Captain Oates leaves the tent
The 17th of March 1912 AD
Captain Lawrence Oates, often referred to by his nickname Titus, was one of the five men in the party making the final push to the South Pole in Scott’s fateful expedition. Old Etonian veteran of the Boer War proposed for a Victoria Cross , his experience handling horses was the ostensible reason for his inclusion in the expedition, his bravery and strength of character likewise though his contribution of £1000 perhaps tipped things in his favour.
Frequently at loggerheads with Scott , the soldier found his naval chief self-centred and a poor organiser. Scott chose ponies as more manly and fitting to the endeavour than the more practical option of dogs, and the ponies he secured according to Oates were crocks. Oates himself was something of a crock having been shot in the thigh in March 1901 in South Africa, leaving him with one leg an inch shorter than the other.
On the return trek, having on January 17 found Amundsen had beaten them to the Pole, Oates became lame with frostbite. Like the rest he was malnourished and suffering from scurvy which may have caused his old wound to open. He had already asked to be left in his sleeping bag to die, knowing he was slowing progress and endangering his companions. On March 17, his 32nd birthday, having woken from a sleep in which he had hoped to die, Lawrence Oates told the three other explorers remaining: “I am just going outside and may be some time,” as Scott recorded in his diary. ‘Titus’ left the tent to walk to his death in a blizzard, his selflessness now part of our national story. Sadly his sacrifice was in vain: all his fellows died before reaching safety; Scott the last on March 29 .
A museum in Selborne, Hampshire , includes various exhibits relating to Oates’s life.
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