- Robert Burton
- Pauline Carr
- Professor David Walton
- Christopher Peck
- Ann Prior
- Henry Worsley
- Roger Huxley
- Dr. Michael Gilkes
- Bernard Stonehouse
- Lance Tickell
- Charles Swithinbank
- Sir Sandy Woodward
- Alec Trendall
- Mike Stammers
- George Spenceley
- Sir Rex Hunt
- Commander Malcolm Burley
- Captain Bryan Young
- Jon Clark
- Betty Biggs
- Brigadier David Nicholls
GSGSSI was very saddened to hear of the passing of Robert (Bob) Burton on Saturday, 15th January. Bob had an association with the island spanning over seven decades having first visited in 1964 and in 2018 received the Morag Husband Campbell Medal from the South Georgia Association in recognition of his lifelong contribution to the island. Bob’s passion, advocacy and expert knowledge of South Georgia’s wildlife and history will be greatly missed and our thoughts go out to his family and friends.
The South Georgia Association has written has full obituary here.
Pauline Carr - 2019
Pauline first arrived on South Georgia in 1992 with her husband Tim on board their 28ft yacht “Curlew”. They both instantly fell in love with the island; its wilderness and natural beauty. This passion for South Georgia ensured that it would be their home for the next 24 years before finally leaving for New Zealand in 2006. The work Pauline and Tim undertook for the Museum Trust during this time was instrumental in making the museum what it is today.
GSGSSI is very grateful for the contribution Pauline made to the islands preservation of its cultural heritage and she will be fondly remembered and missed by the many people who met her. People who passed through South Georgia on their own adventures, whether this was just a fleeting day visit or a longer summer season, will have enjoyed her company at the museum, in the hills, on skis or just relaxing having tea and cake at Drukken villa. Our thoughts are with Tim at this difficult time.
Professor David Walton
South Georgia scientist and one of Antarctica's greatest champions, Professor David Walton, has passed away.
Article by BAS:
It is with great sadness that we report the death of Emeritus Fellow, Professor David Walton. David was an ecologist in BAS for over 40 years since 1967. He was head of terrestrial biology and then head of the Environment Information Division until his retirement. He had a long and distinguished career in BAS and was recognised for his Antarctic expertise worldwide.
David was incredibly active in many areas of Antarctic science and policy, in particular for SCAR. In 2006 he was the recipient of the SCAR Medal for International Scientific Coordination and represented SCAR in many Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings. He was the Chair of SCAR’s Group of Specialists on Environmental Affairs and Conservation, and editor of the SCAR Antarctic Environments Portal. He was involved in many Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings as Chief Editor of the annual report.
He was Editor in Chief of the scientific journal Antarctic Science, which he established in 1989, and has contributed to, compiled and edited six books on research in Antarctica. He was Chief Scientist on the recent Antarctic Circumpolar Expedition (ACE) and was advisor to the forthcoming GLACE scientific expedition to Greenland with the Swiss Polar Institute – and so many more activities in the Antarctic community.
David was dedicated to Antarctica and polar science. He has very many friends across BAS and the international Antarctic community who will miss him greatly.
Our thoughts are with his wife Sharon and their three children.
Christopher or 'Pecker' was known to his family as a gentle giant. He was the youngest of six children, having four sisters and a brother. His father and older sisters were all born in the Falklands where they still have a lot of family who live there. Aside from the love he had for his family and friends, one of his main loves was music; Chris had varied tastes and attended many concerts and festivals with his siblings over the years. He had a great sense of humour, which was very dry and witty.
Chris loved travelling and wanted to see the world differently to others. He loved other cultures and always planned his trips meticulously. He liked to try different sports and spent time over the last 2 years learning to surf and attending one of the intense Thai fitness programmes in Thailand.
When he left school he worked as sous chef for some time before joining and serving in the Navy for 6 years. After working for a short time as part of the security team at Sellafield, he was contacted by one of his cousins about a job in the Falklands and set off for the Islands around 5 years ago. On arrival, in December 2013, Chris joined the Falkland Islands Government Fisheries Department as a Fisheries Protection Officer. In this capacity Chris spent much time at sea patrolling the waters of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia to protect them against illegal fishing and undertaking vessel inspections. At South Georgia, where Chris undertook a patrol in each of the last 4 years (2014-2017), Chris was designated an inspector under the international Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. His actions here made an important contribution to the conservation and sustainable management of the Southern Ocean. Chris sadly passed away following a motorbike crash whilst on holiday in Brazil on the 2nd May 2018.
Speaking about her brother, Naomi said Christopher “has left an enormous hole in our lives but he has also inspired us throughout his short life on how much can be achieved. We have so many happy memories and tales to tell.”
Ann was the post mistress for South Georgia between 2003 and 2005. She was clever: a fierce environmentalist, an awesome cook, and a good friend.
The Ann I knew said yes to everything that sounded fun and gave whole-heartedly wherever she went. She died on the 27th of April 2016 in Scotland and was remembered in Shetland, Orkney, Fair Isle and the Falklands, all places that she loved, and was loved. All places she enjoyed terrific seas, many cup of teas, occasional tots, walks, walks, walks, birds, birds, birds, and some damn good swearing!
In South Georgia she indulged our young team’s youthful idealism with warmth and sparky enthusiasm. And she fed us well. Ahead of her time, and never afraid of hard work, Ann pioneered early attempts to remove bittercress by hand: pulling up plants and filling huge aggregate bags with contaminated topsoil. Previously, when living on a narrowboat (which sank, thankfully her cat survived!), Ann learned to decorate hardware with a traditional jolly flourish. In South Georgia she painted a big, bright sign for the Post Office and was proud when it appeared on stamps celebrating the centenary of that out-post.
Ann was a careful observer, she loved nature and was knowledgeable about wildlife (and the habits of wildlife watchers!). I loved her stories of surveying shy red throated divers in Shetland, of bonxies in Fair Isle and of being utterly lost in tall Falklands tussac while searching for boisterous Johnny rooks.
Did I mention Ann’s cooking? Ann often worked as a cook (a writing, painting, singing cook) and was brilliant at it. Her food was made with love and brought people together: Ann’s cheesy-oaty-scones are famous across the world. She hated waste and once served up road-kill for a group of artists in Aberdeenshire; she also used a very broken camera to take photographs for her friendly food column in Shetland Life, somehow she managed to serve decent photos with no functioning view finder! BAS folk laugh to recall the time she made delicious chutney from several year’s supply of dried onions. We all yummed it up in our smoke rolls.
The thought of Ann’s sparkling smile makes me grin whenever I prepare to cook something fun; what a lovely legacy for an extraordinary woman.
The photos below show Ann at home in Shetland and the stamp features the post office sign she painted years earlier.
A news release taken from his expedition’s website:
“It is with great sadness that we can confirm Henry Worsley died on the 24th January 2016 in hospital in Punta Arenas, Chile.
