Today in history: the first of Captain Scott’s men dies

A plaque to Evans at Rhossilli church, Gower.
A plaque to Evans at Rhossilli church, Gower.

He is one of Wales’ greatest explorers – but few remember his name and there is no national monument in his honour.

There is a story behind why Wales may have tried to forget Edgar Evans – and it concerns a sense of misplaced shame.

Evans was with Captain Robert Scott when he stood at the South Pole more than 100 years ago. Upon arriving at the Pole they were already exhausted.

Their spirits sunk further when they realised Roald Amundsen had got there first.

Scott’s party was defeated first by the Norwegians and then by a terrible Antarctic winter which came in early and closed over them like a shroud.

Evans was the first of the five men to die. He was malnourished and a cut in his hand was festering.

On February 17, 1912, his exhausted body gave up.

The second to die, Captain Oates, had a leg wound which had turned gangrenous. His leg needed amputating. He crawled from the expedition tent in a blizzard around March 17th and was not seen again.

The remaining three – Scott, himself, Bowers and Wilson – died about 10 days later.

It took a year for the news of their deaths to reach Britain.

“People were initially very sad, then proud but then they had to try and find an explanation,” Dr Isobel Williams, author of a biography on Edgar, called ‘Captain Scott’s Invaluable Assistant’, says.

“In some newspapers they focused on Edgar as not only failing and slowing them down but by his failure and slowing the party he caused the death of all the expedition.”

Edgar Evans

The men had left Britain in 1910, sailing from Cardiff on board the Terra Nova with South Wales’ coal lighting its boiler.

Two nights before they left, the crew had celebrated at the Royal Hotel in St Mary Street. A century later the Captain Scott Society still meets there. Wales had contributed about half of the funds needed for Scott’s expedition.

But when news reached Britain of the men’s deaths, some began to feel a little ashamed of Evans.

Edgar’s grandson, John Evans, from Swansea, said on the 100th anniversary of the explorer’s death: “I think it was based on snobbery a bit because they made him the scapegoat in the beginning.”

Evans had been on not only the mission to the South Pole but Scott’s 1901-1904 Discovery expedition which had helped prove Antarctica was a continent and not a massive pack of ice.

The three nights Blitz, February 1941

In February 1941, Swansea became the first place outside London to suffer three consecutive nights of bombing.

 

During the dark nights of February 19, 20 and 21 the bombers came back almost constantly, killing 230 people and injuring more than 400 more.D 235-1-7 Ben Evans

Ports like Swansea had become priority targets for the Luftwaffe.

On duty in the city that February 1941 was Elaine Kidwell, a 17-year-old who had lied about her age to become one of the youngest air raid wardens in Britain.

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During one of the raids she almost lost her life when a parachute mine exploded.

“Everybody was blown, and I was blown right across the road, crashed into a wall, and I didn’t have any breath in me,” she told me a few years ago. “Anyway I was coming around and I went into my pocket, and I wish I hadn’t it, because I’ve had my leg pulled about it ever since, I took my lipstick out and I put it on.

“I got my breath back, and he said to me – one of the wardens did – ‘That’s your armour, isn’t it?’. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘As long as I’ve got my lipstick on I can face anything!’

P-PR 95-4-3a Blitz from Milton Terrace

 

 

The Menai Suspension Bridge

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For those of you who enjoy a good bridge, here is one of the finest – the Menai Suspension Bridge, which links the island of Anglesey to the mainland of Wales.

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It was designed by Thomas Telford and completed in 1826.

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Before the bridge all movements from the island were by ferry. But links had to be improved from Dublin, via Holyhead, to London.

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The design of the bridge had to allow for Royal Navy sailing ships 100 feet (30m) tall to pass under the deck at high tide.

Menai Bridge
Menai Bridge

I took these photos during a visit to Anglesey in September 2013.

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A peaceful corner of Wales – with a tragic history

The toll bridge at Penmaenpool.
The toll bridge at Penmaenpool.

The wooden toll bridge at Penmaenpool provides a peaceful walk for visitors to the Mawddach Estuary near Dolgellau.

The area is a haven for walkers, cyclists and bird watchers. The RSPB has turned an old signal box into an observation centre overlooking the estuary.

But the Grade II-listed bridge, which was built in 1879, was not always peaceful.

In July 1966, it was the scene of a great tragedy when the Prince of Wales ferry, which was nearing the end of its pleasure trip from Barmouth, got into trouble as it tried to pull up alongside the nearby jetty.

15 people died when tragedy struck this peaceful corner of Wales
15 people died when tragedy struck this peaceful corner of Wales

The vessel was washed into the wooden toll bridge and quickly sank, with its passengers being thrown into the fast-running incoming tide.

Staff from the nearby George III hotel and the toll bridge itself rushed to help but 15 of the 39 people on board drowned.

A peaceful corner of Wales, but a scene of great sadness for so many.