On 9th April 1916, Crean took control of the Stancombe Wills on a perilous journey to Elephant Island. It was the smallest of the three lifeboats that were launched and was, subsequently, the most difficult to navigate.
The task of skippering the smallest lifeboat had originally fell to Hubert Hudson but he was suffering both mentally and physically that the mantle was soon passed to Crean.
With great skill, Crean, at one point, avoided disaster, when an iceberg threatened to bear down on them.
Frank Hurley, observing the chaos from Shackleton’s boat, The James Caird, wrote:
‘Tossing, plunging and grinding, the fearsome menace swept after us with hellish speed and though we pulled with all our might, we could not draw away. The ice-laden surge was only one hundred yards behind and tongues of ice were flicking out ahead of it. One of these reached to within a few yards of the Stancombe Wills which was bringing up the rear end; disaster was only averted by the greatest exertion of her crew and Crean’s skillful piloting”
Often overshadowed by events thereafter, the journey to Elephant Island presented all three boats with ever-present dangers and it was through determination and skill that they made the shores of which for 22 of the men, would be their home for four and a half months.
Upon landing many of the men were frostbitten and exhausted but the joy they felt at reaching land was indescribable after so long of being trapped by the ice. Frank Worsley, in his book Argonauts of the South recalled:
“It is hard to describe the joy we felt walking on land feeling and looking upon sold rocks after having lived through the terrible experiences of the last 16 months. To feel land under our feet – land that would not split or disintegrate.”
To read Tom Crean’s full story, the book can be purchased at the following link.
Biography of Tom Crean – Crean – The Extraordinary Life of an Irish Hero