Exceptional Naval and Polar Awards from the Collection of RC Witte
Date of Auction: 13th December 2007
Sold for £52,000
Estimate: £20,000 - £25,000
British War and Victory Medals (Lieut. F. Wild, R.N.V.R.), in their card box of issue
Royal Geographical Society’s Gold Patron’s Medal (Commander Frank Wild, C.B.E., 1924), contained in gold glazed case, in its fitted case of issue
Royal Geographical Society’s Silver Medal for Scott’s First Antarctic Expedition 1902-04 (Frank Wild, R.N.), in its fitted Wyon, London case of issue
Royal Geographical Society’s Silver Medal for Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition 1907-09 (F. Wild), in its fitted case of issue
Royal Scottish Geographical Society’s Silver Medal for Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition 1907-09, the reverse engraved, ‘Frank Wild, Member of the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909’, in its Kirkwood, Edinburgh fitted case of issue
National Antarctic Expedition 1902-04 Silver Medal for Sports (Frank Wild), as won by him for gaining 2nd place in a taboggan race held on the King’s birthday in 1902
Dress Miniature of the Polar Medal 1904, E.VII.R., 2 clasps, Antarctic 1902-04, Antarctic 1907-09, occasional edge bruising, generally good very fine (8) £20000-25000
FootnoteSold with a quantity of original documentation, including Wild's C.B.E. Warrant, dated 1 January 1920; Royal Geographical Society letter of notification for the award of the Gold Patron's Medal, dated 3 March 1924; Board of Trade correspondence regarding the award of the British War and Mercantile Marine Medals, dated September 1921; American Geographical Society letter of notification for the award of the David Livingstone Medal, dated 14 May 1924; Parchment Copy of the Freedom of the City of London, dated 11 May 1923; British Passport, valid w.e.f. 29 May 1923; Union of South Africa travel permit, dated 6 November 1931; and a copy of Wild's Birth Certificate, date stamped 20 November 1937.
Commander John Robert Francis "Frank" Wild, C.B.E., was born at Skelton, Yorkshire, in April 1873 and educated at Bedford. A direct descendant on his mother's side of Captain James Cook, he joined the Royal Navy at the age of 16 years and in 1901 was drawn from Vernon to serve in the National Antarctic Expedition under Commander Robert Falcon Scott, R.N. Still rated onlv an Able Seaman, he gave ample evidence of the qualities that would permit him to take part in more Antarctic Expeditions than any other explorer excepting Sir Ernest Shackleton. In March 1902 he was a member of Lieutenant Barnes's sledge party which made the first attempt to reach Cape Crozier, but which was forced to turn back with the loss of George Vince. Between 10 and 19 September of the same year he participated in the South-West reconnaissance to Koettlitz Glacier, and a month later supported Lieutenant Royds's party on its journey to Cape Crozier. Having bagged an N.A.E. Sports Medal for second place in the Toboggan Race held on the King's Birthday in November, he started out with 'B' sledge party under Petty Officer Allan at the end of the month, on Lieutenant Armitage’s "Western Journey" that established the route to the Ferrar Glacier. On this occasion the sledge reached 7,600 feet but did not, however, gain the summit owing to the severe illness of Petty Officer Macfarlane and the mild attacks of mountain sickness suffered by Wild and another member of the team. Finally, almost a year later, he was one of the partv which reached 25 miles beyond Minna Bluff in support of Lieutenant Barnes's South-West effort. Interestingly, it is recorded that after these experiences Wild could be counted among those who declined to follow Scott a second time, even 'after the most pressing invitations'.
Upon his return to England, Wild received his R.G.S. Medal in February 1905 from Sir Clements Markham, and, as Petty Officer Ist Class, was presented with his Polar Medal by the Commanding Officer of H.M.S. Pembroke on 19 December of the same year. Leaving the Navy shortly afterwards he was next selected bv Ernest Shackleton not only to accompany his Antarctic Expedition of 1907-09, but to take charge of the provisions. Furthermore, he was one of the three men that Shackleton chose for the attempt on the South Pole between October 1908 and February 1909. While the party, consisting of Marshall and Adanis, besides Wild and Shackleton, failed in its principal aim, the attempt beat all previous records, reaching Latitude 88 degrees, 23 minutes South, or only 97 geographical miles from the Pole, thereby establishing a new “Farthest South” record. During this latter epic, Wild carried out repairs to the sledges and other equipment, and assisted Shackleton in making geological observations. Indeed it was Wild at 6,000 feet who found the outcrop of coal on the Upper Beardmore Glacier.
