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How, Walter Ernest

How, Walter Ernest

Alias: Hownow

Dates: 1885-1972

Nationality: British

Awards: Polar Medal (bronze)

Walter (Wally) How was born in Bermondsey on Christmas Day 1885. He was educated in Hemel Hempstead and went to sea at the age of 12. After serving in the Canadian Auxiliary Survey Ship off the Labrador coast, he applied to join the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition as an able seaman virtually as soon as Shackleton announced his expedition. It has been speculated that How was accepted for the expedition in part because of his high-latitude experience, but also because of his natural artistic talents, which could serve as a backup for the efforts of expedition artist George Marston.

From a young age, How answered only to his own call – he had married Helen Varey in 1913, and his first daughter being only six weeks old did not stop him from sailing on Endurance. He also didn't hesitate, together with Will Bakewell, in smuggling Perce Blackborow aboard in Buenos Aires and hiding him away on the ship. Yet in the moments before the departure of James Caird from Elephant Island, he willingly swapped his dry trousers for John Vincent's wet ones, despite having to live with the new ones for many days before they finally dried out. Perhaps for this and similar reasons, Shackleton clearly thought more of How than he did most of the seamen aboard. Thus, How was later awarded the Polar Medal in bronze.

After his return to Britain, How joined the merchant navy during the First World War, but he was blinded in one eye after his ship was hit by a German mine. After the war ended, he took on a variety of jobs, including painting and decorating, and continued sketching and painting in oils.

How was scheduled to take part in the Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition 1921-22 (Quest), but he withdrew due to the death of his father shortly before Quest sailed. Around 1929 he commanded the yacht Macheeb, which was owned by the Beecham family and cruised around the Scottish islands. Shortly thereafter, he became caretaker of the vessel Friendship, which was moored at London's Victoria Embankment. He held this post until the outbreak of the Second World War, when he began work with the Tottenham Gas Company.

A talented artist, How produced a number of the illustrations for Margery and James Fisher's 1957 biography of Shackleton. He also was expert at creating model ships, including those in bottles. How attended the celebrations for HMS Endurance in 1970, along with Lionel Greenstreet and Charles Green. He died in 1972 from cancer, having been the third longest survivor from the crew of Endurance.


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