No human being could face it. In Smith’s biography of Oates he recreates a diagram of distance and event. On the diagram the actual position on One Ton Depot is marked and the original planned position is also highlighted. It clearly shows that is they had located One Ton in its original position, as recommended by Oates, they would have reached it before Oates death. It is impossible to know how much they were aware of this at the time and whether they had the strength to reflect. But Oates words at the time were that Scott’s decision to place One Ton 30 miles north of the original plan would be regretted and events proved that to be correct. In continuing to reflect on Oates death Huntford sees Scott creating an ‘alibi’ in his journal and even that he interpreted events as he did to create the ‘story-book ending’. Fiennes questions Oates ability to leave the tent or take his opium and sees a high moral code in existence regarding any assistance given to suicide. More happened here than is contained in the notes of Scott and Wilson, but what will forever remain a mystery. They marched well and made some good better daily distances but blizzards moved in to again prevent further progress.
Scott’s Journal 18th March 1912. Scott writes, ‘to-day, lunch, we are 21 miles from the depot. Ill fortune presses, but better may come. We have had more wind and drift from ahead yesterday; had to stop marching; wind N.W., force 4, temp. -35°. No human being could face it, and we are worn out nearly. My right foot has gone, nearly all the toes—two days ago I was proud possessor of best feet. These are the steps of my downfall. Like an ass I mixed a small spoonful of curry powder with my melted pemmican—it gave me violent indigestion. I lay awake and in pain all night; woke and felt done on the march; foot went and I didn’t know it. A very small measure of neglect and have a foot which is not pleasant to contemplate. Bowers takes first place in condition, but there is not much to choose after all. The others are still confident of getting through—or pretend to be—I don’t know! We have the last half fill of oil in our primus and a very small quantity of spirit—this alone between us and thirst. The wind is fair for the moment, and that is perhaps a fact to help. The mileage would have seemed ridiculously small on our outward journey.’
Commentary. Scott now becomes the sick man of the party as they trudge on without Oates. The diagram recreated by Smith is perhaps trying to make a simply point, if Scott had located One Ton in its original position they would have made it there. Proving yet again that Scott was a poor planner and incompetent. But yet again this seems an over simple analysis of a complex and interwoven set of circumstances and even more complex personalities. Scott does not help matters of course, his behaviour and treatment of Oates at the actually location of One Ton was not his greatest of leadership moment. Oates questioned and challenged Scott over the location and Scott replied with references to God and being a gentlemen. A poor reaction by Scott and the eventual failure to reach One Ton may not alone make the locating of this depot an error. Scott wanted to conserve the horses and men for the main push to the pole and this may indicate something happening within him. Scott may have been feeling an increased unease by the competition with Amundsen and he was almost certainly feeling the pressure on reputation and on the funding success dependent on the expedition reaching the pole. Perhaps he, unconsciously perhaps, was making decisions more weighted to getting to the pole than on the return. Not in some overt reckless way but a subtle shifting in his thought. Similar unconscious actions can be present in all leaders, they have such determined energy, passion and vision that other elements of their personal and professional world suffer. Without these attributes the leader becomes just another functionary but with them comes a single mindedness that requires managing. What is the collateral damage of leadership ? The antidote to this is a strong deputy, someone who will challenge the leader, speak the truth however unpopular and be loyal without being reckless. Wilson was loyal to Scott and he played a vital role in smoothing over several members of the expedition upset by events, but was he a good deputy ?. Officially Teddy Evans was second in command but it was Wilson who took the role of trusted aid. Did he tell the truth to Scott ? could he influence him ? did he challenge him enough ? It takes a strong leader to recruit a deputy who will fulfill this role but a strong, honest, challenging relationship between leader and deputy can often be the key interaction within the team.