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Thomas Hans Orde-Lees (1877-1958) - Biographical Notes

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Bakewell, William
Able Seaman

Blackborow, Percy
Steward (stowaway)

Cheetham, Alfred
Third Officer

Clark, Robert S.

Crean, Thomas
Second Officer

Green, Charles J.

Greenstreet, Lionel
First Officer

Holness, Ernest

How, Walter E.
Able Seaman

Hudson, Hubert T.

Hurley, James F. (Frank)
Official Photographer

Hussey, Leonard D. A.

James, Reginald W.

Kerr, A. J.
Second Engineer

Macklin, Dr. Alexander H.

Marston, George E.
Official Artist

McCarthy, Timothy
Able Seaman

McIlroy, Dr. James A.

McLeod, Thomas
Able Seaman

McNish, Henry

Orde-Lees, Thomas
Motor Expert and Storekeeper

Rickinson, Lewis
First Engineer

Shackleton, Ernest H.
Expedition Leader

Stephenson, William

Vincent, John
Able Seaman

Wild, Frank
Second in Command

Wordie, James M.

Worsley, Frank

Thomas Hans Orde-Lees

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.

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.

References to Orde-Lees in Shackleton's book "South!" buy USA   buy UK - Shackleton refers to him as "Lees".

  • The celebration 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.

Biographical information - This is a difficult area to research, I am concentrating on the Polar experiences of the men involved. Any further information or pictures visitors may have is gratefully received. Please email  - Paul Ward, webmaster.
What are the chances that my ancestor was an unsung part of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration?
Recommended Books DVD's and VHS

Endurance, The Greatest Adventure Story Ever Told, book
Endurance : Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
Alfred Lansing (Preface)
Buy USA   Buy UK
Free world delivery

South with Endurance:
Frank Hurley - official photographer
Buy USA   Buy UK
Free world delivery

South: The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition, 1914-17
South! Ernest Shackleton
Shackleton's own words
Buy USA   Buy UK
Free world delivery
Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer
Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer
Buy USA   Buy UK
Free world delivery

Shackleton's Boat Journey: The narrative of Frank Worsley
Buy USA  Buy UK
Free world delivery

biography by Roland
Buy USA   Buy UK
Free world delivery

The Quest for Frank Wild
biography by Angie Butler
Free world delivery

The Endurance : Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
by Caroline Alexander
Buy USA   Buy UK
Free world delivery

Mrs. Chippy's Last Expedition:
The Remarkable Journal of Shackleton's Polar-Bound Cat
Buy USA   Buy UK
Free world delivery

Shackleton's Forgotten Men
Lennard Bickel
   Buy UK
Free world delivery
Tom Crean an Illustrated Life: Unsung Hero of the Scott & Shackleton Expeditions
Tom Crean: Unsung Hero
biography by Michael Smith

Buy USA  Buy UK
Free world delivery
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World, The True Story of the Endurance Expedition
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World -
Jennifer Armstrong
for ages 12 and up
Buy USA    Buy UK
Free world delivery
Movies / Documentaries
South - Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition
South - Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition (1919)
original footage
Buy from Amazon USA DVD  Buy from Amazon UK DVD
Shackleton - The Greatest Survival Story of All Time (3-Disc Collector's Edition)
Kenneth Branagh (2002)
Buy from Amazon USA DVD  Buy from Amazon UK DVD
Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (Large Format)
Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (2001)
IMAX dramatization
Buy from Amazon USA DVD  Buy from Amazon UK DVD
The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Expedition (2000)
PBS NOVA, dramatization with original footage
Buy from Amazon USA DVD  Buy from Amazon UK DVD

Shackleton's 1914-17 Trans-Antarctica Expedition on Twitter - follow us now to get the story 100 years to the day later.  @danthewhaler

Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository

Lonely Planet travel guide Antarctica
Buy from Amazon USA USA  |  Buy from Amazon UK UK
Free world delivery

Frozen Planet
Buy from Amazon USA DVD  |  Buy from Amazon UK DVD

Buy from Amazon USA DVD  |  Buy from Amazon UK DVD

The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Expedition
Dramatization with original footage

Buy from Amazon USA DVD  |  Buy from Amazon UK DVD

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