Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

MARCH 17th

On this day in history in 1880, was born Lawrence Oates.
On this day in history in 1912, died Lawrence Oates.

Oates was a soldier and explorer who accompanied Scott on his ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. Oates was born in London and educated at Eton. He joined the dragoons where he saw service in India, Egypt and South Africa. He was grievously wounded in the Boer War but made a phenomenal recovery.

In 1910, Oates volunteered to join Robert Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic. Scott was hoping to lead a British party, which would be the first to reach the South Pole. Oates was selected to deal with the ponies on account of his military experience with horses.

The expedition was arranged hurriedly as a rival Norwegian party was due to set off in competition to reach the Pole first. Scott and his companions set off from Hut Point and reached the Beardmore Glacier, which was to be their base camp. Oates was included in the five-man party to go to the Pole. From here, the group moved south towards the Pole, which they reached on 17th January 1912, only to find the Norwegian flag there, signifying that the Norwegian, Amundsen, had arrived ahead of them.  

On the return journey, the group faced appalling weather conditions. Their progress was further hampered by Oates’ war wound, aggravated by scurvy, which slowed the whole party. On the 17th March 1912, when the group were taking shelter from a blizzard, Oates, realising that he was a burden on the rest, walked out of the tent to his inevitable death. His famous last words were “I am just going out. I might be some time.”

Sadly Oates’ heroic gesture was futile. The rest of the party perished before reaching base camp. The team’s bodies and Scott’s diaries, recalling all these events, were discovered later in 1912. A cairn was erected over their remains, marking their last resting place. In the 1970s, this cairn was swallowed up by the ocean.

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