Frank Kingdon-Ward
-- biography page 3 --

1936 is blank in my records. One must suppose that he returned to England at some point. The main thing he achieved during this time was to agree to a divorce from Florinda.

Frank and Florinda with Pleione in happier times Divorce in those days was of course frowned upon and not as easy as it is today. The book by Charles Lyte does not paint Florinda's part very fairly. The fact is that some form of seperation was inevitable. The wedding had never realy had a chance to take off since Frank was abroad so much, but in addition it is fair to describe Florinda as very high powered.
She stood for parliament as the Liberal candidate for Lewes in Sussex (although she was not successful). She was a lifelong Liberal partly because she wanted to see the last of the 'great reforms' (proportional representation) brought in.
She ran a number of businesses through her life, she started the first ever minicab firm long before the term was coined. At the time the coach fare from Reading to London was very high as there was no competition. She enlisted car owners who were able to undercut the coach firms. Obviously the coaches cut their prices when they realised and the fledgling private hire firm was forced out of business. Later she had a firm producing herbal medicines which, if launched in the early eighties, might have fared better but herbal cures were not quite so fashionable in those days. She would never do anything which did not fit in with her principles. If she had been less scrupulous she would no doubt have had more success.
She also spent a part of her family wealth on various causes. In the years before the second world war she helped set up immigrant Jews escaping from Hitler's regime. She was vocal in her demands for the government to re-arm for inevitable conflict.

Florinda insisted on divorce and not seperation the latter would have been dishonest and therefore not acceptable. She also wanted custody of the girls. Since any other arrangement would have been impossible this was not unreasonable, however Frank went through some changes of heart before the decree nici came through. In order to ensure the divorce could go through smoothly Frank was forced to give Florinda grounds. So he spent a night in a hotel with a girl to give the illusion of unfaithfulness. (whilst we may criticise the modern ease of divorce we should not forget the stupidity of a system which forces people to go through such things in order to achieve the inevitable) As a result of this episode Frank's name was splurged across the gutter press as the bad guy in the case. The only consolation for him was that he was by then already on his next expedition.

1937 took Frank to North Burma and Tibet. He first tried to go to China but was tied up in red tape. He was held under house arrest in Yunnan for a week and followed everywhere at close quarters by armed soliers when he was allowed out.
The senior official however proved to have a small interest in botany and allowed Frank to do a little work in exchange for taking groups of schoolteachers with him. After much time was lost still trying to get permission to go into China he eventually got agreement from his backers to explore more accessible regions, hence his North Burma trip.
Once the early challenges were overcome the expedition began to shape up quite well. There were eventually about a thousand species collected, 150 with seed.

Of course there were some nasty moments and plenty of deprivations but it wouldn’t have been an expedition without those.
One time he slipped and fell down a slope and impaled his armpit on a broken off bamboo spike. Ouch! He treated the wound with iodine as it was the only thing he had. The next day he fell off a cliff but was caught by some bushes. (Have we reached nine lives yet?)
The rations were the usual thing; rice, dhal, and tea. There were a few luxuries like chocolate and biscuits but they had to be severely rationed.
Frank records that his tent was raided by cattle, looking for salt. They wrought havoc but the losses were less than at first seemed and most of the seeds escaped unharmed. No mention of the chocolate.

Frank remained in the far-east during 1938 in Assam. Towards the end of the year he undertook an expedition funded by Suydam Cutting, the American millionaire and Arthur Vernay, an English businessman who lived in America. They also took part in the trip. Frank greatly enjoyed arranging an expedition for the first time without any financial constraints.
The purpose was mainly zoological, with particular emphasis on rare or 'mythical' beasts, Lilium bakerianum Rhododendron microphyton but it didn’t stop Frank collecting many species of plants, including Lillium bakerianum and L. ochraceum, Primula densa and Rhododendron microphyton. His haul was about 200 herbarium specimens with 40 seed species.

Burdocas taxicolor. Another member of the party was Harold Anthony, curator of mammals at the American museum of natural history. He was delighted with the native Lisu who brought him many species of voles and mice. Delighted that is until he realised they were selling him animals that they had stolen from his own traps.
The party split up to pursue different objectives. Frank went with Arthur and Suydam to hunt Takin. The hunt was unsuccessful although they found many clues. Frank observed that you can’t shoot a clue. The takin Burdocas taxicolor was and is an endangered species but fortunately it wasn't endangered much by this hunting party.

In 1939 he went to America to fulfil a long accepted invitation, although war was looming back home in England.
Florinda was somewhat critical of this flitting off. He was entertained royally by his American backers and was surrounded by wealthy gardeners wanting to rub shoulders with him.
However he soon returned to England to take on whatever role he could in the war and do his bit.

