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Vincent, John William

Vincent, John William

Alias: Bosun

Title: Mr

Dates: 1884-1941

Nationality: British

Awards: None

John Vincent was born in 1884 in a suburb of Birmingham, due to a mistake on his grave this is often quoted as 1879. He went to sea at around 13 years of age., his jobs included working on North Sea trawlers. Vincent married in 1910 and had two small children when he signed up to the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by Shackleton.

Hired as boatswain, Shackleton later reduced him in rank to an able seaman. Vincent was one of the men chosen to make the voyage on James Caird to South Georgia. At the departure from Elephant Island, he became soaked up to his neck, and had to change clothes with Wally How; (he only changed his trousers – and not his wet-through sweater or coat drawing unkind comments that he had others property hidden there.) During the journey to South Georgia, Vincent's health deteriorated progressively until, according to Shackleton, he effectively ceased to be an active member of the crew, previously he had attempted to scrape ice off the James Caird in the middle of a succession of high waves, when he nearly slid off the boat. In Worsley's words: 'I saw Vincent slide right across the icy sheathing of the canvas, and, horror stricken, I threw myself forward instinctively to help him, only to find that he was beyond my reach. Fortunately he managed to grasp the mast just as he was going overboard' (Worsley, 'Endurance', 1931: 118).

In a very bad physical state when the party reached South Georgia, Vincent was left with Harry McNish and Tim McCarthy while Shackleton, Worsley, and Tom Crean left to cross the island. The three were later picked up by the Norwegians and were then returned to England from South Georgia on the Norwegian steamer Orwell. Vincent was one of four members of the expedition not recommended for the Polar Medal.

After Vincent returned to England, he joined the Royal Navy Reserve. Vincent continued to work on Trawlers out of Hull, gaining his skipper’s licence in 1922. His wife and fifth child died in 1923, Vincent married again, and settled in Grimsby, together raising the five sons and four daughters they had between them. Constantly living on the breadline, the family nearly starved when a ship Vincent was in command of was stranded off the coast of Iceland, and the board of trade suspended his skippers licence. Fortunately he was able to find work out of Finland.
During the Second World War, Vincent enlisted in the Royal Naval Reserve and was given command of the armed vessel HM Trawler ‘Alfredian’, operating in the North Sea. While skipper of ‘Alfredian’, he developed pneumonia. He was transferred to the naval hospital in Grimsby, where he died aged 66.
Vincent was buried with full Naval honours in Scartho Road Cemetary, Grimsby.
Though his war grave and death certificate state he was 61, it’s probable that it got mixed up with another John Vincent of that age born in Birmingham and living in Grimsby at the time. Further research has proven that the John Vincent of the Endurance was born 24-01-1884, making him just a few days away from his 57th Birthday when he died.


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