Halley 50 Year Celebration - 2006

Saturday 14th - Sunday 15th October 2006
Park Inn, Northampton


A unique event to mark 50 years of Halley, Antarctica.

Z-50 logo


Halley is the Antarctic station which has had the longest continuous British occupation. A celebration to mark 50 years from the founding of Halley Bay on 6th January 1956 by the International Geophysical Year Expedition was held on the weekend of 14-15 October 2006, at the Park Inn, Northampton. This became known as Z-50 (even though Halley Bay did not actually become Base Z until it was taken over by FIDS in 1959).

The event was open to all who had lived at or visited the base over the last 50 years or had an interest in or connection with it. 271 such delegates, together with 117 guests, spouses and partners, made for a total attendance of 388. All 50 years and all five bases (Halley I to V) were represented, as was the Trans Antarctic Expedition (TAE), and several ship visits. People had travelled long distances to attend, from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Africa, Falkland Islands, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Luxemburg, Spain, Denmark, Ireland, the Channel Islands, and all parts of the UK.

The hotel and bar were already well populated by lively Halley folk on Friday evening, although things did not officially get under way until Saturday, with a fascinating talk by George Hemmen on "HALLEY BAY - Base Z - The background and why it is where it is". George, who had previously served at Admiralty Bay and Deception Island, was appointed by FIDS in August 1955 to organise, on behalf of the Royal Society, the IGY expedition which set up the base. After this history, we were treated to a glimpse of the future in a presentation by Professor Chris Rapley, Director of BAS, which focussed on the exciting new science which will be facilitated by the forthcoming International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008, and on plans for Halley VI. The modular design of the latter should enable the whole base to be moved horizontally (as well as vertically as at Halley V), and thus avoid being lost during calving of the Brunt Ice Shelf. The environmentally friendly design will incorporate the latest high tech materials and construction methods.

Before lunch there was time for a preview of the brilliant Commemorative DVD compiled by Stephen Williams from over 1000 slides contributed by Halley winterers, and covering all 50 years.

The afternoon began with the film "The Way South", made from footage shot by the late Dr John Dawson in 1973. This evoked nostalgic memories for most of the audience. Next was the cutting of the superbly decorated 50th birthday cake baked by Al Wearden, summer chef at Halley for many seasons in the 1990s. The cutting was performed jointly by David Dalgliesh, leader of the IGYE Advanced Party in 1956, and Simon Coggins, winter base commander in 2005. The last item on the Agenda before tea was "Halley - Now and Then" (The Big Smoko), a discussion session led by Ken Lax which kicked off with a consideration of Fids' slang. Afterwards, slices of the delicious birthday cake was washed down with cups of tea, much needed after all the talking! Between tea and dinner the photographer was busy taking seven group photographs of about 40 people each, as there were too many to include all in the same shot. Also at this time, members of the IGYE were interviewed for an edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme "The Archive Hour" on the IGY/IPY, to be broadcast on Saturday 30th December 2006 at 8pm.

The Master of Ceremonies for the dinner, Dave Fletcher, welcomed the 383 diners, and grace was said by Liz Pinnock. The room was hung with the tattered union flags which had flown over the base at various times, and the AV system, webcam etc., combined with the wonders of the Internet, enabled the current wintering party assembled in the bar at Halley V, to join the proceedings (albeit in a virtual sense). Text messages were exchanged during the evening and a short video was shown, introducing the base members.

The multi-course dinner consisted of smoked salmon, champagne sorbet, roast rack of lamb with roasted vegetables, lemon tart, cheese selection, chocolate truffles, coffee and port. The food was very good. The toast and speeches began with the Loyal Toast. Then Tony Haynes proposed a silent toast to "those who did not return", remembering the five Halley Bay men who died there: Neville Mann, lost on the sea ice in 1963; Jeremy Bailey, David Wild and John Wilson who died in a crevasse accident in 1965; and Miles Mosley who was killed in an aircraft collision in 1980. "Absent Friends" was proposed by George Hemmen.

The invited after-dinner speaker, Captain Stuart Lawrence, familiar to generations of Halley fids as the master of the Bransfield and then the Ernest Shackleton, gave a highly entertaining speech, (as those who know him would expect) and proposed the toast to Halley. He was then presented with an engraved clock, made in the Falkland Islands, to mark the occasion.

Messages were read out from those who could not attend, including one from Dr Roy Piggott who directed the ionospheric research programme at Halley Bay for many years, and thus was well-known to the many former "beastie-men" in the room. Then it was time for a live video chat with the wintering team 8000 miles away, gathered in the bar at Halley V. The Northampton end of the conversation was conducted by Steve Marshall. Finally, Peter Clarkson presented a pair of engraved glasses (and something to put in them) to Andy Smith, chairman of the organising committee, and a bouquet of flowers to Andy's wife Rosy. In accepting, Andy paid tribute the hard work done by all the other committee members - Paul Aslin, Gordon Devine, Alex Gaffikin, Ken Lax, Mike Pinnock, Al Smith and Tony Wincott - in ensuring that Z-50 was a success. Everyone else who had helped with or supported the event was thanked.

Following the formal proceedings, the party continued long into the night. Next morning was more relaxed, with a chance to look round the exhibition. The organisers had arranged exhibits on Halley science nuggets, "Fids' Bodges", Halley-6, and the work of the BAS Archives Section. The Royal Society contributed flags which flew over the base during the IGYE and other relics. The "bring your own" exhibition was amazing, with wealth of photos, maps, midwinter magazines, and other historic exhibits such as the Underground sign and the propeller of the infamous Lansing Snowplane.

Many enjoyed a film show consisting of "Halley Bay" (Royal Society 1956), "Antarctic Observatory" (Johannes Bothma 1959), "Building Halley-4" (Doug Allen 1982/83) and "A Year in the Antarctic (Alan Weeks 1965). The Bothma film was silent but David Limbert, who was in the audience, gave a most informative commentary. It may be possible to purchase copies of some of the films shown at Z-50. Some people signed an "expression of interest" sheet during the weekend, but if you missed this, details are on the Z-fids website. Other items on sale, which may also be bought after the event (see the website), were the commemorative DVD by Stephen Williams, Z-50 souvenir polo shirts, "A History of the Stations on the Brunt Ice Shelf" (on CD) by Alan Smith, Antarctic paintings by Mike Skidmore, "On Floating Ice" by Joe MacDowall, "On Antarctica" by Len Airey, and "The Doggy Men" by Hwfa Jones. The latter was being sold in aid of the Antarctic Sledge Dog Memorial Fund, which was launched at Z-50. Information about this appeal, and how to donate, are on the website.

Judging by the feedback received during and after the weekend, the Z-50 was much enjoyed by all who attended, and many are looking forward to the next such event. However, there seemed to be a difference of opinion on whether this should be Z-60 or Z-75.

More information, including pictures, is available on the Z-fids website www.zfids.org.uk

Andy Smith, 22 October 2006

22 October 2006
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