Panic. The absence of a days biscuit ration is described by Scott as a ‘panic’ while Huntford states Wilson saw it as a ‘discussion’. Perhaps it was the role that Wilson played as loyal deputy to Scott that sees him record this event as less dramatic. As the storeman Bowers is upset at the event. Huntford sees this as quite a moment, more so than other writers, and not in terms of what impact a days lost supplies would have but more on the impact on the relationship between the men. Evans is the only rating and, according to Huntford, to see the officers in such disarray was poor behaviour and bad for morale. They are now moving down the Beardmore Glazier and Wilson collects a few rock samples to take back. Meanwhile Teddy Evans, Crean and Lashly have another hard day and Lashly makes quite an impactful entry in his diary when referring to Teddy Evans, ‘we have got to help him in and out of the tent but we have consulted on the matter and he is determined to go to the last, which we know is not far off’.
Scott’s Journal 7th February 1912. There was ‘panic’ this morning as they discover that the biscuit box is short by a days ration, ‘great doubt as to how this has come about, as we certainly haven’t over issued allowances. Bowers is dreadfully disturbed about it’. They are at the end of the summit journey the altitude is falling and the temperature is climbing. They have a tough day travelling down slopes with hard sastrugi, ‘very tiresome work’. They can see land but even through all the effort Scott recalls that it ‘didn’t seem to come any nearer’. They made better progress after a lunch of hot tea and good food and very quickly found their depot. Scott finds a note from Teddy Evans and calculates that they are travelling faster than the return party. Scott concludes his entry, ‘Well we have come through our 7 weeks ice camp journey and most of us are fit, but I think another week might have had a very bad effect on PO Evans, who is going steadily downhill. It is satisfactory to recall that these facts give absolute proof of both expeditions having reached the pole and placed the question of priority beyond discussion’.
Commentary. In the appendix there is a reference to the dispute between Cook and Perry as to who reached the North Pole and Scott’s declaration about both expeditions reaching the pole is an interesting note to perhaps secure achievement and legacy. When Scott finds the note from Teddy Evans he seems pleased that his team have made faster progress. It seems a strange reaction, if that is how he responded, as on reading my first concern was for the slow progress of the others. They are a three man team and doubts have persisted that the spilt to three and five man teams was a mistake. Maybe Scott doesn’t respond with concern because there wasn’t any, and the three man team worry is a post expedition concern rather than an in the moment reality, as Fiennes argues. Huntford makes a lot out of the reaction of Scott to the low number of biscuits, perhaps more than other writers do. Later in his journal Scott’s words become some of the most powerful ever written but upto this point there has been a shortage of emotion and descriptions of the social and human interactions that can be seen in the diaries of others. So for Scott to record the biscuits issue with the word ‘panic’ I think indicates this was more than a factual event, mistake or a change in the situation. How the leader responds in moments of stress or change are significant far beyond the words shared. Team members may forget exactly what words were used, how they were said or even the event itself but it is hard to forget how you were made to feel by the leader who responds poorly. Handling moments that matter in a way that creates opportunity is the purpose of leadership. The leader should be aware of how they handle testing moments and if mistakes in behaviour are made then swift action should be taken, it is not weak leadership to apologise. Contrast how Lashly has recorded the group having a discussion about the condition of Teddy Evans and an agreement on going forward. That type of conversation is rarely recorded by Scott, they may well have happened but you get a sense that the continuing deterioration in all the men is happening in isolation. It must have been a difficult conversation for Lashly, Crean and Evans and I wonder if difficult conversations were being had between Scott & Wilson and maybe between Bowers and Oates, how should they respond to a deteriorating Evans ?