A Day Off – Time to Reflect. Scott has time to reflect and make a very different and powerful journal entry today, praising his men. At different times in the journals of other expedition members Scott had received equally high praise. Teddy Evan’s, who could be argued to have a reason for resenting Scott, states that ‘no living man could have taken Scott’s place effectively as leader of our expedition – there was none other like him. He was the heart, brain and master’. Many others on the expedition had equally positive and powerful comments to make on Scott, on his drive, his energy and his determination. Shackleton even described Scott as ‘the most daring man he ever knew’. It was not only on the expedition that Scott had strong verbal support. Hooper reports that before setting off on the Terra Nova Major Darwin, of the Royal Geographical Society, was speaking at a farewell lunch for the expedition. Darwin said that there are three great qualities leading to success, ‘experience, the determination to win the prize sought for and absolute confidence between leader and led. Captain Scott had all three’. Darwin concluded by stating that ‘Captain Scott is going to prove once again that the manhood of the nation is not dead, and that the characteristic of our ancestors, who won this great empire, still flourish amongst us’.
Scott’s Journal 8th January 1912. A blizzard strikes the camp after a cold night with a temperature of -25. There was a chance they could have started but it looked obvious to Scott that the weather was getting worse. Snow is falling, drifting and it feels like a barrier blizzard but with less snow. Scott decides to hold up for the day and thinks it may do them good to lie for a day in their warm comfortable bags within their double tent. The snow is not sticking and so does not make it into the tent by being carried in on people and that helps keep clothing and bedding dry. Scott does not want the delay to be too long as the season will continue and food would become an issue. Scott spends time writing about his men. ‘It is impossible to speak too highly of my companions. Each fulfils his office to the party’.
‘Wilson, first as doctor, ever on the lookout to alleviate the small pains and troubles incidental to the work, now as cook, quick, careful and dexterous, ever thinking of some fresh expedient to help the camp life, tough as steel on the traces, never wavering from start to finish’.
‘Evan’s, a giant worker with a really remarkable headpiece. It is only now I realise how much has been due to him. Our ski shoes and crampons have been absolutely indispensable, and if the original ideas were not his, the details of manufacture and design and the good workmanship are his alone. He is responsible for every sledge, every sledge fitting, tents, sleeping bags, harness, and when one cannot recall a single expression of dissatisfaction with any one of these items, it shows what an invaluable assistant he has been’.
‘Little Bowers remains a marvel – he is throughly enjoying himself. I leave all the provision arrangement in his hands, and at all times he knows exactly how we stand, or how each returning party should fare. It has been a complicated business to redistribute stores at various stages of re-organisation, but not one single mistake has been made’.
‘Of these three it is a matter for thought and congratulations that each is sufficiently suited for his own work, but would not be capable of doing that of the others as well as it is done. Each is invaluable. Oates has had his invaluable period with the ponies, now he is a foot slogger and goes hard the whole time, does his share of camp work, and stands the hardship as well as any of us. I would not like to be without him either. So our 5 people are perhaps as happily selected as it is possible to imagine’.
Commentary. Scott is now in his tent for the whole day and has time to write more than usual and what he records is meaningful and powerful, nothing but praise for the men he has selected. The selection of a team by a leader is critical to the success of any task. The leader needs to be strong enough and wise enough to select capable people and team members who are not all in his own image. The good leader needs to create an environment of honest challenge and it is the people he recruits that will generate that environment. I don’t know if that is how Scott is managing the team as we have seen clear examples of people who were not honest and did not challenge him when they should have done. But today’s reflective entry shows a leader looking for the best from the team he has selected. The nature of our modern world draws us into placing a strangely high regard on the negative stories we hear about people. Ten good stories can be wiped out by one critical moment. Scott has made numerous mistakes on the trip, so did Amundsen and Shackleton on their trips. Several men have recorded critical comments about Scott, his cold, arrogant, isolated and private world did not allow many to know him well. Put a short fuse and temper on top of these and you can see how Scott easily becomes a leader that is easy to criticise. Yet many cared fondly for him and showed him loyalty while he was alive and maintained a dignified respect for him after he had died. Scott knows that his journal will become history as he had that experience from his previous expedition. He knows that what he writes about his men will be the story the world will hear. Now the final support team are heading back Scott does not have to constantly seek the weaknesses in his men, the elements that would indicate they should be sent back. Scott has selected his team and will back them completely, he will be loyal to the end.