The Greatest Handicap. In Smith’s biography of Oates there is concern that the man sent out to One Ton to support the polar party was the wrong choice, Cherry-Garrad was unable to navigate and with no experience with dogs. The argument is that if this was a Norwegian team, such as Amundsen’s, the men would be dog experts and would make faster time killing dogs to feed the others. Skills and resources are criticised as not being fit for a rescue mission, but both Atkinson and Cherry-Garrard repeat several times that this was not a rescue attempt, the polar party were not dependent on the dogs for safety and that the dogs were not to be risked. Perhaps it’s not as much the wrong men, resources and skills as the wrong mission. Smith sees Atkinson as not being use to leadership and of obeying orders rather than using his initiative. Smith describes Cherry-Garrard as being ‘fearful’ of Scott’s orders. On this day Cherry-Garrard and Gerof packed up their belongings, turned the sledge northward and left One Ton Depot and headed back to the main camp. Cherry-Garrard’s decisions would stay with him for the rest of his life. He would return and spend the winter at Cape Evans and be part of the search party the following year. Bowers and Wilson were extremely close friends as the three of them had survived the winter journey last year. History would inform Cherry-Garrard that as he waited in his tent and eventually turned north his friends were south of One Ton struggling and dying on the ice and that on the day he turned northward it became certain that Oates was not going to survive.
Scott’s Journal 10th March 1912. Scott’s entry, ‘things steadily downhill. Oates’ foot worse. He has rare pluck and must know that he can never get through. He asked Wilson if he had a chance this morning, and of course Bill had to say he didn’t know. In point of fact he has none. Apart from him, if he went under now, I doubt whether we could get through. With great care we might have a dog’s chance, but no more. The weather conditions are awful, and our gear gets steadily more icy and difficult to manage. At the same time of course poor Titus is the greatest handicap. He keeps us waiting in the morning until we have partly lost the warming effect of our good breakfast, when the only wise policy is to be up and away at once; again at lunch. Poor chap! it is too pathetic to watch him; one cannot but try to cheer him up. Yesterday we marched up the depot, Mt. Hooper. Cold comfort. Shortage on our allowance all round. I don’t know that anyone is to blame. The dogs which would have been our salvation have evidently failed. Meares had a bad trip home I suppose. This morning it was calm when we breakfasted, but the wind came from W.N.W. as we broke camp. It rapidly grew in strength. After travelling for half an hour I saw that none of us could go on facing such conditions. We were forced to camp and are spending the rest of the day in a comfortless blizzard camp, wind quite foul.’
Commentary. Some of Scott’s original notes are omitted from the published book today. When referring to Meares and the dogs Scott added ‘it is a miserable jumble’ and when he highlights that no one is to blame he added ‘but generosity and thoughtfulness have not been abundant’. The language of Scott contains hopelessness and anger. This may well be directed at himself, he may be seeing flaws in his plan or small changes that he now wishes he would have made. For Scott the truth no longer matters. He may well be believing that his orders had flexibility, that ‘generosity and thoughtfulness’ were attributes within the expedition team and that it was obvious that others should use their initiative. The truth no longer matters for Atkinson or for Cherry-Garrard, Scott’s orders were clear, his message could still be heard. Science is an important element of the trip, don’t risk the dogs, we don’t need help to get back and work will be undertaken next summer. That’s their truth and even though a bigger truth was looming out on the ice it was never going to trump Scott’s lasting presence. The men of the expedition were selfless, brave, resourceful, energetic, determined, robust and the men of the polar party were exceptional – but it wasn’t enough. There is something contained in this element of the story which tells us a great deal about their relationship with Scott. The men obeyed orders rather than use initiative, why ? Teams are made up of individuals and care and attention is required to ensure the group works as a team. Assembling more and more talented individuals does not guarantee success and in fact can often hide the real difficulties that are present. The success of teams is a balance of the needs of the individual, the team and the task. The success of leadership is a balance of relationships. A vital relationship is the one between obeying orders without question and that of asking questions that generate better orders. The leader should encourage questions and thinking and in this situation Scott has been absent for over 4 months, he must be aware he has little influence over the unknown and unplanned. Cherry-Garrard is described as being ‘fearful’ and fearful followers do not provide the leader with what they need to make good decisions. It is common for facts to flow up the chain of command but when questions flow up the leader makes better decisions. The greatest handicap the leader faces is the fear that they have put in their people. It leads to a ‘miserable jumble’ of low initiative, omissions, poor relationship, sub groups and a lack of trust.