Frank came back to a London feverishly preparing for war.
He was homeless now (he never returned to live at Cleeve court.) so he took digs in the Cromwell road close to the natural history museum. He spent some time helping to sort out the herbarium specimens there, as the most precious material was to be removed to storage in Tring, Hertfordshire to save it from the bombing.

On the declaration of war he offered his expert services to the authorities. He believed that his experience could be put to some use, but he was not taken seriously. He was no longer young and despite being quite fit he looked older than he was.
After being messed about by various officials he was dismayed to be put on to censorship duties with special responsibility for translating Chinese and other far eastern languages.

Eventually he got what he wanted after a fashion. He was to travel incognito as a botanist on government work. (not too difficult a cover) and go to Burma to scout out a route between China and India. He started from Singapore where he stayed with Mr. Corner the diredtor of the botanical gardens there.
Despite never seeing active service Frank was never far from a life threatening incident. One night Mr. Corner heard Frank scream and came in to find him bent double, with his hands gripping a standard lamp which was faulty. He could not let go because of the current. His host cut the switch and Frank collapsed very shaken but alive.

Singapore was soon invaded and Frank's diary and notes for his book were lost.
By now Frank was in Burma, but as the Japanese advance progressed it became a race for him to escape, having to leave some places almost as soon as he got to them. He took a different route to everyone else on leaving Fort Hertz and was the last european to leave. He then disapeared, and for eighteen months his sister could find no word of his safety or otherwise.
Of course he did survive, and his next letter told of him being engaged in "smuggling duties" or "running the blockade" he was stockpiling fuel, food and ammunition in secret hidden locations in the jungle.

Towrds the end of 1943 Frank was employed by the 'R.A.F. training school' to teach jungle survival to the recruits. A skill he had learned first hand as of nescecity on several occasions.
He had another serious accident during this time. While riding in a jeep, a hyena crossed their path. The driver reacted by first accelerating and then breaking sharply. Frank reacted by first standing up and then by diving head first over the windscreen and landing face first on the road a few metres further ahead. He managed to dictate a brief letter to his sister telling her of his death before passing out. He also suffered a cracked vertebra and multiple bruising. Of course he recovered and the letter was never sent.

He was back at work sooner than most would expect and carried on with his writing and colecting wherever possible. By now the tide of war was turning and he was unemployed. No loger required by the army. He took work on a tea plantation which he found very dull.
Relief came from the U.S. air force who engaged him to search for lost aircraft and service personel among the mountains. He had some success and was also able to collect some new plants at the same time. This job only lasted a few weeks and then he was unemployed again. He was consoled by the return of his notes from Singapore.
Strophanthus They had been preserved by the Japanese because they were of scientific value.
Then the Indian tea associaction wanted him to search for a plant (Strophanthus) from which the drug Cortizone could be extracted. I think he did not fully accomplish his mission as he became seriously ill again, needing three operations over two months.

Having fully recovered, physically, he was still feeling depressed at not being able to go on an expedition.
Then the cavalry arrived from America again. A letter from Dr. Robbins Director of the New York Botanic Gardens came. It was an invitation to pick up the baton that he had dropped in 1939. A new expedition.

Before starting he returned to England to convalesce properly and to plan the trip.
He had more health problems, en route in Port Said. Winifred, his sister, made arrangements for him to fly home and be treated at the West London hospital where she worked.
When she saw him she was shocked. She had never seen him so thin and white. Despite post war rationing she managed to fatten him up for five months and then sent him off on his next trip.
However there was one more thing which he had to do first.

While in India Frank had met a young lady named Jean Macklin, (the daughter of a Bombay, high court judge Sir Albert Sortain Romer Macklin.)
She had been speaking with a friend who mentioned he was going to a lunch and meeting the explorer Frank Kingdon-Ward. She replied "Oh lucky you; I wish I could meet an explorer!" So she was invited and was sat next to Frank.
They hit it off straight away and when she went back to England they began a correspodance. This led to their engagement despite the reservations of her family. Frank was considerably older than Jean in fact she was about the same age as his daughters and he was not well off; in fact he was homeless.
He could not possibly offer her the kind of life that most girls of her position would wish for. However he could give her the kind of life she wanted which was one of exploration and adventure.
Jean Rasmussen
Jean Rasmussen
Formerly Jean Kingdon-Ward,
Photo. taken at Hilliers, May 2001

So on 12th November 1947 they were Married in Chelsea, London. Then straight off on their first joint expedition, to Manipur in India. They were accompanied by Dr. S.K. Mukerjee Curator of the Indian Botanical Survey.
They set up base at Ukhrul in a building which they called "Cobweb cottage alias Bug bungalow" which gives you an idea of the quality of accomodation.

