Throughout most of the expedition, James regularly kept a diary, and his account of the time spent on Elephant Island gives perhaps the best insight into what conditions were really like for the 22 men left stranded there. Paper being scarce, he was forced to write some of his diary on spare pages in the copy of Lang’s Translation of the “Iliad”, which was one of the few books the men rescued from the sinking Endurance. The book is still in the safe keeping of the James family. His diary includes a number of maps and sketches.
Reginald James, having run out of paper, was reduced to continuing his diary on spare pages in Lang’s Translation of the “Iliad” . The book survives today, and is in the safe keeping of the James family. ( photo courtesy of J.S.James. )
After being rescued from Elephant Island by Shackleton, James, along with the other 21 men arrived in Punta Arenas on 3rd September 1916. He immediately wrote the following letter to his brother George:
Hotel Royal de Ferd. Garnier. Punta Arenas Sept 3rd 1916
I don’t know whether this can get to you under the circumstances, but it is worth attempting. Arrived here today on Chilean vessel “Yelcho” having been picked up at Elephant Island last Wednesday.
The Boss’s 4th attempt. Am very well and fit. We have had lots of food all winter as we always managed to get penguins but I think we were a bit lucky to do so. The whole party complete and well, the only loss being that one of the sailors lost his toes through frostbite in the boat journey. A mail leaves tonight. All being well expect to be home middle of October. The war news was a great surprise to us. We had all reckoned on the trouble being over. Our most pressing need for a wash. We have had a great reception here, crowds, bands and all the rest of it.
Am afraid there is no time for more now as I am likely to lose mail, moreover I don’t seem able to write much, the power of expression seems dormant for the time. Probably you will have gathered nearly as much as I could tell you from the papers, but you can take my word for it that we are very lucky to have got out of this mess.