HE was one of the bravest Scots of the 20th century, but never received true recognition for his undoubted heroism, possibly because he was a working-class carpenter and socialist who died destitute in New Zealand.

Harry McNish was born in this month of 1874 and died in this week of 1930. He found brief and unrewarded fame for his work in saving the crew of the Endurance, the leading ship in Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17, that was destroyed by being crushed in pack ice in the Weddell Sea in November 1915.

I have highlighted his story over the years about how he was refused the Polar Medal that his extraordinary efforts deserved. So today I am going to concentrate on his life and career and ask you to judge for yourself if McNish should or should not be awarded a posthumous medal for his bravery.

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Harry McNish was born in Lyons Lane in Port Glasgow, now in Inverclyde, on September 11, 1874, the third of 11 children of John McNish, a shoemaker, and Mary née Wade. There has been some confusion about his real name over the years as the spelling McNeish was used, but his birth certificate shows that he was registered as Henry McNish.

He was always known as Harry and his nickname “Chippy” came from his trades. McNish became a skilled shipwright and carpenter serving in the Merchant Navy for 10 years. He was also a socialist and a practising member of the United Free Church of Scotland.

He was dreadfully unlucky in love, the records showing that he married three times in the space of just 12 years. He was wed in 1895 to Jessie Smith and widowed for the first time in February 1898; he married again in 1898 to Ellen Timothy, who died in December 1904; and married a third time to Lizzie Littlejohn in 1907. They were still married when McNish applied to join Shackleton’s Expedition.

Revered as he is, it should never be forgotten that Shackleton failed in his bid to reach the South Pole, and his survival and that of the 28 men on Endurance was in no small part due to McNish.

The whole expedition was mostly financed by Scots, notably the playwright JM Barrie and the Dundee industrialist Sir James Caird. With the Endurance packed to the gunwales, the ship set off from Plymouth on August 8, 1914, even as Europe was plunging into war.

As the Endurance – a Norwegian-built ship reckoned to be one of the strongest wooden vessels afloat – neared the frozen continent, it required constant attention from McNish who at 40 was one of the oldest people aboard. His nickname “Chippy” was appropriate as a shipwright and carpenter, but also because of his occasionally abrasive character – he was critical of his colleagues’ salty language, for instance.

He was respected rather than liked by fellow crew members, though his cat Mrs Chippy was popular, even after it emerged that he was Mr rather than Mrs.

The cat would become a focal point for enmity between Shackleton and McNish. The two men did not get on, though Shackleton always acknowledged McNish’s skills.

After the Endurance became trapped in the ice which began to crush the ship, McNish salvaged everything he could to assist the crew who were now trapped on the ice and waiting for rescue. He even built goalposts for the crew to play football. But when Shackleton ordered the slaughter of the ship’s dogs and Mrs Chippy, McNish protested vehemently – depending on who you believe, Shackleton threatened to have McNish shot for his insubordination which also included the Scot refusing to obey orders over Shackleton’s demand that the ship’s small boats be dragged over the ice.

Eventually, Shackleton had to admit that McNish was correct that the boats would be damaged beyond repair and ordered an about-turn.

Shackleton recorded in his log: “Everyone working well except the carpenter. I shall never forget him in this time of strain and stress.”

Most importantly, McNish prepared three boats for the escape bid that saw all the crew get safely to the uninhabited Elephant Island. McNish had devised his own caulking process using flour, oil paint and seal blood and built up the sides of the 20ft whaler, the James Caird, which was chosen for the near-700-mile voyage to South Georgia. It says much for McNish’s skills and strength that Shackleton chose him as one of the six men to make that voyage.

They reached South Georgia and had to leave the by now very ill McNish while Shackleton and two colleagues traversed the mountains to reach safety.

Shackleton, and two others, set off for the final 36-hour traverse of South Georgia’s mountain ranges for which McNish fashioned crampons out of the boat’s two-inch brass screws. “We certainly could not have lived through the voyage without it,” Shackleton admitted of his carpenter’s skill.

With a full international rescue operation initiated by Shackleton, McNish was one of the first crew members to be repatriated. He went back to the Merchant Navy but his marriage broke up and his health was devastated. He eventually emigrated to New Zealand to work in Wellington docks but died penniless in hospital on September 24, 1930. He was 56.

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Shackleton refused to nominate him for the Polar Medal back in 1917, but the New Zealand government ensured he was properly buried and the New Zealand Antarctic Society over the years arranged for a headstone for his grave and a statue of Mrs Chippy. He was also recognised by having an island in the Antarctic Ocean named after him.

There is precious little Scottish commemoration of McNish, though there is a plaque in his honour in Port Glasgow Library.

A superb telling of his story was the one-man play Shackleton’s Carpenter, brilliantly performed by Aberdonian actor Malcolm Rennie, but the campaign to have a Polar Medal awarded to McNish seems to have gone quiet. Perhaps it’s time to have this Scotsman accorded the honour he deserved. Do you agree?