In the years since the expedition, the following (among others) died:
Charlie Burton, who died 16 July 2002 aged 59, was the tough, high-spirited companion of Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Bt, on the first circumnavigation of the world on its polar axis.
Starting off from Greenwich on September 2, 1979, they sailed down the Meridian to Cape Town, then on to the Antarctic where a party of four – Fiennes, Burton, Oliver Shepard plus Fiennes’s wife Ginnie and the family terrier Bothie – were duly deposited.
The team brought with them scientific equipment and several board games; Burton, who claimed to know nothing about chess, was charged with conducting matches with the American, South African and Russian stations by radio.
Leaving Lady Fiennes at Borga to maintain radio contact, the three men forged a previously unventured 900-mile route to the Pole. It was a relatively smooth passage.
Using aneroid barometers to map their way, they even had to slow down at one stage to enable their supply plane to find them. After reaching their destination, they headed for the Scott base at McMurdo Sound on the other side of the continent to be greeted by a piper.
As the expedition turned north, the pressures became noticeable. Shepard’s wife asked him to give up; and Burton coped with any strain by marrying his girlfriend “Twink” when the expeditioners halted in Sydney.
When Burton and Fiennes reached the Yukon, Burton was particularly struck by the enormous mosquitoes, which he described as “flying Jack Russells”. He was grateful for the case of whiskey sent up from Tennessee by the Jack Daniels company, though he grumbled that large amounts went down the throats of the thirsty reporters covering the story.
After being driven north, the pair took a 16 ft boat through the Northwest Passage, with Burton at the helm, and headed north until the vessel became stuck in the ice off Ellesmere Island.
They then skied over the glaciers to Base Alert, a gruelling experience for Burton when the soles came off his feet, though he suggested they rested only when he fell over and struck his face on a rock.
By then they knew that both French and Norwegian parties were headed in the same direction. With Lady Fiennes established at Base Alert to maintain radio contract, the two men set off on snowmobiles.
Their troubles began to mushroom. A fire at Alert destroyed much of the supplies for which they were waiting. Four hundred and fifty miles from the Pole, the pair found themselves stranded in temperatures of minus 30 degrees with only a week’s supply of food.
On one occasion, Burton clutched on to Fiennes’s snowmobile with frozen hands as it sank into open seawater while his companion rescued some vital pieces of equipment. Since much of their protective clothing was lost, they were driven to sharing a sleeping bag for 24 hours until a new snowmobile was hazardously delivered by a Swiss charter pilot.
Burton, who was expedition cook and radio operator, established during one transmission that Britain was at war; but it was five days before he discovered that it was with Argentina. A freak warm spell prevented them from using the machines properly.
Then, after having to cut their way through successive ice walls, they got on to an ice floe the size of a football field, from which they had to transfer when it collided with another as the waters carried them north. Eventually they arrived at the Pole, celebrating their success ahead of the Norwegians with “a nicely chilled magnum”.
They had become the first people to reach both poles in a single journey of some 52,000 miles.
However, the excitements were not over. Fiennes shot a 12 ft tall polar bear through the ankle, 12 yards from Burton, after it climbed on to their ice floe. As the floe distintegrated into smaller pieces, they became alarmed when the wind carried them back north.
But after three months, they met their ship, which was jammed in the ice between Greenland and Spitzbergen. The expedition had taken them three years and two days by the time it finally returned to Greenwich.
The son of a commander in the Royal Navy, Charles Robert Burton was born on December 13 1942 and went to Millfield before joining the Royal Sussex Regiment. He came out to start a business in South Africa and, after returning to London, enlisted as a Territorial in the SAS with Fiennes and Shepard as they were planning their expedition.
On returning home, Burton and Fiennes received the Polar Medal, with Antarctic and Arctic clasps, while Shepard received the Arctic clasp. However, Burton was particularly delighted by a Jak cartoon in the London Evening Standard which showed “Twink”, in her curlers, saying on the telephone that he would only sleep in a fridge.
A decade later, Burton and Shepard rang to suggest a second expedition though, this time, on foot and without support. Fiennes protested that it would be impossible, prompting Burton’s standard response: “Shut your mouth, or I’ll smash your teeth”.
When the trio met next day at the Royal Geographical Society, Fiennes pointed out that since neither dogs nor machines could manage the terrain, there was no chance for men. “Balls,” shouted Burton, “Captain Scott was absolutely right in reckoning manpower to be the efficient method. Our journey will prove it.”
Shepard then clinched the idea by saying: “If we don’t do the journey, somebody else will.” However, Burton and Shepard eventually pulled out, giving up the pleasures of participation for those of organisation. Burton later explained that once Fiennes became competitive he would regard any signs of enjoyment as tantamount to mutiny and insist they travel faster. Instead, Fiennes completed the first unsupported crossing of the Antarctic continent with Mike Stroud.
