“Gino" Watkins

Extracts from an Obituary for Henry George “Gino” Watkins 1907-1932

“The Geographical Journal”, Royal Geographical Society, Vol LXXX No 4, October, 1932

“Watkins was a delightful companion, so unaffected by circumstances and unharassed by his responsibilities that one became infected by his indifference to discomfort as much as by his enthusiasm for the work which had to be done. One found it impossible to consider him separately as a leader and a travelling companion for leadership was as much a part of his character as were the numerous traits which made him popular. One liked him for himself and obeyed him instinctively.

In exploration there are few artificial aids to authority: the leader wears no special clothing works as hard or harder than the rest and has no privacy from his companions. Watkins seemed to make his task unnecessarily difficult by laying himself open to chaff and by asking advice upon all subjects as if his opinion were worth nothing at all. That was a first impression that was soon dispelled.

Arctic Sea Ice with Polar Bears (Photograph by SAFAR Photography)

The most interesting part of the Greenland Expedition of 1930-1931 was watching how Watkin’s rather unconventional methods of leadership succeeded with a comparatively large party, most of the members of which were older than himself. Few of them knew him well when we sailed and at first they seemed to respect him only for his reserve or because his name appeared first on the list. He might easily have maintained this species of authority but he chose to destroy it by telling stories against himself, by taking his share in the most menial tasks and by allowing himself no special privileges.

In ordinary things he had put himself on the level of his companions and if he were to lead he must do so by proving his superiority in facing the unexpected difficulties which greet every exploring party. He succeeded because one learnt that it paid to trust him.

These qualities with others made him a good traveller but it required others to make him the skilful and beloved leader. In this respect too he was something of a paradox. He was always in command but he rarely gave an order. He was always approachable but even his closest companions rarely knew all his thoughts and plans. He burdened himself with the heaviest loads and never stood aside to direct operations by others. Yet, he was a careful organiser more by virtue of ceaseless thinking over details than by any precise method. Perhaps his best quality was that he could choose the right man and then delegate responsibility to him. He was determined to lead, yet he had no spark of jealousy as leader.

Above all, what made him successful was, as he never failed to say in his public utterances, his companions. In saying so he never realised that he was really referring to his own power of selection, his own inspiration to them when chosen, his own plans which they carried out so ably and his own example which spurred them on.

#travel #expedition

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