Henry undertook his solo expedition in the spirit of his idol Sir Ernest Shackleton and was delighted to have exceeded his goal of raising over £100,000 for the Endeavour Fund, a charity founded to help the recovery of injured servicemen and women. He was fulfilling his dream of crossing the Antarctic continent, and after having walked 913 statute miles unsupported and unassisted, battling extreme weather conditions, he made the brave decision, in Shackleton’s words, to “shoot the bolt”, 30 miles short of his ultimate goal.
When Henry was picked up by Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE), he was suffering from exhaustion and dehydration. He was flown to a hospital in Punta Arenas where he was found to have bacterial peritonitis. This resulted in Henry undergoing surgery but in spite of all the efforts of ALE and medical staff, he succumbed.”
We are sorry to report that Roger Huxley, died on September 5th aged 76. In the early 1990s he was First Secretary and dealt with South Georgia affairs.
Roger Huxley was from Stratford-upon-Avon, England. At the age of seventeen he joined the merchant navy but apparently colour blindness prevented him staying at sea. He returned to Stratford where he worked at the theatre. His next job took him to the north of Scotland to track Russian submarines during the Cold War, after which he joined the Diplomatic Wireless Service at GCHQ Bletchley Park. In 1966 he married Enid (Niddy) John.
He transferred to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and his first posting was to Singapore where his two daughters, Sian and Karen, were born.
His career with FCO meant he travelled widely, and was often involved in aid work. He went to the Far East, Somalia, Europe and the Middle East. He was in Abu Dhabi in 1986 when civil war broke out in Aden (Yemen) and was involved in organizing the evacuation of the British and other foreign citizens. Part of the multi-national fleet co-operating to get people out of the bloody conflict area was the Royal Yacht Britanniawhich was in the area having been to the Red Sea. With the Queen’s permission, the vessel was used in the evacuation, the first time it had been used in such a way.
n 1990 Roger Huxley was appointed First Secretary based at Government House, Stanley, and until 1994. Roger was also Assistant Commissioner for South Georgia. At that time a major part of the role was the day-to-day management of South Georgia affairs. The South Georgia administration was much smaller then than it is today and was made up of the First Secretary who worked part time on South Georgia matters, overseen by the Commissioner (who is also the Governor of the Falkland Islands) and the FCO in London, and with the assistance of the other Government House staff and one Marine Officer (now called a Government Officer) based on South Georgia. He only visited South Georgia once, in1991, but he maintained a lively interest in events there and when a fishery zone was established he became for a while Director of Fisheries for SGSSI.
After he left the Falklands he went to London before his final posting of his FCO career to Ascension Island where he was Administrator from 1995-1999. During his tenure he encouraged the island’s residents to become more involved in the running of the island, and also published a book on green turtles.
He and Niddy retired home to Stratford where he busied himself in community life including serving on panels for Warwick Hospital.
He demonstrated a sustained interest in South Georgia matters by becoming the first Treasurer for the newly formed South Georgia Association (SGA).
Roger died unexpectedly suddenly whilst on boating trip in Russia. His life was commemorated in his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon in the Church of the Holy Trinity (Shakespeare’s Church) on September 25th. It was a rousing service before a full congregation.
The South Georgia Commissioner (and Falkland Governor) at the time Roger was working in the Falkland Islands was David Tatham who wrote that, “Roger was a popular member of the community in Stanley, a keen golfer with a strong sense of humour. After retirement, his annual Christmas letters had a wide, appreciative and amused readership.” Roger’s daughter Karen described her father as a caring diplomat, loyal friend, maverick hat-wearer, racy joke-teller, witty raconteur, patriot and gentleman.
Dr. Michael Gilkes - 2015
Dr. Michael Gilkes FRCS, FRCO, FRGS, started his professional medical career as the Leith Harbour whaling station Medical Officer. As a newly qualified doctor, Michael Gilkes travelling from Leith, Scotland, aboard Saluta to become Medical Officer at Leith whaling station from 1946 to 1948. Whilst there he lived in the whaling station Manager’s Villa. His time at South Georgia coincided with the visit of explorer Niall Rankin. The two men got on well and Michael was invited along on several expeditionary trips around the island. This is something he mentions in one of several articles about his experiences and opinions on South Georgia for the Polar Publishing website. After South Georgia he went aboard the whaling factory ship Southern Harvester to act as ship's surgeon.
On returning to the UK, he was house surgeon at the Dreadnought Seamen's Hospital, after which he trained as an eye surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. He later took a position as a consultant ophthalmic surgeon at the Sussex Eye Hospital where he worked for thirty years. His work also took him to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan as a visiting consultant and examiner.
Throughout his life he retained an interest in South Georgia and the Antarctic and he accumulated a huge library on the region. He was a founder Friend of SPRI, a founding member of the James Caird Society, and was a member of the South Georgia Association. His wide ranging other interests included model engineering and competitive sailing.
After a 40 year gap Michael returned to South Georgia aboard a cruise ship. A trip he repeated several times afterwards.
Michael Gilkes died on December 22nd 2014, leaving his wife, Audrey, who was his theatre sister for many years, and a son and two daughters.
Based on an obituary published in the British Medical Journal.
Bernard Stonehouse - 2014
Bernard Stonehouse, who undertook some of the earliest penguin and seal research at South Georgia, has died aged 88.
He was born in Hull in 1926 and went on to have a varied and interesting career, starting in the Royal Navy with whom he trained as a pilot aged eighteen. He then joined the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS, precursor to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS)) and went to Stonington as a meteorologist and pilot and biologist. During a survey of Adelaide Island an emperor penguin colony was discovered on the Dion Islands. Bernard returned with two companions to make the first study of breeding which takes place in winter.
In his first year Bernard was one of three men who survived an air crash. Bad weather forced them to attempt an emergency landing on the sea ice. Their Auster aircraft flipped over onto its back on the hummocky surface. They survived the crash but had only a two-man tent, one sleeping bag and a tin of pemmican between them. The next day they set out to walk the 70 miles back to their base using a sledge made from the plane’s fuel tank to pull their few belongings. Poor weather hampered their journey and they made little headway; the three men crowding the tiny tent for three whole days during one blizzard. After a week struggling to reach safety they heard a plane circling nearby and used their last flare to attract attention and were rescued. Bernard had another lucky escape when, during a 500-mile dog-sledge journey, he and a companion survived after they and their sledge broke through thin sea ice and were plunged into the icy water. He and three other members of the base had an enforced third consecutive winter in Antarctica when the relief ship failed to reach the base.
Back in England in 1950 Bernard studied zoology and geology at University College, London, followed by a PhD at Oxford. His field studies for his doctorate brought him to South Georgia where he and Nigel Bonner set up a study site in the Bay of Isles in 1953. They erected a garden shed at Ample Bay in which they overwintered. Bernard made a ground-breaking study of king penguins and Nigel studied elephant seals. They then moved to KEP where Bernard Stonehouse switched his studies to marine biology.
