Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Captain Oates' Last Walk

"Captain Lawrence Edward Grace "Titus" Oates was an English cavalry officer with the 6th Dragoons, and later an Antarctic explorer, who died during the Terra Nova Expedition/ Lieutenant Henry Robertson "Birdie" Bowers was one of the polar party on the ill-fated expedition. Bowers was born 29 July, 1883 in Greenock, Scotland."

"On 16 January 1912, as Scott's party neared the Pole, it was Bowers who first spotted a black flag left at a camp made by Roald Amundsen's polar party over a month previously. They knew then that they had been beaten in the race to be first to the South Pole. On 18 January, they arrived at the South Pole to find a tent left behind by Amundsen's party at their Polheim camp; inside, a dated note informed them that Amundsen had reached the Pole on 14 December 1911, beating Scott's party by 35 days."

There wasn’t much he could see ahead of himself. It was cold and it was unclear and that was his future; he had never been more certain of anything in his life.
Before he’d set off, things had been good, probably better than good. They’d spent time, all of them, together on the west coast. A small Scottish town called Greenock, the birthplace of Birdie Bowers.

They’d got drunk, had punch ups with the locals, but most of all they had bonded. Perhaps that was why he was doing what he was doing, perhaps only God knew the answer to that question.

The beautiful River Clyde, had been spectacular on that last day. The sun had been setting behind Helensburgh and he could see the Arrochar Alps as the ship turned to head towards the Irish Sea.

What a life it had been; a life of laughter and a few tears but always full of adventure. Always on the edge, always completely alive. He felt the toes on his left leg grow cold.

It was hard to breathe but then nothing that was worthwhile was ever won easy. Life was hard but friends, companionship, and family took that particular sting away. That made it all worthwhile; love and adventure was everything.

I suppose, he thought, that he could have done things differently and not ended up here, not ended up in this predicament - but then, the ending should never over shadow the living of a life.

He’d never settled for what had been given to him. He could have lived comfortably and gone to his grave, relatively unmarked and unremarkable.
Yet, that was not what his heart was satisfied with. He’d had to climb the highest, run the fastest, jump the longest. That was the way he had been set to live in this universe and there had been no going back.

There was a price for everything - if his life had taught him anything, it had taught him that. He’d paid for his life of movement and achievement by never finding a place to belong. It did bother him, everyone should belong somewhere. He looked up at the little number of the stars he could see and wondered if one day a man would stand on the moon and look back at Earth and feel homesick. That was the best he could do – say that this planet was his home.

He was dying from the inside out and yet he felt more peaceful than he had ever done before. There would be something, he was sure of it, on the other side.

He started to smile, he had no idea why, but suddenly his life seemed simpler than it had ever been. What he was doing seemed natural, the right thing, perhaps it had all been leading up to this point.

He thought of the lies he had told all of them as he left. He hadn’t believed it and neither should they. But there were things that were better left unsaid, unspoken. Those things were shouting the loudest in the silence. He loved them all, that was the only reason he was walking in this direction.

He had written letters to those who mattered and one day they would find them. He wondered if he’d ever be found, ever be seen again, ever be held by a warm hand.

The coughing made him lose his breath and he bent down. Soon the pain would all go. Soon it would only be sleep. Soon it would all be over.
The wind was picking up and he pulled the woolen hat down over his ears. There was a whistling in the wind and he was sure he could hear choirs. Maybe there were angels after all, or maybe it was the cold and hunger.

Not long now, he could feel his time coming. He had to do this. There was no room in the tent for all of them to survive. So he’d crawled out, turned to the rest and said:
“I’m going outside and I may be some time.”

And this is where he was going to rest, and at least he’d got to stand on the South Pole.

He thought of his sister and he whispered, ‘goodbye’ and of his time in Putney.
He said ‘thank you’ on his frost-bitten lips and then his heart stopped.

bobby stevenson 2017

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