Beautiful day – Too beautiful. As Scott and the men continue their struggle the supply of fuel is lower than expected. This is of grave concern and at some moments forces the men to eat cold food and not to drink as much water as they need. Why they are low on fuel becomes another of the contributing factors and the ongoing discussion around the whole expedition story. Fiennes explores the issue and suggests several reasons, a poor seal that leaked could be one reason or the position of the cans in the depot – if they were deep in ice they may be fine but on the top exposed to heat may have fuel evaporate. The men taking out supplies noticed that some rations were covered in fuel and this may indicate damage in transit or failure of the soldered seals. Other notes in the diaries of the men tell the story of eating biscuits that smelt of fuel. The current cans of metal lids on leather washers was Scotts choice after fuel had leaked from cork tops on The Discovery expedition. Over 50 years after the expedition a fuel can used by Amundsen was found and it was full of fuel. The case for multifactorial complications is strong but the most important test was carried out by Cherry-Garrard. A case of cans stored at Cape Evans were uncovered and it was found that some were full, some half full and some empty. Cherry-Garrad believed it to be the shrinking and cracking of the leather washer dependent on temperature. As well as fuel at this depot they dug up ‘Christopher’, the horse that had given them so much trouble, Oates records in his diary, ‘picked up the depot and dug up Christopher for food but it was rotten’. It was the last found entry of Oates into his diary, his frozen foot is getting worse and gangrene had set in.
Scott’s Journal 24th February 1912. ‘Beautiful day—too beautiful—an hour after starting loose ice crystals spoiling surface’. They were in for some tough surfaces again but did come across the depot. All was in order except that the fuel had less in than anticipated. Scott acknowledges that they will have to be ‘verysaving with fuel’. They now have 10 days of supplies. They came across notes from the other teams that had come through and they all report a bad surface. Scott comments on one of the notes, ‘short note from Evans, not very cheerful, saying surface bad, temperature high. Think he must have been a little anxious’. There is a huge difference in temperatures now and the temperature at night was -17. Wilson was suffering agin from snowblindness and they are ‘a little despondent again…’ and Scott concludes his entry ‘it really will be a bad business if we are to have this pulling all through. I don’t know what to think, but the rapid closing of the season is ominous. It is great luck having the horsemeat to add to our ration. To-night we have had a real fine ‘hoosh.’ It is a race between the season and hard conditions and our fitness and good food’.
Commentary. The last part of Scott’s journal entry sums up where they find themselves. It will be a combination of fitness, food and the time of the season that will see them through or not, the people, the resources and the environment. This creates the great untold story of leadership. The myth perpetuates that leadership is the answer, now what’s the question. Whether Scott is the greatest leader ever with purpose, motivation, communication skills, passion, care for his men, creativity and clam humility under pressure his success may be out of his control. There must be many people with great leadership qualities that we have never heard of because resources and environment had the upper hand. The discussion could continue that the great leader would not find themself in such a situation, that the work done before hand to prepare is important and of course all that is true. But I hold to my position, many people with great leadership ability have come and gone without us noticing them as resource and environment had the power in that particular situation. What good leadership will achieve is success in situations of low resource and hostile environment but good leadership itself is not a guarantee of success.