Captain Scott

I have a friend who loves walking to the South Pole. I have asked him to kill me if I ever start talking about joining him; as he was in the SAS that shouldn't be difficult. I could think of nothing worse: the mind-numbing boredom of the hundreds of miles of the featureless Ross Ice shelf, the sheet ice and crevasses of the Beardmore glacier and then the unutterable tedium of the polar plateau with its hurricane force headwinds for six hundred miles. Someone else I know who has been to the North Pole twice says it is much more 'fun': icequakes, polar bears and melting ice floes. I prefer my discomforts a bit warmer.

But I do understand my Antarctic friend's obsession with Shackleton and Scott. The more I read about them and their fellow polar explorers the more there is to admire:scientific endeavour, hardiness and self sacrifice. They embody the ideal of a British Empire that, at its worst, was brutal, greedy and patronising. The mid-winter expedition to Cape Crozier to collect Emperor Penguin eggs, so horrifically described by Apsley Cherry-Garrard in The Worst Journey in the World, is a tale of such quixotic heroism as to begger belief. Cherry-Garrard's two companions and friends on that journey, Wilson and Bowers, died with Scott and it was he who found their bodies the following year.

Wilson, Bowers and Cherry-Garrard: the privations of their journey on their faces

Scott's final diary entries movingly sum up this spirit. “We are weak, writing is difficult, but for my own sake I do not regret this journey, which has shown that Englishmen can endure hardships, help one another, and meet death with as great a fortitude as ever in the past.”. On the centenary of his death these stoic qualities are now outshining his well-documented weaknesses - and deservedly so.

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