John Robert Francis Wild
|( 10/04/1873 – 19/08/1939 )
BORN : SKELTON.YORKSHIRE. ENGLAND
DIED : KLERKSDORP. SOUTH AFRICA.
NICKNAME : FRANK/FRANKIE
DUTY : 2ND IN COMMAND
|John Robert Francis Wild, better known as Frank, was born in Skelton. Guisborough. Cleveland. Yorkshire. He was the eldest of 8 sons born to Benjamin and Mary Wild (nee Cook).They also had three daughters.
Frank’s father was born in Newcastle and was a schoolteacher. His mother, Mary,was born in Lilling.York and was a sowing mistress. She claimed to be (and indeed was) a direct descendant of non other than Captain James Cook (born Whitby.Yorkshire). Her father was Robert Cook a grandson of the great explorer. By 1875 the Wild family had moved from Skelton to Stickford in Lincolnshire, and in late 1880 moved again to Wheldrake near York.
Frank entered the merchant navy in 1889 aged 16 and rose to the rank of second officer. He joined the Royal Navy in 1900 as a rating.The 1901 census shows that at that time he was serving as an able seaman aged 27 on H.M.S. Edinburgh ( compliment of 364 men) anchored in Sheerness Harbour. By this time Frank’s family had moved to the village of Eversholt in Bedfordshire.
In late December of 1901 he had joined Robert Falcon Scott’s crew as an able seaman on the ”Discovery”, along with Tom Crean and one Ernest Shackleton who was a Sub-Lieutenant in charge of stores.
Wild was selected and took part in the first ever high level sledging party led by Armitage which reached an altitude of over 8900 feet. Shackleton chose Wild to join him on the 1907 “Nimrod” expedition and he was a member of the small team which crossed the Ross Barrier and Beardmore Glacier and achieve the record latitude of 88º23’S.( Furthest South party). This remains to this day, one of the most remarkable polar sledging journeys ever made.
In 1911 Frank joined Douglas Marston’s “Aurora” expedition and was given charge of the western base on the Shackleton Ice Shelf. R.N. Rudmose Brown wrote:
“This was one of the most daring winterings in Antarctic history, since the base camp was seventeen miles from land on floating ice”.
When Shackleton began to plan his famous 1914 “Endurance” expedition, Frank was probably the first name to come into his head for the position of his number two. He did not let Shackleton down. Frank, who was of slim athletic build, and a little over 5’4” tall, was admired and respected by all. He played a major part in the moral and survival of the 22 men left stranded on Elephant Island for 138 days in some of the most extreme conditions imaginable. Reginald James, the expeditions Physicist paid tribute to Frank in his song “Antarctic Architecture” part of which went:
My name is Frankie Wild-o and my huts on Elephant Isle.
The walls without a single brick and the roofs without a tile.
Yet nevertheless, you must confess by many and many a mile,
It’s the most palatial place you’ll find on Elephant Isle.
Frank eventually returned to England in early 1917 and offered his services to the war effort. He was given the rank of temporary Lieutenant R.N.V.R.and like Shackleton , he served on the North Russia front for two years as a transport officer. After WW1 ended, Frank went to live in South Africa, and for a time tried his hand at tobacco planting in Nyasaland without much success.
In 1921 Shackleton invited him to join his “Quest” expedition .He jumped at the chance to return South once more, for the fifth time!
When Shackleton died suddenly on 5th January 1922, Frank took over command of the expedition. For a time they carried on South and revisited and briefly landed on Elephant Island.
With their leader dead, moral low and no real goals to achieve the expedition had got to within 60 miles of the Antarctic continent before it petered out and returned Northwards .The Quest eventually arrived back in England on 16th September 1922 and on 24th October, Frank married Vera Altman, the widow of a tea planter of Borneo, at Reading Registry Office. He had first met Vera in 1918 whilst he was serving in Russia, and had helped her gain a passage home to England.
In May of 1923 he was awarded the honour “Freeman of the City of London” and in June that year he returned once more to South Africa. He bought some land in the Mkuzi valley, Zululand ( northern South Africa, near the border with Mozambique) where he attempted to grow cotton. The venture was to prove a financial disaster and after four years of first drought followed by flood, he and his wife gave up.
Next he tried his hand at railway construction and for a time had some success with a contract to extend the S.A. railway to the border with Swaziland. Success was short lived, and he again fell into financial difficulty ending up almost penniless.
His marriage to Vera had not been a happy one and the strain of their failed business ventures only added to the problem. She asked for a divorce, which became absolute on 27th December 1928.
Probably out of desperation, Frank took a job as a hotel barman in Gillol. He had slowly developed a drink problem during his years in S. A. and working in a bar could not have helped. For the next two or three years he drifted from job to job including battery manager at a diamond mine which went bankrupt, prospecting in Rhodesia , managing a quarry and working at a diamond mine near Klerksdorp.
Frank married for the second time on 18th March 1931. His bride Beatrice Lydia Rhys Rowbottom was 37 years old and twenty years his younger. They settled in Johannesburg. Desperate for work, in 1932 he took the position of looking after a stone-crushing machine at the Witwatersrand Gold Mine and subsidised his income with the occasional lecture on the Endurance expedition.
By 1938 Frank’s health had started to deteriorate and his drinking problem still persisted. For a short while he worked on the estate of his wife’s brother-in-law in Messina in the Transvaal, after which they returned once more to Johannesburg. In 1939 he worked at the Belasco Mine in Klerksdorp as a storekeeper.
He died on 19th August from pneumonia and diabetes. After a very simple service attended by some of his wife’s family and a few local farmers, Frank was cremated and his ashes buried in Brixton Cemetery in Johannesburg.
Many years later, in 1966 a search was made for them but nothing could be found. Even today efforts are being made to find and locate them, presumably to eventually lay them to rest in a place suitable for a remarkable man who was quite unique in the history of Polar exploration. Frank Wild, the only man to hold amongst his many medals and decorations, four Polar Medals each with silver clasps.