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Scout Marr and the Quest

One of the delights of researching and compiling these pages has been the way I have been led from the known - as far as I am concerned - to the unknown. Until my researches into the RRS Discovery I had never heard of the Scout Association's link with Polar Exploration or Scout Patrol Leader Marr. I wonder why not? The story is, I feel, inspirational. It has led me to the ends of the earth!

Shackleton's Last Expedition

Sir Ernest Shackleton

SIR Ernest Shackleton had become the foremost British Polar explorer of his day. He had accompanied Scott on the Discovery expedition of 1901-03 and so had all the qualifications to become a schoolboy hero. He led his own expedition in 1907-09 to find the exact location of the South Pole in the Nimrod, during which he climbed Mount Erebus (3,794m) and with three companions - John Boyd Adams, Eric Marshall and Frank Wild. They achieved the furthest-ever position South of 88° 22". They were only 158 miles away from the magnetic pole, but were forced back by shortage of food. Shackleton had, however, broken the record and was, on his return to England, fêted as a hero.

In 1914 Shackleton took the Endurance to the Antarctic where the ship became locked in by pack ice and was crushed. The crew was forced to abandon the ship and was marooned on Elephant Island, enduring the hardships of the Antarctic winter. They were saved only by an heroic open boat journey of some 800 miles across the polar seas to South Georgia, once the pack ice had melted. The hero of the hour was undoubtedly 'the Boss', Shackleton. (A fuller account will be related later.)

For scientific leadership, give me Scott, for swift and efficient travel give me Amundsen. But when you are in a hopeless situation, when you are seeing no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton. (Sir Raymond Priestley - a member of the 1907-09 Nimrod Expedition.)
Endurance trapped in the ice. The picture is by the Expedition Photographer, Frank Hurley

After the First World War, Shackleton planned another expedition to the Antarctic in the Quest. The aim of the expedition was to chart the little known boundaries of the Antarctic land mass and to try to discover the sunken 'lost' island of the Southern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Right from in its inception, this voyage was wrapped up in symbolism and expectation. Like Thor Heyerdahl on his famous raft expeditions, Shackleton believed that by choosing his crew from different nationalities he could demonstrate unity of purpose and break down barriers. Unlike Heyerdahl he could not extend to foreign cultures, but did have representatives from most of the Dominions of the British Empire. He needed financial support and public support, and he knew where to look. The addition of a Boy Scout to his crew would attract press publicity and capture the public imagination.

On July 9th, 1921, he wrote:

For many years, I have been an admirer of the Boy Scout Movement, which I may say appeals to me particularly because it seems to give every boy a grounding in the practice of exploration.

Baden-Powell had often in his 'yarns' used stories of British pluck as exemplified by explorer-heroes including Scott and Shackleton. He very much approved of the expedition and was delighted to read that the Quest was to have part of his old friend Rudyard Kipling's poem 'If' inscribed on a large plaque below the bridge. B-P agreed to provide Shackleton with six boys (extended to ten) from whom the explorer could chose the Scout to accompany the expedition. The 'vacancy' was often referred right up until departure as that of 'Cabin Boy'. As you will find from the Scout Marr's story below, that is not a role that the Scout played, in fact the word 'boy', can also be totally omitted from 'job description'!

The ShipQuest stamp

Shackleton purchased the vessel in Norway. Foca I was originally built as a sealer and was in very poor condition before she was refitted for expedition use and renamed Quest. (There were severe defects and short comings that were not spotted in the refit that caused the vessel serious problems once she had embarked on the Expedition).

Quest was not much bigger than a trawler, being 111ft (34m) in length and 23 ft (7m) in beam, with a draft of 12 feet (4m). Unusual, even in 1921, was the fact that for a vessel that might have to contend with pack ice, she was wooden hulled. She weighed 120 tonnes and displaced 200 tonnes. Sounding platforms had been added to the ship to enable the crew to plumb the ocean to a depth of six miles and a seaplane was stowed on her deck. The ship was of course a steamer, which meant 'coaling' was required a regular intervals necessitating a large number of 'stop overs'. All coal had to be shovelled twice, once into the stokehold and then into the fire under Quest's boilers.

The Selection Process

ON July 9th, 1921, the Organising Secretary of the Scout Association, Major Wade, wrote a letter to the Daily Mail: -

I have this morning discussed with Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the Chief Scout, the question of selecting the Scout to accompany Sir Ernest Shackleton ... Scouts will be selected on their Scout Service, particularly those Scouts who hold the Cornwell Badge ... Applications are pouring in."

With the involvement of the Daily Mail, the ball was rolling, not only amongst would-be Scout explorers, the entire nation was enthralled by the prospect of another great British exploration. The Daily Mail ran coverage almost every day until departure.

And how those applications to the Scout Association poured in! There were a total of 1,700 from Scouts aged between 17 and 19, who needed to possess skills likely to be of use to the expedition. Ways had to be found to 'weed out' applicants. In the event the Cornwell Award was not made a requirement, as only two of the names submitted to Sir Ernest were holders of the decoration. The response had been so overwhelming and the quality so high, that the number of names to be submitted to Shackleton was extended from six to ten.

