About Lawrence Edward Grace "Titus" Oates
Captain Lawrence Edward Grace ("Titus") Oates (17 March 1880 – 17 March 1912) was an English Cavalry officer with the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons, and later on in his life an Antarctic explorer, who died during the Terra Nova Expedition. Oates, afflicted with gangrene and frostbite, walked from his tent into a blizzard. His death is seen as an act of self-sacrifice when, aware his ill health was compromising his three companions' chances of survival, he chose certain death.
Oates was born in Putney, London, England in 1880, the son of William and Caroline Oates. His family was wealthy and ancient, having had land at Gestingthorpe, Essex, for centuries. His father moved there when his children were small. He had one sister, a year older than himself, named Lillian, who married the Irish baritone and actor Frederick Ranalow. His uncle was the naturalist and African explorer Frank Oates. Oates lived in Putney from 1885–91, from the ages of 5 to 11 at 263 Upper Richmond Road. He was one of the first pupils to attend the Willington Prep School around the corner in Colinette Road. He was further educated at Eton College which he left after less than two years owing to ill health. He then attended an army "crammer" school, South Lynn School, Eastbourne.
In 1898, Oates was commissioned into the 3rd (Militia) Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment. He saw military service during the Second Boer War as a junior officer in the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons under the command of Major Brooke Southwell Greville, having been transferred to that regiment in 1900. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1902, then to Captain in 1906. In March 1901, during the Boer War, he suffered a gunshot wound to his thigh which left it shattered and his left leg an inch shorter than his right leg when it eventually healed. In that skirmish he was twice called on to surrender, and replied "We came to fight, not to surrender." He was recommended for the Victoria Cross for his actions and was brought to public attention. He later served in Ireland, Egypt, and India. He was often referred to by the nickname "Titus Oates", after the historical figure.
Terra Nova Expedition
Main article: Terra Nova Expedition http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terra_Nova_Expedition
In 1910, he applied to join Robert Falcon Scott's expedition to the South Pole, and was accepted mainly on the strength of his experience with horses and, to a lesser extent, his ability to make a financial contribution of £1,000 (2008 approximation £50,000) towards the expedition. His role was to look after the ponies that Scott intended to use for sledge hauling during the initial food depot-laying stage and the first half of the trip to the South Pole. Scott eventually selected him as one of the five-man party who would travel the final distance to the Pole.
Oates disagreed with Scott many times on issues of management of the expedition. 'Their natures jarred on one another,' a fellow expedition member recalled. When he first saw the ponies that Scott had brought on the expedition, Oates was horrified at the £5 animals which he said were too old for the job and 'a wretched load of crocks.' He later said: 'Scott's ignorance about marching with animals is colossal.' He also wrote in his diary "Myself, I dislike Scott intensely and would chuck the whole thing if it were not that we are a British expedition....He [Scott] is not straight, it is himself first, the rest nowhere...". However, he also wrote that his harsh words were often a product of the hard conditions. Scott, less harshly, called Oates "the cheery old pessimist" and wrote “The Soldier takes a gloomy view of everything, but I’ve come to see that this is a characteristic of him”.
South polar journey
Captain Scott, Captain Oates and 14 other members of the expedition set off from their Cape Evans base camp for the South Pole on 1 November 1911. At various pre-determined latitude points during the 895-mile (1,440 km) journey, the support members of the expedition were sent back by Scott in teams until on 4 January 1912, at latitude 87° 32' S, only the five-man polar party of Scott, Edward A. Wilson, Henry R. Bowers, Edgar Evans and Oates remained to walk the last 167 miles (269 km) to the Pole. On 18 January 1912, 79 days after starting their journey, they finally reached the Pole only to discover a tent that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his four-man team had left behind at their Polheim camp after beating them in the race to be first to the Pole. Inside the tent was a note from Amundsen informing them that his party had reached the South Pole on 14 December 1911, beating Scott's party by 35 days.
The return journey
Scott's party faced extremely difficult conditions on the return journey, mainly due to the exceptionally adverse weather, poor food supply, injuries sustained from falls, and the effects of scurvy and frostbite all slowing their progress. On 17 February 1912, near the foot of the Beardmore glacier, Edgar Evans died, suspected by his companions to be the result of a blow to his head suffered during a fall into a crevasse a few days earlier. Oates' feet had become severely frostbitten and it has been suggested (but never evidenced) that his war wound had re-opened due to the effects of scurvy. He was certainly weakening faster than the others. In his diary entry of 5 March, Scott wrote "Oates' feet are in a wretched condition... The poor soldier is very nearly done." Oates' slower progress, coupled with the unwillingness of his three remaining companions to leave him, was causing the party to fall behind schedule. With an average of 65 miles (105 km) between the pre-laid food depots and only a week's worth of food and fuel provided by each depot, they needed to maintain a march of over 9 miles (14 km) a day in order to have full rations for the final 400 miles (640 km) of their return journey across the Ross Ice Shelf. However, 9 miles (14 km) was about their best progress any day and this had lately reduced to sometimes only 3 miles (4.8 km) a day due to Oates' worsening condition. On 15 March, Oates told his companions that he could not go on and proposed that they leave him in his sleeping-bag, which they refused to do. He managed a few more miles that day but his condition worsened that night.
"We knew that Oates was walking to his death... it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman.“
Robert Falcon Scott
Waking on the morning of 17 March and forgoing the pain and effort of putting his boots on, he walked out of the tent into a blizzard and −40 °F (−40 °C) temperatures to his death. Scott also wrote in his diary, "We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman." Oates' sacrifice however made no difference to the eventual outcome. Scott, Wilson and Bowers continued onwards for a further 20 miles (32 km) towards the 'One Ton' food depot that could save them but were halted at latitude 79°40'S by a fierce blizzard on 20 March. Trapped in their tent by the weather and too weak, cold and malnourished to continue, they eventually died nine days later, only eleven miles short of their objective. Their frozen bodies were discovered by a search party on 12 November 1912. Oates' body was never found. Near where he was presumed to have died, the search party erected a cairn and cross bearing the inscription; "Hereabouts died a very gallant gentleman, Captain L. E. G. Oates, of the Inniskilling Dragoons. In March 1912, returning from the Pole, he walked willingly to his death in a blizzard, to try and save his comrades, beset by hardships."
According to Scott's diary, before Oates exited the tent and walked to his death, he uttered the words "I am just going outside and may be some time." However, Edward Adrian Wilson, who was also present in the same tent, made no reference to the supposed words in his own diary. There was also no reference to the words made in the letters to Oates' mother that Wilson was entrusted to write, by Oates himself, upon knowing he wasn't going to survive. The event is subject to conflicting reports.
Oates' reindeer-skin sleeping bag was recovered and is now displayed in the museum of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge with other items from the expedition.
The Oates Museum at Gilbert White's House, Selborne, Hampshire focuses on the lives of Lawrence Oates and his uncle Frank.
The Royal Dragoon Guards have a regimental day to remember Oates. His Queen's South Africa Medal with bars and Polar Medal are held by the regimental museum in York.
In 1913 his brother officers erected a memorial to him in the parish church of St Mary the Virgin in Gestingthorpe, Essex. The church is opposite his family home of Gestingthorpe Hall.
In May 1914 a memorial to Oates was placed in the cloister of the newly built School Library at Eton College, itself part of the Boer War Memorial Buildings. It was executed by Kathleen Scott, the widow of the expedition's leader.
Although he never actually lived there, a blue plaque was unveiled in his honour at Meanwood Park, Leeds.
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