Homard is the only British soldier to have explored both the Arctic and the Antarctic, and the only serving soldier to travel completely across the Antarctic via the South Pole from coast to coast.
In July of 1952, Queen Elizabeth and Sir Winston Churchill commissioned an exploration to North Greenland to survey unchartered land. A team of less than 30 men from the British Armed Forces as well as the fields of science and medicine volunteered to embark on the trip, diving head first into unknown conditions which they soon found to be treacherous and risky. Tasked to uncover the North Greenland ice cap, the men traveled by a supply ship, tracked vehicles and sleds led by large packs of huskies to conduct seismic and gravitational research. The expedition ended two years later, in August of 1954, with one fatality and a plethora of previously unknown information surrounding the arctic region.
The same year the British North Greenland Expedition (hereby BNGE) took place, watchmaker Tudor had developed the Oyster Prince. Exactly 26 of the Oyster Prince timepieces had been given to the team — one for each member — to aid in the expedition. For Tudor, there were two main important reasons: first, the watchmaker leveraged being the official time recorder of the expedition by marketing the fact in advertisement promotions; second, members of the BNGE logged the performance of their Oyster Princes and returned them to Tudor for its internal records and future R&D.
Tudor’s Oyster Prince now stands as one of the most collectible of the Tudor and Rolex offering. A quick search on eBay shows it on auction from $250 to up to $8,500. But the most important of the Oyster Princes was rediscovered just last year, exactly 60 years after the BNGE: Roy Homard, one of the last surviving members of the expedition, found it in an unsuspected kitchen cabinet in his British countryside home.
Homard got an early start to his career. At age 15, he joined France’s fourth Italian royal battalion tank regiment. That phase of his life was short-lived, however. “[I] was sent home by the secretary of state for being underage,” Homard tells us. But his passion to join the army stayed, and it was during his time being stationed in Germany as an army engineer that he heard about the British army recruiting members to join the BNGE. At age 32, Homard joined the team a year into the mission as a car keeper and engineer. In particular, his job was to maintain the Studebaker Weasel tanks for the seismic survey team, the area of the expedition that was regarded as the most dangerous. “Temperatures varied from 70 degrees to -50 degrees Fahrenheit. I had to change engines out there,” Homard reminisces. “The vehicle work was really dreadful, because you’d have to take your gloves off to fix them in extreme cold. Doing this was an awful business.” To keep warm, Homard and the rest of the BNGE team had to wear six layers of socks and gloves. The army provided all clothing, in kits like “Army Cold Weather Outfit” and “Traditional Polar Outfit.”
If you’re wondering what exactly seismic surveying is, it’s conducting geological research involving vibrations or artificial explosions — in Homard’s case, this meant carrying risky explosives across the slippery surfaces and crevasses of the ice cap. “You had to keep dead quiet, otherwise we wouldn’t get a clear or true reading. But that’s how we knew what height we were at above the land underneath the ice.”
Homard’s Oyster Prince was essential in helping him keep track of time when recording important research results. The timepiece maintained itself throughout all the harsh weather conditions, proving its functionality and durability.
When Homard found it six decades later, he took it to the Rolex Service Center in Kings Hill to repair it. After 20 minutes of deliberation, the repairmen got back to him with something else. “They told me that Tudor would be very interested to learn more about it.” Coincidentally — or by fate — it was also the same time when Tudor was being re-introduced to the UK. Tudor, as a token of appreciation for the return of the original Oyster Prince, gifted Homard the Heritage Ranger, “the spiritual successor” to the OP.
“I am very pleased [that] I am still able to pass something special on to my son,” Homard says.