Back in the UK he married Sally. The couple both went to Ascension Island in 1957 where Bernard was leader of the British Ornithologists’ Union Centenary Expedition. They spent 18 months studying the birds partly on the main island but also on a small off-shore island, Boatswain Bird Island, which had a small rock platform just big enough and high enough above the waves to accommodate a small hut with two bunks. The couple celebrated their third anniversary in the hut. Further travels with his career took him to New Zealand in 1968 where be taught zoology at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch. From here, summer expeditions with students were to Scott Base in the Antarctic to continue his studies on emperor penguins and other penguins and seals.
In 1970-71 a Commonwealth Research Fellowship at the University of British Columbia gave him opportunities for research on Dall sheep in the Yukon.
Back in England Bernard taught biology in a school in Perthshire and started writing books, then set up a new School of Studies in Environmental Science at Bradford University. He later joined the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) as editor of Polar Record, and he headed a long-term study on the ecological impacts of polar tourism. From this he concluded that Antarctic tourism was broadly positive if properly managed, in that it encourages a public interest in polar conservation. “On the whole,” he observed, “the tourists have done far less damage than some of the scientists who have had the run of the place since the 1950s.” He worked as a lecturer on board tourist ships for more than 20 years, a role which enabled him to revisit South Georgia several times.
His books include ‘Animals of the Antarctic’ and ‘Penguins and Sea Mammals of the World’ and ‘Antarctica: The Traveller’s Guide’.
In 1953 Stonehouse received the Polar Medal. He is also commemorated in the names of Stonehouse Bay and the 3100m Mount Stonehouse in Antarctica.
Bernard Stonehouse died on November 12th and is survived by his wife Sally and by their son and two daughters.
Info: Daily Telegraph
Lance Tickell - 2014
Lance Tickell, one of the scientists who founded the scientific base on Bird Island, died on June 10th 2014. Born in 1930 in Coventry, Tickell had what he described as a “nomadic childhood”. He did national service in the army after which he returned to education, eventually going to the University College of North Wales at Bangor to study botany and zoology.
In August 1954 he joined the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS), a precursor to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). He studied meteorology before being posted to Signy Island in the South Orkneys, where he became Base Leader in his second year. His work there included a special study of the dove (Antarctic) prion and other bird species, as well as assisting with the surveying of Coronation Island. On his return to the UK he continued working for FIDS whilst writing up a scientific report on the prion for which he was awarded an MSc.
He organised the South Georgia Biological Expedition 1958–1959 with Peter Cordall. They sailed to the island on the whaling tanker Southern Opal. Initially they camped and carried out their studies at Elsehul, before moving to Bird Island where they were joined for a while by Sealing Inspector Nigel Bonner. The team built a small shed, the first building on the island, which later became known as ‘Bonner’s Bothy’. Tickell and Cordall helped Bonner tag fur seal pups then, when Bonner left, they remained on the island for a further 15 weeks to set up field–studies of albatross and to survey the island. The resulting map was still in use 40 years later.
Lance Tickell returned to Bird Island on another two-person expedition in 1960-61. The expedition was funded by the United States Antarctic Research Program of the US National Science Foundation. Tickell was accompanied by Harold Dollman and they again helped Bonner tag fur seal pups, then stayed on to work on albatrosses.
Tickell made a third visit to Bird Island on an 18-month long expedition with Ronald Pinder and Harry Clagg. During this expedition they built three new huts and were the first people to overwinter on the island.
His studies of wandering and other albatrosses on Bird Island were pioneering and at times unconventional. In one attempt to find out where wandering albatrosses flew, the feathers of some birds nesting on the island were dyed bright pink in the hope mariners would spot the birds and report on their whereabouts.
Info: Dictionary of Falkland Biography.
Charles Swithinbank - 2014
Charles Swithinbank, former President of the South Georgia Association and a noted glaciologist & polar expert has passed away aged 87. His experience in the southern polar region started in 1949 when, as a newly qualified glaciologist, he was selected as a member of the Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition 1949-52. After this he worked at the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) until becoming a research associate and lecturer at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 1959, returning to SPRI from 1963 to 1974. He spent 1974 to 1986 working at the British Antarctic Survey, first as Chief Glaciologist and then as Head of the Earth Sciences Division. In his sixty years of polar research he collaborated with a large number of other nationalities, becoming fluent in Russian, and in total he spent three winters and more than 20 field seasons in the polar regions.
Charles Swithinbank was born in Burma in 1926 where his father was a District Commissioner in the Indian Civil Service. He moved to the UK for education aged seven. His mother had a big part to play in forming his adventurous spirit and was described by her son as being adventurous too. “My mother was good at reading stories of adventure and exploration to her children”, he said, “and that definitely had an effect on my life, because her message was, don’t get stuck in an office like your father.” He said his mother read him “Scott, Shackleton, Livingstone, …adventures like that and that certainly stuck with me. And so if I’d not gone to the Antarctic I probably would have joined the Colonial Service in Africa.” Prior to University studies at Pembroke College, Oxford, he had served for two years with the Royal Navy.
Whilst working with BAS he headed south every other year to spend several months in the Antarctic, mainly to direct radio echo-sounding flights using Twin Otter aircraft to measure the thickness of ice cover over the Antarctic Peninsula. For these they flew at very low altitude (30ft or less). Swithinbank was also a qualified pilot and an excellent navigator. As part of his work as a glaciologist he was responsible for sending other field researchers to work on some of the glaciers in South Georgia as part of an international programme.
Following the invasion of South Georgia and the Falklands in 1982 he was called to No 10 Downing Street by the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to advise her. During a long interview she asked him and another scientist if it was possible to build an airfield in South Georgia. Recounting the meeting later he said “We knew where you could, at enormous expense, build an airfield, I said that it would involve removing perhaps a couple of hundred thousand breeding pairs of king penguins, but would be physically possible at enormous expense of many millions of pounds.” The two men were amused to later realise that, “…a week after our visit she had a visit from Ronald Reagan and he was given half an hour, not one and a half hours.”
When he retired from BAS he continued to travel widely and lectured at international meetings and at universities. He also continued work interpreting satellite images of Antarctica, and mapping, and was a prime mover in the establishment of blue-ice runways on Antarctica - sites that are now routinely used by adventurers and tourists. He also travelled on tourist cruises to the Arctic and Antarctic as a lecturer.
His published writings include ‘An Alien in Antarctica: Reflections upon Forty Years of Exploration and Research on the Frozen Continent’; ‘Forty Years on Ice: A lifetime of Exploration and Research in the Polar Regions’; ‘Foothold on Antarctica: The First International Expedition (1949-1952)’ and ‘Vodka on Ice: A Year with the Russians in Antarctica’.