Returning to the U.K., he remained in Shackleton's pay until the end of 1910 when he joined a former member of the latter's team, Sir Douglas Mawson, who gave him a berth on the staff of his Australian Antarctic Expedition which sailed from London in the Aurora in July 1911. Appointed leader of the Queen Mary Land Station over the Winter of 1912-13, Wild led the Eastern Party to Mount Barr Smith, a point just 50 miles short of the snow-free oasis discovered bv Admiral Byrd 35 years later, again earning the respect of his chief who was later to state, 'Wild won the sincere regard of the members of his party, and the admiration of all for the splendid way in which he executed the difficult task entrusted to him'. On his return from the Australian Expedition, he was asked by Shackleton to go South once more, this time as the second-in-command of the British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
In August 1914 he accordingly sailed with Shackleton from Plymouth in the Endurance for the Weddell Sea, which was to be the base for an attempt to cross the Antarctic Continent to the Ross Sea via the South Pole. Tragically the crossing never took place. For ten months the Endurance was gripped in the pack ice, leaving the crew stranded on minimal rations and without any means of contacting the outside world. Eventually the ship was crushed and sank, and for the next five months Wild, Shackleton, and their 26 companions suffered the most unbelievable privations- frostbite, insomnia and wracking hunger - whilst retreating over ice which had a tendency to open beneath their feet. Fortunately, Wild, like Shackleton, was at his best in a crisis. When nearly starving in early, 1916, 'a strange shape appeared, moving deliberately across a nearbv section of their old floe. Wild ran to get his rifle from his tent, when he dropped to one knee and shot. The animal bucked, and slowly sank down on to the ice. Several men hurried to where it lay - a sea leopard nearly 11 feet long. With one bullet, it seemed, Wild had changed the whole complexion of their lives. There at their feet lay nearly 1,000 pounds of meat ... Shackleton announced that they would feast on the sea leopard’s liver for lunch'.
In April 1916 the shipwrecked explorers launched three rescue boats salvaged from Endurance, and, clearing loose pack ice, reached Elephant Island. From this desolate spot Shackleton with five men made his famous voyage in one of the boats to South Georgia and from there organised the rescue operation. Wild pleaded Shackleton to be allowed to share the dangers of the voyage, but was given the onerous task of holding the rest of the partv together on Elephant Island for an unknown period of time. ‘The trust reposed in Wild was fully justified', for incredibly, not a single life was lost.
On the return of the Expedition to Europe Wild was commissioned Lieutenant in the R.N.V.R. and sent to Archangel to superintend the arrival of war materials. In 1918 he was released by the Admiralty to take part in an expedition under Shackleton to Spitsbergen, ostensibly to prospect for minerals but quasi-officially, to establish a British presence in the area.
Awarded his C.B.E. in the New Year Honours of 1920, Wild then went into partnership with the Surgeon of the Weddell Sea Expedition, Dr. McIllroy, and tried his hand as a planter in Nyasaland, but the invitation of Sir Ernest Shackleton to join a new expedition proved irresistible and in September 1921, he sailed South as his second-in-command in the Quest. On Shackleton’s unexpected death at South Georgia in January 1922, Wild assumed command and continued the voyage until stopped by ice 50 miles from the Enderby Land Coast, and after some oceanographic work in the South Atlantic, returned home in June 1922. The following year he published Shackleton’s Last Voyage, and in 1924 was awarded the Patron's Medal of the Royal Geographical Society together with a Civil List Pension. Wild emigrated to South Africa in 1927 where he died in 1939. Frank Wild’s Polar Medal with four clasps remains in possession of a member of his family in South Africa.