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McIlroy, James Archibald

McIlroy, James Archibald

Alias: Jim

Title: Mr

Dates: unknown-1968

Nationality: British

Awards: Polar Medal (silver)

Jim McIlroy was born in Ulster, Ireland, but his family soon moved to Kings Norton, then part of Worcestershire (and now an area of Birmingham). He was educated at Camp Hill Grammar School and earned his medical degree at the University of Birmingham. He took up a position at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham before spending a number of years practicing medicine in Japan and Egypt and serving as a medical officer aboard ships in the East Indies.

McIlroy was back in England on sick leave, suffering from malaria, when he heard about the upcoming Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. He applied and Shackleton immediately interviewed him. During the interview, he could not stop shivering due to the malaria, and Shackleton insisted that he pass a medical exam before he was considered. McIlroy agreed and had a friend who was also a physician pass him as fit. He was thereupon hired as the second surgeon, with Shackleton not letting him know that no one else had applied.

During his time aboard Endurance, McIlroy was responsible for one of the six dog teams, but did not see a great number of medical problems. While on Elephant Island, however, he and fellow surgeon Alexander Macklin had a full agenda, with several men suffering from frostbite, Lewis Rickinson having heart troubles, Huberht Hudson suffering from a painful abscess as well as a nervous breakdown, Alexander Kerr requiring a tooth to be taken out, James Wordie having a hand infection, and the amputation of Perce Blackborow’s toes. For his contributions throughout the expedition, McIlroy was later awarded the Polar Medal in silver.

After returning to England with some of the other expedition members on Highland Laddie, McIlroy went into the army and saw action in Italy and France before being wounded at Ypres. He was invalided out and thereupon joined Frank Wild and Frank Bickerton (a member of Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition) in purchasing a cotton farm in the wilds of Nyasaland (today Malawi). Bickerton left due to suffering from malaria, but McIlroy and Wild remained until they joined the Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition 1921-22 (Quest).

After returning from the Quest Expedition, McIlroy went back to sea with P&O Lines, for whom he eventually became chief surgeon. During the Second World War he nearly lost his life when the ship he was serving in, S.S. Oronsay, was torpedoed off the coast of West Africa. McIlroy and some of the crew spent five days drifting in an open boat before they were rescued. After McIlroy finally had to retire from P&O due to his age, he moved to Aberystwyth, but, finding life on land not to his tastes, he returned to sea with the Clan Line, a merchant shipping company, to which he gave a false date of birth to gain employment. McIlroy continued to work on ships until his late seventies, and, after retiring in Surrey, died there in 1968 at the age of 88.


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