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Wild, John Robert Francis

Wild, John Robert Francis

Alias: Frank

Title: Mr

Rank: Array

Dates: 1873-1939

Nationality: British

Awards: Polar Medal (silver); Patron's Medal, Royal Geographic Society (1924); British War Medal; Mercantile Marine War Medal; Victory Medal; Commander of the British Empire (1920)

John Robert Francis (Frank) Wild was born on 10 April 1873 in Skelton, Yorkshire, as the eldest of eight sons of Benjamin Wild, a schoolmaster, and Mary Wild, a seamstress. He was educated for 12 years in Bedford before joining the Merchant Navy at 1889 at the age of 16. He rose quickly to the rank of Second Officer, and then transferred to the Royal Navy in 1900 as an able seaman. In 1901 Wild volunteered for the British National Antarctic Expedition 1901-04 (Discovery), led by Robert Falcon Scott, and served as an able seaman. He took part in several sledging expeditions, including an attempt to reach Cape Crozier in March 1902, and was a member of the Main Western party, led by Albert Armitage.

After the Discovery Expedition, Wild remained in the Navy and was based at Sheerness Gunnery School. He was released by the Admiralty in 1907 to join the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-09 (Nimrod), led by Ernest Henry Shackleton, and was in charge of provisions. He was a member of the Southern Party, led by Shackleton, which set out on 29 October 1908 with the aim of reaching the South Pole, getting as far as 88°23' S.

Wild joined the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911-14 (Aurora), led by Douglas Mawson, and was in charge of the Western Base at the western termination of Shackleton Ice Shelf. His party undertook extensive scientific programmes and several extended sledge journeys were made, including one during which he reached Mount Barr Smith with three companions in December 1912.

He next went to the Antarctic as second-in-command of the Weddell Sea Party on Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914-16 (Endurance). After Endurance was crushed in the pack Wild steered the James Caird in the open-boat journey to Elephant Island, taking charge of the Elephant Island camp while Shackleton sailed for South Georgia. Twenty-two men remained on the island for 105 days, and it was largely due to Wild that morale was maintained until Shackleton returned to rescue them.

On his return in 1916, Wild was commissioned in the Royal Navy, and acted as transport officer on the North Russian front. In 1918-19, he wintered in Spitsbergen and soon afterwards went to southern Africa to farm. He then went south one last time to serve as second-in-command of the Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition 1921-22 (Quest). On Shackleton's death on 5 January 1922 in South Georgia, Wild took command and the expedition continued, and after three months of a modified program briefly exploring the South Sandwich Islands and the Weddell Sea the expedition returned to England.

After Shackleton's death Wild abandoned Antarctic exploration, but struggled to find permanent employment. He farmed in Zululand, joined the Navy, worked as a hotel barman, and finally became a store keeper at the Babrosco goldmine near Klerksdorp in South Africa. He died in Klerksdorp 19 August 1939. On 27 November 2011, his ashes were interred on the right-hand side of the grave of Shackleton, his life-long friend, in Grytviken cemetery on South Georgia.

Wild was highly decorated for his actions as an explorer, being awarded a CBE in 1920 and earning many scientific medals including a Patron's medal from the Royal Geographical Society in 1924, being made a Freeman of the City of London in 1923 and receiving a Polar Medal with four bars; the only other person to have received this accolade was Ernest Joyce. Wild’s contribution to Antarctic exploration is commemorated by Cape Wild 68°23’ S 149°07’ E, Mount Wild 64°12’ S 58°53 W, Mount Wild 84°48’ S 162°40’ E and Point Wild 61°6 S 54°52' W and Wild Icefalls.


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