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Captain Scott's Secret

When he started researching the great era of Antarctic exploration, Chris Turney had no desire to add to the commentary on the deaths of Scott and his men. But, during his investigations, he stumbled across a new aspect of the story, with implications for the way the men’s memory is honoured.

Photograph of the party taken January 17th, 1912, the day after they discovered Amundsen had reached the South Pole first. Left to right: Oates (standing), Bowers (sitting), Scott (standing in front of Union Jack flag on pole), Wilson (sitting), Evans (standing). Bowers took this photograph, using a piece of string to operate the camera shutter.On February 11th, 1913 England woke to the Daily Mail headline ‘Death of Captain Scott. Lost with four comrades. The Pole reached. Disaster on the return.’ Just a day before, the press had reported that the British Antarctic expedition leader was back in New Zealand after succeeding in his goal to reach the South Geographic Pole; the Royal Geographical Society had even prepared a telegram congratulating him on his success. The palpable sense of anticipation and excitement now turned to despondency.

A few days later a hastily organised memorial service was held in St Paul’s Cathedral. The numbers attending were staggering, exceeding those at the service for the 1,500 lives lost on the Titanic in the same year. ‘The presence of the king’, The Times declared, ‘conveyed a symbolism without which any ceremony expressive of national sentiment would have been inadequate.’

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