Memorial sledge refurbishment

by Brett Walton

Halley Vehicle Mechanic 2011

It was noticed this year that the memorial sledge was looking rather battered in places so the job of refurbishing it was undertaken during the 2011 long winter nights. The repair of the sledge will certainly make it easier to move across the ice to its new resting place near to the new Halley Six building. The memorial pays tribute to the people who have lost their lives working at Halley, situated on the Brunt Ice Shelf on the coast of Antarctica. The memorial was last refurbished in around 1995 and due to the extreme weather that is seen at Halley, and the need for it to be constantly moved from place to place to avoid it burying, time has taken its toll.

In early winter the memorial was lifted from its mound and brought close to the garage to allow a visual inspection and to await space to become available. Any outdoor activity in the winter depends on the weather and just after Mid-winter there was a weather window that allowed us to get the memorial in the garage and start work on it. The work was headed up by the Winter Base Commander (WBC) Ben Mapston who proceeded to lift the top off the sledge, this was quite a challenge as it was made out of solid concrete with what we think are local stones. Once lifted clear of the sledge by means of an overhead crane the plaques and cross could be removed and brought into the main building for the Tech Services crew to work on, rubbing them down and applying numerous coats of varnish to seal and protect the dry wood. Attention then turned to the sledge itself. After being moved around at least twice a year to position it on a new mound the sledge displayed tell-tale signs of being nudged into place with a dozer which had twisted the front of the frame and damaged the paint work. Once the top board and skis were removed, the damage was obviously beyond repair so out came the gas and grinder and we soon had the twisted parts removed. A small stock of steel is held here at Halley to facilitate repairs to machinery and sledges through the summer months so pieces were picked out that matched the original sides of the sledge. These were cut to size and welded in place using the MIG set, ground down and finished with a flexi disc so the joint could not be seen. In addition to the new sides a bar was fitted to strengthen the front and holes drilled for D shackles to assist with towing and moving. Along the side, lifting points were welded in place for positioning my crane. Attentions were then turned to the skis which consisted of wooden runners. These were worn and not really made to be towed along so new skis were fabricated out of some large flat bar and welded into place on the ski legs. All the small tie down hooks were bent back into shape and the whole assembly of bits cleaned down with a wire brush and emery paper ready for some paint.

Memorial sledge outside garage awaiting attentionPicture by Brett Walton

The parts, once cleaned and blown down to remove dust, were placed on stands and tied to makeshift lines in the garage. Sheets were hung around to prevent any drift and with the heater pipes directed underneath and extraction pipes overhead Ben proceeded to apply the undercoat. Once a few coats had been applied, the components were left to dry. The next day saw the top coat being applied and it looked transformed. As the last thinned top coat was sprayed we set the fire alarm off so work had to stop for a few minutes until the muster could be stood down, to which we had to apologise when we returned for tea!

Ben Mapston spraying top coatPicture by Brett Walton

While the sledge was drying our attention turned to the masonry side of the memorial, this posed a couple of problems in that the plaques had been screwed down to the structure and then concrete filled in around it. The plaques had been gently prised off without causing any damage but we would need another method of fixing them back on, as you can imagine that there is not much call for masonry drills or raw plugs on an ice shelf. As we thought about the problem all the remaining screws were cut off flush and the whole structure covered in multiple layers of PVA glue to help keep off the wind and bind it all together. This completed we had a plan to fix the plaques in place. Two of them proved to be easy as we just drilled and countersunk screws into the wooden support but two caused us more trouble. In the end we reverted back to how attachments were made without plastic raw plugs. Holes were matched up with the plaques and marks made on the masonry, these were drilled out using what we had, high speed metal drills (don'ttell my boss) then we cut down some wooden doweling to knock into the hole, just to make double sure that they would hold against the wind a hard setting mastic was placed on the reverse of the plaques and then they were screwed into place. Happy now that all the plaques were in place and the cross was secured to the top, a final coat of black paint was used on the bricks under the cross. With the top section finished the skis were reattached to the sledge and some ply wood found to fit on the top. This screwed into place the top had a few coats of varnish and awaited to be reunited with the plaques. The top section was placed down on to its sledge and the sledge was then pulled out of the garage and lifted onto its newly made mound.

L: Brett Walton and James Goby rubbing down and painting brick work (skidoo servicing continuing in between);
R: Ben Mapston applying PVA
Picture by Brett Walton

Plywood sheet cut, attached and varnishedPicture by Brett Walton

We know very little of the origins of the sledge but we did find a little aluminium plaque riveted on which had at some point become damaged. We could make out that it is dated from 1944 and originated from my home county of Lancashire but what its original purpose we don't know, I hazard a guess at it being a small railway platform, or maybe a factory trailer modified for use on the snow but we are just guessing.

The sledge now lies just east of the main laws building and serves of a reminder to us that we are in an unforgiving environment and that we will remember the lives lost on the Brunt Ice Shelf.

Finished memorial in position on new moundPicture by Brett Walton

Many thanks to Ben Mapston who drove and put may hours of work into the refurbishment, Tech services who worked hard to make the cross and plaques look as new and I should mention the garage where James Goby and myself did lots of little bits along the way.

This work was done in memory of:
Neville S. Mann, 15th August 1963.
Jeremy Bailey, John Wilson and David Wild, 12th October 1965.
Miles Vernon Mosley, 2nd February 1980.

17 October 2011
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