They were:

Shakleton with the Scouts
The ten boys interviewed by Sir Ernest Shackleton (centre). Percy Everett, Deputy Chief Scout, is seated to the left of Shackleton (link) and Major Wade, Secretary of the Scout Association, to his right.
James Marr fourth from right is in his kilt but unfortunately this is obscured by Major Wade. P.L. Mooney is the 2nd Scout from the right and I believe that ASM Warren is 5th from the right, in his ASM's uniform.
Kings Scout Sidney Jones 171st Liverpool
Troop Leader Ernest E Bromley 6th Sheppey Troop
Kings Scout John Gould 124th Sheffield (Endcliffe)
Troop Leader W Gordon Brandreth St Matthews Troop, Barrow in Furness
Patrol Leader Norman E Mooney 2nd Orkney Group
Patrol Leader W J Warren Prestonkirk Troop, East Linton
Patrol Leader J W S Marr 1st Aberdeen
Kings Scout H R Hadrill Sherwood, Nottinghamshire
Cornwell Scout J Brandford 1st Knottingley Troop, Yorkshire
Cornwell Scout J H Harvey Portland Troop, Dorset

Some of Candidates

Postcard informing successul apllicants
The postcard sent to successful applicants to tell them they were one of ten boys invited to come to London for the final selection of a Cabin Boy to accompany Sir Ernest Shackleton.

AFTER this article had been on the Millstone's Website for several years, I was fortunate to acquire an archive of material relating to Patrol Leader WJ Warren of the Prestonkirk Troop, Scotland. This really was a most amazing find. Though described as a Patrol Leader on the above list, by the time he attended the London interview with Sir Ernest Shackleton, Warren was an Assistant Scout Master, and in the image above he is wearing the jacket and tie of a Scout Master rather than a Boy Scout uniform. This was a problem Shackleton and the Scout Association had created for themselves. In order to be able to cope with the physical requirements of the expedition, the Boy Scout had to be between and 17 and 19 years old. As the expedition was programmed to take over a year, the 'boy' could be a man of twenty by the time he returned! It was important though for the 'Public Relations' image that it was Boy Scout who accompanied Shackleton and not a Rover or a Scout Master.

Warren meticulously kept every piece of information relating to his selection and its existance tells quite a lot about the selection process and the pressures the interviewed candidates were under. Though at his selection Warren lived Dunbar, Scotland, he and his family had recently moved from Orkney, the home of Scout Mooney who was ultimately selected to go on the Voyage with Scout Marr. The fact that two boys from such a small island should make it through to the final ten with an interview with Shackleton, out of a total of 1700 boys, seems to be quite remarkable? There is however a letter in the Warren's archive that explains this circumstance. Rev JE Rockliff in writting to Warren's father on July 17th on Scout Association letter-headed paper that proclaims that he was the Commissioner for Orkney states that he was " in closer touch than ever with the Scout Movement, mostly with the Chief Baden-Powell and others at Imperial Headquarters." Though he no longer lived on Orkney full-time, he took at great interest in Scouting there, particularly in the 2nd Orkney of which both Mooney and Warren were members. It appears that Rev. Rockliff had been asked to recommend Scouts for the position of Cabin Boy on the Quest by no lesser person than Sir Ernest Shackleton himself. The Reverend gentleman had taken it upon himself to obtain parental permission for Mooney and Warren to go on the expedition, (Mooney's father was initially opposed to the idea) and 'sponsored' Mooney's and Warren's applications. Something of a 'name dropper', Rev. Rockliff wrote to Warren that he should be proud that the Prince of Wales had his(Warren's)photograph as he (Rev. Rockliff) had given the Prince a photograph of the 2nd Orkney.

ASM Warren

Once selected for interview, the Press were made aware of the names of the ten 'finalists'. Warren has, preserved in his archive, no less than ten telegrams from national newspapers and press agencies asking him to send photographs and details of himself. There is also a registered letter from Major Wade, the then secretary of the Scout Association, sending return railway tickets to facilitate Warren's appearance at the interview with Shackleton at Imperial Scout Headquarters on the 17th August 1921. On August 18th Major Wade again wrote to Warren to say that Scout Marr and Warren's Scout Mooney from his old Scout Group) had been selected. The letter went on to sweeten the bitter news by informing Warren that he was to expect a letter from the Chief Scout and a photograph of the Quest signed by Shackleton. The letter from the Chief Scout was sent August 22nd and reads:

Dear Scout Warren,
Sir Ernest Shackleton asks me to tell you how sorry he was that he could not find room for you on the Quest, but he hopes that it some small consolation to you to know that your were one out of ten out from hundreds of applicants. It is a great honour and I do heartily congratulate you on have got so far up the ladder.
Your employer speaks very highly of you and I am sure that you will go on as you have begun and make a good name for yourself and the Movement.
With the best of good wishes for your future,
Your Truly,
Robert Baden-Powell.

What of the other highly qualified Scouts who are featured on the photograph with Shackleton on the roof of Scout Headquarters? I regret that other than eventual winners of the competition I have discovered little about any of the other Scouts except Cornwell Scout Brandford of the 1st Knottingley who lived just thee miles from my home. It did not take a lot of digging to find press cuttings and records of him at the local library. Unfortunately I have not been able to find a photograph and so I cannot place him on the image above. Should any Milestone have any information about him or any other Scouts in the photograph we would be delighted to hear from you. Scout Brandford and his family moved away from Knottingley shortly after the interview.

The Winners

The Chief Scout had been in France on August 17th, 1921, when Sir Ernest interviewed the ten boys, so he was assisted by Major Wade and Sir Percy Everett, who wrote an account of the interviews published in Headquarters Gazette the following month. Sir Percy reports that it was a very close decision; Shackleton told him that he wished he could take the lot! As it was, he could not distinguish between the top two, and so decided to take them both.

