Haslar Heritage Group

Terra Nova Expedition 1910-1913

Surgeon Captain Edward Leicester Atkinson DSO, AM
Surgeon Commander George Murray Levick RN
The Captain RF Scott CVO ‘Terra Nova Antarctic Expedition’ 1910-13.

On 18 January 1912 Captain Robert Falcon Scott CVO became the first British expedition leader to reach the geographic South Pole only to find that Roald Amundsen had beaten his party to the Pole.
Whilst undertaking a most challenging trek back from the Pole on the 29th March 1912 Scott was to make his last entry into his now famous diary and his small party met their deaths. Petty Officer Edgar Evans (RN) had earlier suffered a fatal concussion on 17th February. Captain Lawrence Oates Sixth Iniskillin Dragoons, stricken with frostbite, left the team’s tent and walked to his death in the middle of March. Within two weeks Scott, along with zoologist Edward Wilson and Lieutenant Henry Bowers Royal Indian Marine service were caught in a blizzard 120 miles from the base. They perished in their tent only 11 miles from the next supply depot.
It was not until November 12th that Surgeon Commander Edward L Atkinson, leader of the search party, found Scott’s tent all but buried in snow and was able to retrieve the bodies for burial.
In the meantime Surgeon Commander George Murray Levick had spent many months working from a snow cave at Evans cove and in doing so set a record for survival in Arctic conditions that was to have a bearing on the rest of his life.
2012 is the Centennial year of Scott and members of his expedition reaching the South pole, and his eventual death along with that of his trekking team and what many have since described as the ill-fated ‘Terra Nova Expedition’ that spanned 1910-1913.

In the interior of the hut, Atkinson, smoking a pipe, stands at a bench holding up a test tube. On the bench are a microscope and numerous bottles, jars and test tubes.

The Northern Party of (L-R) Priestley, Levick, Dickason, Browning and Abbot all pose for the camera, dirty and dishevelled having overwintered in a snow cave 1912.

The Haslar Heritage Group salutes Scott and his expedition and in doing so wishes to remember Surgeon Captain (Lt Cdr at the time of the expedition) Edward Leicester Atkinson DSO, AM RN and Surgeon Commander George Murray Levick RN both members of the Royal Navy Medical Service.
Surgeon Commander Edward Leicester Atkinson DSO AM, commenced his illustrious naval career at RNH Haslar 1908 and was one of many surgeons and physicians who served both in the Royal Navy and at Haslar who became associated with Polar exploration, namely Richardson, Parry and Domville.
Atkinson was born in Trinidad on 23rd November 1882 and was educated at Forest School in Walthamstow and qualified as a doctor in 1906 at St Thomas’s London MRCS, LRCP Lond and entered the Royal Naval Medical Service in May 1908 as a surgeon. He was promoted to staff surgeon on May 5th 1913 for valuable services with Captain Scott’s Antarctic Expedition and was awarded the Polar Medal (Silver) and clasp. In January 1918 he was promoted to Surgeon Commander and on November 14th 1928 placed on the retired list as medically unfit with the rank of Surgeon Captain.
Atkinson joined RN Hospital Haslar in 1908 and in June 1909 HMS Achilles; June 1910 Antarctic Expedition with Captain Scott; February 1914, Dr Leiper’s Expedition  to the Far East; August 1914 HMS St Vincent; August 1915 Europa for special service in the Dardanelles (where he undertook to deal with an infestation of flies); October 1915 Royal Naval Division; March 1916 RN Hospital Chatham; May 1916 Moreton (special services Archangel Russia); July 1917 Howitzer Brigade France; October 1919 RN Hospital Chatham; February 1920 RN College Greenwich; November 1921 Egmont (for naval mission to Greece); June 1923 RN Hospital Haslar (specialist in Ophthalmology); January 1926 HMS Ramillies; September 1926 RN Barracks Chatham.
A keen bacteriologist and parasitologist, Atkinson did much valuable research work and in June 1909 he received the appreciation of their Lordships for his work undertaken in connection with gonorrhoeal rheumatism.
In February 1914 he was seconded to Dr. Leiper’s expedition to the Far East (China) to investigate Trematode diseases (a class of tapeworm). Atkinson was also responsible for the introduction and use of disinfectant in cleaning ships.
During WWI Atkinson served on many Fronts and in July 1917 whilst serving with the Howitzer Brigade in France was injured by an enemy shell and badly wounded and was in turn noted for his exceptional work within the brigade. In May 1918 HM King George V awarded the DSO to Atkinson The citation reads ‘Atkinson had carried out his duties with the greatest of zeal and energy and shown an excellent example by his fearlessness and devotion to duty. Having been twice wounded he would have been relieved of his post but he had a strong desire to stay at his post’
In September 1918 he was awarded the Albert Medal (now the George Medal) for gallantry on the 6th September in saving life at sea on board HMS Glatton (in Dover harbour and the ship had only joined the Royal Navy some five days earlier joining the Dover patrol on September 11, 1918 having been purchased from the Norwegian Navy).
A serious explosion occurred on board (the six inch shell magazine caught fire). The explosion knocked Atkinson unconscious and on recovering he made his way through dense smoke and in turn he brought two unconscious men up onto the quarter deck and whilst he attempted to bring a third injured man on deck a secondary explosion took place which blinded him and a piece of shrapnel was driven into his leg, he was unable to move until he had extracted it himself. He then brought a further two more men on deck and he was eventually found unconscious, wounded and badly burnt and his life was in danger for some time following the event.
In 1919 Atkinson was awarded the Chadwick Medal (Gold) (Awarded every five years to an Officer of the Armed Forces who has, in the preceding five years, especially assisted in promoting the health of personnel in the Navy, Army or Air Force). Atkinson was a prolific writer and he contributed many valuable articles to various journals, to name just a few articles he was the author of ‘Last Year at Cape Evans’, ‘Scott’s Last Voyage’, ‘Helminthics (parasitic worms) of the Antarctic’ ,’Fly Pest in Gallipoli’, ‘Protozoa Causing Dysentery’, and ‘Surgery in the Field’.
Throughout his career he was recognised as one of those officers who made himself a friend to all who came in contact with him. He was devoted to the Royal Navy and especially the Royal Navy Medical Service in which he served and everything he undertook was considered to be a success. He is stated to have shown great consideration for all who he served with and cared for and to be of a kindly disposition and tactfully when dealing with people.
Atkinson was a keen sportsman, a footballer of note and a good boxer having won the Service Light Weight Championship in his younger days and continued to act as a boxing referee within the Fleet.
Atkinson having retired from the Royal Navy in 1928 and died at sea February 20th 1929 whilst crossing the Mediterranean. He left a widow Mary Flint Atkinson (nee Flint).

