Thomas Hans Orde-Lees (1877-1958)
- Biographical Notes
Thomas Hans Orde-Lees
Clark, Robert S.
Green, Charles J.
Hudson, Hubert T.
Hurley, James F. (Frank)
Hussey, Leonard D. A.
James, Reginald W.
Kerr, A. J.
Macklin, Dr. Alexander H.
Marston, George E.
McIlroy, Dr. James A.
Motor Expert and Storekeeper
Shackleton, Ernest H.
Second in Command
Wordie, James M.
Motor expert / stores keeper
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
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.
As a result
of his parachuting, Orde-Lees went to Japan as a member of the British Naval
Air Mission where he taught the techniques to the Japanese Air Force. Staying
in Japan, he obtained a job as Tokyo correspondent with the London Times
Newspaper a post he held for 3 years. This led to an appointment as an assistant
at the British Embassy in Tokyo. His first wife had died, leaving a daughter
and he later married a local Japanese woman.
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.
He died an ignominious
death of senility in a mental hospital, and lies in a neat, well attended
plot in the servicemen's section of the cemetery, just a hundred or
so yards from the last resting place of one Chippy (Henry) McNish.
to Orde-Lees in Shackleton's book "South!"
buy UK - Shackleton
refers to him as "Lees".
of Christmas was not forgotten. Grog was served at midnight to all on
deck. There was grog again at breakfast, for the benefit of those who
had been in their bunks at midnight. Lees
had decorated the wardroom with flags and had a little Christmas present
for each of us.
Lees, who was in charge of the food
and responsible for its safe keeping, wrote in his diary: "The
shorter the provisions the more there is to do in the commissariat department,
contriving to eke out our slender stores as the weeks pass by. No housewife
ever had more to do than we have in making a little go a long way.
By this time we had got into a bad tide-rip, which,
combined with the heavy, lumpy sea, made it almost impossible to keep
the Dudley Docker from swamping. As it was we shipped several
bad seas over the stern as well as abeam and over the bows, although
we were �on a wind.' Lees,
who owned himself to be a rotten oarsman, made good here by strenuous
baling, in which he was well seconded by Cheetham.
From Frank Worsley's account
"The temperature was 20° below freezing-point; fortunately, we were spared
the bitterly low temperature of the previous night.
Greenstreet's right foot got badly frost-bitten, but
Lees restored it by holding it in
his sweater against his stomach.
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