Operation Tabarin: Britain’s Secret Wartime Expedition to Antarctica 1944-46.

A thorough account of the British Secret Operation Tabarin by FIDS attempting to preempt any American or Argentine territorial claims in the Antarctic Peninsula region.This description has only a few indications of reading experiences during a hastily prepared and accident-prone mission.

p. 47, imagine these conditions with no reading matter: Meanwhile, aware only that the ship had failed to return as promised, the three sledgers left at Hope Bay were forced to over-winter in a rough stone hut they built from rubble, surviving on the six months’ worth of rations they had been landed with and whatever seals and penguins they managed to kill. For eight long months, much of it spent in a depressing semi-darkness, the three men did little more than survive—their plight made all the worse by the realization that if the Antarctic had sunk, as they suspected, then all knowledge of their whereabouts would have been lost with her. It therefore came as a considerable relief when, on 29 September, they were able to make another attempt to reach the party on Snow Hill Island. This time their luck held and, on 12 October, they met Nordenskjöld and a companion sledging on Vega Island….

p. 49: When the whaling factory ship Svend Foyn returned to ‘Waterboat Point’ the following year, Captain Ola Andersen felt so convinced that the foolhardy young men must have perished that he sent one of his English officers ashore with a prayer book, prepared to read the burial service of their frozen corpses. Contrary to all expectations, the daring young eccentrics were not only alive and well but they had also gathered an impressive amount of scientific data including daily weather, tide, ice and zoological observations. Their’s had been an extraordinary adventure and must surely rank as one of the most remarkable, and bizarre, of all Antarctic expeditions. [This refers to a 1921 offshoot of a Wilkins expedition from which two members, Thomas Bagshaw and Maxime Lester decided to stay behind and over-winter near Snow Hill Island.]

p. 74, at Bransfield House at Hope Bay: Only Farrington enjoyed any degree of privacy, telling his wife with obvious satisfaction, that ‘I am to have a little corner room to myself in the hut and there I will have the wireless gear and my bed complete with spring mattress if you please. I will be able to arrange my books and other little treasures as I please.’

p. 75, of the same hut Haddelsey says: With the addition of books, photographs and an official issue of small rugs to soften and brighten the floor, the hut gradually began to take on a more homely feel.

p. 78, on the medical books for Eric Back:

The Navy provided a very good medical library for junior Medical Officers, so I ordered that, but somebody left it on the jetty at Montevideo, so the whole time I was down South, the only book I had was Aids to Tropical Diseases, but I don’t think my colleagues knew that, and they all thought I was quite a good doctor.

In addition to Tropical Diseases by Mansol Bahr, the medical library, left so carelessly on the jetty at Montevideo, would have contained such works as Venereal Diseases by Burke, Diseases of the Eye by Parsons, Naval Hygiene by Shaw, Common Skin Diseases by Roxburgh and Anaesthetics Afloat by Woolbron. It should also have included Emergency Surgery by Hamilton Bailey but, surprisingly for a book in such demand at this stage of the war [1944], it was ‘out of print’. Fortunately, Back felt competent to operate on Farrington’s septic finger without reference to its pages, though he later admitted that he had ‘… awful visions, actually, with that septic finger, something would go wrong: you’d first have to amputate his finger, and then half his arm and the rest of his arm. [One] wasn’t quite certain how you were going to end up.’

p. 80: Over the next few months the gramophone, with its accompanying 150 records, would come to be seen as a mixed blessing. On the one hand, as Farrington told his wife in a typically homesick letter, a familiar piece could remind the men of a world far removed from the one they currently inhabited: ‘As I listen to the record being played here, eight thousand and more miles from home, I picture you and me sitting there facing each other across the kitchen table in the little kitchen where we have known such happiness.’ On the other hand, the constant repetition of personal favourites caused extreme irritation to unwilling ears. According to Taylor, who often buried his head in his bedclothes in order to muffle the oft-repeated tunes, ‘we found ourselves anticipating every note and inflection as some tunes wore deeper and deeper grooves into the same records night after night.’ At times, the desire to destroy the offending records must have become almost irresistible….’`

p. 118: In these near perfect conditions, photography became a popular pursuit, and the explorers—singly and en masse—the scientific specimens and the natural environment were all recorded. ‘The results of [Lamb’s] developing and printing were interesting to all,’ wrote Taylor, ‘and a familiar sight was to see someone standing over the tub in which he washed the prints, fishing them out one at a time to examine the dripping pictures.’