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Picture Library catalogue: British Arctic Air Route Expedition 1930-31

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British Arctic Air Route Expedition 1930-31

The object of the British Arctic Air Route Expedition (BAARE) of 1930-31 was to investigate the possibility of a new and shorter air passage between England and Canada. The proposed air route would cross the Arctic via the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, Baffin Island and Hudson Bay before reaching Winnipeg. With the patronage of the Royal Geographical Society and support from the British Air Ministry, Admiralty and War Office and a number of commercial sponsors, the BAARE’s aim was to survey the least known part of the flight path, the east coast and central ice plateau of Greenland. By monitoring weather conditions, crossing the ice sheet by dogsled and aeroplane, as well as surveying part of the mountainous coast, it would report on flying conditions and the possibility of establishing an air base in the region. Organised and led by Henry (Gino) Watkins, the BAARE consisted of fourteen men with an average age of 25 and little Polar experience between them. Equipment included two aircraft, two motorboats, dogs and sleds.

The BAARE left London on the Shackleton’s old vessel, 'Quest', on July 6, 1930. They established their base camp 40 miles west of Angmagssalik (now Ammassalik). A station was also established 140 miles from base camp on the Ice Cap at the highest point on the proposed air route. Here meteorological conditions were to be constantly measured throughout the Expeditions stay on Greenland. During summer 1930, a survey was made of 200 miles of coastline North of base camp to Kangerdlugsuak. Using 'Quest' and a seaplane the coast was photographed and mapped, whilst geological and ornithological surveys were completed. From September to October 1930 a party travelled northwest from the base camp to Icy Cape, whilst in early spring 1931 an unsuccessful attempt was made to reach Kangerdlugsuak by sledge. Tragedy almost struck during the winter. One member of the party, Augustine Courtauld, had remained alone at the Ice Cap Station to record meteorological conditions. He had rations and fuel to last for approximately three months, but due to terrible weather conditions it was not until he had been at the station for 150 days that a relief party was able to reach him, just as his fuel ran out. In late spring 1931 a party travelled to the Mount Forel district, 100 miles north of base camp, to record geological and meteorological conditions, and in July 1931 a group of three crossed Icy Cape from the base to Ivigtut on the southwest coast. In late summer 1931 a combined sledge and kayak journey was made across the ice cap from the base to Holsteinsborg on the west coast. A final trip by boat was made by Watkins and three others around the southeast coast to Julianehaab on the west coast. This was a journey of nearly 600 miles, made with minimal equipment and relying on hunting seals from kayaks and shooting birds for their food. Using skills they learnt form the local Inuit, this form of lightweight expedition added a new element in Arctic exploration. Alongside information gathered on these expeditions, surveys were also made of the district around the base camp and around nearby Sermilik Fjord. Air photographs were taken with detailed ornithological, geological and metereological records being made. The party returned in Autumn 1931.

The expedition's success was acknowledged by the award to Watkins of the Hans Egede medal in Copenhagen and the founder's medal from the Royal Geographical Society in London. In addition, the polar medal was awarded to all the Expedition members, the first for Arctic service for nearly sixty years.

Expedition Members:
Watkins, H.G. (Leader)
Bingham, E.W. (medical officer)
Chapman, F.S. (surveyor, ornithologist)
Courtauld, A. (surveyor)
Cozens, H. I. (photographer, pilot)
D’Aeth, N.H. Flight Lieutenant (pilot and meteorologist)
Hampton, Wilfred Edward (pilot, ground engineer)
Lemon, P. Captain (wireless operator)
Lindsay, W.M. Lieutenant Royal Scots Fusiliers (surveyor)
Riley, Quintin (meteorologist)
Rymill, John R. (surveyor, pilot)
Scott, J. M. (in charge of sled dogs, assist with surveying)
Stephenson, Alfred (chief surveyor)
Wager, L.R. (geologist)

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Data in this catalogue was last updated on Tuesday, 13th June 2023.