Patrol Leader Norman Mooney, aged 17, was a quiet almost shy young man. He was an all-round handyman with some knowledge of photography, microscopy, electricity and trigonometry. He pointed out that he had grown up with the sea and that there was a proud tradition of polar exploration in Orkney. (It was reported that Mooney had never seen a train before his visit to London. As there are still no trains on Orkney, I can imagine that there might still be people living on the island today who have yet to see this method of transport 'in real life'.) Mooney had joined the Kirkwall Scout Group (2nd Orkneys) Wolf Cub Pack in June 1915 and in the first of two articles published in the Young Britain magazine of October 6th, 1921, stated that he never knowingly missed a single meeting throughout his Scouting career. He had two brothers, one older and one younger, but thought himself best-qualified to be on the Quest, because his brothers 'had promising academic careers', whereas he had already left Kirkwall Secondary School with his leaving certificate and felt he was ready for such a challenge.

Everett described Patrol Leader James Slessor Marr (Slessor was his mother's maiden name) as being, "a bluff, big-hearted fellow from Aberdeen, where he had been studying at the University." He held the Scout Silver Cross and the Humane Society's Medal for Life-Saving. He was 18 years old (born December 9th 1902 in Aberdeenshire) and on his Scout Uniform he wore his Scout National Service Badge earned during the First World War. He too had joined the Movement as a Wolf Cub and had nine years service with the 1st Aberdeen Troop which was closely associated with Aberdeen Grammar School and had been attended by Marr and all seven of his brothers! At the time of his selection, six brothers were still at the school, but one elder brother had joined HMS Conway Sea Training School. (I wonder if Marr realised that his hero, Baden-Powell, also had an elder brother, Warington, who had attended Conway?)

So, finally, it was two Scots Scouts who were chosen, both well qualified, but neither were holders of the Cornwell Award. Both, it may well be supposed, were ecstatic. Marr was later to write:

"Imagine how my heart leapt when the news was told!
Oh yes, it was good to be young, and ambitious, and chosen."

An interesting aside is that a voluntary Gilwell Instructor, Mr J C Mason, had by this time also been accepted on the expedition as its Official Photographer.

Front Page NewsRaising the King's flag

BOTH boys were fêted like heroes. B-P wrote to congratulate them:

My Dear Scouts,
I want, in the first place, to congratulate you, as no doubt hundreds of others have done, on your selection by Sir Ernest Shackleton as members of the great 'Quest' expedition: and, secondly, I want to ask you to remember that far away you will be the centre of a world-wide interest on the part of not only your brother Scouts, but of everybody who believes in, or does not believe in, Scouts.

Living up to that must have been some burden! The boys were left in no doubt that they were representing not only Scouting, but also the youth of the nation.

Marr and Mooney received various presentations. Pursers and Sons, watchmakers to the Admiralty, gave Lever Watches to the Scouts. Other 'gifts' included special boots, cameras and fountain pens. Of course the price for the largess was the firms concerned then advertised that their products were endorsed by Shackleton's Scouts. The two Scouts became quite major celebrities in an age when few ordinary boys were raised to public acclaim.

As we shall see they gave interviews and their photographs appeared in national daily newspapers as well as boy's magazines. They were recognised by Scouts wherever they went. It is not too high-flown to say that in the absence of similarly-aged Royal Princes, the two Scouts were the publicised boys in the Kingdom!

They are shown above raising the King's Flag specially presented to the Quest, prior to its departure. Below is a postcard image of Marr besieged by Scouts on The Embankment in front of the moored 'Quest'. He looks to be enjoying his fame. The postcard was produced by Pathe Cinema Ltd whose cameraman accompanied the expedition.(The number after the caption on the postcard is not the date but a catalogue number)

Marr with Scouts

The Scouts appeared on the front cover of Young Britain magazine on October 6th, 1921. Inside there are photos of Scouts Marr and Mooney photographed together on Orkney. Marr had obviously been invited, probably by the Magazine, for the purpose. The five page article includes separate special messages to Brother Scouts from both Scouts Marr and Mooney with articles by them. Marr states that he has been overwhelmed with tip-top letters from all over the British Isles .. far far too many to answer yet awhile. This was just the start, Young Britain continued their coverage week by week for the next ten weeks, by which time of course the Expedition was well underway. There was even a photograph of the house in which P.L. Mooney was born!

Below left is the front cover of Young Britain of October 8th 1927 featuring a image of Quest among icebergs with Sir Ernest Shackleton and the Scouts Marr and Mooney inset in circles. The Christmas Issue of the Chums magazine of 1923 is to the right, of course by this time the expedition had returned and Scout Marr is featured with Questie, the ship's cat. Marr's article was given the same name as his book Into the Frozen South which was also published at this time.

Marr with Scouts Marr with Scouts

The Essay Writing Competition

THE Daily Mail also organised a separate competition for Scouts, essay writing with the title; Why I should like to go with Shackleton.

There were two age group sections, above and below the age of 16 with 25 winners in each section. Of course, the winners did not get to go on the expedition, but they were treated to an all expenses paid trip to London with a night on board the Quest to meet the great Polar Hero Sir Ernest Shackleton, shortly before Quest's departure for the Antarctic.

