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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

timekeeping at sea 1914 (Shackleton's expedition)

Guest Drala

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Hello to all of you,

I am a female guest to your forum, not a soldier at all, so please excuse my intruding here.

I came across this forum in searching for the answer to a specific problem that I encountered in trying to establish some points in time of the great Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition by Sir Ernest Shackleton. An e-mail correspondance with the James Caird Society and the archivar of the Dulwich College could not clarify the subject either.

So I am now turning to you, the ones that migth know from practice the conventions of nautical timekeeping at the time.

There has been a thread in this forum on this expedition earlier, so I hope I can evoke your interest.

I am investigating this expedition from an astrologic point of view. (please keep on reading..) Therefore I need exact points in time and space for some important moments of the expedition. E.g. the start for the unbelievable 800 miles sail from Elephant Island to South Georgia and the start of the miraculous mountain and glacier-crossing in South Georgia that was undertaken to save themselves and the whole crew. Shackleton states e.g. that they were getting up at 2:00 a.m on this May 19th in 1916, that their quickly taken meal was ready an hour later and that they started their march soon after. The march without sleep took 36 hours and they arrived at the whaling station in Stromness at about 3.00 p.m. At 7:00 a.m. on the 20th they had heard that famous steam whistle that summoned whalers to work and let them know they had nearly made it.

Shackleton gives in his book "South: the story of Shackleton’s last expedition 1914–1917" (online to read here: http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/s/s52s/ ) plenty of indications on specific moments in time. The problem is, I don't know which is his time reference. Would anyone of you be able to tell me?

The book also contains a passage where he describes leaving the port of Grytviken on South Georgia (to actually start the endavour to reach Antarctica and then cross it) on December 5th, 1914 at 8:45h. Would that be local time, which should have been GMT-2h ?

At the time of course chronometers were in use. And Frank Worsley, Captain and navigator of the Endurance had his chronometer around his neck in all these extreme situations. It is also known, he kept his personal log in GMT. Unfortunately I have no way of accessing that log.

But what would have been the official log-time of the "Endurance"? What were the general conventions of nautical timekeeping 1914? Would explorers stick to them? Under the extreme conditions of being stuck in the ice, how would experienced mariners keep the time?

Today on big ships there is a ship time that changes with the time zones the ship is in, and it is announced whenever such a crossing takes place. Military operations of course use UT. In harbours the clock is set to local time.

How was it then? Did ships apply time zone time (time zones were already existing), or did they set their clock to Local Apparant Time by sun sightings. Or did they -especially if they were English- stick to GMT aboard?

I would very much appreciate your help in this matter. Maybe you find the question interesting, too.

Thank you so much,


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