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Friday is Birdie's birthday. I have this post queued up to go live on Tumblr on the day, but I couldn't wait that long to post it, so you loyal Real Blog followers get a sneak peek.

I make no apologies for the dreadful rhymes you will find in the following. I am immensely proud of every last one of them.

Happy 133rd birthday, Birdie!

And because I am that much of a nerd, full citations are below the cut (along with details of the illustrations).


That’s Griffith Taylor on the banjo. It seems like Griff wrote about half of the articles in the South Polar Times, and had a reputation for logorrhea, so it seemed only fair to give him the song.

... march straight through that wall.
This was inspired by a line from Aidan Dooley’s one-man show Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer. While I don’t know whether it’s an actual Crean quote or not, it’s certainly an excellent image of Birdie’s character.

... swim half the Clyde ...
When Birdie was home on leave over Christmas in 1908, he’d go for a swim every morning, from Ardbeg Point to Craigmore Pier. (George Seaver, Birdie Bowers of the Antarctic, p92)

The R.I.M. took him to seas equatorial
Bowers joined the Royal Indian Marine in 1905 (Seaver, 48). He was posted first to Burma (now Myanmar), where he took a paddleboat up and down the Irrawaddy – which is a river, not a sea – but his travels in service were mostly in and around the Indian Ocean.

In Burmah the Bhamo ...
You can read all about Bowers’ adventures on the Irrawaddy in Chapter VI of Birdie Bowers of the Antarctic.
I’ve used the Imperial placenames and spellings because that’s what Birdie would have known, and what would have appeared in the South Polar Times.

... and steering she’ll heed.
“[H]e continued to ply his craft ... at such speed that he became known as the ‘Comet.’” (Seaver, 77) “When I arrived I dashed right thro’ the harbour, full speed—as then you have full control of her—and took up my moorings without any assistance.”(Bowers, quoted in Seaver, 81)

Thence north to the Gulf to prevent an affray
After leaving the Bhamo, Birdie was posted to a ship in the Persian Gulf, which was charged with intercepting arms smugglers. Plus ça change ...

He held up a gunboat with only a pistol
One of these gun-runners was intercepted at night, and Bowers was the only one in his party who was armed. He drew his pistol and gave the holster to another seaman to use as a mock weapon; in the darkness and confusion they managed to apprehend an entire dhow full of firearms. (Seaver, 107-9) This is one of several anecdotes in Birdie’s life that reads like a tall tale but actually happened.

On leave in Ceylon ...
You can read about the Bicycle Adventure on pp 119-124 of Birdie Bowers of the Antarctic. It was far too crazy for me to fit into one stanza so there’s a lot more there for you to goggle at.
“Ceylon” is the colonial name for Sri Lanka. Bowers cycled to (among other places) the ancient hilltop monastery of Anuradhapura.

He loved his mum ...
Most of Bowers’ life is recorded in his weekly letters home, which are affectionate as well as documentary.

... and he loved his cat ...
“Now he hated spiders but he loved cats, and when eight years old was found sleeping on the floor rather than disturb the cat which occupied the middle of his bed. Sometimes he stood beside his chair during a meal because the cat had got there first; nobody thought it strange...” (Cherry-Garrard, in the foreword to Seaver’s book, p. xv)

... and he loved his famous felt Green Hat.
"You will remember my old green hat. I have worn no other hat or cap hitherto since leaving home (except in uniform or when in port). It is quite a feature of the Expedition now, and has been as useful in the Tropics as here, and in the rains of the Doldrums as in the blizzards of the Pack.” (Bowers, quoted in Seaver p.172) By the time Atch was writing for the South Polar Times it had acquired capitals.


Invited to sail on the barque Terra Nova
Bowers was recommended to a place on Scott’s crew by Sir Clements Markham, to whom he had expressed his interest in polar exploration, and by the commander of his naval training ship. But he didn’t apply, himself, and was surprised to have been appointed sight unseen on condition of his acceptance of the post. Of course, he gave it. (Seaver, 144-6)

The trainload of coffins ...
Unfortunately, aside from an impression that it came from his sister, I can’t find the source for this anecdote at the moment. The story goes that when he was boarding the train to join the Terra Nova in London, the train on the opposite side of the platform was being loaded with new coffins. As soon as I find it I will let you know.

