God Help Us. God help Oates ! Huntford described Oates as suffering from frostbite, gangrene, cold and the break down of an old wound, ‘what he suffered can only be imagined’. Oates had become silent and non of his old humour was present. Huntford explores this moment in terms of the chronology that got them there and the options that now faced them. Oates had clearly stated that no man should be a burden to his companions and that a pistol should be carried and “if anyone breaks down he should have the privilege to use it”. Huntford also wonders what Oates thought at this time about his interactions with Scott the leader, of course there is the position of One Ton but other clashes had forged their relationship. The use and care of the horses become the purpose of many interactions between them and this paved the way for thoughts and considerations on other elements of the expedition. Huntford also states that Oates had been ordered to the pole against his wishes and this may refer to the reports of Oates complaints ascending the Beardmore. Fiennes points out that none of these stories were recorded at the time and became a narrative generated by the survivors after the expedition was safe home. These two men now shared a tent in the worst of conditions and Huntford describes Scott staring at Oates ‘with the unspoken expectation of the supreme sacrifice’. Smith believes that it is not difficult to imagine Oates’ feelings, ‘as he huddled in the freezing tent opposite Scott, a man he detested and whose blundering leadership now threatened his life’.
Scott’s Journal 5th March 1912. Scott opens todays entry by stating, ‘regret to say going from bad to worse’. They are now eating their pemmican ‘solid with the chill off’ with a cup of tea or cocoa. Scott notes that they ‘pretend to prefer the pemmican this way’. The fuel is low and Oates is really struggling, ‘poor Soldier nearly done’. Scott is frustrated that they cannot help Oates. The cold is effecting them all but Wilson the most as his ‘self-sacrificing devotion in doctoring Oates’ feet’ takes it out of him. Scott notes that they ‘cannot help each other, each has enough to do to take care of himself’. The cheerfulness in the tent continues. Scott’s entry concludes, ‘we get cold on the march when the trudging is heavy, and the wind pierces our warm garments. The others, all of them, are unendingly cheerful when in the tent. We mean to see the game through with a proper spirit, but it’s tough work to be pulling harder than we ever pulled in our lives for long hours, and to feel that the progress is so slow. One can only say ‘God help us!’ and plod on our weary way, cold and very miserable, though outwardly cheerful. We talk of all sorts of subjects in the tent, not much of food now, since we decided to take the risk of running a full ration. We simply couldn’t go hungry at this time’.
Commentary. I find it fascinating when reading the numerous authors on the subject that at this point in the story some very clear team dynamics are explored. These men are now fighting for their lives and yet we are asked to picture Oates, close to death, still brooding over previous clashes with Scott. We cannot be certain what was in Oates’ or Scott’s mind at this time but the notion that common team dynamics still play out even in crisis moments is compelling. From the start being part of this huge expedition must have been an intense experience for all and yet common human needs and desires still exist. There will be a need to be included, accepted and respected and there will be different tribes within the overall group. The sailors, the scientists, the officers, the ratings and even further divisions that will be known but undeclared, politics, religion, attitudes and so many more. There is also an unknown in terms of the final objective and make up of the final pole team so the balance between collaboration and competition may well be fine. Within all this Scott positions himself as a leaders with a particular style. If we look at the relationship between Oates and Scott concerning the horses there is some disingenuous moments which may have played out very differently. Oates was concerned at the state of the horses from the moment he saw them and we learn in later correspondence to his wife that Scott was also concerned the first time he saw them in New Zealand. Yet the way this plays out is that Oates raises his concerns to Scott who responds by building up the horses and dismissing Oates concerns. Scott may have thought he needed to play the role of the positive leader, exuding confidence and being strong with Oates. They are what they are and your role is to get them fit for the job ! In his journal Scott praises Oates’ work with the horses and believes that he does a magnificent job in doing just that. It could be that Scott as the leader achieved the task, but at what cost to his relationship with Oates ? Could there have been a different approach taken ? could Scott have been more open with Oates, shared his concerns, asked for his help and praised him in public more ? That does not seem to be his style. The impact on Oates is that he feels he is not being listened too and that his expertise is not being utilised. When viewed rationally this does not seem logical, mature or sensible but it is the life blood that flows through team members. Being in a team is complex and very often behaviours appear self destructive and immature. There will be debate about who said what to whom, because memories will fail the test of accuracy, but Oates will not forget how Scott has made him feel and so the picture of two proud and brooding men sat in a cold tent on the barrier may well be true.