A fascinating oral history project about the British work in Antarctica over the last few decades has just launched to the public. The project is the result of a collaboration between UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, British Antarctic Survey, BAS Club and Scott Polar Research Institute, and aims to “capture and preserve the recollections and memories of those extraordinarily dedicated individuals who have worked in Antarctica, with a particular focus on those who worked for, or closely with BAS and its predecessors, Operation Tabarin, 1943-45 and Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS), 1945-61”.
So far, over 280 interviews have been recorded, of which 51 are currently available on the project website. One of the interviews records ex-BAS employee Ben Hodges talking movingly about his dog team and the emotional bond that he felt with them. Earlier in the interview, Ben had described what happened when an entire team of dogs fell into a hidden crevasse, and he had to climb down single-handed to haul them out. In this clip, he explains that the dogs were more than just a useful resource to be exploited:
“They had to be rescued whether I had to carry them down the glacier one at a time … They are friends, and companions. You don’t desert them. If there was a man in a crevasse, ten feet away from the crevasse that the dogs were in, I would have to pay attention to the man. But I would be on tenterhooks about the dogs. I would have to get the dogs back.”
Ben’s interview, including a full transcript, is available for streaming or download here.
In another clip, John Huckle reflects on the differences faced by modern polar scientists and “old-timers”. Interestingly, he also remembers dogs falling into crevasses – but points out that this early warning of unstable ground could be useful:
“You’d drive your dog team ahead of you, and if a snow bridge was going to give way, there was a very good chance it would give way under one of the dogs. That was an advantage we had over you people, because you had to fall down the bloody thing yourself!”
The remaining interviews will be made available on the BAS Club website as they become transcribed, and we look forward to hearing more recollections from Antarctic “old-timers”!