This is not a story about the tribulations of the daily commute on the 07.33 from St Albans. It’s actually the title of a graphic book about Captain Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1910-13, and it was written by Wheathampstead landowner Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Published in 1922, The Worst Journey in the World is still in print today, and is widely recognised as a classic of travel literature, even the greatest true adventure story ever written.
Born in Bedford in 1886, Apsley Cherry-Garrard studied Classics and Modern History at Oxford University, and inherited Lamer House and Estate in Wheathampstead from his father in 1907. Taken on the expedition as assistant zoologist, despite his lack of scientific training and acute short-sightedness, Cherry-Garrard soon became an essential member of Scott’s team, earning a reputation for hard work and willingness to take on even the toughest jobs. After setting sail from New Zealand for the Antarctic, Scott was to write of him: He is the most unselfish, kind-hearted fellow and will be of the greatest use to the Expedition.
After spending January to March, 1911, helping to lay fuel and food depots on the route to the South Pole, Cherry-Garrard and two others were dispatched to Cape Crozier to collect Emperor penguin eggs for scientific study. After an exhausting 19 day journey, dragging their heavy sledges in temperatures as low as -60C, the party were hit by a force eleven blizzard which carried away their tent. The three men were left to huddle together in their sleeping bags under a thickening cover of snow, until the winds died down 24 hours later. Guarding their precious cargo of 3 Emperor penguin eggs they set off back for base camp at Cape Evans, on some days only progressing a mile and a half due to the terrain and weather. On 1st August, 1911, exhausted by the cold and lack of sleep, Cherry-Garrard and his team arrived back at base camp.
It was the journey to Cape Crozier and back that Cherry-Garrard described to his near-neighbour at Ayot St Lawrence, George Bernard Shaw, as the ‘worst journey in the world`. Bernard Shaw later suggested Cherry-Garrard use this as the title for his book telling the story of the South Pole expedition.
Cherry-Garrard was not selected for the party to make the ill-fated assault on the Pole in late 1911. By the end of February 1912, with Scott and his men scheduled to be on their return journey from the Pole, Cherry-Garrard was sent off with a dog-team and extra provisions to meet them. After waiting in vain for seven days at One Ton Depot, in daytime temperatures as low as -38C and running low on food for their dogs, Cherry-Garrard and the relief party reluctantly returned to camp on March 16th.
Scott and his two remaining colleagues, delayed by bad weather, frostbite and illness, made what turned out to be their final camp on 19th March, only 11 miles from One Ton Depot. Prevented by blizzards from making any further progress, and with supplies running out, Scott made the last entry in his diary on March 29th. The fate of the three explorers was finally discovered by a search party in November, 1912. The men’s diaries, records and geological specimens were gathered up and taken for further study, but their frozen bodies were left where they lay, to be entombed by the never-ending snow storms of the Antarctic winter.
The remaining members of the Polar expedition returned home in 1913. Following the outbreak of World war One, Cherry-Garrard was commissioned in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and went on to command a squadron of armoured cars in Belgium. He was invalided home in 1916, suffering from stress, depression and stomach problems, and was to suffer repeated bouts of illness for the rest of his life. He returned to Lamer Park at Wheathampstead, and in 1922 published his account of the expedition to the South Pole, The Worst Journey in the World.
In 1937, on a cruise to the Norwegian fjords, Cherry-Garrard met Angela Turner, 30 years his junior. They married in 1939, but had no children. Beset by ill-health and tax liabilities, he was forced to sell Lamer Estate in 1947 and moved to London, while Lamer Park, the former family home, was demolished in 1949. Apsley Cherry-Garrard died in 1959, and is buried in the family tomb at St Helen’s Church in Wheathampstead.
In one of his farewell letters, written while trapped by blizzards tantalisingly close to salvation, Captain Scott wrote: Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. It was left to Apsley Cherry-Garrard to fulfil Scott’s wishes. His personal account of the Polar Expedition, The Worst Journey in the World, stands as a fitting tribute to all the men who joined Scott on their journey into the unknown.
Penguin Books – The Worst Journey in the World
Penguin Books – Cherry
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