Misgivings. As Scott, Wilson, Oates and Bowers struggle north Cherry-Garrard and Dimitri are having their own difficulties heading south, both parties see One Ton Depot as key to success. In Cherry-Garrard books he writes of setting off, ‘I confess I had my misgivings. I had never driven one dog let alone a team of them: I knew nothing of navigation and One Ton was 130 miles away…. I felt there was a good deal to be hoped for rather than expected’. On the first day out Dimitri and his team led the way and they covered over 30 miles, the second day they made 18 miles and while visibility and temperature was against them the surface was good for dogs and sledges. For Scott the temperature really plunges and the wind that picks up cuts into their skin. Soloman identifies this time period as being critical, the temperatures fall and now stay low, an unusually cold spell for this time of the season. Wilson made a calm entry in his diary describing the weather and the march, it was to be his last. Williams sees the moment as hugely significant as Wilson was a man who had kept a diary all his life. Huntford refers to it as the moment Wilson could no longer face his thoughts on the tragic situation they now found themselves in. Their bodies are suffering, fuel is low and the weather is worsening.
Scott’s Journal 27th February 1912. Scott starts, ‘desperately cold last night: -33° when we got up, with -37° minimum. Some suffering from cold feet, but all got good rest’. They often talk of food as a group, although not after eating. The temperature is cold but they have made better progress. Scott is praying for no further set backs and they discuss the possibility of meeting the dogs. Scott describes their situation as ‘critical’ and the next depot may bring safety ‘but there is a horrid element of doubt’. They are 31 miles away from the next depot and with 6 days food, but only enough fuel for 3 days. Scott plans to increase food ration tomorrow.
Commentary. In Huntfords telling of the story Scott and Meares fell out over the best way to use the dogs to support the party, Fiennes is not sure of the falling out but what is clear is that Meares (the expeditions dog expert) is heading home on the Terra Nova, he would clearly have been the man to head south. As others in the party had other roles it fell to Cherry-Garrard to make his way south. A man who had endured ‘the worst winter’, manhauled for most of the season and was no expert in navigation or dogs. There was a great deal of specialist skills in the overall team but in the moment they were needed those skills were not available to be deployed. It may not have made any difference as Cherry-Garrard was well served by Dimitri and they managed to follow the trail to One Ton but the warning to leaders is there. What is the balance of specialist skill and generic ability in the team ? Does it serve the team at its best and also at its weakest ? Did Scott have some plan to balance this, all men on the ice to be proficient on ski, half of all men to be able to drive dogs, half of all men to be able to navigate – to what standard would they be required to reach and what is the role of the specialist in training others ? What was Scott’s plan ? The other question to ask in seeking consistency of performance is that of replacement, if anyone is not present (by injury in this example but for any reason) does the team have a plan for replacement within the resources they have ? The notion of skill mix is complex for the leader, the specialist will defend expert knowledge while the generic team will seek reassurance in what they already know and do. But asking difficult questions is the function of leadership. I also wonder what the approach to the current dilemma was. Crean had made it back in relatively good shape, no scurvy and walking the last 18 miles alone while Teddy Evans was near death when he was found. Was the team at Cape Evans expecting the best, a polar party in the same condition as Tom Crean or the worst with all of them resembling the terrible state of Teddy Evans ?