Hemel Hempstead Scout, Frank Sears, was 12 years old at the time, not old enough to apply to be a Cabin Boy aboard Quest, but he did enter the essay writting competition in the under 16 section. He publicly notified that he had won a place and would be visiting the 'Quest' at the Mail's expense with 1 pocket money in their August 1st Edition. The Mail had been inundated with 250 word essays. The reasons the Scouts gave for wanting to go were varied and wonderful. One lad from Croydon said he wanted to visit Antarctica because he was sick of the place in which he lived! Another lad had a 'first class camera' and wanted to take as many interesting photos as he could. Quite a few had ideas about seeing the wildlife which in the case of Polar Bears they all wanted to shoot. The Daily Mail did not see the need to point out to them or their readers that there are no polar bears to found in Antarctica!

Frank Sears went on to write an unpublished autobiography of his life shortly before he died in December 1956 in which he devoted six pages to the competition and his visit to the Quest. I am indebted to Franks Sears's family and to Frank Brittain, County Archivist for Hertfordshire Scout County and an old friend of these pages, for his work in 'uncovering' Frank Sears's story.

Sears recorded in his book that Quest was, ...a beautiful little ship, in clean white paint, its funnels standing out in black and red.
(This description indicating the colours of the Quest like much else in Sears' commentary is the only source given this level of detail.)

The 50 winners were assembled on the main deck when;

..a broad-shouldered man appeared, looking very fit, and somewhere about 45 years of age. He called on us to pay attention, said a few words and invited us to ascend the ladder (to a higher deck, where he was standing).... as each boy climbed onto the deck he was presented to Sir Ernest, who shook hands and welcomed him.

The boys were then taken on a tour of the Quest, the engines were put 'on test' in their honour and they were shown the special and expensive apparatus for making drinking from the sea. The ice cutting gear attached to the ship was also shown and explained to the boys. As a special thrill the boys were introduced to the two Scouts, P.L.'s Marr and Mooney, who were chosen to accompany Shackleton. Needless to say as they emerged from Sir Ernest's Stateroom the two Scots were cheered by essay-winning Scouts.

The boys then left the Quest to be taken on a sight-seeing tour of London, and then on to a West End Show, The Maid of the Mountains. They returned to the Quest around midnight and shown to their hammocks in which, after a little practice, they managed to spend the rest of the night, though not many could claim a good night's sleep!. In the morning they were treated to a talk by Sir Ernest who answered questions and then conducted a short religious service, which was particularly remembered by Frank Sears. After lunch Sir Ernest said his goodbyes and shook every boy by the hand before they all left the ship.

Preparations and Departure

Departure was delayed several times. Both Mooney and Marr had been staying as guests of Mr John Quiller Rowett, an old friend of Shackleton who financed the expedition, which was named partly in his honour.(Marr dedicated his book to him.)Shackleton and Rowett had been friends since their days at Dulwich College (a preparatory school for the Merchant Navy). Rowett had gone on to become a rich man through importing rum and was unstinting in his support of the expedition. The vessel was moored at St Catherine's Dock, near the Tower of London, and attracted much attention.

Quest eventually slipped her moorings at 1 p.m. on September 17th, 1921. The Daily Mail reported:

Dense crowds were gathered about the vicinity of St. Catherine's Dock ... and along both sides of the river, wherever space allowed, to witness the departure ... London Bridge was scarcely passable half-an-hour before the sturdy wooden craft came into sight. Volumes of cheering greeted the appearance of the vessel. Within another half-hour she was out of sight, but reports from Woolwich and Greenwich and other places down the Thames all chronicled the same enthusiastic valediction.

A wireless message received from the Quest recorded their view of the proceedings:

Along the banks of the river were large numbers of people, and a fearful din from the sirens of the steamers throughout the whole of the passage. A pretty picture was made of the hundreds of nurses in their white dresses at Greenwich Hospital and the boys of Greenwich Naval School waving farewells.

There was a further message from P.L. Mooney:

Many thanks for all your kind wishes. Tell the boys of Scotland and England to keep the Scouts' flag flying.

Quest called at Plymouth before finally leaving the shores of Great Britain. Both Scouts were invited ashore for 'a jamboree' according to an article in The Evening News, published the following day.

Ever Southwards

Rare autographed postcard

THE ship had experienced very rough weather in the Bay of Biscay. There was some damage and it was discovered that the engine transmission was out of line. Shackleton ordered the vessel to detour to Lisbon. If she could not cope in 'home waters' she would not weather the Horn and in Antarctic waters. Scout Mooney was, in Marr's words, out of it. He, with the adult Scout photographer Mason were brought low by the seasickness and had to leave the ship at Madeira. This must have been hard to bear, especially in view of the 'hype'/expectations placed on the two Scouts. On his application form, Mooney had emphasised his sea-faring connections and how he had grown up in sight of the sea. However, anyone who has ever suffered from seasickness must surely sympathise.

The vessel was to detour further to Rio de Janeiro as mechanical problems grew worse. It was discovered that the propeller was far too heavy for the ship and a new one had to fitted. There was increasing criticism that the Quest was not suited to its task but Shackleton would not, publicly at any rate, concede this view. He wrote to Rowett on December 18th from Rio that he need have no fears about the Quest - ... have nothing to do with anything wrong with the ship: the ship is right.

