A week of going places

Letters from Antarctica

A week of going places

January 30, 2021
min read
Alec and Jan Forman
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British Antarctic Survey (BAS)
28th January 1974

My Dearest Darling Jan,

Here I am writing to you again, My Jan, a matter of only 5 or 6 weeks till I will be with you my love, probably just a few days after you receive this. How I’m looking forward to that moment when we are reunited, how excited I shall be at the thought of being able to throw my arms around you in a warm embrace and to feel those tender warm lips against mine, that will send such fire through my veins, releasing the ever growing desire I have kept for you down here. I’m sure you will feel the increased love I have for you, when I return, endless hours I have spent since we parted just thinking about you and us, and how I can strengthen our love and make it even clearer to you how much I love and need you. During every waking hour you have been in my thoughts, words alone cannot tell you how much I Love You, My Darling Jan. The more I think of you the more I realize how lucky I am to have found such an exciting companion for life, as long as we are together, if only at times in thoughts, we can only ever be happy.

Well My love the last few days down here have been very interesting, it has been a week of going places. Last Wednesday it all started with another ‘visit the sledges’ afternoon. The weather wasn’t perfect, very localized. With Bert again, we took off for Stonington Base across Margarite Bay with a cargo of man and dog food and one other passenger, the most cute little Husky pup, black with white tummy and face, full of mischief! Seemed to thoroughly enjoy its journey, first by skidoo to the airstrip then in a wooden box in the back of the aircraft, peering over the top not the least concerned at the noise. We took it to Stonington, which is the main doggy base to be brought up with some more pups, as it was getting lonely at Adelaide being the only pup. They must learn from an early age to stick up for themselves. We heard afterwards that they were a little worried about putting it in with the 3 pups they had, as they were a month older and a little bigger, but she soon made it clear to the others she wasn’t going to be pushed around.

Taking off again from Stonington having swapped our doggy passenger for Twiggy who was to change over with Bob at Sledge India, but first of all we flew with our cargo of food to ‘Titania’ depot on Alexander Island. On route we air-dropped some drugs to another sledge at Mount Guernsey, continuing down George VI Sound, inland down ‘The Milky Way’ a high valley running across the heads of the Planet Glaciers, this part of the journey was in beautiful weather. I was being navigator, we had a bit of fun finding the place, as the maps aren’t very reliable of Alexander Island. Having decided which rock outcrop we wanted in the middle of a vast expanse of snow, descending, it was confirmed that it was the right place as a faint line of skidoo tracks led across the bondu to a tent, the home of Malky and Chris of Sledge Sierra, who were to meet us there.

Having unloaded the food and given them all the gossip from base we took off again, flying east back across George VI Sound to the Beaver Glacier and Sledge Delta, where we swapped Twiggy for Bob, he’s a vet down here as a General Assistant. A few miles south then to Castle Rock, fitting its name perfectly looking just like a Castle with huge battlements, here we picked up boxes of rocks left there by geologists. Fleming Glacier was our next stop, having found our way through some cloud, we had to change course a little as we recognized Battleship Nunatak, a fitting name for this outcrop of rock in the glacier, next we had to find 2 men and their equipment in the 20-mile wide glacier. Having found them we loaded up quickly in a bitterly cold wind and flew onto Stonington to drop off Bob the vet and pick up Chris, our doctor who had been counting ‘asprins!’ there for the last week. Arriving back at Adelaide about 2am we made ourselves late dinner, or maybe it was early breakfast and got into bed about 3am after an exciting day.

Next day I surfaced about 11, ‘smoko’ time, and spent the rest of the morning counting our spanners! After ‘Scadge’ Jock and I compiled a list of aircraft spares that will be required for next season finishing up with a list costing £3500, not seeming to be asking for very much though. I’m glad filters for my car don’t cost £18 a time, and they look the same as the average car filter.

Friday brought a particularly exciting day for me, this time I flew with Dave the pilot and 4 glaciologists to Charcot Island for my biggest ‘TICK’ yet, as it says in the newsletter! Being the first British person to set foot there and only the third ever to have been there, the two previous were Norwegians, Ronne and his pilot in 1947, as I was first out of the plane that makes me third. Hope you’ll forgive me that little ‘boast’!? Having claimed it for Victoria and England!! We all set about digging a 6ft deep hole in the bottom of which we drilled a further 30ft hold with a coring drill into the snow.

You might well ask me why we should want to dig holes in the snow in the middle of Charcot Island! It’s all in the cause of science! Having dug the hole, the glacio’s cut small blocks out of the side of the hole. By measuring the size and weight of the blocks there by working out the density. Then they take a sample of each block, putting it in a plastic bag which will eventually go to Copenhagen where they will measure the oxygen isotope content. This they say will tell them the temperature on the day when that snow fell. Basically the same was done with the cores which came up in the drill which Dave was operating, about the best job I think, kept him warm. My job was to write down the figures they gave me in a book. We must have looked quite a sight, 4 men in the bottom of the six foot hole in the snow measuring the dimensions and weighing snow blocks!! Having bored the hole, a thermometer was lowered down to measure the temperature at the bottom of the hole, this they say is the average annual temperature at this spot plus or minus half a degree. How about that then!!

