Sapper Leads Antarctic Expedition

Capt Andrew Taylor, RCE at Hope Bay Antarctica
Silver Polar Medal awarded to Capt Andrew Taylor, RCE
Book by Andrew Taylor

In October 1943, Captain Andrew Taylor, RCE was seconded to the Royal Navy for Operation TABARIN, a two-year undertaking to establish a permanent British presence in the Antarctic. He was serving in England at the time. He was chosen as the expedition's surveyor based on his years of experience working in extremely cold climates.

Two bases were built in the first year. In the second year, Taylor assumed command at very short notice when the original commander was evacuated.  When he assumed command of the operation from its original leader, James Marr, he was left with no instructions. Despite this, Taylor and was instrumental in the success of the 1945-46 season establishing a third base at Hope Bay which was the first ever permanent base on the continent.  From there, he led four-man teams on two epic sledging journeys around James Ross Island, overcoming arduous conditions and correcting cartographic mistakes made by previous explorers. The Hope Bay base remained operational until 1964. 

Taylor was awarded a Silver Polar Medal for his service leading the expedition during the second year of the operation. Instituted in 1857 as the Arctic Medal and renamed the Polar Medal in 1904, the Polar Medal is a medal awarded by the Sovereign of the United Kingdom. The Medal may be awarded in recognition of individual service of outstanding quality in support of the objectives of Polar expeditions, due account being taken of the difficulties overcome. There are two grades - bronze and silver.

Biographical Sketch (edited from University of Manitoba Archives)

Major Andrew Taylor B.Sc (C.E.), CD, M.A., Ph.D, D.Sc., O.C. was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1907 and emigrated to Canada in 1911.  He entered the University of Manitoba in 1927 and graduated with an Engineering Degree in 1931. On graduation, he landed a job as a Provincial Surveyor and in that capacity, he observed much of rural Manitoba prior to its transformation at the hands of hydro-electric, agricultural, mineral, timber and urban development.

Taylor moved to Flin Flon Manitoba in 1933 and eventually settled in as Town Engineer. In this capacity, many of the roadways, drains, sewers and water supply lines are left as part of his legacy. The town was as influential on him as he was upon the town.

Andrew joined the Royal Canadian Engineers in 1940. While training in the United Kingdom, where, from his own admission, he saw no action whatsoever, he was seconded to the Royal Navy as part of a secret mission, Operation TARABIN, in 1943. Taylor remained for two years in Antarctica as described above.

In 1946, on his return from the Antarctic, Taylor received a promotion to Major and was posted to the Directorate of Engineering Development at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa. He was immediately recruited into the role of observer on a US Navy expedition back to Antarctica. With the initial planning started by Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, US Naval Task Force 68 conducted Operation HIGHJUMP from August 1946 until late February 1947. It was hugh compared to the 27-man expedition Taylor commanded at Hope Bay - 4,700 men, 13 ships, and 33 aircraft. The mission was to establish the Antarctic research base Little America IV.

During his time at NDHQ, Taylor was appointed to the Canadian Committee of the International Geographic Union (1947) and the Soil and Snow Mechanics Committee, National Research Council (1949). In 1950, Taylor took an educational sabbatical from the Army to enroll at the Institute of Geography of the University of Montreal. There, as a result of linguistic miscommunication, he undertook and completed the required course work for both his M.A. and his Ph.D. in a single academic year.

Following the year at Montreal, Taylor returned to the NDHQ where he worked ostensibly on cold weather testing of military equipment in close cooperation with the U.S. Corps of Engineers Research and Development Labratories at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. In conjunction with this work, Taylor joined the Snow, Ice and Permafrost Research Establishment (SIPRE), where he developed an expertise in the compaction of snow for employment in roads, airstrips, and other high pressure uses. Taylor retired from the Army in October 1952.

Having left the Army, Taylor struck out on his own as a private research contractor. He received an important contract from the Geography Branch of the US Navy to produce what ultimately developed into his Ph.D. dissertation. In 1956 he was awarded a second contract, this time from the U.S. Air Force as an assistant project engineer working from Churchill, MB. In this appointment, he was responsible for the preparation of DEW Line station layouts. After only a few months and upon completion of his work in Churchill, Taylor was transferred to New York to complete some "forty odd" reports regarding the project.

On completing his American contracts, Taylor found himself preparing feasibility reports for mining companies in Canada. From here, it was a natural move to open his own engineering consulting firm, based jointly in Ottawa and Winnipeg. Significant projects his firm undertook were: the relocation of Provincial Trunk Highway # 10 through Riding Mountain National Park, 1961; the irrigation system for Clear Lake Golf Course (also in Riding Mountain National Park) 1961; and Town Planning schemes for Baker Lake, NWT, Eskimo Point, Whale Cove 1962 and other northern communities.

Major Andrew Taylor died on 8 October 1993 at the age of 86 years.  His many decorations include: Canadian Forces Decoration, 1953; Silver Polar Medal, 1954; Order of Canada, 1986; iljhalmur Steffanson Award, 1990; Honourary Doctorate of Science, 1991; Northern Science Award, 1992; Canada 125 Commemorative Medal, 1992. His many papers are held in a collection at the University of Manitoba.



Further Reading:

Two Years Below the Horn: Operation Tabarin, Field Science, and Antarctic Sovereignty, 1944-1946, Andrew Taylor, edited by Daniel Heidt and P. Whitney Lackenbauer, Univ. of Manitoba Press, May 17, 2017

Operation Tabarin: Britain's Secret Wartime Expedition to Antarctica 1944-46, by Stephen Haddelsey and Alan Carroll, foreward by HRH Princess Anne (Princess Royal)