Swithinbank’s awards included the Polar Medal, Patron’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society and the Vega Medal of the Royal Swedish Geographical Society. He is commemorated by six place names in various sectors of the Antarctic. He married Mary Fellows (née Stewart) in 1960, and they had a son and a daughter. A memorial service will be held on June 16th in Cambridge.
You can read a more complete obituary as published in the Daily Telegraph here.
Sir Sandy Woodward - 2013
Sir Sandy Woodward, who commanded the Royal Navy Task Force that liberated South Georgia and the Falkland Islands after they were invade by Argentina in 1982, died on August 4th aged 81. UK Prime Minister David Cameron praised Admiral Woodward as "a truly courageous and decisive leader".
Known as a robust and peppery character, Sandy Woodward was on exercises in the Mediterranean in April 1982 when Argentina invaded South Georgia and the Falklands. He was put in command of the Royal Navy Task Force dispatched to retake the islands. In the lead up to these events, between 1978 and 1981 he had held the post of Director of Naval Plans, a period in which the UK Government’s Strategic Defence Review (also known as the Nott Review) was conducted. This was during Margaret Thatcher’s first term as Prime Minister and, though Woodward opposed the plans, John Nott inflicted severe cuts to the Navy of one-fifth of its destroyers and frigates; an aircraft carrier; two amphibious ships; and the intended removal of ice patrol shipHMS Endurance. The planned withdrawal of HMS Endurance from patrol in the Southern Ocean encouraged the Argentines to think Britain was less committed to protecting the British territories in the South Atlantic.
After the shock of the Argentine invasion, the early liberation of South Georgia was an important first victory for the British forces. On April 25th 1982 it was to Admiral Woodward that the news of the liberation of Grytviken was relayed with the famous signal from Captain Young, “Be pleased to inform Her Majesty that the White Ensign flies alongside the Union Flag in Grytviken, South Georgia. God save the Queen.”
In paying tribute to Sir Sandy Woodward, David Cameron alluded to this period of his career, “We are indebted to him for his many years of service and the vital role he played to ensure that the people of the Falkland Islands can still today live in peace and freedom." Similarly Admiral Sir George Zambellas, First Sea Lord, alluded to 1982 being Sandy Woodward’s finest hour: “Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward will always be remembered for his powerful and clear command of the Royal Navy Task Force…in 1982.”
Woodward was appointed KCB in 1982 and was promoted to Admiral in 1987. Woodward’s continued service in the Navy included periods as Flag Officer Submarines and Commander Submarines Eastern Atlantic, and Deputy Chief of Defence Staff. His last appointment was as Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command (1987–89). He left the navy aged 57, but he continued his interest in the forces, amongst other things becoming Chairman of the Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel Trust. He retired to Bosham, near Chichester, West Sussex, and enjoyed sailing small boats.
Sir Sandy Woodward died after a long illness.
Alec Trendall - 2013
Alec Trendall, a key person in the first accurate mapping of South Georgia, who documented the South Georgia Surveys in a recent book, has died. He took part in two of four survey parties that made up the South Georgia Surveys under the leadership of Duncan Carse.
Alec Trendall was born in the UK in 1928, spent some of his childhood in India, and in 1949 won a Royal Scholarship to Imperial College, London, to do a geological degree.
He was recruited to the South Georgia Surveys through a distant relation of Sir Ernest Shackleton; Robert Shackleton was Alec’s mentor when he undertook a PhD at Liverpool University. Duncan Carse wrote to Professor Shackleton to ask if he knew of a suitable geologist to join his planned survey team, and Alec Trendall’s name was put forward.
Unfortunately, early on in the first survey Alec fell down a bergschrund (a crevasse at the head of a glacier) at the top of the Brogger Glacier whilst doing some geological work. He lost his footing on the ice below a rock outcrop and slipped into the huge crevasse, falling a long way but landing on a snowbridge suspended a good way above the bottom. Another member of the party was lowered 55 meters into the crevasse to find him. Considering the fall he was not too badly injured, but a dislocated knee meant he needed to be evacuated to the whaling station hospital at Grytviken. For the journey back he was strapped onto a sledge which at times had to be carried by four other members of the party over areas that were not sledgeable. On reaching the coast they were met by a whale catcher ship, but Alec’s stretcher could not be safely hoisted aboard and so he was towed the 8 miles back to Grytviken in a pram dingy behind the catcher. The tow was at speed and was described by Walter Roots, who was with Alec, as “an exciting voyage we will never forget, but the skipper was doing his best to help.”
Two years later, though still lame, Alec had recovered sufficiently from his injury to return for a second survey in the 1953/54 season. This summer of fieldwork covered the north-western and far southern ends of the Island. It was a troubled summer. Even before survey work started one member of the four-man party had to be left at Grytviken due to illness, and interpersonal problems between the remaining party members marred the months ahead, with Alec playing a mediating role between the other two. The troubles were largely about the filming of the survey. According to Duncan Carse’s record, he ended up asking Alec to take over as “No 1” from Gordon Smillie. Animosities continued and Gordon was suspended from the survey. With just Alec and Duncan left, they could no longer undertake major surveying but were still able to land and survey at Annenkov Island and Cape Charlotte, and by joining the sealing vessel Albatros were able to fill in coastal detail. Alec Trendall met his wife Kathleen, a nurse, during his recovery from his knee injury. They married just two months before he left for the second survey. After the previous two field seasons and the various problems encountered, Alec was not interested to join the third survey of the series, though he had some misgivings about that decision, writing: “I felt some sadness at leaving South Georgia, where I had enjoyed some times of exhilarating excitement, and which I never expected to see again.”
Alec’s career continued as Field Geologist for the Colonial Service on a geological survey of Uganda where he moved to a remote wildlife rich area with his family. They later moved to Australia where he worked with the Geological Survey of Western Australia. In 1970 he became Deputy Director of the Survey, and in 1980, Director. He retired in 1989 but continued to work on global geology. He and Kathleen had three children.
Alec Trendall returned to South Georgia in 2007 as a guest of tour ship operators Aurora Expeditions. During the visit he unveiled a bronze bust of South Georgia Survey leader Duncan Carse in the South Georgia Museum.
Duncan Carse had intended to write up the Surveys, but died before the project progressed far. Encouraged by others who recognised the importance of the surveys in the history of South Georgia, Alec took on the task to document them and wrote ‘Putting South Georgia on the Map’, an account of all the surveys which was published 2011.
Knowing he was terminally ill, Alec looked back on his life and said he had had “a long, interesting and enjoyable life”. He died on 5th April.
Mike Stammers - 2013
Mike, who held the title of Keeper Emeritus of Merseyside Maritime Museum since retiring in 2003, had a passionate interest in maritime archaeology including that of South Georgia and the Falklands Islands.
