Some books stay with you long after you turn the last page . . .
Working in Dundee (when permitted!) means that just about every day I get to gaze at the RRS Discovery.
Dundee has an amazing maritime history. For me, it’s a joy reading and learning about all the heroic and devastating polar expeditions over the years.
One of the most famous, yet tragic, of those was the Terra Nova Expedition (officially known as the British Antarctic Expedition), which took place between 1910 and 1913.
Devastating, fascinating and strangely uplifting
Captain Robert Falcon Scott led his men on what was to be a scientifically significant journey to be the first to reach the geographic South Pole.
While we’re aware of the heroics of Captain Ernest Shackleton and his crew during the later, daring Endurance expedition, Scott’s own attempt seemed to be doomed from the start.
The whole story is told in “The Worst Journey In The World” by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, the youngest member of Scott’s team.
Written in 1922 at the behest of his neighbour, George Bernard Shaw, Cherry-Garrard’s account is at once devastating, fascinating and strangely uplifting.
The phrase “the worst journey in the world” refers to was the trail to Cape Crozier.
He set off along this route, accompanied by Edward Wilson and Henry Bowers, to obtain an unhatched Emperor Penguin egg.
This was to be studied back in Britain to look for an evolutionary link between birds and dinosaurs. The epic walk saw the men survive temperatures of between -40 and -70 degrees Celsius.
They retrieved the egg, and made their way back to base, where the next challenge awaited.
The next challenge
On November 1, 1911, Cherry-Garrard set off with the team that would make the attempt on the South Pole. Three supporting parties of men, dogs and horses joined them.
On 22 December, Scott sent Cherry-Garrard and the second supporting party home. He arrived back at base on 26 January 1912.
And if the worst, or best, happens, and Death comes for you in the snow, he comes disguised as Sleep, and you greet him rather as a welcome friend than a gruesome foe.
As we now know, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen beat Scott and his men to the Pole by 34 days.
On November 12, a team found the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers in their tent. They lay with their diaries and records, and geological specimens they had hauled back from the mountains of the interior.
The might of the human spirit
Cherry-Garrard’s experience deeply affected him. Particularly the deaths of Wilson and Bowers, with whom he had made the journey to Cape Crozier.
The thing that strikes you about this account is just how dedicated and decent the men were.
Faced with torturous conditions and a knowledge that many of them wouldn’t get home alive, their overwhelming sense of duty and dedication is breath-taking.
The men made the best of what they had, and always looked out for each other.
The might of the human spirit here is both humbling and inspiring.
It not an easy read.
Cherry-Garrard obviously suffered severe mental health issue on his return, and could never get over the loss of his friends.
But for an example of the absolute best of human endeavour, it’s a must-read.
Click here to buy “The Worst Journey In The World” today.
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