In an age when people steal one’s thoughts and writing,
and do not possess the decency to say ‘hello’,
– taking a moment to remember childhood,
and a hero who gave me the will to keep trying
when the conduct of people made me want to quit.
I began to notice, as a teen, that my heroes
were never the same as anyone else’s.
Boys seemed to marvel at football players – grown men
who chase a ball around a field;
or James Bond – a make-believe character in a film;
while girls were invariably enthralled
by the likes of Davy Jones or Donny Osmond.
Now … I was certainly moved to hear the sentiment
expressed by the Osmonds in “Love Me for a Reason”
– and have never yet heard
my own thoughts upon romance
expressed by any man apart from those brothers
in that particular song – but honestly,
I could never understand being so enamoured
as to have a poster of them on a bedroom wall.
A hero, for me, had to exhibit personal qualities
of tender-heartedness and compassion.
I admired my Dad, and my grandpa –
they were quiet, gentle men who were
very courteous towards others
and instilled in me a sense that I was subservient
to God in all things; and to my elders – as long as they did not
ask me to do, or believe, anything that was evil.
That stipulation of always having moral integrity,
was something that – for me,
made life meaningful.
Without integrity – the strength to stand for virtue
while multitudes all around followed the crowd –
to have spent my life always gratifying vanity
would be something of which, in later years,
I would be ashamed.
Bullies gratified their own conceit by being selfish and cruel.
Hypocrites used people: ‘took’ and never ‘gave’ anything in return.
But Heroes were people who endured personal hardship
in order to help or protect the weak and the frightened.
That capacity to strive to do what is right; to be kind, and gentle
— that spirit of self sacrifice — is what I always looked for
in any boy or girl … man or woman,
before deciding that they were worth admiring.
In an age when any thug in a polyester uniform
is now regarded as “our hero”,
that stipulation of … moral integrity …
is something that is wholly overlooked
in the shallow world of the 21st century.
I suppose, the first real boyhood ‘hero’ that I recall
… was Tom Crean.
I admired Tom Crean because of the famous photograph of him
– pipe firmly ensconced – holding the puppies Roger, Toby,
Nell and Nelson …
Born on the 25th of February (according to his birth certificate;
and not July, as the Internet insists), 1877,
the son of a farmer from Kerry,
Tom Crean joined the Royal Navy at the age of just 15.
In 1901, the ship to which Crean had been drafted,
was moored in New Zealand,
in the vicinity of a second ship
from which a crewmember had only just deserted.
That ship was the ‘Discovery’,
under the command of Robert Scott.
Bound for an expedition to the Antarctic,
Scott now found himself embarking for unknown territory,
being one crewman short.
A hasty search for a replacement was ended
when Tom Crean offered his services.
It was self-appointed mentor Sir Clements Markham,
head of the Royal Geographic Society,
who propelled Scott into the spotlight of Antarctic exploration.
That Markham clearly had designs of grandeur in backing Scott
is fairly discernible in the fact that Markham had lauded
the efforts of Shackleton who – in 1909 –
had reached furthest south in his “British Antarctic Expedition”
voyage to Antarctica.
Almost instantaneously however, Markham went from
recommending Shackleton for a medal of the Geographical Society
… to disparaging him and his achievements,
almost – it seems – ‘overnight’.
Markham’s insistence, from that point on,
seems certainly to have been that the “conquest” of the South Pole
should belong to Scott who, being under the tutelage of Markham,
would of course make Markham a perpetual hero.
One can almost ‘see’ the mental machinations of Markham:
Scott the hero for generations to come … a hero
moulded and mentored by the great Clements Markham.
Just as the true genius behind electricity – Nikola Tesla
was ridiculed, belittled, and swept into obscurity
by the commercial cohorts, arrogance, and cruelty
of dog-and-elephant-killing thug
so Shackleton was being resolutely debased by Markham
No matter what his achievements, the physical achievements of Shackleton
would never be able to stand up to the bureaucratic manipulation
of aristocrat Markham and his suitably docile apprentice, Scott.
[ Markham’s own low moral character would be made more than evident
when, in 1912, the Royal Geographic Society invited Roald Amundsen
to a Society dinner – only to have Markham
resign from the Society in outraged protest. ]
On board Scott’s Discovery, Crean began to demonstrate his superiority
and indispensible good nature in the face of hardship and disaster.
On the 31st of December, 1902, Scott and his party
were forced to turn back due to weather
and the deleterious effects of scurvy,
which had affected them all.
It was at this time that Scott sent (perhaps unnecessarily)
a suffering Shackleton back to England
in a decision that would ever after foster ill will
between the men.
On a subsequent voyage to Antarctica on-board the Terra Nova, in 1910,
Crean accompanied a party bound for the South Pole.
In a disgraceful manifestation of Old Boys Club sectarianism,
Scott ordered the big Irishman to return to base with an ailing officer, Evans;
and another crewmember, Lashley.
On the return journey, Evans fell gravely ill,
and the trio knew that their lives would be lost
travelling at the greatly reduced speed that resulted
from hauling the sick man on the sled.
With 35 miles left to reach base camp, the trio could go no farther,
and Evans ordered the two men to leave him.
It was an order, which Crean disobeyed.
With Evans resting inside a tent, and Lashley left to nurse him,
Crean set out alone into the appalling Antarctic weather
and crevasse-strewn landscape,
in an effort to reach base camp.
Equipped with the clothes on his back,
two pieces of chocolate, and three biscuits,
Crean set off.
