The story of the men of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship S.Y. Endurance

Reginald William James

(09/01/1891 – 07/07/1964)
BORN : PADDINGTON. LONDON. ENGLAND
DIED : CAPE TOWN. SOUTH AFRICA
NICKNAME : JIMMY
DUTY : PHYSICIST

James

Awarded Silver Polar Medal

 

Reginald James was the eldest son of William George Joseph James and Isabel James, born in Paddington’s, All Saints Parish. London. He had a younger brother George and the family all lived over their father’s shop at 151 Praed Street , Paddington. James’ father was an Umbrella maker.

Reginald came to hear of Shackleton’s proposed expedition quite by accident.

He was at the end of his 5 years of study at Cambridge and was one day on his way to visit a sick friend. Whilst walking down the street he was spotted by a man who he had met before but hardly knew.

He hailed James from his window and asked if he was interested in going to the Antarctic. James replied without hesitation, No.

After more persuasive conversation, he was to change his mind and gave permission for his name to be forwarded to Sir Arthur Shipley. Shipley was Master of Christ’s College.Cambridge and had been approached by Shackleton to recommend certain scientific staff. The only post still to be filled was that of Physicist. Shipley interviewed James, and some three weeks later he received a wire from Shackleton asking him to attend an interview in London.

It is well known that the way in which Shackleton conducted his interviews for the Endurance members left most bemused. In James’ case his interview was to last around 5 minutes. He wrote:

“ All that I can clearly remember of it is that I was asked if I had good teeth, if I suffered from varicose veins, and if I could sing .”

He must have answered favourably as he was appointed the Expedition’s Physicist.

Throughout most of the expedition, James regularly kept a diary, and his account of the time spent on Elephant Island gives perhaps the best insight into what conditions were really like for the 22 men left stranded there. Paper being scarce, he was forced to write some of his diary on spare pages in the copy of Lang’s Translation of the “Iliad”, which was one of the few books the men rescued from the sinking Endurance.

The book is still in the safe keeping of the James family. His diary includes a number of maps and sketches.


Reginald James, having run out of paper, was reduced to continuing his diary on spare pages in Lang’s Translation of the “Iliad” . The book survives today, and is in the safe keeping of the James family. ( photo courtesy of J.S.James. )

After being rescued from Elephant Island by Shackleton , James, along with the other 21 men arrived in Punta Arenas on 3rd September 1916. He immediately wrote the following letter to his brother George:

Hotel Royal de Ferd. Garnier. Punta Arenas Sept 3rd 1916

Dear George.

I don’t know whether this can get to you under the circumstances, but it is worth attempting. Arrived here today on Chilean vessel “Yelcho” having been picked up at Elephant Island last Wednesday.

The Boss’s 4th attempt. Am very well and fit. We have had lots of food all winter as we always managed to get penguins but I think we were a bit lucky to do so. The whole party complete and well, the only loss being that one of the sailors lost his toes through frostbite in the boat journey. A mail leaves tonight. All being well expect to be home middle of October. The war news was a great surprise to us. We had all reckoned on the trouble being over. Our most pressing need for a wash. We have had a great reception here, crowds, bands and all the rest of it.

A afraid there is no time for more now as I am likely to lose mail, moreover I don’t seem able to write much, the power of expression seems dormant for the time. Probably you will have gathered nearly as much as I could tell you from the papers, but you can take my word for it that we are very lucky to have got out of this mess.

Yours Reg.


Taken on the “Highland Laddie”, this rare picture shows most of the officers and scientist returning home from South America.
From left to right: Back Row – James, Clark, Crean, Macklin, Wordie, Mcllroy.
Front Row – Wild, Orde-Lees, Bartleman ( Cpt.S.S.Highland Laddie) Hussey, Marston

After the expedition ended, James returned to England in November 1916. He joined the British army and was soon posted to Ypres. France, where between 1917-1919 he joined the Royal Engineers Sound Ranging Section. He went on to become Captain and Officer in Command of the British Army Sound Ranging School.

Sound Ranging was a method of calculating the position of enemy guns by monitoring the arrival of the sound using a series of microphones along a base behind the front line. James played a major part in the development of this technique. During his war service he was mentioned in despatches.


James’s Certificate of Mentioned in Despatches, which reads:
T/2nd Lt. R.W.James, Depot Fd.Sur.Coy
Was mentioned in a Despatch from
Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig. K.T.,G.C.B.,G.C.V.O.,K.C.I.E.
Dated 7th April 1918
For gallant and distinguished services in the Field.
I have it in command from the King to record His Majesty’s high appreciation of the services rendered.

The certificate was issued 1st March 1919 and signed by the British Secretary of state Winston Churchill.

After the war ended, he obtained a position as lecturer in the Physics Department at Manchester University. Lancashire. England, and was promoted to Senior lecturer in 1921 and reader in experimental physics in 1934. James gained a world-wide reputation as being an expert in X-ray crystallography.


This is Reginald James’s original payslip for the time he was employed on the I.T.A.E.
His basic salary was £150 per annum. It shows he was discharged from the expedition on 7th November 1916. His pay, less deductions was £221. 6s. 9d. James did not receive payment until 1921.

In 1936,to the astonishment of his friends, James announced that he was engaged to be married to one Annie Watson from Rochdale, Lancashire, who was Headmistress of The Manchester Grammar School for Girls, and that he had applied for the post of Chair of Physics at Cape Town University South Africa.

They married at St.Chad’s Church. Ladybarn. Manchester on 23rd December. 1936. He was 45 years of age, and Annie 34. He actually received word that he had got the job in South Africa whilst on his Honeymoon!

In early 1937 they moved to South Africa where he lived out the rest of his life. Their marriage was by all accounts a successful and very happy one, producing 3 children : John Stephen in 1938, David William in 1940 and Margaret Helen in 1943.

In 1949 James suffered a serious heart attack and was forced to spend six months in bed convalescing.

James was appointed Professor of Physics in 1937 and between 1953-57 Vice Chancellor and Acting Principal of Cape Town University. In 1955 as recognition for his scientific work he was elected a fellow of The Royal Society. He retired from full time lecturing in 1958, but lectured on a part-time basis until 1963.

James is remembered by those who knew him as a very intelligent, warm hearted, lovable man. He died on 7th July 1964 as a result of a Coronary Thrombosis.

 




Reginald James’s Silver Polar Medal.

 


REGINALD JAMES
PRINCIPAL AND VICE CHANCELLOR
CAPE TOWN UNIVERSITY

 


Some of the James family visit The Royal Navy’s present day ice patrol ship,HMS Endurance,at Cape Town. South Africa in March 2004. L to R are : Srgn Lt Sarah Wilmott. (Ships Doctor). Patricia James, (wife JSJ ), Capt Tom Karsten RN, Margaret Grodner, (daughter RWJ), Sarah Karsten (wife of Capt), Philippa Wordie, (granddaughter Sir James Mann Wordie), John S.James , (eldest son RWJ)

 

With thanks to John S. James. ( Eldest son of R.W.James)

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