The British Presence
in Southern Patagonia

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Ernest Shackleton in Sydney, 21 March 1917

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In his statement appealing to Australian men to enlist in the War, Ernest Shackleton cites Punta Arenas (Southern Patagonia) as an example of British citizens putting their country before self.


SYDNEY. Tuesday.- The largest recruiting meeting ever held in Sydney blocked Martin Place during the luncheon hour today with a crowd that must have been 7.000 or 8.000 strong. The announcement that Sir Ernest Shackleton was to make an appeal for recruits had aroused unprecedented interest, and the throng round the platform included a large number of men of military age. The intrepid Antarctic explorer had received a civic welcome in Sydney a week before, and had lectured before a crowded audience in the town hall, but today's was a people's welcome in the truest sense. They cheered him when he came, and as he left, and while he was speaking they hung on to every word.

"I have something to say to you men and women of Australia." began Sir Ernest. "I have come from a land where there are no politics, where there are no interests clashing in any way. As a man from a darkened world, after nearly two years, unknowing and having no understanding of all that is going on in this world today, when I arrived in civilisation I realised one great thing, that is that this war is not a question of mere patriotism, of mere duty, or of the exigencies of the situation, but it is a question of the saving of a man's soul and a man's own opinion of himself. I have lived in the lone and dark days through many dangers, but the danger of the moment is the experience common to every man. The courage of the moment is man's prerogative, a man's right. But these are days of toil, worry, and anxiety, as well as danger, when there can be no heroism of the moment, nothing but an endeavour to do what your own soul considers is right. Now, what is this war to Australia?'"

A Voice. - Everything.

"Yes. It is everything. It is the same as though the Germans were at your very doors to-day. When I arrived at South Georgia, the most southerly dependency of the British Empire, I did not know what the word 'Anzac' meant, but soon I was to learn that it was a title of fame, a title of glory, and will be as long as the Great God swings this little world in His mighty hand." (Applause.) "Death is a very little thing, the smallest thing in the world, and I know it, because I have been face to face with it for 12 long months. All I know is that if a man can save his own soul and be true to himself and his manhood that is what counts. "Put aside all those little snakes of doubt, those little twistings of heart, and say 'Let us take our share, because if we die we stand for glory.' It is something more than ease, something more than glory, something greater than the love of woman: it is something hard to put to words, but you trust me when I speak from here as my own men trusted me for two years. We were only a small party, but we had to hold up the flag of our country to the nations of the world." (Cheers) 

Amid further cheering Sir Ernest produced a well-worn Union Jack, the flag that was handed to him by the King at Buckingham Palace three days before the war began, when His Majesty said:- "You carry my flag to the south." "That flag has flown over many a drifting icefield, over the waters of Elephant Island. Its actual value in money is about ten shillings," said Sir Ernest, "but its value to the British people you cannot count. (Applause.) I ask you all, every woman and every man. young and old, for the old and the women can influence the young men, to play your part. Whether you are rich or poor, born in the purple or in the street, when you take your place to fight for the right and for the good of your own soul, you are as high as any in the land. I have spoken my word to the men and to the women of Australia. Never mind the glory, never mind the duty, never mind the patriotism. Treat yourselves as men, and go." 


Appeal by Sir Ernest Shackleton.

SYDNEY, Tuesday.—The following call to Australia has been issued by Sir Ernest Shackleton:—"When I came out from the South, after long days of struggle and strife in the stark Polar solitudes, I had my first impression of the war at Punta Arenas. A little British community lives there under a foreign flag, and 40 per cent. of its men had gone to the front, not because they had to go, or even because they had been asked to go, but because they knew their country had need of them. Here in Australia the call to service sounds loud and clear. I speak to you men as one who has carried the King's flag in the white warfare of the Antarctic and who is  going now to serve in the red warfare of Europe. I say to you that this call means more than duty, more than sacrifice, more than glory. it is the supreme opportunity offered to every man of our race to justify himself before his own soul. Love of ease, love of money, love of woman, love of life - all these are small things in the scale against your own manhood. The blood that has been shed on the burning hills of Gallipoli and the sodden fields of Flanders calls to you. Politics, prejudices, petty personal interests are nothing. Fight because you have the hearts of men, and because if you fail you will know yourselves in your own inner consciousness to be for ever shamed. And to the women of Australia I would say just this: Be as the women of Rome, who said to husbands, brothers, and fathers, 'Come back victorious or on your shields."— (Signed) E. H. Shackleton.

Source: "The Argus" (Melbourne, Vic.), 21-III-1917
Page created: 13-XII-2013
Last updated: 13-XII-2013