The ways in which Scott and Shackleton explored the Polar Regions is moribund. Even the manner in which Randolph Fiennes manhandled all his kit across Antarctica need no longer be the modus operandi. Whilst even his odyssey to the South Pole is remarkable in terms of endurance and tenacity, it lacked the one ingredient that continues to make Scott’s and Shackleton’s attempts enduring: no Plan B.
Robert Falcon Scott was to die on the 29th March 1912 in his heroic attempt to become the first person to reach the South Pole. Amundsen, using dog sleds instead of manhandling their equipment, had beaten them to it. The only solace and consolation was to return with their samples which was the ostensible reason for the trip. Reaching the Pole first was pure bravado, vanity and for the glory of the British Empire.
Main picture: Robert Falcon Scott in full Polar regalia
On the way back with rations restricted due to the slower pace, the five man team were inexorably starving to death. Close to death, the final iniquity was a raging snow storm which prevented their movement. With a lack of internal fuel reserves or wood for a fire, they were unable to get warm.
With frostbitten toes and body in distress, Oates so as not to encumber his friends in their vain attempt to reach the next supply base, One Ton Depot, valiantly crawled out of the tent without his shoes on. Scott recorded his last words as “I am just going outside and may be some time”.
Oates’ valiant attempt not to be a burden on the other came to naught. It was in vain. With the blizzard unrelenting and supplies exhausted, they used their failing strength to write their last letters to their loved ones. In Scott’s case, he wrote an open letter to the British public.
Then, overcome by drowsiness, the remaining men inexorably slipped peacefully into an eternal sleep.
A fierce nationalistic spirit was aroused in Britain. Robert Falcon Scott – known as Con to his wife Kathleen – became a national hero.
For me, the most poignant aspect was a poem composed by a British youth, Mary Steel who wrote a heart-felt unfeigned verse which ended as follows:
Though naught but a simple cross
Now marks those heroes’ grave,
Their names will live forever!
Oh England, Land of the Brave!
If one is lucky enough to be doing the Antarctic cruise in another 275 years, one might catch a glimpse of Scott’s tent as it, encrusted in Artic ice, breaks off and becomes part of an iceberg wandering about the Ross Sea.
I salute Scott and his intrepid men.
Scott might have been beaten to the South Pole but it is not Amundsen who is remembered but Scott.
The story of their pluck and bravery resonances in a world devoid of genuine heroes,
Today of course it is much easier than that. One can book a cruise to the Antarctic or canoe down the Yukon River in Alaska.
Contrast the photos above with the ease with which one is able to explore the Polar Regions nowadays.