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British Polar Explorers.


British Polar Explorers by Admiral Sir Edward Evans First published 1943. Currently out of print

It says something about just how highly Britain's polar explorers were held in the public affection that a book celebrating the lives and exploits of this unique band of men could be published at the height of the Second World War, when paper restrictions meant that only the most important of books were published. True, it's only 48 pages long, but for a time of austerity, it's handsomely bound in hard boards, boasting no fewer than eight colour plates (along with 19 other images in black and white). Each illustration is an icon of polar imagery from the golden age of exploration, ranging from a reproduction of Cornelius Ketel's superb full-length portrait of Sir Martin Frobisher to EA Wilson's watercolour Looking North in McMurdo Sound (both still to be found in the archives of the Royal Geographical Society).

The accompanying text by Edward Evans is as vibrant today as it was in the 1940s, every word carrying the weight of assurance that these Titans of adventure were true British heroes, and an inspiration to a nation sheltering from the nightly air raids of the Luftwaffe. A survivor from Robert Falcon Scott's fatal expedition to the South Pole, Evans also had experience of the Arctic, where he had been a second mate on the whaler Morning, relief ship to the Discovery expedition of 1902-04. In the First World War, he famously commanded HMS Broke, which engaged and defeated six German destroyers.

In other words, it would be difficult to find a more appropriate author for a book that was as much to do with boosting wartime morale as it was commemorating polar explorers. Perhaps he is being modest when he says 'not being one of the greater gods of polar exploration, I can still, at the age of sixty, conjure up and admire' the men whose 'Homeric deeds I have done my best to portray'.

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Author:Smith, Nick
Article Type:Book review
Date:Feb 1, 2008
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