The British Empire and its effect on Plymouth

Frank Bickerton

Antarctic explorer Frank Bickerton (1889 - 1954) is largely unknown despite his prominent role in several daring expeditions in the early part of the 20th century. He played a key role in a 1911 exploratory trip to the Antarctic and fought bravely in World War One.

Bickerton moved to Plymouth as a child in 1895 after his father drowned at Torcross. His mother died shortly afterwards, but he continued to live in the city until 1920.

Bickerton accompanied Sir Douglas Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition (1911-14) as engineer and was responsible for the pioneering use of an aeroplane and wireless telegraphy in the Antarctic. He also led a three-man sledging expedition which discovered the first meteorite to be found in the Antarctic. This discovery was the first step in establishing the continent as one of the planet's most important meteorite fields. Bickerton was awarded the prestigious Polar Medal in silver and was subsequently recruited by Sir Ernest Shackleton for the ill-fated Endurance expedition. Although he was involved in the preparatory testing work for this expedition, he eventually decided to fight on the Western Front - first as a trenches officer and then as an observer and fighter pilot with the Royal Flying Corps. He shot down two German aircraft and was credited as being one of the first men to demonstrate that the Sopwith Camel could be flown as a night fighter.

Bickerton later farmed in Newfoundland and Africa; led a safari in Africa; helped to found one of California's most prestigious golf clubs and fought with distinction with the RAF during World War II.

He was also a friend of author Vita Sackville-West and was the model for the character of Leonard Anquetil in her novel, The Edwardians (1930). Frank Bickerton died in Wales in 1954.

Born Adventurer: The Life of Frank Bickerton, Antarctic Pioneer

Empire in Your Backyard: Plymouth Article | Significant Individuals


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by Stephen Luscombe