Exceptional Naval and Polar Awards from the Collection of RC Witte
Date of Auction: 13th December 2007
Sold for £2,600
Estimate: £2,000 - £2,500
1914-15 Star (206545 F. V. Browning, P.O. 1, R.N.); British War Medal 1914-20 (206545 F. V. Browning, C.P.O., R.N.), renamed; Victory Medal 1914-19 (206545 F. V. Browning, C.P.O., R.N.); Royal Geographical Society’s Scott Memorial Medal 1910-13, bronze, as issued to the crew of the Terra Nova, the edge neatly engraved, ‘F. V. Browning, Terra Nova, R.Y.S.’, this last with edge bruising, otherwise generally very fine (4) £2000-2500
Frank Vernon Browning was born in Stockland, Devon in June 1882 and entered the Royal Navy as a Boy 2nd Class in June 1900. Advanced to Petty Officer 2nd Class in November 1905, he was recruited into Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic Expedition from the Talbot, one of Lieutenant E. R. G. R. Evans’ old ships. Thereafter, having shared in the trials and tribulations of the Terra Nova’s stormy passage south, he served in the “Northern Party”, a six-man team under Commander Victor Campbell, R.N., between January 1911 and January 1913, a period that witnessed great danger and hardship.
Having spent the first 10 months of their northern sojourn at Cape Adare, where several journeys of exploration were carried out and extensive scientific observations taken, Campbell and his team were embarked in the Terra Nova in January 1912 and proceeded to Evans Cove in Terra Nova Bay, where it was intended they carry out a six week expedition. As a result of adverse ice conditions, however, the Terra Nova was unable to come and pick them up, and Campbell and his men were left stranded, with few provisions, and the daunting prospect of the imminent arrival of the Polar winter: what followed over the next nine months was a story of endurance and courage rarely matched in the annals of exploration.
Wearing light summer clothing, and equipped with light tents, it was quickly apparent that if they were to survive more substantial shelter was required. To that end, the six man team constructed a giant snow cave (or igloo), from which they rarely ventured, other than to hunt for seal and penguin. And it was thanks to Browning and Petty Officer G. P. Abbott that the occupants also enjoyed an ingenious entrance hatch made from ski-sticks and ice blocks - an endeavour prompted by the regular collapse of the orginal snow construction and the very real threat of asphyxiation. Nor did Browning’s innovative streak end here, for, in company with Seaman H. Dickason, he also came up with a “blubber lamp”, without which the interior of the ice cave would have remained pitch black in the winter months - the lamp comprised a strand of rope suspended from a “bridge” across the top of a small Oxo-tin filled with melted blubber.
FootnoteIn early August the sun returned and Browning and his comrades prepared the sledges for the return to Cape Evans. Setting off on 30 September 1912, they reached Cape Roberts four weeks later, having in the interim come upon the welcome contents of an old depot left by Shackleton’s 1907-09 expedition. In fact they discovered yet further supplies at Cape Bernacci and at Butter Point, discoveries that enabled their safe return to “Hut Point” on 6 November, but, here, of course, they learnt of the tragic fate of Scott and his party; a full account of the party’s experiences is to be found in team member R. E. Priestly’s Antarctic Adventure, Scott’s Northern Party, in addition to the diary kept by Commander Victor Campbell, which was published in Scott’s Last Expedition (Volume II).
Returning home in September 1913, as a newly promoted Petty Officer 1st Class, Browning was serving in the cruiser Carnarvon on the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, in which ship he quickly saw action in the Battle of the Falklands that December. On that occasion she supported the Invincible and Inflexible in their action against the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and was present at the final exchange of fire in the early evening - and among the 20 German survivors she picked up was an officer who was related by marriage to Admiral Stoddert, whose pennant was in Carnarvon.
Present at the capture of a brace of German supply ships in the following month, Browning in fact remained in the Carnarvon until November 1917, and gained advancement to Chief Petty Officer. His final wartime appointments were at the Devonport torpedo establishment Defiance, and in the submarine depot ship Titania, following which, in January 1920, he joined the Warspite, in which latter ship he served off Ireland in the Sinn Fein troubles, and back home at Clydeside during the coal and railway strike. He was finally pensioned ashore in June 1922.