Burton went into the private security business, looking after the Cabinet Office and the Treasury Office, and played much golf in his spare time. He is survived by his wife.
Virginia “Ginny” Fiennes, who has died of cancer aged 56, was highly respected in polar circles around the world. In 1985, she became the first woman ever to be invited to join the hallowed ranks of the Antarctic Club, and, two years later, the first to receive the Polar medal from the Queen. This was in recognition of her research work, especially into VLF radio propagation, for the British Antarctic Survey and Sheffield University. Ginny’s husband, the polar explorer Sir Ranulph “Ran” Fiennes, led many expeditions, in hot deserts and cold regions, through the last three decades of the 20th century. But it was his wife, whom he idolised, who originated and inspired the planning, had the final say in choosing the teams, organised the routes and schedules, was base leader in Africa, Arabia and the polar regions for many years, and specialised in communications.
She was not impressed by bureaucracy, never took “No” for an answer and, though slightly built, could make big men quake in their boots with a flash of her bright blue eyes.
Ginny was born Virginia Frances Pepper near Lodsworth, West Sussex, the third of the four children of Tom and Janet Pepper, whose family had, for 300 years, owned and worked the Amberley chalk quarries on the South Downs, now an industrial museum. She was only nine when she met Ran, then an unruly 12-year-old just arrived in a neighbouring village from South Africa; they married in 1970.
After school, Ginny took up deep-sea diving, but was recruited to work for two years in Wester Ross for the Scottish National Trust. She spent many months in the 1960s researching for Ran’s travel books on Arabia, Africa and the Rocky mountains.
In 1968, she organised the first navigation of the Nile, the world’s longest river, by prototype hovercraft, and, in 1971, the first transnavigation of British Columbia entirely by river, a four-month journey filmed by the BBC for the World About Us series. One night, awaiting the arrival of boats bringing up petrol and food, she was startled by a bear and shot through her own boot by mistake.
In 1972, Ginny was commissioned by Woman’s Own magazine to live for two months with an Omani sheikh in a Jebel Akhdar village – the idea was that she should act as his third wife, though with a strict understanding that no carnal activities were involved. She grew to love her Omani family, lived entirely as they did, and decided not to submit any article out of respect for their privacy.
This episode was the start of Ginny’s lifelong love of Oman, and she organised four expeditions with Ran to locate the lost frankincense city of Ubar, in Dhofar. This quest was finally successful in the early 1990s, two decades after their search began.
In 1972, Ginny suggested an attempt to circumnavigate the world along its polar axis. Ten years later, her dream finally succeeded, and the Transglobe expedition team became the first to reach both north and south poles, having crossed Antarctica, and the Arctic ocean through the North-West Passage, a journey altogether of 35,000 miles lasting three years. The band of expedition colleagues from those days remained Ginny’s close friends, among them Anton Bowring, Charlie Burton and myself. Prince Charles, patron to the expeditions for 15 years, also became a friend.
To become Britain’s most experienced polar radio operator, Ginny was trained by expert Jack Willis at Royal Aircraft Establishment (Cove) Farnborough, then took marine radio officer courses and joined the WRAC Territorials. She set up and maintained 80ft radio masts in the Arctic and Antarctic, often in high winds and temperatures of -50C. In Antarctica in 1980, she was instrumental in saving the lives of a group of South African scientists lost to the north of her isolated base.
Ginny was tough, and knew what she wanted. As Ran’s fiancée in 1968, she managed to get an interview with Britain’s top literary agent, George Greenfield. But she arrived at the meeting with bleeding knees, having slipped down the steel-edged steps at Holborn tube station in her miniskirt and cut her legs. Greenfield was so impressed by this fiery envoy that he agreed to take Ran’s first book sight unseen.
On another occasion, while discussing an offer from the Observer for exclusive coverage of her Transglobe expedition, Ginny confronted a committee of 18 senior polar gurus, including Sir Vivian Fuchs. After Greenfield had announced the newspaper’s offer – 20% revenue from foreign rights to accrue to the expedition, and 80% for the Observer – Ginny managed singlehandedly to persuade the editor Donald Trelford’s executives to switch the figures around and give 80% for the expedition.
Even in bad times, her sense of humour was never far away. When she heard that Ran was to have five fingers amputated because of frostbite, she commented, “Oh damn, now we’ll be shorthanded on the farm.” And despite her sometimes forceful manner, Ginny was known to her many friends and godchildren for her gentleness, integrity and generosity. A modest and private person, she hated being in the spotlight, and never took credit for her achievements.
