Noël Marshall (1954)

Crossing the Antarctic Circle - Noel Marshall is third from left

‘Just to stand on that historic strip of barren shore, wedged between cliff and offshore island, with the surf growling on both sides, was an emotional experience.’

Noël Marshall (1934-2008) never forgot his time at St John’s. He read Economics and Law and made the most of the opportunities that a Cambridge education offers. He was elected President of the Cambridge Union Society in 1957, and in the same year was awarded the Sir Joseph Larmor Award, an honour given to St John’s students who are considered to be the best all-rounders in their year.

Whilst at St John’s, Noël was inspired by the examples of polar explorers Colin Bertram, his tutor, and James Wordie, then Master of the College, and in later life he followed in his heroes’ footsteps. After a successful career in the Diplomatic Service enjoying senior postings in Europe and the Soviet bloc, in retirement Noël had time to enjoy his twin passions of sailing and exploration. After crewing for others for many years, he bought his own boat and named her Sadko, after the hero of a Russian folk tale who travels to magical lands. Noël circumnavigated the globe in Sadko between 1994 and 1997, winning numerous sailing awards, including the Challenge Cup and the Lacey trophy.

In 2006, at the age of 72, he journeyed to the Antarctic Peninsula and to Elephant Island in a new Sadko, a 13-metre cutter. The voyage was in homage to James Wordie and the other survivors of Shackleton’s 1916 expedition in the Endurance, and Mr Marshall took with him a bronze plaque in commemoration of their achievement. He wrote about the voyage and the feelings it evoked in the Johnian News of Michaelmas 2007: ‘Just to stand on that historic strip of barren shore, wedged between cliff and offshore island, with the surf growling on both sides, was an emotional experience.' It was Mr Marshall’s last voyage and an immense achievement, for which he won the Royal Cruising Club’s Challenge Cup, its highest award.

The terms of the Antarctic Treaty prevented Noël from leaving the commemorative plaque in situ. It was photographed at Point Wild on the plinth of the Chilean Memorial to Captain Pardoe of the Cutter Yelcho, which rescued the Shackleton expedition survivors. The Furness Glacier provides an awe-inspiring backdrop to the photograph. The plaque will find a fitting home at St John’s, where, in accordance with Noël’s wishes, it will be displayed in the College Library.

Noël died of cancer in 2008, not long after his return from the Antarctic. At the end of his life, he remembered his time at St John’s and its formative influence, and made a generous provision of £500,000 in his will for the College. He will be remembered not only for his great generosity, but also for the example he gave of a courageous life, well-lived.

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