; the eiderdown bags inside Wilson's and Cherry-Garrard’s reindeer covers served but to fitfully stop the gaps made by such rents. All socks and mittens had long been coated with ice and placed in breast pockets or inside vests at night they did not even show signs of thawing, much less of drying. And it sometimes took Cherry-Garrard three-quarters of an hour to get into his sleeping-bag, so flat did it freeze and so difficult was it to open. Indeed it is scarcely possible to appreciate the appalling hardships faced by the gallant trio as they plodded back across the Barrier with the temperature again constantly below -60°. In this fashion they eventually reached Hut Point, where Scott and the remainder of the expedition were spell bound by the story of their comrades. Scott wrote:

‘Wilson is disappointed at seeing so little of the penguins, but to me and to everyone who has remained here the result of this effort is the appeal it makes to our imagination as one of the most gallant stories in Polar history. That men should wander forth in the depth of a Polar night to face the most dismal cold and the fiercest gales in darkness is something new; that they should have persisted in this effort in spite of every adversity for five full weeks is heroic. It makes a tale for our generation which I hope may not be lost in the telling’.

The Southern Party

As the Polar winter came to an end, preparations were made for the journey to the South Pole - equipment was tested, animals were exercised and a number of training journeys were made. Nonetheless, Cherry-Garrard managed to produce the second volume of the South Polar Times. Then on 3 November 1911, he set off with Scott on his march into history, sharing with his companions in all of their hardships and tribulations for some three quarters of the journey to the Pole, before being sent back in Surgeon E. L. Atkinson’s party on reaching the top of the Beardmore Glacier. Atkinson recalled their parting and return journey in his journal thus:

‘Return of first Southern Party from Lat. 85° 7' S. top of the Beardmore Glacier.  Party: E. L. Atkinson, A. Cherry-Gerrard, C. S. Wright and Petty Officer Keohane. On the morning of 22 December 1911, we made a late start after saying goodbye to the eight going on, and wishing them all good luck and success. The first 11 miles was on the down-grade over the ice-falls, and as a good pace we completed this in about 4 hours. Lunched, and on, completing nearly 23 miles for the first day. At the end of the second day we got among very bad crevasses through keeping too far to the eastward. This delayed us slightly and we made the depot on the third day. We reached the Lower Glacier Depot three and a half days after. The lower part of the glacier was very badly crevassed. These crevasses we had never seen on the way up, as they had been covered with three to four feet of snow. All the bridges of crevasses were concave and very wide; no doubt their normal summer condition. On Christmas Day we made it to the lateral moraine of the Cloudmaker and collected geological specimens. The march across the Barrier was only remarkable for the extremely bad lights we had. For eight consecutive days we only saw an exceedingly dim sun during three hours. Up to One Ton Depot our marches had averaged 14.1 geographical miles a day. We arrived at Cape Evans on 28 January 1912, after being away for three months’.

Attempt to save the Polar Team and subsequent discovery of their last camp

In her opening chapter in the biography, Cherry - A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Sara Wheeler neatly summarises the next most significant events in the young Zoologist’s life:

‘Cherry tortured himself over his actions in February 1912, when he had driven a team of dogs 150 miles south to a food depot to wait for Captain Scott and his four companions; they were expected to return from the Pole at any day. Winter was closing in and Cherry was navigating for the first time in his life, desperately handicapped by short sight, brutal temperatures and diminishing light. He reached the food depot with his Russian dog-driver, and, following instructions, they stopped, pinned down in a tiny tent in hundreds of miles of opaque, swirling drift. They could not go on: they had no dog food to spare. Cherry remembered straining his eyes in the milky light of the Great Ice Barrier, looking for men who never came. One night he was so sure he could see figures approaching that he had reached for his boots and set out to meet them.

