Links all pictures James H. Jamieson 

Fids 1967


Sir Vivian Fuchs

Time trip

James H Jamieson

Towards the end of my first year at Halley, in early December ‘67, I went with Alan Johnstone on a 10 day sledge trip to map the ice shelf in the area between Base, the Crossing and the Gin Bottle.   Our means of transport was dogs, with the all-time super-ace team, the Beatles.

Let me tell you about Alan first.  Alan was a surveyor.  During the summer I arrived on Base Alan had been out mapping the Theron Mountains, travelling there and back with the Beatles for an epic 220 odd day journey.  He was an unusually determined person.  A mountain range like the Therons was considered to offer several BAS surveyors many years of sport before every nook and cranny was mapped.   But Alan had upset the rule book.   He had mapped the entire range, single-handedly, in one summer season.  And during his final summer season he wasn’t interested in going off exploring.   He just wanted to remain on Base to work on his map of the Therons.  He was allowed to do this provided he also mapped the region around Base.   It was to accomplish this task that he had invited me to be his sledging companion.   He had chosen me because I was a physicist and during the previous summer he and another physicist he was sledging with had maintained a conversation on the Gaussian distribution and the standard deviation of random measurements for a period of two days.   Sad, isn’t it!   But that ostensibly is why he picked me to be his travelling companion.   I’m afraid I didn’t live up to his ideal of a good sledging conversationalist!

Alan at GinBottle
Alan at the Gin Bottle

The Therons had been discovered by Fuchs in the 1950s on an aircraft sortie out of Shackleton Base.   The aircraft had landed on ice at the foot of the range to allow a surveyor to take some sun shots to fix their position.   Consequently, with the position fix and some aerial photographs, a map of the mountains had been published.  
In the summer of 66-67, Alan and his companions were the next visitors to these remote hills.   On sledging out from Halley, the Therons are first visible at a distance of about 80 miles after attaining the crest of the plateau.   For several days sledging after coming into sight the mountains became ever more distinct.  
But what had puzzled Alan was the fact that the scenery didn’t fit the map, yet it looked familiar from photographs they were carrying.   It took him four days, about 40 miles sledging, to realise that the map Fuchs had drawn was back to front.  
This mistake was mega-embarrassing to everyone, because at that time Fuchs was the Director and this sledge trip to the Therons was his pet project.   It had seemed to us at the time, as mere youngsters, who could do no wrong, to be unimaginably careless to make a mistake of this magnitude.   Perhaps even it had been stupidity?  
However it taught me that anyone can make a mistake and everyone has the capacity for making mistakes.   A popular film on Base, Ship of Fools, spelt out that message.   We were all fools – some of the time!

camp and Beatles
Camp and the Beatles

Shortly before Alan and I set off on our trip, Alan had had a row with one of our two radio ops, Ceeje (the name stands for C.J.).  
Now Ceeje was basically a thoroughly decent chap. Nevertheless there was often a whiff of bombast.   He liked to kid on that he was a cut above the rest of us since his job gave him the chance to read all of the messages between HQ and Base.   He continually caused good-natured and not-so-good-natured mischief and didn’t mind if the whole Base ganged up against him because then he would be the centre of attention, a relationship he enjoyed.  
Alan didn’t tolerate foolery and had no time for Ceeje. Therefore when Ceeje issued an instruction that sledge parties had to have three letter names, he objected because he had always travelled under a four letter name, Sledge Alan, and was not going to kowtow to some tinpot bumblebum.   However Ceeje won this round, arguing that when communications were poor, it was easier to transmit a three letter name by morse than one with four letters.  

On to round two.   Alan picked Sledge Bag as his travelling name, knowing it to be risible, but knowing also that since the sledgebag is an integral part of every sledge he would get away with it.
And so he did, to Ceeje’s annoyance, who realised that each evening he would sound a real prat calling out "Sledge Bag, Sledge Bag, Sledge Bag, …" dozens, or even hundreds of times.

sledge with bag
the sledge with bag

The day before we set out Alan asked me if I would mind very much if he didn’t properly recharge the radio batteries. And so we connived to set off into the field with flat batteries. On our first evening we heard Ceeje call us on ‘Sledge Bag’. On the second we heard nothing at all. On subsequent nights we didn’t bother listening.

