Australian Antarctic legends and heroes of the Great War

Portrait of Leslie Russel Blake
Leslie Russell Blake was a geologist and cartographer for the Macquarie Island Party during Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition. In 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross, for conspicuous and continual gallantry in the field during the Battle of the Somme. (Photo: Charles A. Sandell)
Portrait of Edward Frederick Robert Bage smoking a pipe.Sunrise behind army slouch hatDavis station expeditioners in front of an ANZAC display on station. Current and ex defence personnel at Davis, from left to right Marc Mills (ex Army), Dennis Bormann (ex Army), Jan Wallace (current Army) and William Seal (ex RAAF).Expeditioners at Davis station after a moving Anzac Day dawn serviceAnzac Day in AntarcticaAustralian and New Zealand flags at half mast at Mawson stationDawn service at MawsonMawson expeditioners playing two-up on Anzac Day 2015Expeditioners gather for the dawn service at CaseyEx-serviceman Scott N reads the odeCasey expeditioners projected 20 metre high images of Anzac soldiers on the wall of the green shed Ex-serviceman Dean A debriefs on the day with the station doctor

Australia’s Antarctic explorers who lost their lives in World War I and the Battle of Gallipoli are being honoured with a memorial plaque for their heroic contributions on the icy continent and the battlefield.

As Australia commemorates the centenary of the Great War, the National Council of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE) Club has created a special Antarctic Memorial Board, to recognise the Australian and New Zealand expeditioners who served in Antarctica from 1898 and who subsequently lost their lives in the Great War.

Secretary of the ANARE Club, Mr David Dodd, said that while these expeditioners were likely listed on memorials in their home towns and districts, their connection with the ‘Heroic Age of Antarctic Expeditions’ was being lost with the passage of time.

“The ANARE Club believe the Memorial Board will be a fitting tribute to those who survived the hardships of Antarctica, only to lose their lives in the service of their countries,” Mr Dodd said.

“Our idea was drawn initially from the Bureau of Meteorology’s Great War Honour Board, which was unveiled in 1917.

“Then the recent release of Herbert Dartnall’s book on the life and times of Leslie Russell Blake – Mawson’s Cartographer and the Hero of Pozieres – with its biographies of all those associated with Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911–1914, added impetus to the development of the Board.”

The Antarctic Memorial Board will be unveiled at the Australian Antarctic Division in the next few weeks.

Historian, researcher and former librarian for the Mitchell Library in Sydney, Stephen Martin, recently penned a tribute to Australian Antarctic expeditioners who served in the Great War, including Leslie Russell Blake, Robert Bage, Morton Moyes and Frank Hurley. Read more about their contribution on the State Library of NSW website.

Antarctic remembrance

Expeditioners at all three Antarctic stations and on sub Antarctic Macquarie Island marked Anzac Day with a moving dawn service and other commemorative activities.

Davis station doctor and serving Australian Army Officer, Dr Jan Wallace, put together a display of memorabilia for the wintering expeditioners on station.

“I approached my local RSL club, Box Hill RSL, before I left for Antarctica and they were very generous in providing a range of materials for me to bring with me, including knitted and crocheted poppies made by members of the branch," Dr Wallace said.

“It’s a really significant day and I’m glad to be able to help raise awareness among our station community, particularly given that the Anzac centenary falls this year.”

Mawson station remembered Australian and New Zealand service men and women who have fought in past wars on Anzac Day, conducting a service at dawn, which at this time of the year occurs at about 8.30am. Both the Australian and New Zealand flags were flown, as Mawson this year counts a New Zealander amongst its numbers. After the dawn service expeditioners returned to the mess where they enjoyed a gunfire breakfast followed by two-up in the carpenter’s workshop.

Expeditioners at Casey station also participated in traditional activities and were honoured to receive a special pre-recorded centenary of Anzac message from Australian Victoria Cross recipient Keith Payne VC OAM.