On 17th January 1912 Captain Robert Scott of the Royal Navy reached the South Pole. On his arrival he discovered that his Norwegian rival Amundsen had made it a month earlier, claiming the title of first man to set foot on the southern most place on earth.
This event became one of the most heroic quintessentially British feats, because Scotts failure to reach the Pole first was transformed by tragedy and his diary into a gripping story. The tired, hungry and defeated British team turned from the Pole after their brief visit on 17th January to attempt the journey back.
They encountered atrocious conditions. They finally had to stay in their tents on the Ross Ice Shelf because the weather was sp bad and they were so weak. One of Scotts last deeds was to write the memorable words of his ??Message to the public??:
??I do not think human beings ever came through such a month as we have come through??.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??
When Apsley Cherry-Garrard found the three frozen corpses of the Pole team in their tent on the Ross Ice Shelf in the November of 1912 he discovered the diary. Its publication gripped the imaginations of Edwardian Britain, making the brave adventurers instant heroes.
Because their suffering had been so intense and Scotts prose was so arresting in a way they became more heroic than the successful Amundsen who had proved the superior tactician in fighting the elements.
Subsequent research has suggested that Scotts team were likely to fail because they did not eat enough to sustain them in their battle with the cold and snow, a problem compounded by the inadequacy of their clothing and the difficulties of their transport.
There is something very British ?? or as Scott would have said, very English ?? about the heroic failure of this memorable expedition. The resilience in the face of adversity, the philosophical approach to danger and death, the wish to achieve the improbable if not the impossible are all part of that unconquerable spirit which has led to the triumphs of our islands story. This is one of several examples of how glorious and tragic failure are better remembered than the glittering successes ?? it ranks alongside the Charge of Light Brigade and the much larger and strategically much more important retreat from Dunkirk in the folk memory.