For his work in maritime heritage he was described in an obituary on the National Historic Ships UK website as, “Perhaps our most accomplished modern practitioner, with outstanding curatorial, interpretation and collections management skills, who was also a fine scholar, widely familiar with the printed and manuscript sources for his subject both in this country and abroad, his record of publications for someone in his position is simply awesome, and includes definitive works of international scholarship in maritime history and nautical archaeology which will unquestionably stand the test of time.”
Following his visit to assess the wrecks in the Falkland Islands, Mike Stammers made a brief visit to South Georgia in April 1992. The main objective was to produce an up-to-date survey of the maritime heritage of South Georgia, and one specific task was to assess the condition of the two large metal sailing ship hulks, Brutus and Bayard. In the last year he had been advising on a survey of the remains of the wooden three-master Louise, which lies outside Grytviken.
Mike stammers died on January 30th aged 69.
George Spenceley - 2013
George Spenceley , the photographer on Duncan Carse’s SG Surveys in 1955-56 has died.
George Spenceley was an accomplished mountaineer, his love of outdoor pursuits started in his schooldays when he took up caving and rock climbing.
He was a second pilot in the RAF during the 2nd World War, and survived 38 bombing operations before being shot down over Germany in June 1942. He was the sole survivor of the crash but suffered severe injuries. Once released from hospital he was incarcerated in a Prisoner of War camp for three years.
After the war he took up teaching, but spent most of his spare time in the mountains and it was a friend who brought the advertisement for a mountaineering photographer on the South Georgia Surveys to his attention. He was immediately captivated by the Island. On September 24th 1955 after his first sight of the Island he wrote in his diary, “I got up soon after 5am, and hurried on deck to see the finest coastline perhaps anywhere in the world. Ahead and on either side extended a fabulous skyline of shapely peaks.” He was less enthralled by the industrial whaling scene at Leith however, “We all walked through this hideous shanty whaling town, where 500-odd men have been wintering, to the open ground beyond where the snow was clean and crisp.”
During the survey that summer the eight-man survey team covered areas towards the northern end of the Island, making several forays inland covering the area around the Kohl-Larsen Plateau; west of the Bay of Isles; and then between Royal Bay and Drygalski Fjord at the southern end of the island – the overland travel was not without its adventures with runaway sledges; men dropping down crevasses; and such severe weather with tents blown away and conditions in the camps sometimes so terrifying that they feared for their lives more than once. Overall this was the happiest and most successful of the South Georgia Surveys.
After the Survey George Spenceley returned to teaching. In 1957 he was Deputy Leader on a major climbing expedition to Nepal, and once again he was to be the sole survivor of an accident when an icefall killed three of the four men on the rope whilst they were climbing Langpoo Gang.
He continued to travel widely and was a member of the Alpine Club, and after retirement he continued a busy lecture programme, and according to fellow survey member Alec Trendall, his successful career, combining lecturing and worldwide travel, all started when Duncan Carse invited him to South Georgia.
George Spenceley was married twice. He had three sons with his first wife Marjorie, from whom he was amicably separated before marrying travel writer Sylvie. He died peacefully at home on February 13th aged 91.
His work at South Georgia is celebrated in the name of the Spenceley Glacier, which runs through the middle of the Island.
Sir Rex Hunt - 2012
Sir Rex Hunt, who was Governor of the Falkland Island Dependencies (including South Georgia) from 1980 to 1985, died on November 11th. His tenure of office included the Argentine invasion of the Island in 1982 and ended with South Georgia being separated from the Falkland Islands to become a separate country, now called a British Overseas Territory (until October 1985 South Georgia was a Falkland Island Dependent Territory).
Sir Rex Hunt was born in Redcar, Yorkshire in 1926, went to St Peter’s College, Oxford and joined the RAF as soon as he was old enough in 1944. In 1951 he married Mavis Buckland and they had two children, Diana and Antony.
During his three years in the RAF he served as a fighter pilot on No 5 Squadron in India and No 26 Squadron in Germany, after which he returned to Oxford to complete a law degree. He joined the Overseas Civil Service in 1951, serving in Uganda as District Commissioner. In 1963 he joined the Commonwealth Relations Office and was sent as First Secretary to Sarawak (Malaysia), in the following years he worked in Brunei, Turkey, Indonesia, Saigon and Kuala Lumpur.
Of his next appointment Sir Rex Hunt said he had the longest title and one of the biggest areas of the Commonwealth to administer, as “Governor of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Shetland Islands, British High Commissioner for the Antarctic Territories and Commander in Chief of the British Forces, Falkland Islands.” He visited South Georgia shortly before the War, in December 1981, aboard HMS Endurance. He was being flown ashore in the ship’s helicopter to visit two people filming at St Andrew’s Bay when the aircraft crashed. Despite it being a bad crash, the helicopter was a complete write off, no one was seriously hurt.
Sir Rex Hunt described South Georgia as “spectacularly beautiful…the abundance of wildlife reminded me of the River Nile in Uganda”. He could also see that it would be an attraction for tourists but that it was, “too remote and the elements too harsh for tourists to spoil it. For the adventurous visitor, who is not deterred by distance of difficulties, it is the experience of a lifetime.” It was from South Georgia that one of the early indications that the Argentines were becoming more aggressive in their claims to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands came. Sir Rex Hunt received a message from a British Antarctic Survey field party about the activities an Argentine scrap metal salvage operation which had landed illegally at Leith. The full invasion of both South Georgia and the Falklands quickly followed. Sir Rex Hunt was flown back to the UK, but returned to his role in June 1982, once the Argentine occupation was ended.
He was awarded the CMG in 1980 and a knighthood in October 1982.
BBC journalist Harold Brierley commented: “Rex Hunt was an unusual diplomat, with none of the stuffiness or formality sometimes associated with that profession. He managed to retain the dignity and ceremonial duties of a colonial governor with a genial and welcoming disposition which endeared him to all walks of life. He was a man of the people, as much at home drinking tea in the Islanders’ remote homestead or quaffing a pint of beer in their modest Stanley pubs as he was when clinking champagne glasses in the corridors of power.”
After retirement Sir Rex continued his interest in the region including his involvement with the Shackleton Scholarship Fund.
Malcolm Burley - 2010
Lt Cdr Malcolm Burley RN MBE, who led the 'Combined Services Expedition' to South Georgia in 1964/65, died on August 23rd 2010. Here he is remembered by his friend Patrick Fagan who was on the expedition with him:
“For me Malcolm Burley will always be the leader of the very successful 'Combined Services Expedition' to South Georgia in 1964/65. He of course had a full life both before and after this, but this memoir will concentrate on his life and times linked to South Georgia.
