Death of Rickinson, 1945

April 16, 2019

ON THIS DATE IN 1945: DEATH OF RICKINSON

Lewis Raphael Rickinson died in a Naval Nursing Home, 16 April, 1945, following lung cancer illness.

Born in Lewisham, south-east London, Lewis was born into a family with strong links to the sea. He himself went to sea initially as a Fourth Engineer on a tramp steamer in the early 1900s. In May, 1910, he obtained the Board of Trade Certificate of Competency as a First Class Engineer. Rickinson joined Shackleton’s Endurance expedition in July, 1914, as Chief Officer of the Imperial Transcontinental Antarctic Expedition

From Shackleton’s South!:

‘There are some men who will do more than their share of work and who will attempt more than they are physically able to accomplish. Rickenson [sic.] was one of these eager souls.’

Rickinson apparently had an aversion to the cold, even at home, and so it seemed odd that he would accept a position on a voyage to the Antarctic. Lees wrote in his diary on 25 September, 1915:

Rickinson never really had any desire to spend the winter down here and perhaps at first was affected more by the cold than anyone else, but is now so much acclimatised to it as the rest of us, and does not regret having come.

During the long polar night in the Endurance, locked in the ice of the Weddell Sea, a cabin fever set in. The men found ways to amuse themselves including an evening of head-shaving. It was Rickinson who, not being too keen on the idea, told the Boss that he would let him shave his head if he then could shave Shackleton. This was agreed and soon almost all of the men were practically bald, Shackleton and all. Again, from Lees’s diary: ‘We have had side-splitting fun this evening. Everyone submitted to having their hair cropped close with shears.

Rickinson joined the other amusements and festivities too—he played the part of a flighty, young woman in the concert of Midwinter’s Day, 1915, where he sang a love ballad. He also often accompanied Hussey and his banjo by playing his fiddle as the men lived in their camps upon the ice following the abandonment of Endurance.

Lees wrote of the two engineers of the expedition:

‘Like all engineers, they [Kerr and Rickinson] divulge so little of their antecedents that it is difficult to say just where either of them come from, or just how either of them became engineers, except that they have ‘done the shops’ which is a necessary preliminary to the career of all self-respecting engineers. Both are thoroughly efficient and so unassuming that one would infinitely prefer them as permanent companions to many of my other present comrades.

[…]

‘…Sir Ernest has taken a great liking to him [Rickinson], and he has such nice quiet ways that I am not altogether surprised. Taking them all round, our two engineers are very nice little fellows, if one may be so patronising as to say so.’

At Dump Camp, Rickinson was in pole-tent 5 with Greenstreet, Lees, Clark, Kerr, Macklin, and Blackborow, all under the eye of Worsley. Rickinson assisted Worsley in retrieving fuel items from the abandoned ship for cooking up hoosh at the new camp. He was also part of a team led by Shackleton ‘to pioneer a path among the pressure-ridges’ in their vicinity.

Rickinson, amongst others, suffered greatly during the week in the boats on the way to Elephant Island. Upon their arrival at the island, Shackleton noticed Rickinson ‘turn white and stagger in the surf’. McIlroy inspected him and ‘found that his heart had been temporarily unequal to the strain placed upon it…[and] was in a bad way and needed prompt medical attention. Due to ‘constant soaking with sea-water, the chafing of wet clothes, and exposure’ during their time in the boats, Rickinson, like many others, suffered from bad salt-water boils on their wrists, arms, and legs. The James Caird  and Stancomb Wills lifeboats arrived at Elephant Island 16 April, 1916. One could wonder if Rickinson thought it a good birthday present…!

Rickinson is supposedly the fourth man from the left in this image on Elephant Island.

During their prolonged stay on Elephant Island, Rickinson, Blackborow and Hudson experienced the worst physical condition. Rickinson, as Shackleton wrote ‘who bore up gamely to the last, collapsed from heart-failure’. He obtained a place in the upturned boats directly above the stove and though he ‘was still very weak and ill’, he remained ‘very cheery’.

Upon his return from Antarctica, he was initially employed by the Inland Water Transport, Royal Engineers, but then was commissioned as an Engineer Lieutenant in the Royal Navy until his demobilisation in March, 1919. He established himself as a naval architect and consulting engineer and was a respected member of the Institute of Marine Engineers.

Rickinson in uniform during WW II

In 1939, Rickinson was recalled for service as Engineer Lieutenant-Commander at the Admiralty. He was promoted to Engineer Commander in May, 1943, and soon afterwards was on the Isle of Wight working with assault craft. He took an appointment in Shrapnel and then upon at the shore-based HMS Pembroke.

Rickinson became ill with lung cancer during his service upon Pembroke and he died in a naval nursing home 16 April, 1945. Engineer Commander Lewis Raphael Rickinson was sixty-two years of age on his death. He was buried at Shaw Cemetery, Newbury, Berkshire, England.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate

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