He’s awesome like you wouldn’t believe. Seriously. Let me explain.
He’s a Kerryman, who joined the Royal navy back around 1900, and was on three expeditions to the antarctic.
First expedition, on the Discovery, nothing much happened. They landed, built what was basically a shed on a Point Hut (at least, I think that’s what it’s called). Few boyos went on into the antarctic to see what it was like, but Crean wasn’t one of 'em this time, so not much to be told.
Second trip, about 10 years after that one, with Scott. You know the one. Tried to
make it to the South Pole first, was beaten by some Norwegians. Died on the way back?
Well, Crean was with him, from the start when they were 20 men lugging 5 800lb sleds to when they were 8 with 2 800lb sleds. At which point they were about 600 miles into it. So what does Scott decide to do? Take the Irishman? Unfortunately not. He took Oats, an injured man (you may have heard of his famous quote when he committed suicide). But not content with four, which is what each team had rations for, and each team had for pulling the sleds, he decided he needed a fifth. So not only was Crean sent home without reaching the pole, his team was sent home with one less man than they needed to pull the sled.
Even that wasn’t enough. Scott also took the sledgeometer, something to judge how far they’d travelled so that the navigator would have a check. Scott wanted it in case his broke.
But you know what? They set out to do it. Even though they were one man short, and had to put in two extra hours a day to make it, they set off. And they made good time.
Then they came to a fairly steep slope, almost a cliff, while crossing the huge, glaciated, crevass-covered mountain range in the middle of the Antarctic. Because the officer navigating had made a mistake. But he wasn’t going to turn back, oh no. The officer demanded they continue. So they strap themselves to the sled, tip over the edge and go down 3000 feet (if I recall correctly). As they went down, they slid over crevasses aplenty, any one of which could have been the one that was just too wide for their momentum to carry them over, but with some incredible luck, they made it. And they trekked on. And then the officer got sick.
So now it was two of them carrying an 800lb sled, with a sick officer on top of it as well since they refused to let him die. Even when he called out three or four times a day for them to leave him and save themselves they wouldn’t leave him to die. And then suddenly they reach a point where they’re only 40 miles from Point Hut. They’re so close they can practically taste it, but with an average speed of 6 miles per day and rations for only three more, they know they won’t make it if they all gone.
So what does Crean do? He takes it on himself to go the forty miles, get help sent back and save them all. What does he take with him during this trek?
Four biscuits and two sticks of chocolate.
Let me re-emphasise that. Forty miles on four biscuits and two sticks of chocolate. This is after he’s trekked roughly 1360 miles through the snow and ice of antarctica on their rations. And he has to get to the Hut and send help back in under three days.
So he walks. And he walks. And he walks some more, then breaks for a minute and a half to each the biscuits and one of the sticks of chocolate before the sweat freezes on his skin (he kept the other stick for emergencies). And then he walks some more.
And in 20 hours he sees the hut before him, and stumbles in. The man in the hut at the time screams to the heavens at the sight of him, for he’s, in fact, all eight of the ones who hadn’t returned, were presumed dead. For 20 minutes he sits there as they try to feed him, first with porridge which he throws up, then with warm brandy, which he throws up just as fast. And after that, the first thing he says to them is the coordinates of the other two. It’s the first they know of the fact of their existance.
But before they could go anywhere a blizzard comes in. Had he taken 20 minutes more, Tom Crean and the two lads waiting for him would have died. As it was, after waiting for a day and a half for the blizzard to die down, they went out and found the other two, and managed to rescue them, even the scurvy-ridden, half-dead-with-sickness officer.
But that’s only the half of it! After visiting the Antarctic twice, did you think he had enough? Oh hell no. He went back the next year and unearthed with some others the remains of Scott’s doomed expedition, taking back what little they could.
And then, after that, he went one last time with Ernest Shackleton. This time they decided to approach from the South Americas (the others had been from the New Zealand side). They didn’t even get to set foot there this time, their boat got trapped in the ice and they were moved some 800 miles from where they intended.
After some attempts at getting away, they realised that they just had to wait until the ice moved North far enough that it’d melt and they could use the three lifeboats they’d saved to row to Elephant island. Admittadly that wasn’t much good, as Elephant island was uninhabited and some 800 MORE miles from the nearest inhabited island was South Georgia.
A brief rest there was all they had before the trek continued, though this time it was just six men going on while the rest remained. Six was all they could take as that was all they could fit in the one serviceable lifeboat. They managed to make it sea-worthy, just about, with great improvisation from the ship’'s cook (I think it was him, anyway) and off set Crean, Shackleton and four others, with rations for three weeks, on the basis that if they hadn’t reached South Georgia by then, they’d’ve missed it and more food would only make their deaths more prolonged.
That trip is a story in and of itself, as the waves would crest between 50 and 70 feet, and the wind was as many miles per hour. But they reached the island in the end, though a storm at the end almost had them. They had to tack into the wind for 8 hours to stop themselves being crushed against the cliffs. And once they made it onto the shore, Crean was the only one with any strength left in him, so he dragged the men over to a cave with some freshwater (which they’d been lacking for the last three days), took some for himself, then went hunting for food.
There were no seals or penquins, and no birds in the lower reaches, but when he climbed high enough, he found some Albatross. So for three days the six dined on Albatross and recovered, then three of them, Shackleton, Crean and one other had to go on and try and trek across the uncharted wasteland of South Georgia, to get to the other side at which there was a whaling station which may or may not have still been manned as the time of year was so late.
And you know what? They made it. Despite having to find a pass between peaks, and being thwarted in two of their attempts by cliffs, they made it. Even though they had to go down the slope in the pass they did find on a sled made of rope, they managed to get there. And when the whalers heard the story, they almost didn’t believe them, but on going around to the other side of the island, they found the boat and the three other survivors and they were forced to.
And the day after, they began the attempt to rescue the other 22 still stranded. And they did it. Not a single man who was on that expedition died, because of the bravery of those men and the sheer strength of will of both Shackleton and Crean.
And that’s why he was so awesome. But he didn’t keep a diary so, until recently, very few people knew who he was. Not that long ago, though, a book came out, and then a one man play - which is incredible, if you ever get the chance, whereever in the world you are, see it - to let people hear of his incredible story. Because seriously. You couldn’t make that up, people just wouldn’t accept it as possible. That’s how damned incredible it is, it’s making me use the word incredible in its literal sense.
And if you were lazy and didn’t read the long-ass post, DO SO. Or wikipedia Tom Crean, one of t’other.