Malcolm was born in September 1928, and joined the navy immediately after World War 2 as a supply officer. His early career followed a fairly conventional pattern, albeit full of incident, but in 1960 he was appointed to “HMS Protector” and first experienced the lure of the southern ocean. In particular he fell for South Georgia, and its links to Ernest Shackleton. He was a sufficiently experienced mountaineer to be permitted to attempt Mt Paget (9,625 ft), and was nearly successful, being in the first team to reach the West Summit. This was the driving force behind his submission to the Ministry of Defence to take a 10-man services expedition back to the Island four years later.
At that time the policy was for the services to mount an ambitious expedition every 2-3 years, and Malcolm’s detailed plan won through against other submissions. His expedition had 3 main aims: to discover the route, and achieve the first crossing, that Shackleton, Worsley and Crean had taken from King Haakon Bay to Stromness; to make the first ascent of Mt Paget and as many other unclimbed peaks in that part of the Allardyce Range as time permitted; and to make a large scale map of the area north of Royal Bay.
Malcolm selected an excellent team from some 400 applicants from the 3 services, revealing early on this essential skill in a good leader. Typically we were 50:50 officers and NCOs, and the services were equally represented. He ensured that team members, all climbers of varied experience, acquired the skills necessary for their roles on the expedition; for example all members spent a week learning about surveying so that they could support the surveyors in their work. His diplomatic skill was also evident early on when we joined “HMS Protector” in Montevideo, ensuring that we all played our part in the ship’s role aboard and ashore, and that we fitted in seamlessly to the life aboard; this was also important on the 10-week return voyage up the west coast of South America as we worked up our results etc, and tended to get slightly more than our share of attention from the local communities and the press.
But what of Malcolm, the man. He exuded a quiet confidence right from first acquaintance, and had a jolly, warm and generous personality that immediately made friends wherever we were. He had a lively sense of fun, was highly sociable and loved parties – we had a few, before departure, during the expedition (when my own birthday was celebrated in a lively but chilly way on the Neumayer Glacier), on the return journey home – and at many reunions since. In the field he often let us discuss possible actions amongst ourselves when there was time, for there was a wealth of experience in the team, but then gave his decision (“orders” would not be the right word) and off we would go. He had this expression, “Order, counterorder, disorder!” said with the Burley chuckle which we came to know so well.
He was devout, and his religion meant a lot to him. On Sundays we always held a short gathering where one of us would choose a couple of readings from prayer books that Malcolm carried. Christmas was celebrated on the Kjerulf Glacier, and a large cave dug, roofed over with the 2 sledges, so that we could all be together for our Christmas lunch, seated on packing cases. Typically, again, every detail had been planned in advance so that we had all the usual decorations, balloons, and cards, as well as a traditional menu – and drink.
The expedition was a huge success. Mt Paget was climbed by a team of 3 with each service represented, and Mt Sugartop, the Island’s third highest at 7,623 ft, soon after. The remaining members of the expedition made attempts on Mt Fagerli (6,167 ft) and Paulsen Peak (6,158 ft), but unsafe ice conditions near the summit of each meant that neither summit was reached.
A large problem had been evident for some time – how to cross the Allardyce Range and return to Grytviken, and so move on to Royal Bay and the third phase. During the descent from Mt Fagerli a possible route was revealed; it was explored by a small team to ‘prove’ the route, and was successful. The 4,000 ft descent by the whole expedition, sledges and stores, from the high point along the range and down onto the Lyell Glacier and on to Grytviken took 9 days and was, in the view of those who did it, the major achievement of the whole expedition.
The expedition did not carry radios, perhaps the last such expedition to be allowed this concession. Malcolm had convinced the authorities that no one could come to our aid should it be needed, and any eventuality had to be solved by the team itself – just as in Shackleton’s own case. But we were rather overdue, and there was some relief at our bearded and unwashed appearance at Grytviken. The last phase, the survey of the north Royal Bay area was also successfully completed despite the available time being reduced from 6 to 4 weeks. A previously unnamed summit in this area was officially later named Mt Burley (2,933 ft).
The overall success of this expedition depended very much on Malcolm, from his initial selection of the team, his detailed attention to preparation in every way, his excellent administration, and above all his superb leadership. In my book he deserves to be regarded as one of the great expedition leaders of his day, and he thoroughly deserved the MBE subsequently awarded to him. For many of us he changed our lives, in all kinds of positive ways.
About 5 years later he returned south to lead another combined services expedition to Elephant and Clarence Islands; again highly successful but of which I have no personal experience.
He retired from the navy as Commander in 1973, and became Bursar of Stowe School – a post which suited his skills and personality like a glove. He and his wife, Fiona, had 3 daughters, all now married and parents in turn. Malcolm and Fiona retired to Peasenhall in Suffolk and played a full part in the village life there.
Our 10-man team, now down to 8, on South Georgia has remained in close touch, and has had a number of full reunions. Five of us were there at Malcolm’s funeral in Peasenhall on September 1st, as well as a further 4 from the Elephant Island team, to join with a very large number of local and other friends.”
Obituaries were published in both the Times and the Telegraph newspapers.
Brian Young, Commander Of The SG Liberation Ships - 2009
Captain Brian Young, who commanded the ships sent to liberate South Georgia after the Argentine invasion in 1982, has died.
Born in England in 1930, he joined the Royal Navy in 1944. He learned to fly in the USA and flew Sea Hawk jet fighters from aircraft carriers, and saw action in the Suez war. Between 1958 and 1960 he worked with the RAF as an instructor before becoming a senior pilot of 804 squadron in the carrier “Hermes”. Later he commanded the Royal Navy's 766 “Top Gun” squadron at Yeovilton, UK.
Returning to more general service, his next commands included a counter mine squadron in Bahrain and the frigate “Danae”, and his attendance of a Senior Officer's War Course proved to be good preparation for the coming events in the South Atlantic.
In 1982 he was on his final appointment as captain of destroyer “Antrim” when he was chosen as commander of the ships sent to recover South Georgia after the Argentine invasion. After the successful action leading to the Argentine surrender, Young sent the famous signal: “Be pleased to inform Her Majesty that the White Ensign flies beside the Union Jack in South Georgia. Save the Queen”.
“Antrim” then moved to take part in the action in the Falkland Islands where it was bomb damaged in “bomb alley”, Falkland Sound.
After the war Captain Young was awarded a DSO, with special mention being made in the citation of his South Georgia command.
On retirement from the services he continued to work with the company Marconi GEC. He and his wife Sheila enjoyed country sports, often visiting Scotland for the fishing and shooting. He maintained his links with those he saw action with in the South Atlantic and was President of the 'Antrim Association'. Captain Young was 79 when he died on December 24th.
Jon Clark - 2009
By Richard McKee, drawing also on the eulogy given by Steve Dent at Jon’s memorial service in Stanley.
Jonathan Andrew Clark was born on 9th February 1949 and died on 29th August 2009.
