Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Journey Back

The return trip started out fairly well but the weather would inevitably become more severe and there was no incentive of being the first to reach the pole to cheer them and spur them onwards. Scott wrote on the 21st of January "Oates is feeling the cold and fatigue more than most of us" and on the 23rd of January "Wilson suddenly discovered Evans nose was frostbitten - it was white and hard. There is no doubt that Evans is a good deal run down".

By the 24th the first note of serious apprehension entered into Scott's diary entries:
"This is the second full gale since we left the pole. I don't like the look of it. Is the weather breaking up? If so God help us, with the tremendous journey and scanty food".

The men were becoming tired now and injuries were increasing, Wilson suffered snow-blindness, Oates had frostbitten feet. Frostbite also affected Evans' fingers and nose. They had many falls, Scott damaging his shoulder in one. Evans had a bad fall on the 4th of February suffering concussion - he was never to really recover.

They became lost at one point while descending the Beardmore glacier and had a nightmarish two days in badly crevassed and broken ice not knowing in which direction to head and becoming more despondent. They were down to their last meal and unable to find the food depot until at the last they did so. "It was an immense relief and we were soon in possession of our three and a half days food. The relief to all is inexpressible.......... Yesterday was the worst experience of the trip and gave a horrid feeling of insecurity".

February 16th - "Evans has nearly broken down in brain, we think". The next day he started reasonably well but soon left his sledge traces to walk alongside. He fell further and further back and was soon out of sight. By lunchtime the others went back to find him. He was on his knees, clothing disarranged, hands uncovered and frostbitten and with a "wild look in his eyes". He was placed onto a sledge and taken to the camp they had set up, he was comatose by the time he was placed in the tent. He died quietly at 12.30 a.m.

The weather continued to be against them, particularly intense cold down to -40°C and the surface bad beyond their worst fears. On March 5th Scott records "Oates' feet are in a wretched condition... The poor soldier is very nearly done." Despite the cold and awful surfaces Oates kept going attended to by Wilson the doctor, but on March the 16th he proposed that his companions leave him in his sleeping bag and continue themselves. A request they could not grant and induced him to join the afternoon march when they made a few extra miles. He was worse that night and went to sleep hoping not to wake, he did wake however to find a blizzard blowing. His last words were "I am just going outside and may be some time." He walked out to his death so that he would no longer be a burden to his friends who themselves were in worsening physical condition. His feet had been so bad and the process of putting his boots on so painful that he didn't go through this torture and walked out to his death in his socks.

"We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman. We all hope to meet the end with a similar spirit and assuredly the end is not far."

The last camp was made on March 19th only 11 miles from the next depot. They woke on the 20th to another raging blizzard. Scott was suffering badly from a frostbitten foot and Wilson and Bowers were to go to the depot for fuel. By the 22nd they still had not been able to set off, the blizzard was as bad as ever. They never left this final camp having run out of food and fuel, eventually being too weak, cold and hungry to attempt the march. On the 29th of March 1912 Scott made his last diary entry;

"Since the 21st we have had a continuous gale from W.S.W. and S.W. We had fuel to make two cups of tea apiece and bare food for two days on the 20th. Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker of course, and the end cannot be far.

It seems a pity but I do not think I can write more."

The tent and the three frozen bodies were not discovered until nearly 8 months later on November 12th that year. A great cairn of ice was raised over their bodies surmounted by a cross made from skis, a sledge was stood on one end in a smaller cairn nearby.

A search was made for Captain Oates' body, but it was never found, only his discarded sleeping bag, cut open for much of the length to enable him to enter it with badly frostbitten feet.
A cairn was placed at the scene of the search with a note that began "Hereabouts died a very gallant gentleman...."

Later at hut point a cross was erected to the memory of :

Lieutenant H. R. Bowers
Petty officer Edgar "Taff" Evans
Captain L. E. G. Oates
Captain R. F. Scott
Dr. E. A. Wilson

Scott's Cross ta

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