A Brit a Day [#706]

Today’s Brit is a true hero, a newly discovered hero to me, who furthered science, literature, and the human spirit considerably.  He is Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a member of Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition to Antarctica from 1910 to 1913.  The end of this month marks the 100th anniversary of the tragic end to Scott’s quest for the South Pole–all 5 of the party who trekked to the pole died on the return journey from cold, starvation and exhaustion.  Cherry-Garrard was not among them and, hence, lived to tell the tale in the form of his wonderful book, ‘The Worst Journey in the World.’  Twenty-something Cherry survived Antarctica, but he was haunted by the loss of his close friends for the rest of his life.  In a world that had not yet recognized nor labelled conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Survivor’s Guilt, Cherry suffered tremendously from depression. One can only hope that he found catharsis in writing–his book is so thorough, so thoughtful and descriptive, it is known as the definitive account of that expedition, and as such makes a perfectly annotated companion to Scott’s own words, his journal, published as ‘Scott’s Last Expedition’ which Cherry quotes at length.

One hundred years ago today, Scott’s party returning from the Pole were already pretty certain that they would not survive–we know this from their diaries.  But the men who waited for them at the main camp did not know this with any certainty at all.  They undertook a search for what they then knew would be their remains 10 months later when the winter weather broke.  Reading Cherry’s description of that sad mission is evocative enough to make you feel like you are there–and possesses the spirituality to make you feel like Cherry is there holding your hand.

Next up on my reading list:  Sarah Wheeler’s biography of Apsley Cherry-Garrard.

A Brit a Day [#692]

I just finished reading Beryl Bainbridge’s novel, The Birthday Boys, an account of Robert Falcon Scott’s tragic march to the South Pole told in turns from the point of view of the five men who died there.  Here is an excerpt from the final section, the words of Captain Titus Oates as Bainbridge imagines them–

And of course that black flag told them that Roald Amundsen and his party of Norwegian explorers had beaten them to the Pole.

The photo of Scott in his Antarctic expedition hut can be opened in another window and examined for incredible detail.  My god, you can almost smell the penguins!

By the by, Beryl Bainbridge was an incredibly talented but unsung author.  She died last year at only 77 of cancer.  Send up some love to her spirit some time by reading one of her books, this one for example, or perhaps An Awfully Big Adventure.