War Council ...

By 30 January 1911 the Depot Laying Expedition had reached its third camp, now atop the Ross Sea Ice Shelf. Nicknamed "Safety Camp", they had reached 77'55" lat. But the previous days' optimism regarding the horses had given way to despair, melting along with the warmer temperatures and softening surface, into which the ponies thin legs were post-holing, causing them to wallow helplessly in the slush. This was, Scott recorded, a "great shock." (Journals, p. 112, Carroll & Graf [1996]). Considering the slow progress this was imposing on the depot journey, Scott called a "war council" at which he explained his decision to scale back the effort, including smaller loads and aiming less far out towards the pole.

The going was so poor that Lawrence Oates, the animal handler, objected to the continued use of the ponies to bring the rest of the Depot Laying Expedition supplies up onto the Ice Shelf. The mention of Oates in Scott's journal entry for 30 January 1911 is propitious. Known as the "Solider" because of his regular service in the British Army, Oates had done duty at the turn of the last century in British-occupied Egypt. For all the scorn heaped on Scott's hubristic and ill-fated attempt on the pole, at least it can be said that he could harm no one but himself and his volunteers. The same cannot be said of England's bloody imperial adventures around the world, exemplified by Oates' and the Dragoons' tours in Egypt. Surely the dramatic events in Egypt of the last week of January 2011 carry the echoes - faint though they may be - of Africa's unhappy submission to European powers. I wonder if the world would have been a better place - still might be a better place - if all the nations' great ambitions and lust for prominence were poured out in (ultimately) senseless struggles like Scott's as opposed to more costly efforts. For tonight, I am hopeful that Egypt might at last be shrugging off the last tattered remnants of her colonial history, moving towards authentic self-determination, and peace.