Thursday, 30 September 2010

“To Strive, To Seek, To Find, And Not To Yield” Heroes :- The Men Of The Terra Nova Expedition – The Polar Party

Like my last hero you may not have heard of the Terra Nova expedition, but you probably have heard of Robert Falcon Scott as his name is seared into British history as one of the grate figures of heroic failure.

Scott and his companions died on their way back from the South Pole having been beaten to their goal by Roald Amundsen by a matter of weeks. When they died they had been man hauling sledges weighing up to 700lbs for five months covering a distance of about 1600 miles climbing from sea level to the Great Antarctic Plateau at a height of 9300ft via the crevassed and broken jumble of the Beardmore Glacier then thought to be the biggest in the world. Such a test of endurance against adversity is heroic in itself but this is overshadowed by the story of the events as they made their way home.

There journey back is vividly told in Scott’s posthumously recovered diaries where the set backs and disasters of the return march are confronted with a determination to keep going against adversity oven though deep down he could tell he was doomed.

The story is given added tragedy by the fact that starved, frozen, and dehydrated they died less then nine miles from a supply depot trapped in their tent for seven days by an atrocious blizzard.

There are more stories of heroism here; would you leave a man to die if in doing so you would probably save your life? The polar party was a team of five men, Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Oates, and Evans. Soon after the return journey started Evans weakened drastically; frostbitten and with an injured hand he could barely walk never mind help pull the sledge. Progress became slower and slower as they struggled down the Beardmore glacier but they refused to leave him behind even though they knew they could never get him home. Evans died at the foot of the glacier allowing the remaining man to push on with renewed speed

But there is more Oates had been walking for days on feet that were little more than lumps of ice, swollen and frostbitten, suffering in silence and refusing to shirk his part of the work. When finally he was forced to revel his injury to the others because he too could hardly walk they again refused to leave a man who was now little more than dead weight. They struggled on with Oates making much smaller distances than necessary to reach their depot’s of supplies.

One night after setting up camp, Oates realising he was dragging is friends to there doom walked out in to a blizzard with words that have gone down in history for heroic self sacrifice “I’m just going outside; I may be gone some time”. He was never seen again.

One of the things I most admire about the British Expeditions to the south is they had such a vigorous scientific programme, many of the members were scientists and although the achievement of the pole was a very important target it was only a part of the goals of the expedition. Amundson came for the Pole which he got, The Terra Nova Expedition despite the tragedy returned with volumes of survey data, meteorological and oceanographic data, and catalogues of new species, in the end only one of these achievements is of true lasting value to humanity.

When found the polar party were still carrying 30lb of geological samples from the heart of Antarctica, useless dead weight to be hauled by men who knew they had to move faster or die but who clung on to the belief that exploration is about knowledge not just the destination. This is the last reason the Terra Nova team are heroes of mine.

“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”

The parties epitaph the last line from Tennyson’s Ulysses carved into the memorial cross erected on Observation Hill overlooking Hut Point, McMurdo Sound Antarctica.

1 comment:

  1. Nicely summed up, Jonathan! Touching story.
    I didn't even know the background of Oates' famous word.