Scott 100 : Finding the men

Finding the men. Scott, Wilson and Bowers joined their fallen comrades Titus Oates and Edgar Evans, the three men lie in the tent while the wind and snow continue to batter their ice tomb. The raging that continued outside must have been very different to the stillness of the inside of their tent. But the rest of the continent wasn’t still, several expeditions bedded down for the winter, Campbell established an effective survival routine while Atkinson and the men at Cape Evans waited for the winter to pass certain in the knowledge that their friends and colleagues were now lost.

Smith describes the atmosphere at Cape Evans as being very different to the previous winter, of course subdued, locked in an Antarctic winter knowing the truth of their comrades end and perhaps imagining the awfullness of that end. There seems to be numerous comments suggesting the popular conclusion during that dark winter was that they fell into a crevasse and maybe this is an easier thought to hold onto, thinking the unthinkable may have been too difficult for men who called the dead their friends. That these men wasted away slowly, starving, cold and in agony was too possibly too much to bear. According to Smith Atkinson had a different style of leadership to Scott, ‘in his own quiet, unassuming manner, Atkinson proved an effective commander’. Organising with a ‘light touch’ and ‘asking’ for things to be done rather than ‘issuing orders’. Smith is attempting to compare leadership styles but the context is so very different it is hard to make such comparisons. While the winter preparations continued and the routine of science and survival bedded in Atkinson called the men together, what were they to do when the sun came back. Scott was certainly dead but Campbell could still be alive, what should they do ? Atkinson consulted the men, 12 of them voted to search for Scott and one abstained. Cherry-Garrard describes it as, ‘were we to forsake men who might be alive to look for those whom we knew were dead’. It seems a strange decision but Atkinson was limited is what he knew, the Terra Nova may have already picked up Campbell and their biggest risk was surviving the winter which no one could not help with now. The number of men needed to head south meant that two marches could not be undertaken and if Campbell had survived they would be able to march back to the camp. The decision was made, south they would go. Marching south may not uncover the bodies of the men but Scott had a habit of leaving notes at depots and if they found these they may yet be able to tell his story.

On October 29th 1912 the men left Cape Evan and headed south, they were well provisioned and new horses and dogs had arrived the previous summer onboard Terra Nova. Atkinson had the men eat onions to prevent scurvy. The party reached One Ton Depot on November 11th, they quickly realised that Scott had not made it this far and they also discovered that one of the fuel cans had leaked. They continued south and the following day, Wright was navigating ahead of the group and suddenly veered off to investigate an unusual feature. As he got closer he realised it was the top of a tent, almost completely covered with snow but there it was. Atkinson ordered camp to be made while the tent was dug out. They cleared the tent of snow and entered. Huntford describes Atkinson going in and then asking each member of the team to enter and view what was present so that there would be no dispute about what was found. Many of the men shed tears as they viewed a well put up and organised tent in which lay their three friends. The published account of Scott’s journal describes the discovery as, ‘Wilson and Bowers were found in the attitude of sleep, their sleeping-bags closed over their heads as they would naturally close them. Scott died later. He had thrown back the flaps of his sleeping-bag and opened his coat. The little wallet containing the three notebooks was under his shoulders and his arm flung across Wilson.’ From the diary of Cherry-Garrard comes, ‘we have found them – to say it has been a ghastly day cannot express it – it is too bad for words.’ Wilson and Bowers were secure in their bags, Scott’s skin was yellow and covered in frostbite, Gran noted, ‘it was a horrid sight… it was clear he had had a very hard last few minutes’. Atkinson collected the diaries and set about reading them, later he shared with the men the whole story. Smith describes the moment when it was certain that Amundsen had made it to the pole first, Tom Crean stood and reached out and shook the hand of the Norwegian Gran, congratulating him on reaching the pole first, both men were in tears. Atkinson collected the notebooks, watches and personal items and they collapsed the tent and buried it under the snow with skis as a cross to mark the spot. Words were said and hymns sung and then they headed further south to try and find the body of Titus Oates. They managed to find a sleeping bag left on one of the old snow walls that had been built to protect the horses but never found Titus. They stopped their search, built a cairn, made a cross and left a note, ‘Hereabouts died a very gallant gentleman, Captain L E G Oates of the Inniskilling Dragoons. In March 1912 returning from the Pole, he walked willingly to his death in a blizzard to try and save his comrades beset with hardship. This note is left by the relief expedition of 1912’. They collected the diaries and rock samples, turned north and headed home.

The dog teams were the first to arrive back at Cape Evans on the 25th November to the glorious news that Campbell’s party had survived the winter in their ice cave and added yet a further heroic journey to the many on this expedition by walking back safely to Cape Evans. The rest of the search party returned safely and on the 18th January 1913 the Terra Nova sailed back into McMurdo Sound ready to collect the men. Teddy Evan was onboard after making a full recovery from his scurvy. Evans used a megaphone to shout to the men on shore, but he was greeted by silence. Then Victor Campbell shouted back, ‘The Southern Party reached the pole on January 18th last year but were all lost on the return journey – we have their records.’ Over the next few days preparation to leave were made and the ships carpenter made a cross which the men dragged upto Observation Hill as a lasting memorial to the men who had died. The cross remains there to this day with the names of the dead and a quote from Tennyson, ‘To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield’. The men packed their things, boarded Terra Nova and sailed away. On the 9th February 1913 Terra Nova sighted land and within a few days the world would know the fate of Captain Robert Falcon Scott.

About hutpoint

Interested in leadership, teamwork, resistance, perseverence and change. A former senior nurse dedicated to learning from and sharing with other flawed humans.
This entry was posted in bowers, evans, oates, scott, Uncategorized, wilson and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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