The most expedient way. The last time men on the ice faced such a dilemma was during ‘the worst journey’ march to Cape Crozier to collect penguin eggs. The men on that trip, Cherry-Garrard, Wilson and Bowers, came very close to death. Bowers had talked of ending it and had thought through a scheme using a pick axe. The men survived that trip and two of them, Wilson and Bowers are now with Scott. So close to death and yet they survived, maybe they still thought the same would happen on the barrier. After the Crozier trip Cherry-Garrard notes that,’if you break your leg on the Beardmore you must consider the most expedient way of committing suicide, both for you own sake and that of your companions’. Fiennes reports Oates as stating that ‘a pistol ought to be carried and that if anyone breaks down he should have the privilege of using it’. The men have had opium tablets for over a week and these could easily have replaced axe and pistol. There appears no shortage of realism from Scott’s notes and even Bowers wrote at the end, ‘our sick companions have delayed us till too late in the season which has made us very short of fuel and we are now out of food as well’. Statements of suicide are very different to actions, was the pain to great to bear, was there no hope at all and was it the act of a hero or a coward. That day in the tent must have been awful. Back at base camp Gran described March 16th as ‘the barrier stood boiling and the temperature was around -40’. Oates handed his diary over to Wilson and regretted that he had not written more to his mother, he could not write now as his hands were so bad. Outside the blizzard battered them in their little tent, alone on the vastness of the barrier natures power was destroying the last of mans resolve.
Scott’s Journal 16th March 1912. NO ENTRY
Commentary. Huntford describes a picture of Oates in the tent confiding in Wilson as he had no respect for Scott and that he realised he had been ‘betrayed by incompetent leadership’. We have no way of knowing what was in the minds and hearts of men in pain and who had shared so much together. There may have been moments of kindness, forgiveness and friendship to emotional to record. Huntford also goes onto say of Oates, ‘if only he had not been so mistakenly silent he could have avoided this futile disaster, it was a heavy burden to bear’. Suicide is a straightforward discussion about doing the right thing for comrades when back at base camp, it becomes an issue of lost hope and the crossing of deep moral codes in the reality of the moment. Equally, speaking up is often the answer in hindsight to many poor events, mistakes, bad meetings, communication errors and the making of assumptions in error. It is hierarchy, power gradients, fear, bullying, arrogance, awareness, self doubt and self service that stops people speaking up. The leaders role is to understand the role of power and position and to work to ensure meaningful questions flow up the system. When juniors ask questions or challenge this should be seen by the leader as a gift, they should take time and listen intently. If questions come at difficult or crisis moments the response can still be supportive even if dealt with swiftly. Leadership can be displayed throughout the hierarchy and challenging superiors with an awareness that the response maybe poor, reputation maybe attacked or even job prospects damaged is an example of personal courage, both physical and moral. Creating a culture of questions is one of the priorities of leadership.