Near the end. The proposed journey to One Ton Depot by Bowers and Wilson never took place and neither did the ‘die in our tracks’ march. The three men are now camped 11 miles from One Ton. They would not move forward from this point, they would now remain wrapped in their sleeping bags. Why they decided to stay in the tent and not perish in their tracks is a question explored by many of the polar authors and, as with so much of the story of this expedition, the words of Scott alone don’t answer all the questions being asked. The gap is usually filled with guesswork, some with related evidence or previous examples and some seem to appear completely randomly. For example Fiennes states that if the weather had given even the slightest chance and Bowers was fit he may have gone on alone to One Ton. While loyal to Scott Bowers was capable of breaking that strong connection with Scott if the situation called for it and Fiennes gives an example from the previous summer of such an occasion. Huntford offers the image of Scott persuading Bowers and Wilson to lie down and die with him in the tent, this way their journals and letters would be found as dying on the march would greatly reduce the chance of their bodies being found. Scott does mention that he is hopeful that his journal will be found so their story can be told, there does not seem to be any evidence to suggest that this was the rationale for staying put. Stay put they did. They now have no fuel, hardly any food and therefore very little water. There would be no need to venture outside and the three men would hold up in their sleeping bags writing their final words.
Scott’s Journal 23rd March 1912. Scott writes, ‘blizzard bad as ever—Wilson and Bowers unable to start—tomorrow last chance—no fuel and only one or two of food left—must be near the end. Have decided it shall be natural—we shall march for the depot with or without our effects and die in our tracks.’
Commentary. It is quite easy to understand why the telling of this story creates such differing opinions. Because they died on the ice the only evidence of what happened is contained in letters and journals. Experience from other adventures, and especially that of the Great War, alerts writers to a sense that the gritty reality may be somewhat different to letters to loved ones and personal diaries that are written for publication. But it is the extreme of discussion which is fascinating about those who write about this expedition. Staying in the tent 11 miles from One Ton Depot brings a significant clash between Fiennes and Huntford. Fiennes is convinced the weather and their weakening condition has forced them to halt at this point while Huntford pounces on his belief that Scott was an incompetent who had ‘bungled’ the expedition, was dying in the snow when he could have reached One Ton if he had listened to others and placed it further south, he was a poor leader who had brought the disaster on himself and will now suffer ‘retribution for his sins’. In the middle of this is Scott who has gone from hero to villan over the last 100 years. The lesson for leaders is clear, be careful of evaluation. When things are going well and praise is heaped on you from everywhere be mindful and remember that really, your not that good. Equally, when the world falls upon you, when every remark is a hurtful criticism remember that really, your not that bad. Perhaps Fiennes and Huntford are both correct and whatever the truth is Scott is certainly a complex character leading a challenging expedition with a diverse team in almost lab conditions. A wonderful study of teamwork and leadership.