The Wild family originated from Skelton in North Yorkshire, however because of the occupation of their father Benjamin, a school teacher, they moved around a good deal in Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire before finally settling in the School House in Eversholt, near Woburn in January 1885, when he was appointed Headmaster of the Village School.
Henry Ernest, always known simply as Ernest, was the sixth of thirteen children and the second son. He was born at Stickford in Lincolnshire on 10th August 1879. His now much more famous elder brother Frank had been born at Skelton six years earlier.
Benjamin is said to have been a popular teacher, immaculately turned out but with a mischievous sense of humour. Punishments were regularly dished out and his home was run on the same tough lines so if the children received a punishment at school they could be assured that it would be repeated once they got home. This undoubtedly produced the strong characters developed by all the Wild children.
Ernest left Eversholt in 1894 to join the Royal Navy and on completion of twenty years service he was permitted to join Shackleton’s Trans Antarctic Expedition of 1914–1917 as a member of the Ross Sea Advance Party led by Aeneas Mackintosh. Ernest left London in September 1914 and subsequently sailed to Antarctica from Australia on board the Aurora in December 1914.
The main objective of the Ross Sea Party was to lay supply depots to support a group led by Shackleton who would march across the continent.
On 7th May 1915 Wild was one of the group of ten who were left stranded ashore when the Aurora was blown from its winter moorings still holding much of the ships party’s equipment and stores and was unable to return. With no contact with the rest of the world they were left to improvise in order just to survive and Wild along with Ernest Joyce showed considerable resourcefulness in fabricating clothes and equipment from materials found left by the earlier Scott expedition. As a morale booster for the smokers in the group Wild invented a mixture of tea, coffee, grass and dried herbs to satisfy their cravings. He played a full part in the successful depot laying journeand in guiding the crew in their struggle back to its base during the awful weather, dreadful conditions and despite the poor health of their leader Mackintosh. Wild took responsibility for nursing one of the party who had become helpless and in fact died before they reached base and were finally rescued in January 1917. In recognition of his efforts in saving two lives on that journey Wild was awarded both the Albert Medal and the Polar Medal.
The Ross Sea Party objective was achieved but it was ultimately pointless as the proposed march by Shackleton never actually took place!
Macintosh described him as a 'popular, cheerful, willing soul' and others in the Ross Sea Party said that he was an unassuming man who published no memoirs of his time in the Antarctic or records of his own dreadful experiences. The Chief Scientist accompanying the Ross Sea Party said of him 'there are some things that have great value and no glitter. Consistent, long suffering, unswervingly loyal - he made an enormous contribution to our survival and our well being.'
What an interesting prospect though that through all their trials and tribulations Wild and Mackintosh may just perhaps have occasionally spoken together about the green fields of their adopted Bedfordshire.
On his return to England Ernest Wild rejoined the Royal Navy and served first on H.M.S. Pembroke and when he died from typhoid in the Royal Naval Hospital in Malta on 10th March 1918 he was the Chief Petty Officer on board the minesweeper H.M.S. Biarritz. He is buried in the Royal Naval Cemetery on the island.
When Benjamin retired from Eversholt School in 1908, his eldest son Frank purchased for him the newsagents and stationers in Ampthill, Market Square, ('the shop under the clock') and he ran this until his own death in 1915, while his two eldest sons were both away in the Antarctic.
- The Lost Men: the harrowing saga of Shackleton's Ross Sea party by Kelly Tyler-Lewis (2006)
- Polar Castaways: the Ross Sea party (1914-1917) of Sir Ernest Shackleton by Richard McElrea and David Harrowfield (2004)
Ernest Wild, by Trevor Stewart, 2015
Page last updated: 28th August 2015