We were travelling in the era before digital instruments.  As neither Alan nor I had a watch, we took with us the standard, time-measuring instrument of the 60s, a clockwork, Timex, alarum clock.  But having forgotten to wind this on our first day out, it had stopped by the second day, leaving us with no means of telling the time. Nor, as I have just explained, could we get a radio time signal.   Of course we could at any time have taken the sun’s azimuth with a compass and computed the time of day.   But we decided never to do this, but to be guided by our body’s natural, diurnal rhythm.   At that time of year the sun never set, which made the task of trying to live to a 24 hour day rather difficult by natural processes.  So we set ourselves a challenge to keep regular hours, but without artificial aids.  I will return to this matter later on.

at the Gin Bottle
at the Gin Bottle

Our journey took us west to the coast, then south to the Crossing, then north east following the hinge zone, then over to the Gin Bottle, and thence home.   We would sledge for a few miles, picket the dogs and map a few square miles without the company of the dogs.  The Beatles were an outstandingly good team – the best of the five or six teams on base, and the best that any of the experienced Fids had ever known.   (This too was the view of Ken Blaiklock, who had 20 years sledging experience and who had driven a dog team to the Pole with Fuchs.)  

The team’s brilliance was largely due to Suak, the lead dog, who was unusually intelligent.   Suak had been brought to Halley from Greenland, where his full name had been Balasuak.  Running behind Suak were Borga the bitch, who was Suak’s playmate, and Seletar, a young sire of Suak, and also intelligent.   Borga liked to flaunt her feminine charms towards other dogs, sometimes provoking a fight between Suak and another contender.   Alan was familiar with her ways and was generally able to step in and prevent too much mischief.  
Next in line were Rover and Wilfred.  Rover had a laddish nature.   He was a young, harum scarum, jack-the-lad sort of dog.   His running mate, Wilfred, was aged, of immense character, broad in shoulders, of large countenance and had a Churchillian posture.   He was one of our favourite dogs.  

the husky team 
the team 

Behind that pair were Booboo and Snowy – the hardest working members of the team.  
Booboo was the largest dog anyone had come across.   He suffered dreadfully from having a silly name.  Everyone looked on him as being a twit, and treated him accordingly.   In fact he was extremely hard working, incomparably powerful and amiable.   The ideal dog.  His running mate, Snowy, was a beautiful, female husky, with a pure white coat.  She too was very hard working and always pulled with vigour.   She had a lovely nature and had, I guess, complete trust in Alan and me.  
The final pair, Jock and Rolfe, ran as single dogs on either side of the sledge.  Neither did any effective work.   Rolfe was too old to pull.   His coat moulted and he smelled strongly.   As for Jock, he was too frightened of the rest of the team.

The only serious trouble we had with the dogs centred on Jock.  He was handsome, of good size, and seemed to be fit and strong.  Having been transferred to Halley from Graham Land the previous summer, he was a new member of the Beatles.  Perhaps this had been the reason that other dogs attacked him and had caused him to lose his nerve.  
The worst time of day for fighting was late afternoon, around 4 o’clock, at which hour the snow was at its softest, the going was at its hardest and the team was weary.  At that hour everyone’s temper was at its worst.
On such an afternoon on our first day out the command, "Let’s get Jock", had been given and eight dogs piled into this unfortunate wreck of a beast.   The main harm, apart from destroying any vestige of confidence Jock might have had in himself, was a deep wound in the pad of his front, left paw.   We tried to sew the wound that night, but a show of gigantic teeth warned us not to persist.  
The following evening, as outside man, I had the routine task of removing the harnesses from each dog and tethering them by their collars to the dog span.  The harness was a piece of webbing that fitted under the oxters of the front paws, across the chest and over the shoulders, and with which the dog pulled the sledge.   To fit or remove a harness, each paw had to be bent sharply at the elbow and compressed against the side of the dog’s chest.  Jock’s wound hurt him a lot and he would not let me remove his harness.   I asked Alan to help.  


He strode over purposefully and slipped off the harness in a jiffy, leaving both Jock and me looking silly. 
As Alan and I alternated being inside and outside man, day about, my next turn to unharness Jock came two evenings later.  I had not being looking forward to this task at all and after ten minutes of cajoling and persuading, I found that again I was failing to remove the harness.  
It was then that I recalled an incident we had had earlier with Snowy.  If spoken sternly to, she became submissive, and if the teasing extended to raising a hand as if to strike her, she squealed with fear.  The incident reminded me that the dogs were controlled largely by bluff.  So I walked away from Jock, returned with a determined stride and cuffed him over the lug.  He went limp with fear, allowing me to bend back his paw and slip off the harness.  
The following morning, using the same dodge, his harness was refitted.  Later Alan asked me how I had got on with Jock.   "All right", I said.  "Did you get his harness off?" said Alan, wanting to be quite sure that I was coping.   "Yes", I assured him, not giving away the trick I had learned.  
"That’s funny", he said, "I failed to get his harness off the night before!"