Scout Marr had met a young lady 'Miss Ivan' in London prior to the ship's departure and she wrote to him after his departure. Her letter was delivered aboard Quest when the ship called at Madeira. Marr's reply on Quest headed note paper dated November 18th 1921 was posted to her from Rio. I have both this letter and later letter to sent to her from the 'Quest' in my collection. They offer a fascinating insight into the Scout's life aboard the ship. He writes to her as 'Miss Ivan' and thanks for a book of plays she sent saying that these will be used as we have several would-be actors on board, and stories that she had recounted in her letter were read out in the 'mess'.

Marr seems to have forgotten the storms of the Bay of Biscay and poor Scout Mooney when he wrote, We have had a splendid journey so far.... First we stayed put in at Lisbon and stayed a week. It was one succession of dances, dinners and ended with a Bull Fight. From Lisbon we went to Madeira, where we had another round of gaiety and made some good friends for future visits. We proceeded to St Vincent to coal and spent three days sailing and fishing. Our next place of call was St Paul's Rocks where we landed for one day. The landing was quite exciting, as there was a heavy sea continually breaking over the rocks. The only life consists of thousands of seabirds and the whole place is crawling with large red crabs. The sea around the rocks was swarming with sharks and we caught twelve in half an hour.

Life however was not all fun and glamour! Marr regales Miss Ivan with his experiences as a stoker, with temperatures in the stokehold at 150 degrees, though life had become easier since they had taken on a couple of Stokers in Rio. The hard work, Marr thought, had done them good, ...we are now trained like race horses.

Book Cover

The Western Mail on April 12th, 1922, carried an account written by Patrol Leader Marr for his Aberdeen School magazine. The journey from Rio de Janeiro to South Georgia was full of interest:

In the first place we had very bad weather throughout, and secondly, I had ample opportunity of learning sailoring since I was working as a deckhand.
On Christmas Day the wind got up and blew half a gale. This was very unfortunate as it made it impossible to cook or hold any festivity whatsoever. We were knocked about a good deal, and the seas varied from twenty to thirty feet high. We took a quantity of water over the rails.
On December 28th, I came on watch at two in the morning. We were running before a strong gale and pitching and rolling heavily. The waves were quite 30ft height, and were breaking over the aft end of the ship and on the bridge.
I was looking out on the bridge when the officer of the watch sent me down for a tin of milk. Crossing my feet on the foot-bridge I was washed right off my feet. I hung onto a ledge with my hands and so was saved from further disaster.
By seven in the morning the waves were averaging between 30ft and 40ft high. Many were over 40ft. The gale had increased to a hurricane.
We hove to about nine-o-clock and bags of oil were put down in front of the bows to keep down the sea, where the weight of the storm struck us. The effect was really remarkable. A large sea, which was likely to hit us, would fall flat about 15 yards off and slide away under the bows. Some six gallons of oil was used. (Marr is reporting here on a seemingly impossible yet scientific fact - hence the phase 'pouring oil on troubled waters'.)
The boss (Sir Ernest Shackleton) told me that he had been at sea nearly thirty years and had never seen a gale maintained so long and with such intensity.

Tragedy Strikes

Marr was not a pampered passenger, but a full member of a small 18-man crew being thrown about in a very small boat on a perilous sea, an experience not given to most of us. But the Scout had even more to contend with. Shackleton, who had become ever more exultant as the ship passed indications of the approaching Polar region in the form of penguins, albatrosses and icebergs. He became happy as a sandboy when the vessel at last reached South Georgia, on the very edge of Antarctica. However, only one day later, on January 5th, 1922, he died in his sleep from a heart attack. He was only forty-seven.Ernest Henry Shackleton 1874-1922

Marr wrote:

Early in the morning of the 5th we lost our leader, Sir Ernest Shackleton. Frank Wild is now in command, and I do not suppose that there is a better man living.
A great man had left us, and the ship was lonely.

The Scout had been writing a log of the expedition and Shackleton, father-like, had assisted him greatly. The work was published after the voyage as Into the Frozen South and it is from this book that many of the quoted passages above are taken, however in another reply to Miss Ivans dated 19th June 1922, when Quest docked at Cape Town, Marr revealed his more personal thoughts;

I am sorry you thought that poor old Boss, Sir Ernest, rude. I think he was a very sick man and we were very cut up when he died.
Shackleton's Grave

At that time, South Georgia was not in telegraphic contact with the rest of the world and Shackleton's family's wishes could not be sought, so his body was sent on its journey home. When it reached Buenos Aries his wife was informed. Lady Emily Shackleton asked that he should be buried at the 'Gateway to the Antarctic' and his body was returned to South Georgia. 'The Boss' was buried in the small graveyard at Grytviken whaling station on April 5th 1922.

Several years after writing the first version of this page I have now had the pleasure of visiting South Georgia and Shackleton's grave. Initially the grave was marked by a simple wooden cross with no funeral pomp or circumstance. The wooden cross was to be replaced in 1928 with a Scottish granite stone portrayed opposite. The monument, alone amongst all the other graves in the cemetary faces the South Pole. Carved into its most prominent face is a nine-pointed star which Shackleton believed brought him luck. His cabin on board the Quest was No. 9. On the rear of the monument are Browning's lines;

I hold that a man should strive to the uttermost for his life set prize.

After a short voyage Bird Island and the crew of the Quest returned again to Grytviken where they climbed a headland, (Hope Point) overlooking the whaling station and its cemetary and built a cairn on May 3rd and 4th from rocks that had to be hauled from neighbouring hill sides. This was surmounted with a wooden cross fashioned in Quest's workshop. The whole thing was finished off with a brass plaque;

Died here January 5th, 1922
Erected by his comrades.

