The motto of the Royal Artillery is the single word ‘Ubique’, ‘Everywhere’. It would serve as well for my family, whose members seem to have a talent for being on the spot whatever is going forward, wherever something is happening. Recently, in a series of British Empire posts I found relatives, distant and close, in all the red parts of the map. Today, I’m pleased to say, I’ve turned up a cousin who was part of an expedition to Antarctica.

This was Hugh Mainwaring Millett (1903–1968), my first cousin twice removed. He was born in Gibralter in 1903, the son of Helen Millett née Cavenagh (1877–1918) and Thompson Horatio Millett (1870–1920), a Royal Navy paymaster. Hugh had one brother, Guy (1907-1978).

The 1921 census records Hugh Mainwaring Millett as a naval cadet at Rosyth near Edinburgh on HMS Thunderer, a decommissioned Orion class Dreadnought used a training ship.

He did well. In 1934, Hugh Millett, now an Engineer Officer with the rank of Lieutenant-Commander (roughly equivalent to an Army Major), joined the British Graham Land Expedition. This small group of sixteen men under the leadership of an Australian John Rymill , was the first full-scale British expedition to winter in the Antarctic since Shackleton’s expedition of 1914-1917. Graham Land is an Antarctic peninsula, the closest point to continental South America.

Research yacht Penola under sail from Southern lights; the official account of the British Graham Land expedition, 1934-1937 by John Rymill published 1938. Image from State Library of South Australia.

Hugh Millett was responsible for the expedition’s engines, an important and technically challenging task. A fellow member of the expedition described him as “a man of great mechanical ingenuity”, in the circumstances no doubt highly valued.

From the introduction to British Graham land expedition, 1934-37. Scientific reports volume 1:

THE British Graham Land Expedition, 1934-37, under the leadership of Mr. John Rymill, an Australian, was the first full-scale British Expedition to winter in the Antarctic since Shackleton’s men returned in 1916. It was mainly financed from funds at the disposal of the Colonial Office. In addition, it received substantial monetary help from the Royal Geographical Society and many private benefactors, chief amongst whom was Lord Wakefield.
The Expedition sailed in the three-masted topsail schooner, R.Y. Penola, of 150 tons nett, which was manned entirely by the members of the Expedition, who were all volunteers. The following in brief is the story of their travels. On 10 September, 1934, the Penola sailed from the Thames; a fortnight later she touched at Madeira and reached the Falkland Islands at the beginning of December. 
Port Stanley was left at the new year and the Argentine Islands on the west coast of Graham Land were finally reached on 14 February, 1935, after considerable trouble with the ship’s engines, troubles which had far-reaching effects on the Penola’s subsequent capabilities. At the Argentine Islands a base was established and there too the ship wintered.
Owing to poor winter ice conditions work during that first year was limited, apart from flights by a small Fox Moth aeroplane, to the islands and mainland coast within a hundred miles of the base. Then, in January 1936 the Penola, with the ship’s party on board, visited Deception Island. Her next task was to transport the whole Expedition in mid-February to the Debenham Islands in Marguerite Bay where a new base was erected. Here the shore party was left while the ship sailed north to the Falklands and South Georgia for a refit.
The main geographical work of the Expedition was carried out from this southern base between March 1936, and February 1937. The chief result of this part of the work was the proof of the peninsularity of Graham Land and the discovery of King George VI Sound.
The Penola returned to Marguerite Bay in February 1937, and the whole Expedition sailed for home.
A general narrative of the Expedition has been provided by its leader in his Southern Lights, published by Chatto & Windus in 1938.

In 1939 members of the expedition including Hugh received the Polar Medal, awarded by the Sovereign, worn higher than campaign Medals and Stars. In 1955 a glacier was named after him.

from the UK, Naval Medal and Award Rolls. The Polar Medal is octagonal in shape and features an image of the monarch on the obverse. It’s accompanied by a clasp that’s placed on the ribbon of the medal in order to signify which region or regions service was completed.

Hugh served in World War 2. He was mentioned in despatches in 1942 and received an O.B.E. in 1944 for distinguished service during the landings of Allied Forces in Normandy.

Hugh retired from the navy with the rank of Commander.

Related posts and further reading

  • N is for Naval husbands: Hugh’s mother Helen was one of six daughters, five of whom including Helen married naval officers