” All the day dreams must go; it will be a wearisome return.”
These words you may know, were spoken by Scott on his last fatal journey to the Antarctic. Having endured unspeakable hardships, ill-equipped in my opinion, and certainly by todays standards for a trip to the outer Hebrides in a mild winter never mind the South Pole, I wondered most of the way through the book whatever they had been thinking of ! In 1911 they apparently wore Burberry, I suppose some precursor of the famous mac and actually believed that ponies from the russian steppes could survive in blinding blizzards and drag heavy sledges over frozen glaciers in temperatures of up to -65 °. Of course they shot the exhausted ponies dying of cold and hunger and fed them to the dogs which one would have thought they would have privileged as means of transportation in the first place.I mean they even chose the wrong dogs. Hadn’t they heard of Huskies?
The real hero for me was Titus Oates. Returning from the pole where they had been pipped at the post by the Norwegians who had sensibly built themselves a brand new steam ship for the difficult voyage through the southern ocean and who had judiciously chosen another shorter route, with suitable dogs I might add, it was seaman Evans who died first.Suffering over successive marches, in agony from rotting frostbitten and swollen feet with scurvy most likely attacking his legs as well. They had never heard of vitamins apparently in 1912 and even their diet had been all wrong not to mention inadequate. Scott seems to have told him to ‘sort himself out’ because he was having trouble with his boots and holding them up on the march. Desperately staggering a few hard-earned miles a day, short of fuel, a race between life and death his impatience may be understandable .Evans had been still on his feet, trying to march beside the sledge but they went on without him. When they eventually went back for him he was lying face down in the snow barely conscious. They tried to nurse him in the tent but they knew he would not make it. The party stayed with him for two hours after his death and then left him at the foot of the glacier.
Oates, who throughout to me had seemed the most heroic of men, never faltering even before the most arduous difficulties remaining resolute throughout, so strong, even thriving on the immensity of the tasks they continually had to face, had already endured intense suffering for weeks. I loved the man. They shared out eight opium tablets between them when they realized they would never get through. In agony without complaint he refused to take that option. His famous line, sometimes attributed to Scott himself ‘ I am just going outside, I may be gone for a while’ were his last words before he left the tent never to return.
Cherry Garrard Owns Up.
The youngest member of the party and last survivor Cherry Garrard looks back on what he admits to be the tragedy of that expedition in his book The Worst Journey in the World. Tragedy, he says was not our business. Comparing it with the comparative ease of Amundsen’s success with no loss of life he gives an accounting for it with admirable honesty. Read the book but let me quote you his summing up; “I tell you” he writes, ” If you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression go out and explore,”
Some, he explains will tell you that you are mad but most will ask what’s the use? So, he says, “you will sledge alone but if you march on your winter journey you will have your reward, as long as all you want is a penguins egg.”