When driving dogs, unlike driving skidoos, you have to talk or sing or shout or whistle all of the time to keep them going.   They liked being talked to.  Each dog knew his or her own name, knew when he or she was being spoken to personally (or doggily), and would register the receipt of praise by a stiffening of the normally upward curled tail.  
There were four oral instructions.  The command to START was "Up dog. Weet away".  The words ‘up’ and ‘weet’ were stressed, drawn out and spoken with a rising intonation.  When underway, the instruction was also often used for encouragement, or to try to speed up the team.  LEFT and RIGHT were "irrrra" and "auk", the latter being pronounced like ‘ouch’ with a hardened consonant.  A long "aaaaa" was the command for STOP.  All of these instructions were repeated as often as was necessary to get the lead dog to respond.

Wilfred  Nac feeding the pups Booboo and Snowy
Wilfred                              feeding the pups                                 Snowy

"A hard working dog is a good farter!" is a Fid saying and on no occasion did dogs work harder than in the first ten minutes of a day’s journey.   They were generally out of control and would not heed instructions during this period.  
Alan just let them run where they wanted.  Usually it was in a great loop.   Sometimes a figure of eight, or a triple circle.  Generally they returned to the camp site to romp through the dog span area with its savoury droppings and smells.  Whereas for the rest of the day Alan and I would ski alongside the sledge during this initial phase we had to cling on with both hands, one on the ski jorr rope, the other on the handle bar, letting the dogs run pell mell wherever was their wont.  The snow surface this early in the morning would be icy hard.  Much of the surface would be striated with sastrugi, like lots of parallel tramlines, and often undercut.  
Traversing these was easy and you would clatter over the corrugated surface.  But running with the sastrugi was more difficult because there was a risk that your skis might get trapped.  It reminded me of cycling on a road with tramcars, where there was a risk of getting your wheels caught in the tramlines.   The mayhem would come to an end with each dog having a bowel movement.   Generally we didn’t stop for this bodily function; dogs had to do it on the run.  The exception was for Suak.  As top dog, he had his perks, not the least of which was doing his motions while motionless.

iceberg and sea-ice
iceberg and sea-ice; penguins in centre distance

For the rest of the day the team was generally very biddable.  One exception was on the journey down the coast.  As you might recall from afternoon tea conversations in Drummond Street, there are high sea cliffs almost all of the way.  To enjoy the scenery, we were proceeding parallel to the cliff, trying to maintain a distance of between 50 and 100 metres from the edge.  At this separation, we could usually see the sea and its icebergs and distant parts of the coast.  It was very scenic.  
Suddenly, for no apparent reason, the dogs veered towards the edge accelerating to a break neck speed.  They were heedless of instructions and really did seem to be possessed of a lemming-type wish to self destruct.  In the very nick of time they turned away.  The back runner of the sledge had been within one metre of the drop. What made them behave in such a loopy fashion was beyond us.  Alan had never experienced such outrageous behaviour before.  Thereafter we maintained a good 200 metre separation from the cliffs – boring, but safer.

A complementary incident occurred a few days later.  We were proceeding in a north easterly direction from the Crossing, following the hinge region.  This part of the shelf has pressure ridges with a wavelength of perhaps 800 metres and crests that were about 20 metres higher than the troughs.  
After days of sledging on the plane shelf, this part of the journey was exhilarating.  The pressure ridges lay directly across our path.  We would zoom down one slope as fast as we could move, then use our momentum to help us swarm up the opposite hillside to attain the next crest.  At the top of each crest we always paused, picketed the dogs and looked ahead for crevasses, or any other difficulties.  On one such crest we stopped for lunch and had an extended break.  On unpicketing the dogs after lunch, the strangest thing happened.  
Instead of dashing off, which we had expected after a rest, and because the next stretch was down dale, the dogs wouldn’t budge.  We urged them on by shouts, but that had no effect.  Only when I walked ahead leading the way did Suak respond, but all that he was prepared to do was inch forward, belly down.  We were perplexed.  
Alan called me back beside him and decided to trust Suak to lead us in his own way to wherever he thought we should be going.  Suak continued to inch forward, the other dogs responding to his lead, and then, rather than heading directly downhill, turned to the left, taking us along the crest of the ridge.  After perhaps 400 metres, he led us down off the ridge, still traversing to the left.  What was so amazing was that at no stage had there been the slightest sign of danger.  The hillside had seemed just as innocuous as any others we had been on.  
Halfway down, still unaware of what the problem was, we looked backwards along the slope to the place that we had intended to descend.  It wasn’t a hillside, but an overhanging cliff!  How Suak knew of this danger, I really couldn’t say.  He had however saved us from certain injury, or death.

