First off, a big thank you to all the friends who have given me words of encouragement and support. Many thanks also for your contributions and donations to MENCAP!
As final prep, I spent Monday afternoon at the Robert Scott South Pole exhibition at the Natural History Museum in Kensington. Highly recommended!
For those not familiar with the story, 100 years ago, Robert Scott (British navy) and Roald Amundsen (Norwegian polar explorer), were in a race to be the first men to reach the South Pole. As Scott described simply in his expedition prospectus: The purpose of the expedition is to reach the South Pole, and to secure for the British Empire the honour of this achievement. Simply stated and simpler times, but lofty aims. Things that we can all resonate with still nowadays.
As history would have it, Amundsen was the winner then, reaching the South Pole in Dec 1911: the following photograph shows them happy after their success.
For Scott however, his team arrived at the pole a month later in Jan 1912 bitterly disappointed at being beaten to the prize. Even worse was that on the home ward journey, their team of 5 all froze to death, as they had run out of food, being stopped by extreme bad weather only 20km from their food cache. The only thing to commemorate them was the following snow cairn, erected by the search party from base-camp that could only retrieve their diaries and belongings 6 months later, when summer broke in the Antarctic.
The British party left no man behind, dragging along their sick and wounded even when they were running short on food. In similar spirit, one of their wounded members, Titus Oates, who suffered from bad frost-bite sacrificed himself when he walked out barefoot into a blizzard, so that he would not be a hindrance to the team. His parting words were “I am just going outside and may be some time.”
This spirit of the Scott exhibition reminds me of a quote I once read by a British sergeant – Our officers are there to show us how to die. This was not meant unkindly, but descriptive of the nobility and perseverance even in the face of extreme privation, which Scott’s expedition fully captures. I wondered whether Titus’ action was merely a gesture – too little too late, and if he had done it earlier, it would have changed their overall chances of success. But given the solidarity in the team, I believe that if there was still a glimmer of hope, the rest would certainly not have allowed him to sacrifice himself. Talk about team-work.
Today I had the chance to see the Norwegian point of view at the Fram museum. It houses the ship (Fram) that Amundsen used to explore the North and South pole regions. Their story was one of thorough preparation (living years with the Eskimos), discriminating team selection (champion skier), good strategy (sled dogs for locomotion) and above all, a single-minded pursuit of one goal.
It is hard not to compare the two expeditions, seeing that they had the same goals but such different outcomes. Having seen both the British and Norwegian exhibits, I think that the wikipedia entry is pretty accurate.However, from experience with MBA case-studies, I’m careful of drawing simple conclusions in hind-sight. It would be easy to say that one team was ill-prepared, but it could also be argued that Scott, with his flair for writing, and tragic end had a greater impact than Amundsen (MBA moral – marketing is more important than actual product quality). After all, for every Honda Case A story, there is always a revisionist Honda Case B. And anyway, these points are moot – these men have passed on, it was just a question of when.
What is not in doubt however, is that they made a wager and were willing to stake their lives on the outcome. They spent years preparing for the expedition, and to their minds, made what seemed like the best choices at that point in time. They both gambled – one survived, one failed.
The sheer human effort that the Scott team made in dragging their sledge is unbelievable. Unfortunately, despite the material science wizardry that people like Mr. Dow and Mr. Gore (Tex) have come up with over the years, modern polar travel is still a very similar enterprise nowadays.
One thing is for certain – with Scott as an examples of fortitude, if one faces conditions that are less challenging, there can be no excuse to quit. Similarly, with an example of dedication like Amundsen, unless one puts in the same amount of effort, there can be no excuses in the event of failure.
Things to think about.
Last post for a while, chat with everyone when back.