Deep inside the stone cairn was a photograph of the crew and the signature of every member of the Expedition. (This monument should not be confused as is so often the case with Shackleton's Grave.)

Shackletons's Cross
Shackleton's Cross at Hope Point

South Georgia Stamp

Lady Shackleton was certainly right to instruct that her husband should buried in Antarctica and at particularly on South Georgia, not merely because he died there, but because it was regarded as the last outpost or civilization prior to any assault on the Polar Regions. Shackleton had visited the place in his earlier expeditions and on his 1914 Endurance Expedition when he was told by the Stromness Whaling Station Manager that he should not proceed any further that year as the Ross Sea had begun to ice over and his ship would be trapped, as indeed it was. This resulted in one of the most epic escapes in history where after Endurance was crushed by the ice on October 27, 1915. Shackleton led his men pulling the ship's thee open boats over the ice to open sea at rate of only two or three miles a day. It then took seven days reach to Elephant Island where once the crew were established, Shackleton and five of men set off in one of the boats the, James Caird to get back to South Georgia and organise a rescue party. The epic 800 miles voyage was to last 16 days, across some of the wildest seas on the planet. Thanks to superb navigation and seamanship the James Caird landed on South Georgia, but the Whaling Stations and hopes of rescue were on 22 miles away across its mountainous interior.

Shackleton and two others set off to traverse the island, surmounting mountains and glaciers totally ill-equipped for such an expedition. Though seriously weakened by their previous experiences the three men managed to complete the journey, though not without incident, in 36 hours - a feat that has taxed modern alpine climbers. The lives of the three men back at the James Caird, and the rest of the crew on Elephant Island of course depended on their safe arrival. The exhausted party presented themselves at the Station Manager's house, but the Manager, because of Shackleton's physical condition, failed to recognise the man he had warned not to venture into the Ross Sea in 1914.

There were quite few crew-members of the Quest who had been with Shackleton on Endurance and so owed their lives to The Boss. Marr wrote that these veterans never tired of telling him their reminisces. They had all hoped to be able to land on Elephant Island as a part of the Expedition and though an attempt was made, it was not to be, pack ice prevented Quest from getting close. The veterans had to content themselves with binocular views, shouting and pointing as familiar landmarks appeared.

Stromness Whaling Station
Stromness Whaling Station, South Georgia.

QUEST left Grytviken for the final time on May 7th, the Ship's Company formed up on deck and saluted as the they passed under the cross and cairn on Hope Point. They set course Northwards for Tristan da Cunha and on May 20th Quest anchored in a small bay, which was renamed in her honour. The crew were entertained for five days by the 300 or so inhabitants of one of the most remote islands in the world, originally settled by 6 British Colonists. Earlier in the year Baden-Powell had made provision for the Scout Group on the island, sending a signed photograph to its Scout Master, Rev. Rodgers, who was also the Minister and senior British Representative on the island. His wife Rose later wrote The Lonely Island, in which she records:

Postcard with flag
Stamp with flag
       The photograph and the stamp
The great events on the second and the third days of the Quest's visit were the presentation of the troop flag specially given for the Tristan da Cunha Troop by the Chief Scout and the erection of the wireless pole. The Scouts were paraded outside the School House with my husband in Scout kit at their head, with Commander Wild present and myself as A.S.M. Scout Marr presented the flag, which was received by the Patrol Leader, Donald Glass, on behalf of Scouting, and after the boys had given the salute and had been dismissed, he came up with us to the parsonage and had a meal of damper bread and tea. We had a pleasant talk on Scouting and other matters. He was in Highland dress as a Scottish Scout Patrol Leader, and the Tristan folk, who had never seen the kilt, were much impressed. Scout Marr is a big, hefty fellow, and his fine manly style was a great help to our lads, and he must have been a valuable asset to the Quest crew."

Thanks to James Marr's own book, we have his own description of the event:

I accomplished the ceremony in due form: regretting that I lacked the ability to deliver an inspiring speech; and then after it was all over - after I had inspected the Scouts...I endeavored to tell them what Scouting really meant.

The 50th anniversary of the event was marked by the issue of set of stamps of artist's drawings, based on the photographs taken at the time.

It is interesting to note that when Quest departed the islands, the inhabitants dismantled the wireless aerial, which had been presented by the people of Cape Town. There were technical problems it was true, but these could have been overcome - they simply preferred their isolation.

Homeward Bound

FAR from heading 'ever northwards' however, the expedition left Tristan da Cunha on May 25th and headed South-South-East for the remote Gough Island. Why this route was chosen is, now, difficult to determine, a more natural route would have had Quest visiting Gough Island before Tristan, but there had previously been a far amount of 'back tracking' and with no specific expedition objectives in mind there being no reason why the route should be the fastest course to anywhere. Gough Island was sighted on May 27th and, a day or so afterwards, a small landing party, led by Commander Wild and including Marr, went ashore. They found the remains of an earlier expedition that had explored the island prospecting for gold in 1919. Nobody, it appeared, had been there since.

Table Mountain from Robbin Island

Quest again resumed her voyage, on May 27th, on a heading just north of due east for Cape Town. They anchored off Robben Island, overlooked by Table Mountain, shortly after June 17th- a truly tremendous view. The reception laid on for the men of the Quest was memorable - and the girls were as pretty as Marr had hoped they would be.

