TRIBUTE - Lady Eleanor Fuchs

It was quite by chance that Eleanor, Lady Fuchs, widow of Sir Vivian Fuchs, became involved in Antarctic affairs.

In early 1955, five years after Dr Fuchs conceived his plan to complete Shackleton's dream of a Trans-Antarctic crossing, the Commonwealth TransAntarctic Expedition was formed. An office was set up at 64 Victoria Street, London and Rear Admiral Parry was appointed Secretary.

Eleanor Honnywill presented herself for an interview for the position of Office Assistant and after it turned out that her husband, Captain Dick Honnywill RN was an old chum of the Admiral, it was not altogether surprising that she was appointed to the job, but then only after it was confirmed she could type!

Eleanor's father had been a senior British diplomat in the Persian Gulf, and she, together with her elder brother, had to go to school in England.

Family reunions only happened during the summer holidays. One year a ship visit was not possible and they had to travel overland from the east Mediterranean coast by train, and then by bus.

When the bus stopped in the middle of the desert for a comfort stop, Eleanor had to walk some distance for any privacy.

When she returned she found the bus had gone. Everyone had assumed she was back on board. Needless to say the bus eventually returned to pick her up, with a rather sheepish brother.

Eleanor became a key figure in the TAE London Headquarters office, handling the affairs of the expedition during the period December 1955 to March 1958 and afterwards, typing up the Fuchs/Hillary expedition book The Crossing of Antarctica and the TAE Scientific Reports.

Honnywill Peak in the Shackleton Range was named for her. Eleanor prided herself on her ability to protect Sir Vivian from all callers, especially the press.

One day there was a call for Sir Vivian from the equerry to the Duke of Edinburgh. The matter was a sensitive issue so she put the call through, but was alarmed when a different voice now spoke on the phone. Thinking he was speaking to the equerry, Sir Vivian, in his own words "exploded" and responded extremely directly to the question raised.

Eleanor, horrified when she realised who was on the line, rushed into Sir Vivian's office with a piece of paper on which she had written "I think you are talking to Prince Philip".

Seeing it was impossible to repair the situation, Sir Vivian continued in the same vein. When he had finished, the Prince made his identity known and thanked him for the information he had needed, although not in the way he had expected. Two days later the Duke of Edinburgh agreed to become the Expedition's Patron.

At the end of 1958 Sir Vivian Fuchs returned to the Falkland Islands Dependency Survey (FIDS, later to become the British Antarctic Survey) as Director, taking over from Sir Raymond Priestley who had began the process of rationalising the organisation.

Eleanor was persuaded to come from the TAE office as his Personal Assistant, where she continued to work on TAE Reports.

Her book The Challenge of Antarctica was first published in 1969 and was republished in a revised and expanded form in 1984. This is a splendid account of the Age of Discovery, the Heroic Age and the Age of Scientific Co-operation.

Her knowledge and enthusiasm make the book both an informative introduction for the layman and an exciting adventure story in its own right. In 1975 she was awarded the British Antarctic Survey Club's Fuchs Medal in recognition of her dedicated service to FIDS and BAS.

When her husband died, she continued to work on TAE papers and assisted Sir Vivian in his research for his book Of Ice and Men, the story of the British Antarctic Survey, including its early days as FIDS, and later in 1990 on Sir Vivian's autobiography A Time to Speak.

Sir Vivian's wife Joyce died in 1990 on the eve of her eldest grandson's wedding. A sad occasion, so leaving two people, with common interests, without companionship. By marrying in 1991, they were able to support each other in advancing age and infirmity. Sir Vivian died in 1999 in his 92d year and Eleanor died on 11 April 2003 at the age of 87. She is remembered for her wise counsel, her kindness and her generous hospitality, and for her major contribution to the first crossing of the Antarctic.

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