Museum Acquires Scott's Skiing Expert's Medals and Diaries

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Canterbury Museum has acquired medals and two diaries belonging to Tryggve Gran (1888–1980), the Norwegian skiing expert on the British Antarctic Expedition (BAE) 1910–1913.

Medals and diary

Gran’s Military Cross (left) and the Polar Medal with one of his diaries

The Museum successfully bid at auction in London for four medals awarded to Gran and two of the journals he wrote during his time in Antarctica. In addition to the Polar Medal he was awarded in July 1913 as a member of the BAE, the Museum has acquired three medals awarded for his service in World War One – the Military Cross (UK), the Legion of Honour (France) and the Order of the Crown of Italy.

Museum Director, Anthony Wright, says “We’re very pleased to have secured these items – the Museum’s Antarctic collections from the heroic age of exploration and discovery are of world-wide interest and importance. Tryggve Gran’s medals and diaries contribute to the Museum’s knowledge of the ill-fated expedition and this chapter of Gran’s fascinating life as an explorer, aviator and author.”

Chosen by Robert Falcon Scott as an ace skier to train men on the journey south, Gran was the youngest member of the expedition. He was one of the 13 expedition members involved in laying the supply depots needed for the Polar Party’s attempt to reach the South Pole in 1911.

In November 1912, he was part of the 11-man search party that found the tent containing the bodies of Scott and his two remaining companions. After collecting the party’s personal belongings, the search party lowered the tent over the bodies and built a snow cairn over it. Gran used his skis to form a cross over their grave. He travelled back to the base at Cape Evans wearing Scott's skis, reasoning that at least Scott's skis would complete the journey.

Tryggve Gran

Tryggve Gran, 13 April 1911, photo by Herbert Ponting, Harry Pennell Collection, Canterbury Museum 1975.289.35. No known copyright restrictions

While the Polar Party had been on the journey to the Pole, Gran took part in the geological expedition to the western mountains. Before leaving Antarctica he climbed Mt Erebus in December 1912 and Aoraki/Mt Cook in New Zealand on the way back to Britain in 1913.

After his Antarctic experience Gran became a keen aviator, serving with the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. He claimed to have shot down German ace Herman Göring in a dogfight although this was not proven. After the War he wrote books and gave lectures about his Antarctic experiences.

When Norway was occupied by Germany during the Second World War, Gran became a member of the Nationalist Party and his hero-like status was used by the puppet Government to help legitimise it. In 1944 the Government produced a stamp commemorating his 1914 achievement of being the first to fly a plane across the North Sea (from Scotland to Norway).

While Gran was tried and sentenced to 18 months in prison for treason after the War, there has been speculation that he feared reprisals for fighting against Germany in the First World War and, as a result his Nazi sympathies, may not have been as clear cut as previously supposed.

Gran’s son Hermann says that his father lived a very “full life”. He gave lectures on polar history and aviation well into his 80s and “was a bit upset” when he had to give up driving at the age of 87.

“He always spoke well of New Zealand, probably because, after three years in a ‘whiteout’, meeting ‘regular’ people was a great experience and he always regarded his polar experiences as his favourite occupation.”

The Museum paid £105,000 for the medals and diaries, which have recently arrived in Christchurch. Anthony Wright adds: “We’re pleased with the price that we paid for the objects given the international competition and very grateful to those who have given the Museum funds so that we can acquire such iconic objects when they come up for sale.”

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