• On the 4th August 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton set out from Southend-on-sea, England on a daring expedition. His goal: the first crossing of the Antarctic continent.
• Cheetham was serving as third officer. After crossing the southern ocean Endurance arrived at south Georgia on 5th November 1914
• After loading supplies of food, coal and winter clothing, Endurance steamed form the Cumberland Bay on the 5th December 1914 bound for the Weddell Sea.
• The next day the ship was surrounded by large bergs. So it would be, with few exceptions, for the next several weeks, until January 19th, 1915, when Shackleton and his men found themselves within sight of their goal- and due to the gale they had just weathered in the lee of a berg, locked immovably in ice.
• Hurley finally admitted the obvious on January 28th, noting that a fall in temperature had caused what open water remained around the ship to go completely solid.
• Their last hope of breakout came on the 14th February, the eve of Shackleton’s 41st birthday, when an opening in the ice 300 yards ahead gave hope.
• They only managed to get around 300ft.
• On February 24th Shackleton ordered everyone to help turn the ship into a winter station.
• There were three boats, the James Caird, Dudley Docker, and the Stancomb-Wills. Cheetham was on the Dudley Docker with Worsley, Greenstreet, Kerr, Orde-lees, Macklin, Marston, McLeod and Holness.
• During the next five horrid days, hungry, delirious with thirst, frozen to the core, and unable to sleep, they battled high waves, freezing temperatures, pack-ice, diarrhoea, and seasickness in ice-encased boats and clothing.
• But finally they sighted Elephant Island 30 miles off at dawn on April 14th. They toiled at the oars for hours, approaching to within 10 miles. But here, nearly landed, they were gripped by an offshore current that forced the boats to remain at sea one remaining night- in a blizzard during which the Dudley Docker disappeared from sight and was thought lost. The Caird and the Wills landed on Elephant Island on 15th April just in time. Several men were near death. Then the Docker hove in sight. All were saved!
• After setting up camp, they waited for an opening to appear so that Shackleton could go get help. On Easter Monday on the 24th April an opening in the ice appeared. When the Caird was ready Shackleton came ashore had a cigarette with Worsley then wished the men good-bye and was rowed out to the Caird for the last time.
• Shackleton and his crew endured 17 hellish days at sea, bitterly cold, wet to the core, their boat pitching, rolling and jerking heavily with massive waves breaking over her at all hours.
• All hope of rescue had been surrendered on Elephant Island. On 28th April, a hut was fashioned by overturning the Wills and Docker atop two 4 ft-high stone walls, 18ft apart.
• Then 5 months later after another bitterly cold winter and scarce food Marston came charging up the path shouting ‘Ship-O’ again and again.
• Hurley gathered up some paraffin and a handful of sennegrass. When he struck the match the resulting explosion thundered across the water like a cannon’s roar. The Yelcho signalled her response, and a boat was lowered. Shackleton landed, throwing cigarettes and tobacco at their feet. Like giddy school children they cheered his arrival. In less than an hour, they were gone. That night, aboard Yelcho, flung from side to side like a cork on the wide ocean’s waves, all were raving seasick- hysterically happy.
• Amazingly not one person died from the trip.
• Cheetham was awarded the Silver Polar Medal (Clasp Only).
After the expedition Alfred returned to Hull only to learn that one of his sons, William Alfred Cheetham aged just 16, had lost his life at sea, presumed drowned whilst serving on the S.S Adriatic on the 31st October 1916.
Alfred then enlisted in the Mercantile Marine and was serving as second officer on the S.S Prunelle.
Unfortunately he was to have the same fate as his son, when on the 22nd August he was killed when his ship was torpedoed 2 miles from Blyth by a German U-Boat (UB 112, commanded by Wilhelm Rhein). He was aged 51 at the time. Twelve lives were lost including Cheetham's.
Cheetham has no known grave, but you can find him on the Tower Hill Memorial in London.
The Commonwealth War Graves has this citation for Alfred Cheetham:
Name: CHEETHAM, ALFRED BUCHANAN
Initials: A B
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Second Officer
Regiment/Service: Mercantile Marine
Unit Text: S.S. "Prunelle" (London)
Date of Death: 22/08/1918
Additional information: Son of the late John F. and Annie Elizabeth Cheetham; husband of Eliza Cheetham (nee Sawyer), of 40, Bean St., Hull. Born at Hull.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Memorial: TOWER HILL MEMORIAL