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There are unpleasant things at the ends of the Earth, at least when it comes to literature. Frankenstein's monster, impervious to so much, probably met his end at the North Pole. In John Carpenter's, " The Thing " an alien lay frozen in ice and time waiting for the opportunity to devour all life on Earth. H.P Lovecraft had a distinct aversion to the cold and as such saved some of his most horrible imagings to the polar region.

You cannot blame them, the polar regions are one of the great alien landscapes on our planet. Six months light, six months dark, deathly cold all year and just in case that is too much fun, ice and snow as far as the eye can see in any direction.

As we all know, from the safety of our armchairs, people in horror movies just cannot leave well alone. Hear some creaking in the attic and instantly our soon to be dead actor has to investigate, whereas any sane minded individual gets into bed sharp. Mention the idea of a bit of polar exploration and most people would have the bed covers firmly tucked up under their chins.

Great God! This is an awful place. [The South Pole] Capt Scott.

Not everyone has reacted that way, and plenty died in the attempt to be the first to reach the world's ends. It remains a desperately cruel place but with modern technology not half as grim as once was. Ironic then that modern technology powered by fuel created by the long dead remains of animals so alien to us is potentially melting these regions which may devastate life on this planet.

There was a great deal of interest in the exploration of the polar regions and so not surprisingly it was a subject covered by cigarette cards. The ones you are most likely to come into contact with are the two Players issues named, simply enough, Polar Exploration. Issued as two sets of 25 cards the first set appearing in 1915 and the second in 1916.

Had we lived; I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale. Captain Robert Falcon Scott 1868-1912.

A number of the cards from both sets deal with the geography of the polar regions which is interesting as background but the sets really come to life when dealing with the expeditions and the characters involved. Many of the early explorers fitting the conventional idea of hero.

Set One:

It starts with the 1897 expedition by Herr Salomon Andree. The idea was to fly a hot air balloon to the North Pole, which sounds like a plan hatched from the mind of someone who has had a little bit too much to drink. The £8000 required was raised by public subscription. July 11, 1897 saw the launch of a hydrogen balloon made of Chinese silk with a wood and wickerwork basket below.

The card notes a pigeon message got back a few weeks later but that no more was ever heard off the expedition. In fact the pigeon was the only survivor of the attempt. Although much later than the card issue date remains of the attempt were found on a remote island.

Today you can email an expedition back then the cutting edge of technology was a bit of paper strapped to a birds leg. Worth trying to bear in mind.

Briefly let me mention card 3 as it deals with icebergs something with which the public had become very familiar with because of the tragedy of the Titanic only a few years earlier.

Card 5 deals with the Parry & Hoppner expedition. Leaving May 8, 1821 they reached an Eskimo village of 5 ice huts where they enjoyed hospitality for two winters before returning to Lerwick on Oct.10, 1823. For that small group of Eskimos it must have been like beings from another planet visiting them. Certainly the illustrator gives the impression there was a certain amount of surprise when the two groups met.

Card 9 shows Peary's artic expedition of 1898-1902. It actually shows the explorers setting up for the winter. At first glance at the illustration it looks like some terrible accident has overtaken the group. Peary was a regular visitor to the northern extremes of the globe but the real interest of the card is something it fails to mention. The card says on 4 April, 1909 the intrepid explorer reached the North Pole.

Soon there was disagreements as to the accuracy of that statement and Peary, a man of his word, was very upset by the accusations. In 1989 after a year long study of the records of the expedition the National Geographical Society determined that he got within five miles of the North Pole, close enough for him to claim his place in history.

Perhaps you have noticed something about this set, it has absolutely no order to it that I can see. Expedition's are grouped together but not seem to have any order. Later in the set at card 19 King Eric the Red discovers Greenland in 985 which sits happily next to Sir John Franklin's Artic expedition of 1819-22. Card 21 takes us on the search for the northwest passage with Cabot in 1497. Quite why this state of affairs exists I do not know as most sets have some sort of order which makes me believe I just have not looked at this set long enough (don't you believe it).

This oversight is a shame as it would have been very easy to organize the cards. Henry Hudson is on card 22 who was one of the British explorers which tried to find the North-West passage in North America which would have reduced dramatically the amount of time taken to move goods from one side of the globe to the other. In 1607 he had made an unsuccessful attempt at reaching the North Pole and spent 1609-1611 exploring much of North America. However on the 23 June, 1611 when he was returning from an unsuccessful search for the NW passage his crew mutinied and cast him and 8 others adrift in the Hudson Bay.

Set Two:
Details from Card 22 series 2
Norwegian Antartic Expedition, 1910-12 Capt. Roald Amundsen, Capt. Amundsen is a typical Norwegian, and a typical sailor. He is the beau ideal of a Polar explorer. Strong, skillful and daring; possessed of a keen sense of humour, and kindly steel blue eyes, he soon endears himself to those who are fortunate enough to claim him as a shipmate or a friend. Amundsen's achievements in the field of Polar travel place him amongst the foremost explorers the world has known. He knows not the meaning of the word failure, but with all his triumphs he remains the most modest of men

The second series is dominated by the expeditions of Scott & Amundsen along with various observations about the pengiuns which existed in the Antarctic.

Card 9 shows the Russian dog-driver trying in vain to keep the inquisitive penguins from the dogs. Unfortunately the card notes many hundreds of birds were killed proving curiosity does not just kill cats.

From many of the cards gaze the illustrated faces of these ice men.

The previous card shows Captain Oates training the ponies for the trip across the ice. The bales of hay still stand waiting for the ponies to eat 80 years after the event, somehow that brings the despair and misery of this ill-fated mission right up to today.

Captain Oates [1880-1912] knowing he and his companions were doomed walked out into the snow, sacrificing himself in the hope it would improve the chances of his companions successful return, his final words, 'I am just going out and may be some time' are recorded in Scotts journal, 17 Mar 1912.

Now there is no possible way I can do justice to the fate of Captain Scott and his companions in this format so I am going to totally duck the issue here but it is one of the great stories of hardship and heroes that can ever be made all the more distressing by the fact Amundsen (card 22) and his group beat Scott to the prize of first man to reach the South Pole.

Amundsen at the South Pole.

Card 24 and 25 show the Norwegian expedition at the Pole.

Card 17 shows Dr. Atkinson's support party which left Scott on 22nd December, 1911, a group which did get back to base on Jan.29, 1912 having pulled their sledges 1126 miles.

Card 2 shows Commander Evans who gave up his command of the 'Terra Nova' to accompany Scott. Last of the support groups to leave Scott they were within 145 miles of the South Pole. His return journey was almost suicide when he allowed Scott to take Lieutenant Bowers and a considerable share of the supplies.

During World War I, Evans commanded HMS Broke in the Dover Patrol. 20 April 1917, in company with HMS Swift , he engaged six German destroyers in darkness off the Dutch coast, sinking one by ramming and another after a hand-to-hand fight on the Broke 's deck. A third was also sunk and the remainder driven off. Promoted to captain and awarded the DSO, he was thereafter known as `Evans of the Broke'.

Short of men and food Evans succumbed to scurvy and only the heroic actions of Lashly and Crean saved him.

Lieutenant Bowers is depicted on card 6. It notes he died from exposure and starvation on about 25th March, 1912 only 11 miles from ' One Ton Camp'.

These and the other cards in both series makes it one of the saddest sets of cigarette cards I can think of.