In Marr's letter to Miss Iven of 19th June 1922 written from Cape Town, Marr concludes by saying;

We have heard a rumour that we shall be going home from here and I will be pleased to get back.

There was a general feeling amongst the crew that their expedition in the wildness was over and civilisation had been rejoined. Quest nosed her way out of Table Bay on July 13th, on a North-Westerly heading for St Helena, which Marr described as a derelict island whose glories had departed. Now confirmed on the northbound homerun, Quest called at Ascension Island on August 1st, where the expedition anchored for several days. They were still just over 1,000 miles south of the Equator but this was the hottest place that Marr had ever encountered. By August 8th the expedition crossed 'the line' back into the Northern Hemisphere and eventually landed in Plymouth on September 15th.

The real homecoming, however, should have been the arrival of Quest back at St Catherine's Dock, London, exactly one year to the day that the ship had left on what ought to have been a glorious adventure. Adventure there had been, but the death of 'The Boss' overshadowed everything and Marr does not record any special welcome for the ship or her crew. He notes, with a sense of the anticlimax, that Quest, was finally berthed and our work was done. The lack of coverage on the return left Frank Sears at least, one of the winners of the Daily Mail's Essay Writing Competition (see above) with the feeling that not only had Shackleton perished but so the Quest and all of its crew!

Marr concluded his book by recalling the tribute that the crew of the Quest had left behind to 'The Boss', who was now forever at rest in his beloved polar landscape:

And most poignant and inspiring of all my memories there, is that of the lonely cross outlined against the whirling snow of South Georgian sleet, the sign that remains to tell of the great spirit that led us forth into the Frozen South and died, yet lives again, as a magnet to draw the brave away from sleek comforts of life into that outer world of daring, where man may gaze in awe upon the wonders of the Lord.

The Aftermath

Prince of Wales with Marr
The Prince of Wales with Marr

MARR was once again fêted as a hero - as is shown by the autographed postcard shown above. He was invited by Baden-Powell to meet the Prince of Wales on his visit to the Rally, held at Alexandra Palace on October 7th, 1922 and attended by 60,000 Scouts and Wolf Cubs. P.L. Marr unfurled the Royal Standard as the Prince arrived at the saluting base.

Marr's logbook, Into the Frozen South, was published in 1923 by Cassell, and that might have been the end of this remarkable story. However, Marr went on to complete his degree (BSC) and an MA at Aberdeen University. He sailed south again as a zoologist on board the William Scoresby from 1927-29. Before the Second World War he completed three further scientific expeditions in Discovery II, spending more time at sea than any other British Polar scientist. He was awarded three Polar Medals.

Operation Tabarin

JAMES Marr became a whaling inspector in the Antarctic and joined the RNVR in the Second World War. In 1943 he was recalled from operations in the Far East and appointed Field Commander of Operation Tabarin, a covert operation set up, it was generally thought, to deny Germany the use of any of the many abandoned whaler stations which might have been employed as U-boat pens, and to assert the area of British Antarctic Territory, mainly to counter Argentinean claims on that sector of Antarctica. Early in 2005, a BBC Radio programme examined both of these generally-held views and found them to be lacking in substance. It was suggested that Operation Tabarin may have merely been a calculated piece of 'disinformation' to confuse the enemy. Apparently there are still classified documents, which will shed light on the true purpose of the operation when they are eventually released. The fact that they have not already been released with most other classified papers relating to the war when the 50 year expiry date terminated, is itself a mystery.

In June 2007 I was fortunate to spend time on Mull, an island off the West Coast of Scotland and after visiting the Duart Castle the home Sir Charles Maclean, 'my' Chief Scout, before going on to nearby Torosay Castle, the former home of David Guthrie James. I discovered to my amazement that one of the rooms contained photographs of the building of the one Operation Tabarin's bases at Fort Lockroy and so surmised David James must have been one of the members of Tabarin under Marr's leadership. This was confirmed when turning through the large family scrapbooks in the same room I found press cuttings and photograph of members of Tabarin. The press cuttings were very interesting as they revealed that a public appeal had been made for individuals to accompany Marr in Top Secretwork. The leader of the operation was identified, Scout Marr wants men, clearly recalling Marr's Scouting origin but not alluding to his more recent scientific background. David James who had escaped from a Nazi prisoner of war camp had obviously been one of those who had volunteered for 'Tabarin'. I was able to confirm that he in fact joined the expedition as a 'surveyor' when I discovered that a biography of David James called One Man in his Time (See Printed Sources below). This book has a whole chapter on Tabarin- and gives a reasonably clear impression of the 'Operation'. The main purpose seems was to build bases in order to enclose an area of Antarctic territory and make maps of that territory establishing Britain's sovereign claim upon it. The biographer,John Robson, states that the Government believed, as did others, that the whole of Antarctic held considerable mineral deposits. David James became firm friends with Marr and following Tabarin continued with his adventurous life style which somewhat bizarrely included becoming an M.P. and assisting in the quest for 'Nessie', the Lock Ness Monster. James also was part of the Outward Bound movement. He died in 1986 and his ashes were scattered at Torosay.

The undated cuttings in the family scrapbooks at Torosay revealed that Lt.Commander Marr had left the Antarctic at the end of the war before the rest of his men as he had fallen ill. When they did return, the Daily Mail reported,

One of the country's most 'hush hush' missions landed at Chatham from the cruiser Ajax... ostensibly they were there (in the Antarctic) to carry out scientific and research work in Britain's most remote possession...