Jon was educated at Bedford School (1958-1965). After taking his O’level exams, Jon left school with the intention of pursuing a career in farming and he went to work on a farm in Dorset. The following year Jon returned to work on farms nearer home in Luton. Jon soon became concerned about his farming prospects and he learned about the fishing trawlers then operating out of Hull, and the opportunities for work in the fishing industry. His life took a dramatic turn and he embarked on a career at sea.
Jon entered the fishing industry based on the Humber as a deckie learner at the age of 17. He proved to be very competent at both seamanship and fishing, gaining experience and responsibility at young age. Jon scored extremely high marks in his examinations, qualifying as a skipper before he was 30. After one exam, on astral navigation, where he had been marked down one point, he asked the examiner what the fault was. The reply was, “I dare not give you full marks or you will get my job”.
The harsh life of a trawler-man, away for weeks at a time in the North Atlantic, took its toll on his personal life and health. Working at sea in freezing cold winds and damp conditions resulted in Jon developing rheumatic problems at a relatively young age. It was also unfortunate for Jon that just as he became a Skipper, the fishing industry went into decline. However, J Marr Ltd, with whom Jon had trained, began to charter their vessels for marine scientific exploration, and as a vessel Master Jon was also able to travel and enjoy some work in warmer waters.
In 1987 the Falkland Islands Interim Conservation and Management Zone was established and the Falkland Islands Government began developing a licensed fishery, recruiting experienced staff in the process. Initially Jon travelled out to the South Atlantic as Master of one of J Marr Ltd’s trawlers, contracted by the Falkland Islands Government (FIG) to undertake fishery patrol duties. Jon was soon employed by FIG as a Fishery Protection Officer, before coming ashore to take up the post of Marine Officer in the Fisheries Department in Stanley. In this post Jon was instrumental in developing the fishery and the offshore fisheries protection regime. This included the establishment of fishery patrols to South Georgia for the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich islands (GSGSSI). Initially this involved the sub-charter of the Falkland Islands Fishery Patrol Ship, before the GSGSSI was in a position to charter its own dedicated vessel.
Jon will be fondly remembered by all in the Falkland’s Fishery Department and GSGSSI. He was held in great affection and there was a very great appreciation for the quiet gentle man that was Jon Clark. Jon’s memory was incredible and a considerable amount of corporate knowledge about both fisheries has been lost with Jon’s passing. Jon had a unique approach to life and anyone who had been in Jon’s office would have appreciated a comment made that, “Jon had a somewhat cavalier approach to the finer points of filing”. Jon was also very active within the Red Ensign Group and was one of the longest serving members of the group. His presence there will be sadly missed.
Throughout all his years as Marine Officer in Stanley, Jon remained a pillar of support to the South Georgia Government. On any maritime issue Jon’s door was always open, ready to offer support and sound advice, which he gave very willingly. On the few occasions that illegal fishing vessels were arrested in South Georgia waters, Jon came into his own with his extensive knowledge of the industry. His methodical and canny approach to interviewing Fishing Vessel Masters off arrested vessels ensured that South Georgia’s interests were always best served. Even for Government Officers working hundreds of miles away on South Georgia, Jon was able to offer guidance and advice over the phone. During the course of a number of major maritime incidents in South Georgia waters the value of the support and reassurance given to Government Officers by Jon when it was most needed was immeasurable.
It is unfortunate that over the years Jon himself never managed to visit South Georgia, though through his position he had a profound bearing on many of those who worked there, both at sea and ashore at King Edward Point. Jon was a good and loyal friend to many. He had a wicked sense of humour and he enjoyed his shooting and fishing as well as the finer qualities of life. Jon was one of life’s true Gentlemen. He will be sadly missed and those friends of his associated with South Georgia extend their deepest condolences to Jon’s partner Alison and to his brother Hugh and his family.
Betty Biggs - 2008
by Jan Cheek for Penguin News
Betty Biggs born in Stanley 29 August 1929 died 17 September 2008 after a long illness.
Betty Josephine Rowlands grew up with her elder brother John and younger brother Harold at 8 Ross Road East. Their parents were Theodore Conrad ‘Con’ Rowlands and Lucy née Larsen. Her paternal grandparents were Swedish Captain Rylander, who changed his name to Rowlands, and his Scottish wife. Her maternal grandparents were from Norway and England. In common with many Stanley families of that period when wages were very low there were no luxuries and the children did part time jobs from an early age. Betty, like her brothers, was an able pupil but a rebellious one. She resisted all her teachers’ attempts to force her to change from left to right handed with the stubborn determination that was a strong character trait throughout her life. On leaving school she did domestic work for the Dixon family for ten shillings a month.
At sixteen she was able to leave home when she was employed as an auxiliary nurse at the hospital and housed in the nurses’ quarters. Later she regaled her family with many hair-raising tales of learning on the job and soon finding herself the sole staff member on night duty, with strict instructions only to wake the sister or matron sleeping on the premises in the most extreme emergency. The hospital was very busy with many patients being treated for tuberculosis and the whole range of other ailments. She told many humorous tales of fellow nurses vying for the attention of their more handsome patients.
While nursing Betty met and married Basil Biggs, recently returned from WW2 service in the RAF in India and Burma and now working as hospital caretaker. They lived first with his parents and then in ‘Pink Cottage’ a near derelict house in front of the hospital. From there they moved to the relative luxury of a small semidetached house on Allardyce Street with their three children, Janet 1948, Coleen 1949 and Peter 1951. (Their fourth child Pauline was born in 1967 on board HMS Lynx to which Betty had been transferred from RMS Darwin en route to Stanley from South Georgia).
An opportunity came for Basil to become policeman/handyman in South Georgia, then one of the Falkland Islands Dependencies. This move meant better pay and housing so in early 1954 the family left on the old wood clad John Biscoe for what was to be Basil and Betty’s home for nearly sixteen years.
As one of a handful of women on the island Betty had to put all her skill and imagination to work keeping three small children fed, clothed and schooled. The last was probably most difficult because it was hard to obtain appropriate books and the children had many exciting distractions.
Betty’s quiet kindness and humour were remembered by many who spent time on the island. They made friends among the whalers and in later years Betty was surrounded by souvenirs of those days including a frequently used brass cribbage board made by the blacksmith and other handmade mementoes. She also built up a large collection of stamps and later of Falklands and South Georgia books.
During those years Betty put her interest in philately to good use and began to fill orders from specialist dealers and collectors in London. A few years after the return to Stanley Betty was employed part time by Postmaster Henry Luxton to process specialist stamp orders. Business grew and when the Philatelic Bureau was set up she worked full time. She loved her work and after 1982 it included the bonus of trips to South Georgia to release new stamp issues. She loved sea travel and would return happy in spite of blisters on her hands from hours of hand franking. Unfortunately her philatelic work ended with her enforced early retirement in a financial panic when a handful of experienced older FIG employees, not yet retirement age, were replaced by school leavers.
