Saturday, 14 April 2012

Death on the ice

Just read a great fictionalised account of Scott's Terra Nova expedition to the Antarctic, Death on the Ice by Robert Ryan. An excellent read if naturally tinged with the sadness of the inevitable outcome. I particularly enjoyed the scene setting and background history of Titus Oates the only army representative at the pole.

Scott's wife Kathleen comes across as a fascinating and strong character behind Scott himself. There is a superb recreation of the perilous journey of the Terra Nova from New Zealand to the pole. Quite frankly that journey alone makes heroes out of the team. Overloaded (the Plimsoll line being painted over!) and facing mountainous seas, how they managed to convey all their kit as well as the horse and dogs, is remarkable.

The heat-breaking discovery of being beaten to the pole is told with understatement, as is the final trudge into blizzards of the returning polar party. The end for Scott, Wilson and Bowers is told with a brevity that somehow leaves one wanting more, but of course the final hours are inevitable conjecture with only Scott's diary and final letters to go on.

The interspersing of actual quotes form journal diaries and letters works well. Despite having read a number of related non fiction books, this added to my appreciation of what these men accomplished, and left me  humbled at the stoicism and patriotism of men from the Great War generation who seem a different breed from Englishmen of today. Our 'heroes' are sportsmen and women, pop stars and movie stars, Simon Cowell and Strictly dancers....don't get me going.
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