Lt. Commander Marr was interviewed and quoted:

I am afraid I cannot discuss the purposes of our expedition except to say they were mainly scientific.

This was to be expected as there was no other reason, permitted under the League of Nations Charter, for the British to be in Antarctica at all. Many must have wondered just what type of scientific research necessitated fit serving officers and men to be spending time and resources away from 'the front' at the time of Britain's greatest need.

Antarctic First Day Cover
The stamps show the huts established by Operation Tabarin

After the war the 'Operation Tabarin' became The Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey. This, in turn, was renamed The British Antarctic Survey, the name by which we know it today. It was these successors of Operation Tabarin who were largely responsible for the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer.

Port Lockroy (Base A) was established as part of Operation Tabarin. The station was occupied almost continually until 1962, after which it was boarded up. Following a survey by The United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) in 1994, the decision was taken to restore the station and reopen it for the benefit of the increasing numbers of tourists to the area. The station was restored in early 1996 and each summer since it has been open to visitors - myself included. I was pleased to find that part of the station was set up as a museum and though the true purpose of purpose of Operation Tabarin was not disclosed there were pictures of Marr and his men and many artifacts relating to 'Operation Tabarin'.

Scout Marr with 'questie' paired with Baden-Powell

A stop at Port Lockroy is described a highlight in Antarctic Cruise Ship itineraries and one of the three staff who spend a year at a time at the station told me that in 'the season', the station could be visited by three of four ships a week averaging 250+ passengers each, all needing to be ferried to the station by six seater 'Zodiac' dinghies in the course of a few hours. Intense activity following by extreme isolation.

The first day cover shown below features buildings first set up under Marr, and was issued on November 29th, 2001.

James Marr wrote the major reference work on Antarctic krill, the basic component of the Antarctic food chain. Though he could not be described in the same terms as Scott and Shackleton, there being little 'great exploring' left to do, he was none the less a very significant Polar scientist.

Marr did not marry Miss Ivan (as I had rather hoped) but a Miss Dorothea Plutte. They had six children, his wife, two sons and three daughters survived him when he died on April 29th 1965. I am grateful to Milestones reader Terry Wiffen for this information and a copy of Marr's biography by Yolanda Foote (See acknowledgements). Both Terry and Scouting Milestones be grateful for further family details.


IT is no exaggeration to say that, like others before and after, Marr's life was transformed by his contact with the Scout Movement. There is a remarkable parallel in his story with that of Eagle Scout Paul Siple who was chosen by Admiral Byrd to accompany the US Polar expeditions and whose adventures are covered in a separate Scouting Milestones article. Siple's Scouting contact with the Antarctic lasted much longer than that of Marr, who like the rest of the crew of the Quest did not return home in triumph due to the death of the 'The Boss' Shackleton. Despite his meeting with the Prince of Wales and Operation Tabarin, Marr's fame did not endure. Like Siple he was his country's leading polar scientist between the war. Siple is known for his pioneering work on the Wind Chill Factor, while Marr wrote the definitive work on Krill. Marr however was not given to self-publicity. I have encountered only three items (other than letters) signed by him - one of which was sadly burnt whilst in my possession. The other two are similarly signed postcards, one now in the CW collection, the replacing the burnt item that had been kindly lent for scanning by Scouting Collector John Ineson. These very few items contrast greatly with the number of books and philatelic covers signed by Siple in my possession with many other examples continually reaching the market place. Siple is still a famous name in America. Sadly despite his remarkable story, few people today will have heard of the British Scout. I trust this brief account will help, especially in Scouting circles, to give Scout Marr his proper prominence in our history. As I write this update to these pages in July 2009 there is some evidence that this might be case, as Scouting Centennial Stamps for two different countries feature the Marr autographed postcard from these pages, one such is illustrated below, the other is portrayed on a Tristan Da Cunha issue.

Marr First Day Cover

Readers will recognise some of the images shown on these South Georgia stamps issued in connection with 2007 Scouting Centennial. Scouting Milestones is proud to have been involved with their production. Note the signed Marr postcard, from to these pages. Beside providing images, Milestones has been pleased to write the text for the associated press release for the South Georgia issue which has also been used as the enclosure for the First Day Cover.

Cigarette Card


My particular thanks to Frank Brittain, Archivist Hertfordshire Scout Association, for extracts of Frank Sears' unpublished book and associated Daily Mail coverage.
Printed Sources
The cuttings from which some of the images above were taken from were mainly from issues of the Daily Mail of September, 1921
Headquarter's Gazette, September, 1921
Into The Frozen South in Chums Christmas 'Number' 1923
An unpublished Scouting Scrapbook kept by Eileen Wade in 1921/22
Into The Frozen South J Marr, Cassell, 1923
One Man in his Time, a biography of David James, John Robson, Spelmount, 1998
Scouting Achievements Beresford Webb, Putnam, 1937
The Shackleton Voyages Roland Huntford, Weidenfeld; Nicholson, 2002
Scouts of the Quest, Young Britain; 10 weekly issued from October 6th, 1921
Marr, James William Slessor, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, OUP, 2004
Internet Sources
James William Sleesor Marr
The Shackleton Rowett Expedition
Tristan da Cunha Annals
British Antarctic Territory Port Lockroy

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