Heroic exploits of Cross Keys Antarctic explorer recalled
The end of the Trans Polar flight; from left: Peter Willson, John Lewis, Taffy Williams, Edmund Hillary, Gordon Haslop
By Chris Wood THE family of one of Gwent's great explorers described how he survived for three years in one of the world's most hostile environments and set up a radio station in Antarctica - using it to propose to his beloved girlfriend back home.
We reported last month how Chepstow PC Stewart Stirling is quitting the force to try and ski the 1,800 miles across Antarctica - but, if he is successful, he won’t be the first Gwent person to conquer the continent.
The family of Sergeant Ellis 'Taffy' Williams from Cross Keys described his incredible journey, which included living in temperatures as low as -61 degrees centigrade, from 1955 to 1958 and having no contact with the outside world for eight months as he helped set up a base on the frozen continent.
As soon as he achieved radio contact, he contacted home, proposing to beloved girlfriend, Audrey, in Newport and also finding out the Cross Keys rugby results.
Sgt Williams was part of an advance party of eight in the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, that was later joined by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Vivian Fuchs, who used snow vehicles to cross the continent for the first time.
PC Stirling will join a party of eight aiming to follow in the footsteps of Sir Alfred Shackleton, who failed in his earlier attempt to cross the continent in 1914.
To mark the 100th anniversary, PC Stirling will attempt to complete Shackleton’s "unfinished business" and ski and kite-ski the 1,800 miles in 2014.
Sgt Williams' means of transport were different - he also flew over the continent in a single-engine aircraft in 1958 - his nephew Gerry Williams, 73, from Caerleon described his endeavours.
Born in Cross Keys in 1920, Sgt Williams went to work in a London factory to escape the pits.
But, after it was destroyed by a Second World War bomb, he joined the RAF, serving in North Africa and Iraq.
He then returned home, falling "head-over-heels" for future wife Audrey.
But, soon after, he was chosen out of 2,000 applicants to join the advance party of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition because of his radio skills.
The eight-man advance party had no contact with the outside world for eight months as they set up a base.
They lived with frost-bitten hands, frozen eyelashes, and in a tent that contained 100 tonnes of snow at one stage.
Gerry Williams said: "He met Audrey not long before he went and they fell head-over-heels. But, he then had a year of hell, where there was bad weather and little food.
"But, when radio contact was established, he proposed to Audrey as they were totally dedicated to each other."
Gerry Williams described his uncle- who was mum Mia’s brother- as a "father figure" and inspiration.
He was given the Polar Medal before spending the rest of his life in Newport.
Sgt Williams died in the 1990s and Audrey died within a year from what his nephew called "a broken heart".