10 May, 2011

Two memorials dedicated to Britons who lost their lives in the service of science in Antarctica are unveiled this week. Since 1948, a total of 29 people have died in British Antarctic Territory, one of the most extreme, inhospitable and uncharted places on Earth.

The memorials have been commissioned by the British Antarctic Monument Trust (BAMT), a British charity set up to celebrate the achievements of the men and women whose scientific exploration of Antarctica has led to a new understanding of our planet.

A memorial plaque made of Welsh slate and Carrara marble, with the words “For those who lost their lives in Antarctica in pursuit of science to benefit us all”, will be dedicated in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Friends and family of the deceased will attend and lead a special Evensong on 10 May.

At a reception after the service Jane Rumble, Deputy Commissioner of the British Antarctic Territory at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Professor Nick Owens, Director of British Antarctic Survey (BAS), will speak in remembrance of those Britons who died in the British Antarctic Territory in service of BAS, its predecessor FIDS (Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey), the Royal Navy and the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI).

The BAMT has also commissioned a monument consisting of two distinct, linked public sculptures separated by 8,000 miles but united in purpose. The first sculpture, over three metres high and carved from British oak, will be installed in the gardens at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge (adjacent to its recently refurbished Polar Museum). It will be unveiled by the SPRI Director Professor Julian Dowdeswell on 12 May.

Fundraising continues for the second sculpture, a three-metre high needle of stainless steel, to be erected in Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands and gateway to Antarctica for most British scientists and support staff. Donations can be made at www.antarctic-monument.org.

Roderick Rhys Jones, chairman of the BAMT, who is spearheading the project says,

“I was a surveyor on an expedition from the BAS Research Station Halley Bay in 1965, when three of my colleagues were killed when their tractor fell into a crevasse. I have never forgotten them and wanted to create a lasting monument to them and the others who lost their lives in the pursuit of science in Antarctica. The response has been overwhelming. Families, friends and colleagues of those who died have donated generously and will be attending the service in St Paul’s from all over the world including Australia, Mexico, Canada and the US.”


The British Antarctic Monument Trust is a registered charity set up to celebrate the achievements of the men and women whose scientific exploration in the British Antarctic Territory has led to a new understanding of our planet, and to honour those who did not return. Its ambassadors include the explorer and television presenter Paul Rose and the adventurer Felicity Aston who successfully led the Commonwealth Women’s Antarctic Expedition to the South Pole last year.  A list and other information about the 29 who lost their lives can be found at www.antarctic-monument.org. People may donate through the donations page of the website.

The memorial plaque at St. Paul’s Cathedral has been designed by the artist Graeme Wilson and the stone mason Fergus Wessel. The circular plaque, 11,00mm diameter, is made of riven Welsh slate with a map of Antarctica inset in white Carrara marble. A huddle of Emperor penguins is carved at the base of the plaque. The words “For those who lost their lives in Antarctica in pursuit of science to benefit us all” are inscribed around the periphery. Around the rim is the title “British Antarctic Territory” and its motto “Research and Discovery.”  The slate was supplied by the Berwyn Slate Quarry Ltd, Llangollen and prepared for carving by Cerrig Ltd, Pwllheli using advanced water jet cutting techniques.

The monument has been designed by the distinguished sculptor, Oliver Barratt, who also created the Everest monument which is located one day’s climb from Base Camp. For the Antarctic Monument he has created a unique work which is in two parts – one in the United Kingdom and the other in the Falkland Islands – gateway to the Antarctic for British Antarctic personnel. The Northern half of the sculpture consists of two oak pillars which create a long needle shape between them, from which the stainless steel needle to be placed in the Falklands is taken.  The monument reflects the environmental and scientific link between Britain and the Antarctic whilst at the same time recognising the emotional and physical separation experienced by explorers and their families.

The Scott Polar Research Institute was founded in 1920, in Cambridge, as a memorial to Captain Robert Falcon Scott, RN, and his four companions, who died returning from the South Pole in 1912. It is the oldest international centre for Polar Research within a university. Its research groups investigate a range of issues in both the environmental sciences and social sciences of relevance to the Arctic and Antarctic. Its polar library has comprehensive holdings on polar research, with exceptional archival collections from the exploration of the polar regions, along with extensive online resources. The nationally important artifact collections have recently been redisplayed in the Institute’s newly reopened Polar Museum.

British Antarctic Territory (one of the UK’s 14 British Overseas Territories) includes all the lands and islands in a wedge extending from the South Pole to 60°S latitude between longitudes 20°W and 80°W. It is administered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as an Overseas Territory. There is no indigenous population, but the British Antarctic Survey has three research stations there and the Royal Navy maintains an ice-patrol vessel in the area during the austral summer. The Territory has its own legal system and legal and postal administrations. Revenue from income tax and the sale of postage stamps means that it is financially self-sufficient. It is the oldest territorial claim to a part of the continent of Antarctica, however there are overlapping claims by Argentina and Chile. Under the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, all territorial claims remain frozen, allowing the whole of Antarctica to be used as a continent for peace and science.