Scott 100 Day 108 17th February 1912 : A Terrible Day

A Terrible Day. Oates had previously committed his concerns over Evans to his diary and his thoughts on the impossibility of getting him home if things did not improve. The men knew the desperate position they found themselves in, low on food and time against them, they needed to keep moving. Today Evans struggles and in unhitched from the sledge and told by Scott to come on as ‘quickly’ as he could while the others pulled ahead. Evans collapses, is dragged back to the tent comatosed and died that night. Scott’s diary tells the story but it is Barczewski and Huntford who mention the unmentionable. Huntford asks if there was an unconscious effort to abandon Evans while Barczewski describes the others as being distressed yet his quick death ‘released them from a terrible dilemma’. Willimas (With Scott in the Antarctic) sums up the physical situation very well and tracks the deterioration back for some weeks but also comments on the lack of understanding shown by the others, even Wilson was less than sympathetic.

Scott’s Journal 17th February 1912. ‘A very terrible day. Evans looked a little better after a good sleep, and declared, as he always did, that he was quite well’. Throughout the day Evans would fall back, have difficulty with his equipment and the others would wait. Scott ‘cautioned’ Evans to ‘to come on as quickly as he could’. There was snow on the surface making pulling hard but Scott states they needed to ‘push on’. Scott, Bowers, Oates and Wilson stopped for lunch, they prepared and ate their meal and still Evans had not caught up with them. Scott describes the scene, ‘By this time we were alarmed, and all four started back on ski. I was first to reach the poor man and shocked at his appearance; he was on his knees with clothing disarranged, hands uncovered and frostbitten, and a wild look in his eyes. Asked what was the matter, he replied with a slow speech that he didn’t know, but thought he must have fainted. We got him on his feet, but after two or three steps he sank down again. He showed every sign of complete collapse. Wilson, Bowers, and I went back for the sledge, whilst Oates remained with him. When we returned he was practically unconscious, and when we got him into the tent quite comatose. He died quietly at 12.30 A.M. On discussing the symptoms we think he began to get weaker just before we reached the Pole, and that his downward path was accelerated first by the shock of his frostbitten fingers, and later by falls during rough travelling on the glacier, further by his loss of all confidence in himself. Wilson thinks it certain he must have injured his brain by a fall. It is a terrible thing to lose a companion in this way, but calm reflection shows that there could not have been a better ending to the terrible anxieties of the past week. Discussion of the situation at lunch yesterday shows us what a desperate pass we were in with a sick man on our hands at such a distance from home’.

Commentary. The reasons for Evans deterioration have been well explored, lack of food, exhaustion, scurvy and injury. The generous application of science places Evans as a weak injured, possibly diseased, man who suffered a head injury which caused changes in performance and attitude. The more unsavory description has a class war being acted out on the ice. Evans was liable to suffer mental degradation in a way not experience by the others simply because of his social position. The picture presented is of the three military officers and the god fearing scientist sitting in the tent having lunch while Evans struggles alone on the ice. My thoughts are that they have not been released from the ‘terrible dilemma’ described by Barczewski but that they have faced the moment and whether implicit or explicit the unrecorded and possibly unconscious plan was made and agreed. They needed to march, eat and march again if they were to survive, each man knew this and they would press on regardless. These men have been on the ice for a long time, tired, cold, undernourished, anxious and fearful. That lunch must have been a sickening experience for them, they were doing what needed to be done to survive but deeper thoughts and emotions must have ran wild in the men. Commonly understood and explicit in the actions of all military officers was the care and attention of their men, see to them first and then yourself. With Wilson’s strong faith the reality of them all sat in the tent eating while Evans is outside would not have happened without some change in their mindset. Then the moment came when they could have packed up the tent and marched on, but they looked back and acted. Perhaps they just could not go through with the unconscious group thought of marching on. Did they all look back ? did someone break ranks and speak ? The internal struggles of the men at that moment must have been unimaginable, but the signs had been there for some time. Scott’s diary, and some comments from the others, had slight undertones of an anger building up towards Evans as his behaviour changes, he was not his usual self and statements of disappointment are the external signs of stress and anxiety. There have been some elements of denial for quite a while as they hoped the next day would be better, by luck or by divine intervention. Then, what makes them look back rather then march on, compassion, duty, guilt, reputation or courage ?. These men are perhaps some of the strongest, toughest, relentless, resilient, hardy and bold ever to have been assembled into a team, yet their behaviour resembles that of any team. No teams matches the text book definition and they are not usually fixed by the team building away day, because often they are not broken, they are what they are for a reason. Blame, anger, competition, jealousy, status and infighting are components of the team and need to be acknowledged and understood while still accepting that there are secrets that remain undeclared. This presents the leader with a massive component of their role, and possibility the most significant, decrease denial and increase trust to keep aligned all the many many interpersonal moments and secrets of team life.

About hutpoint

Interested in leadership, teamwork, resistance, perseverence and change. A former senior nurse dedicated to learning from and sharing with other flawed humans.
This entry was posted in bowers, evans, oates, scott, Uncategorized, wilson and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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