Suak  Suak and Seletar  Seletar

On our sixth day out we had been travelling for five days without a timepiece.  Our daily routine was to rise at five, strike camp and set off before eight, lunch at twelve, pitch camp at five and bed down at eight.  The sun shone continuously day and night throughout this period.  I recall finding a meteorological record on base claiming the world record for continuous sunshine to have been set by one of Captain Scott’s expeditions at the beginning of last century.  The record had been for five and a bit days.  I am reasonably sure we exceeded that record on this trip, but I cannot say for certain because we didn’t keep watch through the night.  Anyway by the sixth day I was fairly confident that our natural rhythm was circadian and that I could estimate the time to within half an hour.  Now was the chance to put my reckoning to the test.  
We were still travelling north eastwards and having left the region of the pressure ridges were again crossing a uniform plain.  The hinge zone and plateau were by then quite distant and in every direction the scenery was similar and featureless.  It was the first, opportune moment to navigate by natural means. The test I had devised was to steer by the sun.  
I didn’t dare inform Alan, partly because I was sure that he would object.  And had he agreed to it, his participation would have spoiled my own reckoning.  
We travelled in two mile stages, with the lead being taken alternately by Alan and me.  At every stopping point, a 2 metre high cairn of snow blocks was built, the odometer on the sledging wheel was logged, and off we set on the requisite compass course for a distance of two miles.  From that new point, the back cairn would have been only just discernible – the merest pimple on the horizon.  And so to the test.  
I made sure that the compass was well hidden, taking care not to peek at it while covering it because I really did want to be wholly honest.  The course Alan had set was 40 to the east of north.  By my estimate it was 2 o’clock, making the sun’s azimuth 30 west before correcting for the equation of time and longitude.  We managed to travel very nearly two complete miles before Alan became suspicious.  He had eventually twigged that I wasn’t using the compass but thought that I had become forgetfully careless for not looking at it.  On being told that the compass was covered to let me steer by the sun, he was incredulous and, shall we say, unhappy.  
We stopped the sledge and got out his sighting compass with which he obtained a back bearing on our last cairn.  This task took an inordinately long time to complete.  Eventually some figures were jotted down in his notebook.  Still not saying a word to me he tapped and shook his compass, examined it turning it this way and that, then retook the measurement.  Only after that did he tell me the reading.  "Thirty nine and a half degrees," he said in a voice as grim as it was disbelieving.  "And don’t you ever do that again."  He had chosen a physicist to travel with – or was it a fool?

Antarctic night

We sledged for a few days more before returning to Base, but the eventful parts were over.  Although the terrain had been as tame as could be found anywhere on the continent, and although the weather had been at its most benign, there had been some amazing experiences.  Sadly I had not been able to talk about some of them at the time.  Setting off with flat batteries had been wrong.  Alan and I never said a word about that back on Base.  We both respected Ricky, the Base Leader, far too much to let him down by insubordination.  A little anarchy might be OK, but to break his trust was not.  
Strangely I could also never talk about navigation by the sun.  Having felt that I had let down Alan by not confiding in him, the subject was never spoken of again between us although we remained close friends.  Also because Ricky trusted us to do the right thing, I was not prepared to talk about my attempt at navigating without instruments.  
There ends my tale of an anorak physicist’s holiday.

The sad tale of Booboo

This is the amazing story into why Booboo was not used for breeding. He led a life of enforced chastity. The dogs were looked after by the general assistants, who were careful as to which dog bred with whom to maintain a strong pack for the future. Thus they prevented, so far as they were able, inbreeding, or the continuance of congenital problems, or whatever. Yet despite the fact that Booboo was immensely strong, fit and healthy, he was not allowed to breed – his record card said so.


During the January 68 relief, a vet called Andrew Bellars arrived on Base to inspect the dogs. Andrew was amazed at Booboo. He had never come across such a powerful husky anywhere. He was also amazed that we did not use him for breeding because there was nothing ostensibly wrong with him. He was fit and healthy, and came of good stock. The reason why he was not used for breeding was the instruction on the record card. However the record card did not offer an explanation, and to seek out that, Andrew set about searching back through the records.

Now it was then the practice that when a pup was weaned and reached the age of 6 months he was given a name and a record card, or put down. Each year the general assistants would renew the record cards of all the dogs. Thus Andrew had a lengthy search and going back year by year found each to carry the same baleful message, "Do not use for breeding". It was not until he uncovered the earliest record card, written at 6 months, did he find the cause: "Do not use for breeding. Has homosexual tendencies."

This sad tale had a happy ending. The restriction on Booboo was forthwith annulled and he duly sired pups. I am sure that part of Booboo’s difficulties stemmed from his name. He was never given the respect that other dogs got and was often looked upon as a fool, which may be why he had incurred the ridiculous but venal record.

    return to Jim's greetings to Dick    

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