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eMedals-The Discovery Investigations Polar Medal

Item: GB2671

The Discovery Investigations Polar Medal


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The Discovery Investigations Polar Medal

The Discovery Investigations Polar Medal - in bronze, awarded to Netman D. Kennedy, late Pilotage Service and afterwards Royal Navy: as a result of the hardships endured by such men - Kennedy spent six seasons in Antarctica - the international whale conservation programme was set in motion.Polar Medal 1904, G.VI.R., bronze, 1 clasp, Antarctic 1929-34 (Duncan Kennedy), in its case of issue, extremely fine. Ex J. B. Hayward (Gazette No. 2, July 1974, Item No. 283).Duncan Kennedy, who was born in Greenock, Scotland in January 1888, served in the Pilotage Service in the Great War and was awarded the British War and Mercantile Marine War Medals.Previous to joining the Royal Research Ship Discovery II in 1929, he was a fisherman, so it seems natural that he was rated as a Netman - a Petty Officer responsible for operating the various-sized nets used to collect marine specimens - and having served through six Antarctic seasons aboard the Discovery II, he became one of just two Netman awarded the Polar Medal in bronze - and the only man to receive the clasp dated 1929-34.Kennedy and the Antarctic 1929-34 "Discovery Investigations".As early as 1917, it was recognized that whales were in danger of being hunted to extinction, as a result of which a British Government inter-departmental committee was set up to review the excesses of the whaling industry which then flourished in the Antarctic. However, it was not until 1923 that a committee with the required finances and authority was established to make ?a serious attempt to place the whaling industry on a scientific basis?. The depletion of whale stocks could be avoided only by controlling the whaling industry, but effective control could not be planned for a painfully simple reason: not enough was known about the habits of whales, their distribution and migration, or of their main food - the shrimp known as krill.Kennedy thus became part of this historic scientific programme that spanned over a quarter of a century. Initially, Scott's old ship, the Discovery, was purchased by the newly named "Discovery Committee". Then, in 1926, the steam vessel William Scoresby was added to the initiative, and was tasked with general oceanographic work, commercial scale trawling and whale marking experiments. However, later still, it was decided to build a new steel ship to carry out the indefinite and ambitious series of "Discovery Investigations" that beckoned, the Discovery II being the result. And in order to meet unknown conditions, her construction required careful planning and much original thought, in addition to the provision of an array of expensive scientific and other research equipment - given the international financial crisis of the early 1930s, evidence indeed of the vital importance of the project.In December 1929, as Discovery II stood ready at London's St. Katherine's Dock, she received a visit from the King of Norway, who possessed a keen knowledge of everything to do with whaling, while her actual departure for her three-year odyssey was captured by a reporter for the Oxford Mail:?Hundreds of People gathered to witness the departure of the vessel and after two hours' skilful man?uvring she was steered into the Thames, where much larger crowds were watching. As the ship glided from her berth girls crowded to the windows of the factories overlooking the dock and waved good-bye to the crew. One very pretty girl, more daring than the rest, climbed out on to a ledge and shouted "A Merry Christmas next week," and the sailors responded with a cheer.?At 234 feet long, and displacing 2,100 tons, Discovery II was only a fraction of the size of the 10-12,000 ton whaling factory ships active in Antarctic waters. Yet she was the largest research ship ever to explore the Southern Ocean and both the scientists and crew had to take time to get used to a new ship under conditions of intense cold, storm and pack ice. In addition, working the instruments and winches required constant practice, and the surveys, biological collections and hydrographic work were more comprehensive that ever before attempted in southern waters.Kennedy's nets were used for collecting sea plants and animals and were of several different sizes and mesh. The mouth of one tow net was the size of a dinner plate, while another was believed to be the largest in the world, so big that a man could stand upright inside it. Indeed long hours were dedicated to the raising and lowering of such nets in all variety of weather and seas - hard and frequently painful labour on the part of Kennedy, given the prevailing climate and temperatures. Just such conditions that turned Discovery II into a Christmas tree by a combination of gale and freezing seas that sprayed the ship's deck, bulwarks and upper works, thickly encrusting them with ice. Torches of burning waste and paraffin were sometimes necessary to thaw the blocks and sheaves over which ran the wires used to lower nets and instruments into the sea.Under such difficult conditions, a sense of humour was a valuable asset and greatly appreciated by all, and Kennedy?s ways of speech certainly played their part in keeping his fellow crew amused, or certainly according to the expedition?s official photographer, Alfred Saunders, who noted:?He had a persistent but unwitting habit of mispronouncing names. One of his jobs was to look after chemical and other scientific stores in the hold. To him sulphuric acid became 'sulfricated acid', hydrochloric acid became 'hydraulic acid', and formalin became 'formamint'. Once when he met a sailor who had had a violent fall on deck still walking about, he said that he thought he had 'discolated' his leg.?In the present context it is impossible to do justice to the many achievements and adventures of Discovery II and those who served aboard her, but the drama of one particular incident during the ship's second commission (1931-33) deserves the spotlight, for she became the fourth vessel to circumnavigate Antarctica - and the first to accomplish this feat in winter. In January 1932, Discovery II was on her first voyage deep into the Weddell Sea, the first steel ship to penetrate those waters, when, near the position Shackleton had first met ice back in 1916, she became entrapped, her hull and rudder sustaining damage, including a leak in her starboard fuel tank. At one point, on 26 January, her captain wrote, ?Scientific staff and all spare hands employed this day poling ice floes clear of rudder and propeller?, and it was only with great difficultly that the ship was extricated from her perilous situation. In spite of such danger, the surroundings never failed to make a marked impression on the senses, one crewman recalling that it was ?impossible to describe the stillness and the quietness in the Antarctic, not a sound to be heard.?Another notable chapter in Discovery II?s Antarctic sojourn occurred during her third commission (1933-35), when she was able to lend vital assistance to Admiral Byrd's Second Antarctic Expedition. For, on 5 February 1934, the latter was faced with a severe crisis, his only doctor being taken ill with high blood pressure, a condition that necessitated his return home on the support ship Jacob Ruppert, leaving only a medical student with the expedition. Byrd, who could not even consider keeping 95 men in the Antarctic without a doctor, later wrote, ?I determined then to get a doctor, or else cancel the expedition.? The previous month, he had been surprised to hear Discovery II's radio operator tapping out morse messages on the airwaves - not that far from each other, the expeditions exchanged greetings. So he now sent a radiogram to the captain of Discovery II, then at Auckland replenishing her supplies, requesting assistance, as a direct result of which Dr. Louis Potaka, a New Zealander, sailed on the ship to rendezvous with Byrd's Bear of Oakland in the Ross Sea on 22 February - the American expedition was saved.
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