The Most Glorified Strip of Bunting
In 1871, the United States North Polar Expedition set sail in the Polaris, a converted river tug. Under the command of Charles Francis Hall, whose passionate goal was to plant the Stars and Stripes at the northernmost point of the world, an assortment of scientists, sailors and Inuit make up the ship’s company. From the outset, Commander Hall’s enthusiasm is not universally shared, and when the Polaris becomes embedded in ice, loyalty is stretched to the limit. During a storm, nineteen of the crew together with the Inuit families are marooned on an ice floe, and their six-month ordeal highlights how thin the veneer of civilisation is when put to the test. The lack of food and warmth, instead of uniting them in the struggle to survive, drives each against the other. Racial prejudice and thoughts of murder, rape and cannibalism are ever-present as their conditions worsen and survival seems impossible.
Each chapter is interspersed with transcripts of the United States Navy Board of Enquiry into the disaster. John McGill tells this story of human endurance with such realism that the reader can almost feel the frostbite nipping the toes. Through the pages the characters loom large against their background of desolation, victims of circumstance. An enthralling read.