Averaging around two miles an hour,
Crean reached base camp roughly 18 hours later.
Despite being massively beyond exhaustion, starving,
and intensely cold, Crean announced
that he was going back with the dog team to rescue his two comrades.
It was a gesture that was flatly refused, and as the dog team set out
following Crean’s instructions, the man rested
from what had been – overall,
an intense 1,500 mile walk in appalling conditions.
In 1914, Ernest Shackleton asked Crean to accompany him
on another expedition to the South Pole.
With Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, crushed in ice;
the men struggled to guide three lifeboats towards Elephant Island
which – although effectively “land” – still left them facing certain death.
It was here that Shackleton proposed an idea that was utter madness:
an 800 mile journey in one lifeboat,
in a final attempt to find rescue.
With 22 men left on Elephant Island to wait
– either for a boat, or death –
Shackleton, Crean, and Frank Worsley led a small crew
into the grey sea.
“One of the memories that comes to me from those days
is of Crean singing at the tiller. He always sang while he was steering,
and nobody ever discovered what the song was.
It was devoid of tune and as monotonous
as the chanting of a Buddhist monk at his prayers;
yet somehow it was cheerful.” [ Shackleton, South ]
Their arrival at South Georgia, 800 miles across raging, freezing seas,
was the greatest feat of navigation ever accomplished –
equalled only by the equally astounding exploit
accomplished by William Bligh after the mutiny on HMS Bounty.
Even with landfall on South Georgia, Shackleton,
Worsley, and Crean faced a outrageous march
over the coastal mountains before they could even get
within shouting range of Stromness Whaling Station.
Crean would later accompany Shackleton
back to Elephant Island,
taking part in the actual rescue of the remaining men.
Tom Crean continued to serve in the Royal Navy
until 1927 when – at the age of 42, he left to subsequently
open The South Pole Inn, a tavern located in County Kerry.
Whether enduring outrageous cold and physical hardship;
insisting upon building an ice-house
for the dog, Sally (who produced the litter of pups);
or running industriously around the Antarctic wasteland
worriedly ‘mothering’ the pups,
Tom Crean was a man of humility, compassion,
and tender-hearted empathy.
In what can only be described as an appalling epilogue
to a life of real exploration devoid of technological comforts,
Crean was NEVER able to share with the patrons of his inn,
those adventures that filled his life.
This was Ireland in the 1920’s,
and the villainous scum who composed the Irish Republican Army
would allow no mention of the exploits of the … Royal … Navy,
or anything that might cast passing admiration
upon Britain or British interest.
In April of 1920, Crean’s own brother, Cornelius
– a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary,
was murdered in ambush by craven thugs of the I.R.A.
A life of pure adventure, exploits, and ‘daring do’ –
… yet forced subjection to murderous thugs
kept Crean from thrilling people
with the re-telling of any of it.
Eighteen years after his brother’s death,
with the local hospital having no surgeon to operate immediately,
Tom Crean died from infection from appendicitis in July of 1938.
He was 61.
The 21st century is an age of loud, vulgar,
obnoxious and arrogant “men”
who strut, and gloat, and preen
because they own things …
… or are vicious enough to threaten
those who are smaller, weaker, or timid.
This is an age when politicians, police and pastors
can, and do, brutalise (figuratively or literally) others
through the abuse of their ‘office’ and the authority
– the responsibility and trust of which, they do not deserve.
A crude mouth belongs to a crude man
and reveal his character – ( to any, that is,
who have the wit or the will to see it. )
Any man who can dispense mercy and kindness
at the expense of his own conceit, ambition, or comfort
is a genuine hero to me.
If observation and personal experience
is anything by which to discern,
such a standard of man is scarce to be found
in the world today;
And women, tragically – for forty years and more –
have been obsessed with striving to imitate the ‘men’
that they see around them.
Whether this brief biography is of any interest to anyone
who visits this site is largely irrelevant to me,
but I do hope that someone will have appreciated
this brief biography of a man whose efforts
permitted a few pompous toffs to be labelled “heroes”.
A hero sacrifices his own comfort, vanity, ambition,
for the sake of someone who is in genuine need.
Writing in his diary on the 31st of January, 1909,
with rations in dire straits – in addition to a meagre supply
of pemmican and meat from the dead ponies,
each man had four biscuits per day –
Frank Wild recorded of Shackleton …
“Shackleton privately forced upon me
His one breakfast biscuit,
and would have given me another tonight
had I allowed him.
I do not suppose that anyone else in the world
can thoroughly realise how much generosity
and sympathy was shown by this:
and by God I shall never forget it. “
[ From “South” … by Ernest Shackleton … ]
“As an addition to their foster-father, Crean,
the pups had adopted “Amundsen”.
They tyrannized over him most unmercifully.
It was a common sight to see him, the biggest dog in the pack,
sitting out in the cold with an air of philosophic resignation
while a corpulent pup occupied the entrance to his “dog-loo.”
The intruder was generally the pup Nelson,
who just showed his forepaws and face,
and one was fairly sure to find Nelly, Roger, and Toby
coiled up comfortably behind him … “
I have mentioned elsewhere in this site, that
Heroes are men and women who are self LESS
… not self ISH.
The Hypocrite is “charitable” and “kind”
when it serves to further his own vanity
or prestige in the eyes of others:
they “give” when people are taking note.
A hero, for me, is the man or woman
who is kind, gentle, and compassionate
when there is no one around to see.
Tom Crean was such a man.