Jean was a perfect expedition partner for Frank. She was enthusiastic about exploration but she also proved capable as a plant collector, and she pulled her weight with the chores. In addition she was a qualified stenographer so she typed his books for him which saved a great deal of time. They sent back from this expedition about 1,400 herbarium specimens of about a thousand species including over 250 with seeds. One species was Primula sheriffiae, first found by Major George Sheriff in Bhutan. It was unexpected to find primulas in this area, so for this reason alone it was remarkable.

The success of this expedition resulted in a prebooking for the next year also from the New York botanical gardens and for most of 1949 they were exploring the Mishmi, Khasi and Naga hills.

The 1950 expedition was also booked in advance, by the Royal Horticultural Society. This was to the Lohit gorge on the Assam Tibet border. This expedition was probably the most disasterous of all. At one camp some chickens, which they were keeping (presumably for food) made a break for freedom. A servant, Akkey, thought they were hiding in the grass near the camp so, to flush them out, he intelligently set fire to the scrub. The rest of the party were able to put the fire out before it reached the tents but, of the chickens there was no sign not even of roasted ones. Frank lost his bifocals, permanently, and his binoculars temporarily, and a pony carrying 160 lbs of tea lost its footing on a traverse and plummetted to the bottom of a ravine. A sad blow for the expedition but a sadder blow for the pony.

The porters they started with had drifted away/deserted by April and they were held up in the foothills waiting for replacements.
It took until August to get enough to get started into the mountains. They began preparing on the 8th August to depart on the 14th. By then, the porters said they needed another two days. So on the evening of the 15th Frank wrote an airmail to his sister.
"for four months we were marooned at the bottom of the Lohit gorge, stagnant for lack of coolies"..."all is fixed for a start into the alps tomorrow"... He sealed up the envelope and then the earth moved for him. Literally An earthquake struck.

Frank wrote after the event. "The earthquake was now at its height. Something seemed to be drumming on the floor beneath us with the irresistable force of a steamhammer. A dreadful fear gripped me that the very foundations of the world were giving way, that the crust on which we lay would crumple like an ice floe in a rough sea, and hurl us and everything else into the bottomless pit beneath."
In his sister's biography of him she quotes him, "The mountains round them seemed to be falling into the Lohit gorge. Some of them were literally rent in half; flayed, the forested sides being peeled off like wet paper, the green mountains turned snow white; the vast curtain of dust coloured the sun copper red. For weeks rock avalanches went on; rivers were dammed, and when the dams burst surged forward in tremendous floods.
Earthquake report. On a site about earthquakes through history.

The next day Frank added a post script on the outside of the airmail. "We survived the earthquake 15th august (last night! - it seems years ago!) Rima is nearly flat, mountains all round seem to be falling into the Lohit river. Future uncertain; please read the papers and tell us about it, we could hardly have been at the centre."

In fact the Epicentre was in Tibet a few miles from Rima. It registered 9.6/9.7 on the richter scale and was the biggest earthquake anywhere since siezmic surveying had begun.
If the availability of porters had allowed for the expedition to travel into the mountains at any time between April, and August 14th. Then the likelyhood is that the whole party would have been killed.
As for His sister she had been listening to the radio when she heard two words 'Assam' and 'Earthquake'. She could not have been more worried at any time, even during the war.

After the first main shock there were a series of aftershocks as is the way. The bridge across the Lohit was of course destroyed, and all the passes were blocked by fallen rocks. They were trapped more or less until something changed.
They were short of food, and the water supply was blocked off. The river itself was a swirling torrent of mud, full of silt and dust from the hillside. They caught some dying fish from this which helped, but for water they had to dig to the water table in the paddy fields. A group of Assam soldiers joined them and, as their stores including all their food had been destroyed, Frank's party gave them half of their own short supplies.

Eventually the river level dropped enough for a bridge to be built and they were able to make their way back towards civilization. There were still many rock falls with boulders the size of cars whizzing past but despite all the difficulties they made it back to Sadiya by November. The expedition had been an almost total failure less than fifty species of seeds. He wrote to his backers to ask how much of their money he should return. Dr.J.S.Yeates of the New Zealand rhododendron society wrote to say that he was glad to hear they were alive and well,, and that the back luck was his as well as theirs and he felt sure they had spent the money as intended.

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