Tom Allen and John Noel death, Stonington Island, Antarctica, BAS Survey. British Antarctic Monument Trust. Monuement to the Antarctic dead

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Allen and Noel deaths

Extract from Of ice and men, by Sir Vivien Fuchs

It had long been the custom after a season's hard work for those whose duties had kept them slogging at base to be given the opportunity of making short sledging trips away from normal routine, and these jollies' were greatly prized by the static staff. Thus on 24 May 1966 Tom Allan and John Noel, diesel mechanic and radio operator respectively, left on a ten-day traverse with two dog teams, heading up the Northeast Glacier then northward past Butson Ridge. Twenty-four hours later they reported that they had reached Butson and were still moving, but in deteriorating weather.

At Stonington the wind was thirty knots and by next morning it was gusting to between eighty and a hundred knots. The whole hut shook and everything was falling off the shelves. These conditions continued for the next two days, so no one was surprised when nothing was heard from the sledgers - anyway, radio contact often broke down for mechanical reasons. But after a week of fine weather, and still no news, obviously something had gone wrong.

Marsden and Keith Holmes immediately set out to follow their route. On the second day they were beginning the descent of a glacier towards Square Bay when Holmes noticed some small black dots and steered towards them. These proved to be the two missing men and several dead dogs, lying on a slope beneath a rocky bluff. Allan lay on the surface, with a shovel near him, and fifty yards away Noel was apparently standing buried in the snow, his head and arms above the surface.

Without disturbing anything the shocked search party returned twenty miles to base to report the tragedy and get help. They went back accompanied by John Ross and Ken Doyle to help in the sad obsequies. First Allan and Noel were laid on specially prepared sledges, then further excavation revealed their tent, sledges and dogs which had been buried by drift, and evidence of what had happened began to appear.

Noel had been standing in a dug pit leading down into a snow hole, where two sleeping bags were laid out, together with the Primus, food, and pots and pans - which showed that they had spent some time in the hole. It was obvious that, quite rightly, when caught by bad weather the two men had dug-in. The dogs were correctly spanned a short distance away.

We shall never know for sure why Allan left the snow hole, but the teams had to be fed, probably their picket line needed to be raised above the rapidly accumulating drift; or perhaps he went out to fetch more paraffin, for the can in the hole was empty. Whatever the reason, he did not expect to be out long, for he was wearing two left-footed mukluks, and his windproof trousers were not tied at the ankles. Once out in the dark and the tearing drift, he must have lost his sense of direction and failed to find the way back.

When he failed to return one can imagine Noel becoming more and more anxious, going to the entrance and calling over and over again, his voice carried away by the wind. It was apparent that he had no intention of going out, for he was not properly dressed below the waist, nor did he wear mukluks. Indeed, he must have realised that there was absolutely nothing he could do outside. If Allan was lost, his only hope was for Noel to remain at the entrance to their shelter, shouting and shouting in an effort to guide him back to safety. Had he left his post, the entrance to the hole would have immediately filled up.

Becoming colder and colder, and more and more tired as he called continuously, Noel must at last have fallen asleep with exhaustion - and he never woke up. It was a tremendous example of courage that he remained to the last, and most assuredly he gave his life for his friend. -'greater love hath no man....'

The two men were brought back to base, and buried by their comrades on a rocky point of Stonington Island, beneath two great piles of stones`surmounted by commemorative crosses.

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