Surgeon Commander George Murray Levick RN. Born in Newcastle on the 30th May 1876 and entered the Royal Naval Medical Service in 1902 having studied Medicine at St Bartholomew’s London and was promoted Staff Surgeon in 1910. He received accelerated promotion to Surgeon Commander in 1915 on account of his services in connection with the British Antarctic Expedition and was placed on the navy retired list (as being unfit) in august 1916.
Levick on entering the Royal Navy specialised in physical and recreational training. In 1910 Levick was selected by Robert Falcon Scott CVO as surgeon and zoologist on his second and last expedition to the Antarctic, the Terra Nova expedition. He was assigned to what became the northern party (originally the eastern party) of six men who spent two years (1910-12) exploring the Victoria Land coast and the whole winter of 1911-12 living off seal and penguin in a snow cave at Evans Cove, an experience which remains an outstanding example of survival in the Antarctic. During the period it was stated that Levick was a tower of strength.

As a doctor he was adequate though under-employed; he made a study of the Adelie penguin published as Antarctic Penguins (1914) and in the expedition’s official reports as The Natural History of the Adelie penguin (1915). His accounts, though very readable, were superseded by more rigorous and specialized studies. His photographs added significantly to the value of the expedition’s scientific results. He was liked by all members of the expedition and was a loyal friend to Lieutenant Victor Campbell, leader of the northern party.

On his return Levick served in the First World War in the Grand Fleet, the North Sea, he served in HM Ships Bacchante, Antrim and at RN Barracks Chatham and Portsmouth during which time he would have been associated with Haslar. He also served at Gallipoli where he was in the last party to leave; he was promoted surgeon-commander in 1915 and retired in 1917.  On 16 November 1918 at Christ Church, Broadway, in the parish of St Margaret’s, Westminster, he married (Edith) Audrey Mayson (b. 1889/90), daughter of Mayson Moss Beeton. They had one son.

Returning to his interest in fostering physical fitness Levick was at various times electrologist and medical officer in charge at St Thomas’s Hospital; consultant physiotherapist at the Victoria Hospital for Children; and a member of the London University advisory committee on physical education. In 1919 he was approached by the National Institute for the Blind about the feasibility of teaching blind students of massage some form of electrical treatment; through his untiring advocacy blind students were ultimately admitted to the examinations of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and a clinic was opened for and staffed by them. He was for thirty years medical director of the Heritage Craft School for Crippled Children, Chailey, founded by Dame Grace Kimmins.

During the Second World War Levick was recalled to the Royal Navy when he gave much of his time to training Commandos for survival in extreme conditions, using his experience in the Antarctic.
Levick’s best-known and, in some ways, his most rewarding and important work stemmed directly from his experiences with the Scott expedition. In 1932 he founded the Public Schools’ Exploring Society (later the British Schools’ Exploring Society, now BSES Expeditions). For the remainder of his life he was the society’s head, at first chairman and later president; and was honorary chief leader of the first nine expeditions to some of the wilder parts of the world. His wife was also active in the society’s affairs. The society encourages young people to go to remote, wilderness areas, to teach them to fend for themselves; to foster in them the spirit of adventure; to test their endurance and help them acquire physical fitness; and to give them a taste for, and elementary training in, exploration and field research.

Latterly Levick and his wife settled at Whitewater House, Ting Tong, Budleigh Salterton, and he died at Poltimore House Nursing Home, Poltimore, Devon, on 30 May 1956. He was survived by his wife.

To Surgeon Captain N Butterfield Medical Officer in Command Institute of Naval Medicine Alverstoke for permission to quote from Atkinson’s and Levick’s Obituary’s published in The Royal Naval Medical Journal of 1929 and 1956 respectively.
Acknowledgement to Jane Wickenden Historic Collections Librarian at INM Alverstoke.
The Scott Polar Research Institute for permission to publish photographs with this article.
Eric C Birbeck MVO
Haslar Heritage Group
22nd February 2012.

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