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Thomas Hans Orde-Lees (1877-1958) - Biographical Notes
Motor expert / stores keeper Endurance 1914-17
The Endurance Expedition
A complex and rather eccentric character, Orde-Lees (also referred to as "Lees" in various publications about the expedition) was a captain in the Royal Marines at the time of joining the Endurance, he was responsible for the motor-sledges including some of his own design, that it was hoped would have helped carry Shackleton and his team across the continent.
Orde-Lees fulfilled the role of a Royal Navy man whom Shackleton thought it wise to take along with the expedition to gain political and military support he felt was needed. It was only after approaching Winston Churchill that gained permission for Orde-Lees to be released from his Navy Duty (bearing in mind that the expedition was leaving England on the eve of the First World War). He was a skier (at a time when this was very rare) and a physical fitness expert.
A former public school boy, Orde-Lees was generally disliked by the other expeditioners, though was an effective and thorough store-keeper. He had a rather surly manner and was fundamentally somewhat lazy, with no inclination to hide the fact, simply avoiding pulling his weight if he was able to do so. In such close conditions with other men, he was frequently ridiculed. The men would take delight in antagonizing him if possible, when Shackleton insisted on extra rations for instance and so over-rode storekeeper Orde-Lees meagre distribution of foodstuffs.
He had taken a bicycle with him on the Endurance and would often go out onto the pack ice and ride it performing "tricks" around the randomly chaotic hummocks. On one of these occasions near to midwinter, he became lost and had be rescued by a search party, he was ordered not to leave the ship alone again.
While in the lifeboat, the Dudley Docker, on the journey to Elephant Island, a gale blew up, Orde-Lees was malingering and not taking as much of a turn at the rowing with the other men when Worsley, who was in charge of the boat ordered - yelled - at him to join in as their survival may have depended on it. Despite this and the fact that the rest of the men in the boat joined in behind Worsley to get Orde-lees to row, he still refused and crept onto the sleeping bags to rest (admittedly, he was in a poor physical state due to the privations of the journey, though no more so than many others and far less so than some who nonetheless pulled their weight). He very rapidly began to bail the boat out though as it began to be swamped and disaster became an immediate possibility.
Thomas Orde-Lees was born at Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) in Germany or Prussia, as it was then called during a holiday his parents were taking. His father also called Thomas, was known as something of an eccentric character, he was a Barrister at Law (though not in practice) and Chief Constable of Northampton. Life was comfortable and the family had a Butler, Cook, Nurse and Housemaid.
The young Orde-Lees was given an education at Marlborough College, The Royal Naval School (Gosport) and later at Sandhurst Military Academy, he gained a commission in the Royal Marines becoming a Lieutenant Colonel. He was posted to China at the time of the infamous "Boxer Rebellion".
In 1910 Orde-Lees applied to join Scott's Terra Nova expedition, but was turned down.
On return to England after the
expedition, he served in the Balloon Service and saw action on the
Western front. With Shackleton's help, he joined the Royal Flying
Corps (R.F.C.) and was a pioneering figure in parachute jumping.
On one occasion, he jumped off the top of Tower Bridge into the
River Thames, only about 160 or so feet below to convince the British
Military of the usefulness of the parachute. Although this was just
a stunt, it seemed to do the trick and the R.F.C. formed a parachute
division with Orde-Lees in command.
He taught English at the Peers School of Japan and for nearly 20 years also read the English news on Japanese Radio right up until 1941 when Japan joined World War II at which point he and his family were reluctantly evacuated to New Zealand. The family had become quite wealthy living in a sumptuous Tokyo house by this time with two servants, all of which had to be left behind.
Upon arrival in New Zealand, the family settled in Wellington and Orde-Lees accepted the rather lowly position of Office Assistant with the New Zealand Correspondence School, in effect nothing more than an office boy. Suggestions were made that he was actually employed as a spy by the British Government, in all events, he became well known around Wellington. He wrote a regular travel column for children in The Southern Cross Newspaper. Shortly before his death in 1958 he was involved in the organisation of the 1955/58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
There is some dispute as to Orde-Lees
actual age when he died in 1958, the Karori cemetery in Wellington
show in their records that he was named Thomas Orde Hans Lees, Order
of the British Empire Air Force Cross and died aged 79. Other sources
show him as Thomas Hans Orde Lees and give an age at death of 81.
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