Captain Lawrence Oates sacrificed his life so that others could live- even if that self-sacrifice turned out to be ultimately futile. Oates was originally a British cavalry officer from a wealthy landed family. In 1910 after leaving the army, Oates applied to join Captian Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova expedition to the Antarctic. Scott accepted him because of his experience with horses, which were used to pull the teams’ supply sleds. His ability to finance the expedition also played a part in his selection.
But the hardened ex-soldiers approach impressed Scott who eventually selected Oates as one of the final men to travel the last leg of the journey to the South Pole. The team reached their destination in January 1912- only to find Roald Amundsen, the Norweigan explorer had beaten them to it 35 days earlier. Defeated, the five men began to make their way back to base camp. But their progress was slowed by bad weather, diminishing supplies and ill health.
Edgar Evans died on February 17th of a head injury. Meanwhile, Oates was in a bad way. “Oates’ feet are in a wretched condition..” wrote Scott in his diary on March 5th, 1912. “The poor soldier is very nearly done.” Oates knew he was slowing his team, and so risking their lives. But despite his pleas, they refused to desert him. So, on March 17th, his 32nd birthday, Oates, riddled with gangrene and frostbite, walked outside into a blizzard and temperatures of -40 degrees Fahrenheit with the last words “‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’
The rest of the party knew this was no simple walk but a sacrifice. In the end, it was a sacrifice in vain. Three days later, the three remaining members of the party, Scott, Wilson, and Bowers were trapped in their tent by a severe blizzard- eleven miles short of the food depot that could have saved their lives. Rescuers discovered their bodies on November 12, 1912. But Captain Oates’s body was never found.