The truth was that he could have gone on. He could have pressed on through the blizzard, killing a dog at a time to feed to the others. He had been ordered to spare the dogs, but, as he had once written, 'In this sort of life orders have to be elastic.' If he had killed the dogs, and if he had journeyed just twelve-and-a-half miles further, there was a tiny chance that he might have stumbled on a small pyramid tent in which three men were dying. One was Captain Scott. The other two were Birdie Bowers and Bill Wilson, the closest friends Cherry had ever had. It was Bill who had got him onto the expedition; Bill who had stood in for his dead father; Bill who had taught him the things he came to think were most important. In death and in life, Bill was never far from Cherry's mind. 'If you knew him,' he wrote of his mentor, 'you could not like him: you simply had to love him.' When, having missed Scott and the others, he got back to the hut that was their Antarctic base, Cherry dreamt that his friends walked in. Almost two decades later he noted in the margin of his polar journal, 'My relief was so intense that I can remember waking up to the disappointment even now.'

Ten months after the journey to the food depot Cherry and a search party found the tent, piled with snow and weighted to the ice by three mottled corpses. He went through Bill's pockets, collecting the contents for his widow. The body was hard, like stone. After prayers, they left the three men side by side in their sleeping bags, removing the bamboo tent poles and collapsing the cambric over them. The sun was dipping low over the Pole, the Barrier almost in shadow, and the sky was a mass of iridescent cloud, dark against gold and emerald. Cherry said it was a grave which kings must envy.’

It was Cherry-Garrard who suggested the epitaphs for Captain Oates - “Hereabouts died a very gallant gentleman” - and for the memorial cross placed above the polar team’s last tent - “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”.

The Terra Nova having returned to Cape Evans in January 1913, the expedition was embarked within 24 hours for the voyage home.

The Great War

Cherry-Garrard’s wartime career is summarised thus in the foreword to The Worst Journey in the World:

‘With the outbreak of war in August of this year Cherry tried first for a job as an orderly in the R.A.M.C., and Sir Frederick Treves offered him a motor-car for the transport of wounded men, but he was no mechanic. However, he bought a Douglas motor-cycle and applied for service as a dispatch rider, was accepted, and sent to Aldershot on 20 September for training in 8th Signalling Company, R.E. After a month in barracks with 150 men, among whom on his first night he had to fight for a bed, he was 'about to be made a corporal' when he was sent to the orderly room. His Captain informed him that a wire had arrived from a Commander in the Admiralty asking whether he would accept an appointment with armoured cars. Within a few days he was commissioned Lieutenant-Commander, R.N.V.R. As this rank was equivalent to that of Major in the army he thought it would not be impertinent to bestow his motor-cycle upon his late Captain as a parting gift! He was posted to the command of No. 5 squadron, which served in Flanders from April to August 1915 when it was disbanded. By this time Cherry was himself a sick man and was invalided out with chronic colitis. During a long convalescence he began writing The Worst Journey which he finished in 1922. In his introduction he clearly shows how little he esteemed comradeship in arms beside comradeship in exploration: 'Talk of ex-soldiers: give me ex-antarcticists, unsoured and with their ideals intact: they could sweep the world.’

The Latter Years

The concluding paragraphs of Cherry-Garrard’s obituary in The Times state:

‘He recovered some of his bodily strength in the early 1920s, but the shadow of the Scott tragedy still hung over his mind and altered his interests, almost reversing many of them. He gave up shooting, became almost hostile to fox hunting and disappointed the churchmen who had been accustomed to his support in the parish. His relaxations were book collecting (first editions if possible) and cruises in the Mediterranean, but he still lived with the polar expedition and would talk of little else.

in 1939 he married Angela, the daughter of Kenneth Turner, of Ipswich, and for a time he recovered his flair for conversation and some interests in a wider prospect than the past. The war years were hardly such as to help him regain full mental balance and he became more withdrawn, more introspective than ever, and ceaselessly worried about his health. To his friends of earlier days this was a tragedy; they felt it was a case of once noble mind now overthrown and disordered by dwelling on a far-off past of glorious friendship and perhaps a needlessly uneasy conscience about the part he played.

Whether he could ever have repeated the literary success that came in his Worst Journey in the World is a moot point, but that book will remain for all time a triumph of the art of narrative and a memorial to the men whose death took most of the savour of life from their youngest colleague’.

Apsley Cherry-Garrard died in London on 18 May 1959, aged 73.