She loved all animals, and her Jack Russell terrier Bothie, beloved by a generation of Blue Peter fans, became the first dog to travel to both north and south poles -an achievement recounted in Ginny’s bestselling book, Bothie, The Polar Dog (1984). In 1981, Ginny saved a St John’s Water Dog puppy from an Inuit annual cull in Tuktoyaktuk, and brought her back to Britain to found a new breed. There are now some 50 descendants, which are much in demand. In the 1980s, Ginny moved with Ran to Exmoor national park to raise pedigree Aberdeen Angus cattle and a flock of black Welsh Mountain sheep, turning herself into a highly proficient hill-farmer (at 1,400ft, one of the highest working farms in the south-west). Her cattle, traditional but not old-fashioned, are sought after by breeders all over the UK and have won many awards at major cattle shows.
Right up until her death, Ginny was planning new expeditions abroad and new cattle-breeding projects at home. Her cancer was diagnosed last November, on the day after Ran returned from running seven marathons in seven days on seven continents with Dr Mike Stroud, raising funds for the British Heart Foundation four months after Ran himself suffered a massive heart attack and double bypass surgery.
Lady Virginia Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, explorer, born July 9 1947; died February 20 2004
Edward Pike (Eddie) spent most of his working life at sea. For many years he worked as a deckhand/able seaman for The Bowring Steamship Company Ltd. When in 1979 the company became a sponsor of the Transglobe Expedition, Eddie was asked by his employers whether he would like to help for a few weeks on board the Benjamin Bowring with preparations for the forthcoming voyage. Even though he was on leave from his regular work, Eddie leapt at the opportunity and very quickly established himself as an integral part of the Benjamin Bowring’s crew. Indeed, he took to his new life with such enthusiasm that he asked his employers for, and was granted, 3 years unpaid leave so that he could join the expedition full time. During those weeks before the ship sailed from London, Eddie spent much of his time painting. One weekend a group of 30 volunteers arrived to help. He suggested that they paint the port side of the accommodation superstructure while he would do the starboard side. Not one to hang about he set too with his paint brush and (so it was reported) succeeded in finishing his side long before the 30 volunteers finished theirs.
One of the duties which all crew members were expected to engage in was attending social gatherings with sponsors, VIPs and our distinguished hosts ashore. Eddie excelled at this. On one occasion as I was squeezing past him at a party on deck, I heard him ask an elderly gentleman who he was. The gentleman replied that he was the Lord Ranleigh (or some similar name). Eddie thought for a moment and declared “You sound like a pub!” The two of them erupted in laughter and I moved quickly on. Everyone loved Eddie. He was an excellent carpenter and if any member of the expedition team or ship’s crew wanted anything made, Eddie would quickly knock up just what was required. On the ship’s boat deck was an area covered in a green carpet and, from old palletts, Eddie built a white bench and armchairs which gave the perfect ‘garden’ setting on board for gatherings and barbeques whilst at sea. He converted a small saloon below decks into a television room with chairs, table and TV stand. When Ran required a sledge in Antarctica, Eddie built him a magnificent and very rugged one indeed the only one not to suffer structurally during the Antarctic phase of the expedition.
Shortly before the ship sailed north from Southampton on the final stage of the expedition, one of our sponsors, Tarmac, delivered a portacabin to the ship for use as a base in Spitzbergen. It was loaded into the hold and for the 10 days we steamed north, Eddie spent every available hour fitting it out. On arrival, it had kitchen units and shelves, a table and benches, a workbench, five bunks and hook-ups for electricity, gas and water.
Following Transglobe, Eddie continued at sea with Newbridge Shipping Company and, more recently with P&O on their large container ships. Of all the Benjamin Bowring crew, Eddie was one of a handful who continued to work at sea. But, for him, it became increasingly difficult. Work practices changed, many old skills were no longer needed and British crew were eagerly replaced with Phillipinos who cost employers considerably less. Before his 62nd birthday, Eddie received a letter from P&O. It was just one paragraph and it told him he would no longer be required when the ship he was on finished its tour of duty.
When not at sea, Eddie used to visit friends regularly. Each visit he brought something new that he had made during the past voyage. He made sea chests, wooden tankards, bell ropes of beautifully spliced ropes and cords, ships in bottles and more. When he bought a house in Loughton, Essex, it was reported in the local newspaper that he took ownership only a few days after he first saw it. It was a record breaking conveyance! He fitted it out himself with mostly homemade furniture. He took up watercolour painting and taught himself the keyboard. “I did it my way” was a favourite tune. For a while he bicycled everywhere but increasingly he became breathless and was soon diagnosed with asbestosis. Fortunately he died quickly without too much suffering. He was single but has two sisters.
(to be compiled)