WW100: Anniversaries, Antarctica and aviation

Cover of On a wing and a prayerA couple of interesting 100th anniversaries are coming up in the next few days, both of which have connections to the First World War and which have made me think about other related topics. The centenary of the First World War is an ideal time to discover war stories and make connections between them.

On the 30th July 1914 Tryggve Gran became the first person to fly the North Sea, crossing from Scotland to Norway. Not surprisingly this event was overshadowed by the start of the First World War – Austria-Hungary had declared war on Serbia two days before. Gran had been Captain Scott‘s ski expert on the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition. Although he was Norwegian he wangled his way into the Royal Flying Corps and flew with distinction during the war, seeing service over the UK, the Western Front and in North Russia.

It was in 1909 that Louis Blériot became the first person to fly the English Channel, five years later that the Royal Flying Corps – some using Blériot type aircraft – crossed the channel to go to war. Aerial warfare was then very much in its infancy – in 1914 aeroplanes were mainly seen as being useful for reconnaissance – but the next four years saw enormous innovation and development. One of those making the crossing was the future ace James McCudden, then an Air Mechanic.

On 1st August 1914 Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition set sail from London, hoping to become the first explorers to traverse the Antarctic continent. Still in British waters 3 days later when Great Britain declared war on Germany, Shackleton volunteered his ship and men to the war effort. However, the Admiralty told the expedition to proceed. Apart from a few ports of call on their way south, they were not to hear news of the war again until the middle of 1916.

Have you discovered any First World War stories recently? What connections can you make?


Heritage through photography

CoverStill Life : inside the Antarctic Huts of Scott and Shackleton by Jane Ussher is a gem of a book.

New Zealand photographer Jane Ussher was allowed to photograph the huts of Antarctic explorers Scott and Shackelton, a privilege rarely accorded.

A tactile experience from the moment you touch the book, the cover is made of hessian-like material, with muddy and muted colours. When you delve inside, the colour palette is mostly restricted to cool tones of brown, blue and white.

The uniqueness of this remote location and the history of these buildings is evident in every shot. I was fascinated by the intimacy of the photographs , from clothing still on hooks, to shaving brushes, to pictures of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, to unopened bottles of food on the bench.

To hear Jane Ussher talk about her experiences of being in Antarctica to shoot the images for this book, you can go to lunch on Sunday 7 November at Baillies Bar, Christchurch.

Megan Ingle