In his heyday, Ben Hodges could alter a husky’s course by a degree or two simply by adjusting the sound of his voice.
The son of a miner, who travelled from Sheffield to Antarctica in search of adventure, perfected the fine art of looking after a dog team during years spent working in the frozen landscape of Earth’s southernmost continent.
His skills, and contribution to British science and exploration, took him into the history books. A piece of the Antarctic coastline, Hodges Point, is named after him, and he was officially recognised by the Queen, who awarded him the Polar Medal.
The esteemed veteran, who has died aged 80, was also given the Fuchs Medal from explorer Sir Vivian Fuchs, for providing transport in hazardous conditions for the British Antarctic Survey.
Ben, then 24, made the decision to give up his life as a South Yorkshire steeplejack and steel erector in 1960, leaving the family home on City Road to sail 62 degrees south to Deception Island.
He had responded to a job advert to build one of the first aircraft hangars in Antarctica. It was supposed to be a six-month contract, but four years on, Ben was still there.
“It was the landscape, the extremes of weather, the camaraderie and the wildlife,” Ben once told the Sheffield Telegraph.
“You could visit a penguin colony with 200,000 birds nesting. There’s nowhere else like it.”
After finishing the hangar, Ben applied to be a dog driver, travelling to Stonington Island, well inside the Antarctic Circle, to take on responsibility for 45 huskies throughout 1963-64.
Conditions were often perilous. Three years later, after he returned to Sheffield, all the dogs were dead, with another team and two drivers, lost in a blizzard.
Ben continued his links with the Antarctic for around 30 years, and in the 1990s was responsible for restoring some of the old huts now visited by thousands of tourists every year.
He met the continent’s last dog teams, who worked their final shift in 1994 before they were replaced by skidoos and aeroplanes, and travelled to South Georgia after retirement to help build a whaling museum.
Around the Broomhall home he shared with wife Cathy, Ben kept dozens of books about the polar region, as well as framed photos of Dot, his husky team’s canine leader.
Geophysicist Peter Kennett, from Ecclesall, who sledged with Ben on the Larsen Ice Shelf for four months as part of a six-man team, said his former colleague was ‘highly respected by all who knew him, for his dependability, cheerfulness and skills in the field’.
Ben, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four years ago, died on January 19. He is survived by Cathy and their daughter, Helen.
A thanksgiving service celebrating his life was to be held at St John’s Church, Ranmoor, today (Thursday) at 2.15pm, with donations to the Alzheimer’s Society.