On Board the Endurance
• As the days lengthened and breakout seemed imminent, the ice tightened its grip. The ship endured repeated nights of heavy pressure, the floor of the Ritz buckling while Cheetham and the others, unable to sleep, lay in their bunks anticipating the ship being crushed as the wood between their cubicles cracked, groaned, and sometimes splinted. Topside, they occasionally found it difficult to perform their duties as the ship would sometimes contort like a bow, leaving ominous voids in the deck while the wood groaned and fractured around them.
• At midnight on the 15th October, a thunderous crack compelled all hands to rush up on the slushy deck where, gazing out, they observed a widening fissure expanding through the ice. Settling into the water, the ship was suddenly free for the first time since the 15th February.
• A sail was raised and Endurance actually sailed- for a scant 100 yards (91 metres) - before coming to a rest in a narrow lead surrounded by large, menacing floes which, they knew, would eventually come together.
• On 26th October, extremely heavy pressure once more assailed the ship, opening planking beneath the men’s feet. Shackleton immediately ordered sledges, lifeboats, and emergency stores lowered onto the ice and to move away from imminent harm.
Some of the sledge dog puppies
• The next day the ship was too dangerous to live on so they had to abandon her.
• Shackleton called his men together. In a speech often portrayed as his most inspiring address, one that asked the men to put aside their individual difficulties to achieve the impossible for all, he informed them of his plan to march 300 miles (480 km) across the ice to Snow Hill where he knew there was a supply of stores. He then reached into his pocket and discarded some items including a gold watch and a cigarette case, ordering the men to do likewise.
• On the 21st November, at 5pm, as the men were resting in their sleeping bags, Shackleton noticed a movement in the wreck. Calling out, he alerted the men who ran quickly from their tents to the highest vantage points available. In 5 minutes the stern of the endurance rose critically in the air and then dove forever beneath the ice.
• After moving camp back a few miles ‘Mark Time Camp,’ later to become ‘Patience Camp,’ was established at the dawn of 1916. And here they sat, cold, bored, increasingly agitated, and hungry for three months waiting for the ice to open.
• It was on the 30th March when the floe cracked in half. Then finally on Sunday the 9th April 1916, after 156 days on the ice, their small floe split again and they took to the boats.
• 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