Regret. In the package of letters that Teddy Evan’s took back with him was one from Oates to his mother. In the letter he apologises that his previous letter was full of grumbles but that he was anxious about the horses. Further in the letter he wrote ‘please remember that when a man is having a hard time he says hard things about other people that he would regret afterwards’. I find it interesting that the last part of the letter is recorded by Fiennes but not in the biography of Oates by Smith. Wilson also handed over a letter to Evan’s to go to his wife. In it he states that all the men are ‘fit and strong’. Wilson, according to the book ‘With Scott in the Antarctic’ by Isobel Williams, makes no comment as to the selection of the 5 to go forward. There is no medical consideration recorded either to declare the men fit or not, only the note sent back to his wife. Wilson is the doctor in the team and yet no consistent documentation on their physical and mental condition is recorded. Wilson accepts fully the decision of Scott.
Scott’s Journal 6th January 1912. They have now reached a height of 10,510 feet and the coldest temperature this day was -25.8. The march ran into difficulty as they came across sastrugi that increased in height as the day went on. Scott remembers a similar experience from his northern march and they took off their ski and pulled on foot. It is heavy going with ice crystals covering every sastrugi. There is no wind today but they only complete 10 miles. A sleeping bag fell off the sledge and they noticed after an hour and went back to find it, losing over an hour of marching time. Scott completes today’s entry with, ‘The sastrugi, I fear, have come to stay and we must be prepared for heavy marching, but in two days I hope to lighten loads with a depot. We are south of Shackleton’s last camp, so I suppose have made the most southerly camp’.
Commentary. I wonder what Scott’s response would have been if Teddy Evan’s had still been with them and the sleeping bag had fallen off his sledge. Scott hardly mentions it today but I sense Evan’s would not have been overlooked in the same way. The note from Oates to his mother explaining his ‘grumpy’ previous letters and asking for some understanding of the difficulties faced by men in such situations is perhaps the most powerful note of the outward journey. It is a call for understanding and a warning not to judge them to quickly or harshly. No one can ever fully understand the situation and context of another and 100 years later we should look on these events by asking better questions rather than developing absolute answers. Only they know the truth of their relationships and no one will ever know how they would have appeared had they made it through. Team members fall out, disagree and reflection, conversation, success and time heal these rifts. These men were not allowed these opportunities and so we are left to judge an unfinished story.