‘I read the Burial Service over Xavier this afternoon,’ was Mawson’s diary entry for 9 January. He went on to lament his inability to do what he had intended:
As there is little chance of my reaching human aid alive I greatly regret my inability to set out the coast line as surveyed for the 300 miles we travelled and the notes on glaciers and ice formations etc.…
Finally, on 11 January, Mawson ‘got away at 10.45 am after paying farewell respects to dear Xavier’s remains’. With extra rations, including chocolate, following the loss of Mertz, Mawson was able to cover over six miles that day. ‘If Providence can give me 20 days weather like this and heal my feet quickly surely I can reach succour,’ he wrote.
He soon had to attend to his feet, which had virtually shed their skin and were in a ‘deplorable’ condition:
My whole body is apparently rotting from want of proper nourishment – frost-bitten fingertips festering, mucous membrane of nose gone, saliva glands of mouth refusing duty, skin coming off whole body. The sun bath today will set much right however – I feel the good of the sun as I have never done before.
Mawson made slow progress with help from a tailwind, but a shift in the wind and the constant need to watch for crevasses found him exhausted after short distances. Then, on 17 January, came the mishap that all but ended his heroic battle to survive.
Burial of Mertz
Excerpt from Mawson the Survivor (1982). © Australian Antarctic Division and the ABC
Xavier Mertz buried