After brewing a ‘cup of tea’ in the tent we’d pitched, we all flew back to Adelaide for a late dinner, 10pm, of eggs, beans and gammon. Having solved yet another one of nature’s mysteries, what the temperature is down a 36ft deep hole in the middle of Charcot Island!! Seriously, they assure me this helps them understand how and why the world’s weather changes.

The most recent of my ‘days out’ was on Saturday, and what a beautiful day it was, completely clear skies and what we did just suited the weather. First stop was Mount Sickle where we did a personnel change over. This sledge team were surveyors, one of the teams we were with, ‘camping’ on the east coast. They were camped in a beautiful spot, on the gentle slope at the foot of Mount Sickle which towered almost vertically above, topped with an ice formation they call ‘Soda Bread’, looks as if someone has iced the top, like a cake. Looking across the 5 mile wide valley to a range of mountains and a glacier stretching away to the south. Funny incident while we were there, one of the Huskies was running around loose, with so many new people around she didn’t know who to make a fuss of first, she just ran from one to the other, jumping up trying to wash your face, absolutely soft as a brush. From here Bert flew at low level, about 30ft to the Fleming Glacier, over the end of it, where the glacier met the frozen sea, the terrific force caused by the moving ice, opens up huge cracks, some a more apt description would be chasms. All the shapes — absolutely fascinating, nature at its best, man’s efforts are so small compared with nature at work. Our destination was the site where we had picked up the glacio’s a few days early, they wanted to return to measure how much their stakes had moved. As this was going to take them a few hours, Bert, myself and John got out the primus stove and made tea in true British style! It was glorious sunny afternoon which we spent sunbathing, drinking tea and just admiring the superb scenery. When the glacio’s had finished their measurements with a theodolite, they came and had a ‘cup of tea’ and informed us that in the 3 hours we’d been there we’d moved about 2 ½ inches towards the sea! After a hectic!! afternoon we flew back to Adelaide but on route we landed within a couple hundred feet of the top of Mount Ditte. This time of year, flying in is just about the only way to get there as it’s surrounded by a sheer drop to the ice below. The reason for this was to see if it was really possible, for next day Bert took 3 chaps up there to camp, so they could see a certain part of the mainland they wanted to go to which has been blanketed in low mountain mist for the last few days. As we can’t see it from here and no one else is in the area it had meant a wasted journey each time we’d tried to fly them in and found this mist. Now they will be able to tell us by radio when it’s clear where they want to go, we can then transfer them.

That just about brings me up to date, the last couple of days have been odd job days. Jock has been putting in the extra fuel tanks into Dave’s aircraft for the flight to Halley Bay which they leave on, any time after tomorrow. Reason for the flight is to pick up the Director Dr Laws, who will be arriving at Halley Bay by ship in the next few days, and fly him to Adelaide and then take him on a tour of the bases in Margarite Bay. This letter will be going with Dave to Halley Bay to go out on the ship to Stanley. We were doing some working out today of dates and you may well read this letter if all goes well after I arrive home! As we reckoned, Dave flies to Halley on 1st Feb, ship arrives in Stanley on the 18th Feb just in time to miss the weekly flight to Argentina, therefore not leaving Stanley till 25th Feb arriving UK about 2nd March which is 2 days before Slim, Bert, Dave and Jock arrived there last year. So we may even read this letter together! I’ll just say Hello to myself in case; Hello Alec. You’re mad, I know!

The only flying tasks we have left now are flying the sledge teams back to base before we leave, then its homeward bound to My Jan, whoopee. I do look forward to seeing you My Love.

We had a ‘signal’ in today saying we had clearance to fly back to Canada by a new route, instead of through the centre of South America, we will follow the west coast through Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Mexico, across the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans and so to Toronto. It will be a valuable experience in planning our tour my darling.

So My Jan this will probably be the last letter I’ll write to you before we leave for Canada, next mail you’ll receive will be cards from South America, then me in person!

Next Morning

Well my love we have now changed to plan ‘B’ which is the mail is going out with the ‘Lindblad Explorer’ an American tour ship which is arriving here this afternoon. She has been in the area for some time, but called up by radio this morning to say she was coming in today. So we are going to be overrun by rich Americans, “Gee Elma get a load of this guy, he’s a real explorer!!”

I’d better finish here as Chris (Doctor/Postman) is revving to get all the letters stamped and franked ready to go. So hopefully you’ll get these letters earlier than expected. I’ll write again, a letter to go across to Halley Bay, this trip has been delayed but shouldn’t affect the eventual date you receive it. Well if you’re not thoroughly confused now!!

Not long now Jan, just remember I Love You more than you could imagine.

Eternally Your, Alec x

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