He fell nineteen feet to the foot of the hold
Mentioned on p.150 of Seaver and p.215 of Worst Journey; there’s a better source for it somewhere which specifies the distance, but I don’t have it to hand.

“Bowers is a perfect treasure”
A slight paraphrase of Capt. Scott, who wrote on 12 January 1911, “the arrangements for the depot journey will be commenced. I discussed these with Bowers this afternoon – he is a perfect treasure, enters into one’s ideas at once, and evidently thoroughly understands the principles of the game.”

The Terra Push was a nickname for the Terra Nova; I don't know why, but it might have something to do with her sluggishness.

He helped clean out the pumps...
Birdie alternated with Teddy Evans in unclogging the pump shaft of globs of engine oil that had got mixed with coal dust. (Seaver, 168)

... a cold shower ...
“Bowers would cast a bucket over astern, and hauling it aboard full of icy water and slush, would upset, it, or persuade a comrade to upset it, over his nude anatomy, and then repeat the process. After these acts of self-affliction, Bowers—who normally differed from the rest of his shipmates by the remarkable pinkness of his skin—would exhibit a fiery glow from head to foot.” H.G Ponting, The Great White South, p.50

With tent, men, and ponies adrift on the sea
Birdie’s full account of the Sea Ice Incident can be found on pp.143-152 of The Worst Journey in the World. It's another one of those stories that would be a tall tale except that it's corroborated by others. That recurring feature of Birdie's life is what inspired me to write this – the hard part was keeping it short!

"Perhaps one more go"
In the middle of the Antarctic winter, miles from base camp on the hunt for Emperor penguin embryos, after a days-long blizzard in which they lost their tent and only miraculously found it again, “Birdie was all for another go at the Emperor penguins.” (Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World, p.290). Wilson (whose eye had been injured by a spurt of boiling penguin fat) had a bit more common sense on this occasion and decided to head home.

Henry Bowers took the photo ...
If you look carefully under SPRI’s watermark in this photo of the Polar Party at the South Pole, you can see Birdie’s hand pulling a string that is attached to the shutter of the camera. The string passes under the h in Research.

Though he hadn’t his ski ...
Bowers was a last-minute addition to the final Polar Party. The sledge team to which he had previously belonged would be sent back after helping the Polar Party reach 87°32′S, but prior to reaching that point the surface had got very uneven and this supporting party, which would only be going another day anyway, depot’d their skis to save weight and went on on foot. When Scott took Birdie onto his team, Birdie’s skis were miles behind them. He did the rest of the way to the Pole and back on foot – 415 statute miles. (Seaver, 247-254)

Twelve miles from the depot
In Scott’s journals and most accounts of the expedition, the distance is given as 11 miles, but this is not the mile that most of us are used to. The navy, and therefore Scott, used ‘geographical’ miles, which equal 1.15 ‘statute’ miles, i.e. the kind you get on road signs. 11 geographical miles is just over 12½ statute miles, but "12.6791″ doesn’t scan so well, so I took poetic license and rounded it down to a number that is inaccurate in either unit. Mea culpa.

“What d’ye think, shall we go?”
From the last camp, Wilson and Bowers intended to make an effort to reach the depot and bring back food and fuel, but the weather continued too dreadful to allow this and they finally ran out of time. See the writings quoted pp.555-559, The Worst Journey in the World, or if you’re feeling really fancy, The Last Letters (SPRI 2012)

Date: 2016-07-27 10:44 pm (UTC)
king_touchy: gold crown with jewels on white background (Default)
From: [personal profile] king_touchy
That is awesome.

Date: 2016-07-27 10:48 pm (UTC)
out_there: B-Day Present '05 (Default)
From: [personal profile] out_there
That is great.

Date: 2016-07-28 01:09 pm (UTC)
mific: (master and commander)
From: [personal profile] mific
Hilarious and wonderful!

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