October 2013

Base ‘W’ Detaille Island Reunion

The UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (which now has an office within BAS) held a Base ‘W’ Detaille Island reunion on Thursday 3 October in the conference room.

Detaille Island was open between 1956 and 1959 for only three winters. It was established as a British science base primarily for survey, geology and meteorology and to contribute to the IGY in 1957. It closed in March 1959 when solid sea ice prevented relief by ship. The men secured the buildings for winter and sledged over 25 miles across the sea ice in order to reach the ship, taking with them only the minimum of their belongings and scientific records. In 2009 it was listed as a historic site, reflecting its significance as a relatively unaltered base from the late 1950s, and through a special arrangement the Trust looks after the base for BAS.

Of the 24 winterers, almost half of those still living were able to come. Six of the seven brought their wives and there were other guests who had and continue to have a specific interest in Detaille. Rachel Morgan (Director of the Trust) opened the reunion. Adrian Fox provided a fascinating talk in the MAGIC office – which for one guest was extremely interesting. John Rothera (after whom Rothera research station was named) saw an aerial map of Rothera as it is now – the landscape not quite resembling the land from when John surveyed the area in 1957.

And Jo Rae from archives put on a special display of Detaille material including Hedley Wright’s geological field note book. Having not seen it for over fifty years, he said it was a while before he recognised that it was his own writing.

Anna Malaos gave a talk to the group on the recent restoration works that she, Tudor Morgan, Michael Powell, Liesl Schernthanner and Dave Burkitt had carried out for the Trust over a couple of seasons. The winterers remembered how they had left the station, but seeing photos of the condition that Anna and the team found it in was still shocking, but they were delighted that the long-johns had survived and were still proudly displayed hanging over the stove!

A full article on the reunion will be published in the UKAHT’s Antarctic Times April 2014 edition and work is currently underway for a booklet to be published by UKAHT about Base W.

John Rothera


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