Charles Swithinbank

Vale Charles Swithinbank

Described as one of the last true explorers and one of the world’s foremost glaciologists, British polar pioneer Charles Swithinbank died on 16 June aged 87 after a short illness. Swithinbank was a world expert on polar regions, carrying out groundbreaking research. He spent prolonged periods of time in both polar regions, and had long associations with the Scott Polar Research Institute and the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge.

Listening to his accounts of his times ‘down South’, one would have thought that it was all fun, as indeed it was to a large extent for him. But he amassed an amazing knowledge of the region and sometimes circumstances would call for split second life or death decisions, and colleagues were glad of his experience and leadership.

Dr Swithinbank was born in Burma where his father was a district commissioner. His mother brought him and his sister back to England for their schooling, after which he went straight into the Royal Navy for two years, joining in the week of D-Day. He then studied geography at Pembroke College, Oxford, and soon after graduating was invited to join an international expedition to the Antarctic as a junior glaciologist. He became fascinated by ice, and it became clear that the study of that was where his future lay.

Chris Elliott

Published Aurora Journal Winter 2014