During the Second World War the Argentinian government decided to try and take advantage of Britain’s distraction to stake a claim to part of Antarctica and the nearby British territories. In response the British mounted a polar expedition which involved the establishment of two of long term research stations (the first such bases to be built on the Antarctic main land).
Lamb was recruited as an expert on lichen, one of the main types of vegetation to be found on the edges of Antarctica. He spent two years living in the two bases, starting with Station A at Port Lockroy and then Station D at Hope Bay. These were impressively comfortable bases, built around pre-fabricated buildings, constructed by the expedition members. Lamb and his colleagues then carried out a series of expeditions away from their bases, with Lamb gathering large collections of samples.
Lamb is an entertaining guide to the expedition. This is a largely factual account, although some details were slightly changed (in particular two major expeditions were merged into one), and some incidents can’t be traced in his or other diaries. He was also a humourous writer, and there are some clear literary jokes (including several fictional books and in one case transplanting an entertaining story from an earlier book into his story – safe in the knowledge that his intended audience would get the joke). It thus comes as something of a surprise when one of the expeditions almost ended in disaster, something that really caught me out.
Lamb’s original text has been skilfully edited and given extensive footnotes that for once are almost required reading (and in most cases would have been better placed as page notes rather than end notes, where several important comments will thus be missed by most readers).
While there is only the most tenous connection to military history, this is still a fascinating read, with an engaging author and a fascinating story to tell.
1 - A Polar Portrait Gallery
2 - Gaining a Foothold on the Seventh Continent
3 - A Visit to Cape Renard
4 - The Onrush of Winter
5 - Preparations and Small Excursions
6 - Snow-Blindness
7 - Fifteen-Mile Odyssey
8 - Rustle of Spring
9 - Deception
10 - Hope Bay Revisited
11 - The Birth of Base ‘D’
12 - Phenomena
13 - The Meteorology of the White Expanse
14 - A House Built on Sand
15 - Some Southern Horizons
16 - Smooth Running and Food for Thought
17 - Snow Hill
18 - Pounded in the Mortar of Affliction
19 - Final Footprints on the White Expanse
20 - The Hunter
21 - Falklands Bound
Author: Ivan Mackenzie Lamb
Editors: Stephan Haddelsey and Ronald Lewis-Smith
Publisher: Greenhill Books