More information and photos etc on this interesting man coming next week.
Polar Medal 1904-, EIIR, 1st Issue, silver, bar Antarctic 1946-47, Lt Col Kenelm “Ken” Somerset Pierce-Butler, a fascinating Polar explorer and eccentric character, being first sent to Antarctica with the secretive Operation Tabarin Intelligence operation in November 1945, this evolved into the Falklands Islands Dependence Survey when he became the first of many “SecFIDS”, organising the whole operation.
When the Americans arrived under Finn Ronne, the later esteemed Norwegian-American Polar Explorer, Ken Butler quickly became friends and attached himself to the expedition. But it was not without some conflict first, as the Americans arrived he Ken was there to remind them that this was “British Territory” and also to present a letter explaining that some Chilean “Hooligans” were behind the dreadful state of the ransacked American Hut.
One time he famously offered Jackie Ronnie (Finn’s wife), who had never left the huts, a sledge journey 5 miles away to Dion Islands, naturally Finn stood at the door with “the biggest pair of binoculars he had” watching the entire journey like a hawk as Ken took her there with his dog team. The friendly competition between RARE (Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition) and FIDS led to some good work as they explored the Southern Antarctic Peninsula during 1947 in a joint American-British operation and Ken Butler led a 4 man joint team to a 1190 Mile record run across the coast of the Weddel Sea.
Jackie Ronne recalling a conversation between Ken Butler to Finn Ronne, “Look old man,” he said, “I’m down here and you’re down here and we’re in isolation. I’m down here because I want to be. And let’s get along.” and they shook hands. And we became the closest friends with the British Leader that you could imagine.
Following the expedition he was made commanding officer of the Falklands Islands Defence Force and first controller of Civil Aviation during 1949.
He had also been appointed as Aide-de-Camp to Governor Miles Clifford of the Falkland Islands.
Following his adventures he was appointed Magistrate in South Georgia living at King Edward Point and became a whaling specialist.
Medal is officially named on the bottom three edges: “LT. COL. KENELM S. PIERCE-BUTLER”, 1 of 9 medals awarded to the Falkland Islands Dependecies Survey 1946-47. In official fitted case of issue.
Lieutenant Colonel Kenelm Somerset Pierce-Butler also more commonly known as “Ken Butler” was born at Bideford, Devon on 24th November 1917, the son of Reverend Rollo Pierce-Butler.
He was educated in Southampton and Winchester before entering the Air Service Training Establishment during 1936 to gain his Air Ministry Radio License.
From 1938 he was then employed by Imperial Airways as a Radio Officer transferring a year later to Scottish Airways.
As war broke out in 1939 due to his Radio knowledge he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant with the Royal Signals, rising to the rank of Captain during May 1941, in September 1942 he was then posted to Orkney and Shetland Signals being promoted Major in 1945.
During the war it was recommended due to his specialisation in Radio, that he be attached to the Royal Navy. As such he was placed in charge of Communications for the secretive ‘Operation Tabarin’, named after the famous Parisian nightclub, In late 1943 Britain went ahead and secretly established and manned two bases at Port Lockroy and Deception Island. The operations was formed to foil German and enemy fleets from using Deception Island as a harbour and to monitor naval traffic in the region’s sea.
An interview for ‘The People’ newspaper 8th August 1948:
‘….When in London, they work in offices. Some, like Major Kenelm Pierce-Butler, who led the last expedition, and will be leading the next, came back only a short time ago. Now they’re off again.
I would like to introduce the Dismal Jimmies, who are always complaining that in Modern Britain there is no room for men who love adventure, to Major Butler. Listen to him telling me of just one episode…
‘What happened then?” I asked… Major Butler shrugged his broad shoulders, settled down in the office chair that was too small for him, and began filling his pipe.
“Oh, they finally found a way out,” he said. “Actually they unhitched the dogs and threw them one at a time over the chasm. Then they got a lifeline over and ferried themselves and the sledges across.” “It worked all right until the last sledge. That one broke, crashed down the slope and disappeared in an avalanche of snow down another crevasse. But there was no one near it and nobody got hurt.”
He lit his pipe. “Good tobacco, this.” he said, as he turned away to answer a telephone…. He finished the call. “where was I?” he said. “Oh yes… Your dogs come to trust you. A sort of perfect understanding grows up between them and you. “You ski along behind the sledge. Usually it carries a 1200lb load of food and stores and is pulled by 9 dogs in single file.”
“The Lead Dog is the important one. He is about 40 feet in front of you and you control him by word of mouth. You shout your orders in Eskmo. ‘Auk’ for Turn Right ‘Irra’ for Turn Left and he goes where you tell him.
“When you are out on a sledging trip, perhaps for three or four months at a time, you get to know all the little whims and foibles of your dogs. You treat them like human beings…. They’re magnificent.”
When this tall well-built young man talks about his dogs – they are Labrador huskies – it is not difficult to see that his mind is 20,000 miles away from the Office in London, with its telephones and piles of forms.
He goes back to thinking of the record run of 1190 miles he made last year along the coast of the Weddel Sea in Graham Land.
There were four men on that trip, the Major, Donald Mason, a Gravesend man, and two Americans, from another expedition that was down in the Antarctic at the time.
They went with three sledges and thirty dogs. They were out from their base for 107 days, just the four of them sledging day after day – day after day over the Antarctic wastes.
In 80 mph blizzards of blinding snow they had to rope the three sledges together so that they could keep in touch with one another. They came across huge glaciers and had to make detours round great slabs of ice. and mighty drifts of piles up snow.
Much of the time they travelled under the shadow of the great towering peaks of the aptly named Eternity Range.
For scores of miles at a time there was danger in every step forward. At one point Major Butler went on alone on skis and reconnoitred at a safe path around vast hole and chasms made almost invisible by a thin crust of snow.
At night they pitched their tents in the snow – and carried on working. Every detail of the day’s run was entered into a log, every feature of the landscape noted. Specimens, photographs, were filed for future reference. Day after day there was the same routine, sledge forward, stop, work, sleep, start again…
In the office in London the Telephone bell rang again. It was a query about the food and equipment that is being organised for next October’s trip.
Further anecdotes and great stories of Ken Butler are recorded by the Oral Interviews done by the British Antarctic Survey’s Oral History Project. The interviews of Pawson Kenneth, FIDS 1947-1950 Meteorologist and General Assistant. Frank Kenneth Elliott FIDS 1946-1958, Base Leader, Assistant Secretary and Secretary of FIDS. William Harvey Thomson, FIDS 1946-48, Pilot, who records the time one of the American’s attemped to hypnotise Ken Butler.