Always politically aware, Betty was alarmed when, at the time that a leaseback arrangement with Argentina was being mooted, a councillor returning from a trip to W.Falkland said that most people were in favour. Believing that this was not the case in Stanley, Betty and a friend went door to door asking whether people favoured leaseback. Most people were keen to express their opinion apart from one young man who was very rude and a couple of ladies who felt that they had to ask their husbands what they thought! The response, an almost unanimous ‘no’, was passed to Governor Rex Hunt but they never heard what the Foreign Office made of it. It was soon overtaken by the war in ’82. She made it her business to ensure that future governors knew her views. One former governor remembers with pleasure a neat pincer movement executed at a GH function when Betty, and another great patriot Velma Malcolm, left the visiting very senior Foreign Office official in no doubt about many Islanders’ views on the Argentine question.
In recent years Betty’s house, with the union flag painted on the roof, became a regular stop for Ronnie Spafford’s philatelic group tours. Each year she also entertained old South Georgia hands and ex FIDS who passed through, many as passengers or lecturers on cruise vessels. She also loved folk nights in the pubs and would always receive a phone call from Jock and Liz when one was planned. She served on the South Georgia stamp committee planning new issues and was a mine of information on South Georgia and Falklands people and events.
Widowed in 1987, she is survived by four children, eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Exercising her grandmother’s rights Betty spoiled her eight grandchildren whenever she could. They always had in their granny a patient listener and mischievous co-conspirator who gave them unconditional love. An added joy in her last years was the arrival of her two great grandchildren. It is to be hoped that they are old enough to remember their extraordinary and beloved ‘Granny Betty’.
Brigadier David Nicholls - 2006
Source: The Times
A FEARLESS soldier, inspiring leader and formidable military mountaineer, David Nicholls had a distinguished career in the Royal Marines, culminating in his appointment as Commander British Forces Falklands Islands, 1999-2000. In a life of service which took him from the high rock deserts of Oman, through Arctic Norway to the jungles of Belize, he had been CO of 45 Commando and Commandant of the Royal Marines Training Centre at Lympstone, Devon.
As a young officer in the early 1970s he had led Arab soldiers while serving in the Sultan of Oman’s Armed Forces in the little-known but hard fought Dhofar campaign. This was against the tribesmen of this mountainous region who in 1965 had risen against the harsh regime of the 13th hereditary monarch of Oman, Sultan Said bin Taimur, and continued against his son, Sultan Qaboos, even though the latter had got rid of his father, tempered the worst excesses of his rule, and opened the country up to a degree of reform.
The Dhofari tribesmen, who were backed by the Communist Government of the neighbouring People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, posed a serious threat to Oman’s stability, and in 1970 Qaboos had appealed to Britain for help. This was immediately forthcoming.
In the pitiless, sun-scorched terrain of the jebel, which the guerrillas had come to think of as their own, Nicholls was involved in several difficult but successful actions, in one of which his gallantry and quick thinking saved the lives of his Omani soldiers and vanquished the enemy.
He was advancing with a company of Oman’s Northern Frontier Regiment, of which he was second-in-command, across a flat-topped mountain, when it came under fire which killed Corporal Mahmood, its leading soldier. The remaining troops flung themselves to the ground and looked desperately for firing positions that offered protection from incoming rounds.
The ground was billiard-table-flat with little cover. The company faced the prospect of a decidedly one-sided firefight if the enemy could use the cover offered by a sharp wadi edge, 300 metres distant, from where the initial burst had originated. Whoever held that edge held the initiative.
Realising the tactical importance of the wadi edge, Nicholls jumped up and started to zig-zag towards the position, yelling in Arabic for his soldiers to move forward as quickly as possible and seize it before the enemy could. He reached it first, just as more guerrillas arrived, and for some time, armed with an AK47 rifle and grenades, he conducted a one-man battle in the rocks.
Eventually, the rest of the company came up, and a furious two-hour battle began. But by now, the Sultan’s soldiers held the key ground and were able to bring their greater firepower to bear. For his performance on this and several other occasions during his nine-month tour in Dhofar, Nicholls was awarded the Omani Bravery Medal — approximately equivalent to the British DSO.
Born in London in 1949, David Nicholls was educated at Ellesmere College, where he developed his passion for the military and mountains, establishing the college climbing club. He entered the Commando Training Centre at Lympstone as part of its September 1967 entry.
After the end of his tour in Dhofar, he completed the mountain leader course for officers in 1974. He subsequently commanded the reconnaissance troop, 42 Commando, and served in Northern Ireland. He teamed up with a fellow mountain leader officer, John Barry, and together they made the first British ascents of many hard Alpine routes and established new routes on the north faces of the Dent Blanche, Breithorn, Gletscherhorn, Morgenhorn and Leshaux. They also established a new route on Mount Cook in New Zealand.
In 1980 Nicholls led the joint services expedition which made the first ascent of the North West Face of Phabrang in the Himachal Pradesh area of India. The outstanding success of this Alpine-style ascent was, however, marred by tragedy when one of the members fell to his death on the descent.
As a lifelong member and president of the RN&RM Mountaineering Club, Nicholls inspired the naval contribution to joint service mountaineering in the Greater Ranges. He was instrumental in the organisation and leadership of the British Services Everest Expedition in 1988.
Nicholls’s military and mountaineering excellence led to his appointment as CO of 45 Commando in 1991, and his resolute leadership enhanced the unit’s reputation for Arctic warfare expertise, particularly on the challenging winter deployment to Norway in 1993. The next six months in the jungles of Belize were a far cry from the Arctic, but required the same professionalism and robustness.
From there he had just settled into a staff appointment at HQ Royal Marines, when he was posted to Bosnia as the senior UK staff officer to the commander of the Anglo-French Rapid Reaction Force Operations Staff. The air-land plan, written by the staff under his detailed direction, executed in July 1995, contributed to the capitulation of the Bosnian Serbs and the peace accord at Dayton.
He returned to the UK as CO of the Commando Training Centre, 1997-98. During his final appointment, as Commander, British Forces Falkland Islands, he developed a deep affinity for the area and its heritage, in particular that of South Georgia.
In retirement from the corps, this became the focus of his energies. Based at the University of Dundee, he founded the South Georgia Heritage Trust with branches in the UK, US and Norway. This is a charity dedicated to preserving the historical and wildlife heritage of South Georgia as well as promoting tourism in the area. One of his most ambitious projects was the eradication of rats, to allow threatened bird species to begin to breed again on the coasts.
Latterly he was increasingly involved in developing a young generation of outdoor leaders and explorers. Through the British Schools Exploring Society he led expeditions to southern Chile and South Georgia.
Nicholls’s marriage was dissolved. He is survived by a daughter and stepson.
Brigadier David Nicholls, RM, Commander British Forces Falklands Islands, 1999-2000, was born on February 23, 1949. He died of a heart attack on July 4, 2006, aged 57.