I don’t know what to think of Amundsen’s chances. If he gets to the Pole, it must be before we do, as he is bound to travel fast with dogs and pretty certain to start early. On this account I decided at a very early date to act exactly as I should have done had he not existed. Any attempt to race must have wrecked my plan, besides which it doesn’t appear the sort of thing one is out for.
‘Possibly you will have heard something before this reaches you. Oh! and there are all sorts of possibilities. In any case you can rely on my not doing or saying anything foolish – only I’m afraid you must be prepared for the chance of finding our venture much belittled.
‘After all, it is the work that counts, not the applause that follows.
‘Words must always fail me when I talk of Bill Wilson. I believe he really is the finest character I ever met – the closer one gets to him the more there is to admire. Every quality is so solid and dependable; cannot you imagine how that counts down here? Whatever the matter, one knows Bill will be sound, shrewdly practical, intensely loyal and quite unselfish. Add to this a wider knowledge of persons and things than is at first guessable, a quiet vein of humour and really consummate tact, and you have some idea of his values. I think he is the most popular member of the party, and that is saying much.
‘Bowers is all and more than I ever expected of him. He is a positive treasure, absolutely trustworthy and prodigiously energetic. He is about the hardest man amongst us, and that is saying a good deal – nothing seems to hurt his tough little body and certainly no hardship daunts his spirit. I shall have a hundred little tales to tell you of his indefatigable zeal, his unselfishness, and his inextinguishable good humour. He surprises always, for his intelligence is of quite a high order and his memory for details most exceptional. You can imagine him, as he is, an indispensable assistant to me in every detail concerning the management and organisation of our sledging work and a delightful companion on the march.
‘One of the greatest successes is Wright. He is very thorough and absolutely ready for anything. Like Bowers he has taken to sledging like a duck to water, and although he hasn’t had such severe testing, I believe he would stand it pretty nearly as well. Nothing ever seems to worry him, and I can’t imagine he ever complained of anything in his life.
‘I don’t think I will give such long descriptions of the others, though most of them deserve equally high praise. Taken all round they are a perfectly excellent lot.’
The Soldier is very popular with all – a delightfully humorous cheery old pessimist – striving with the ponies night and day and bringing woeful accounts of their small ailments into the hut.
X…. has a positive passion for helping others – it is extraordinary what pains he will take to do a kind thing unobtrusively.
‘One sees the need of having one’s heart in one’s work. Results can only be got down here by a man desperately eager to get them.
‘Y…. works hard at his own work, taking extraordinary pains with it, but with an astonishing lack of initiative he makes not the smallest effort to grasp the work of others; it is a sort of character which plants itself in a corner and will stop there.
‘The men are equally fine. Edgar Evans has proved a useful member of our party; he looks after our sledges and sledge equipment with a care of management and a fertility of resource which is truly astonishing – on ‘trek’ he is just as sound and hard as ever and has an inexhaustible store of anecdote.
‘Crean is perfectly happy, ready to do anything and go anywhere, the harder the work, the better. Evans and Crean are great friends. Lashly is his old self in every respect, hard working to the limit, quiet, abstemious, and determined. You see altogether I have a good set of people with me, and it will go hard if we don’t achieve something.
‘The study of individual character is a pleasant pastime in such a mixed community of thoroughly nice people, and the study of relationships and interactions is fascinating – men of the most diverse upbringings and experience are really pals with one another, and the subjects which would be delicate ground of discussion between acquaintances are just those which are most freely used for jests. For instance the Soldier is never tired of girding at Australia, its people and institutions, and the Australians retaliate by attacking the hide-bound prejudices of the British army. I have never seen a temper lost in these discussions. So as I sit here I am very satisfied with these things. I think that it would have been difficult to better the organisation of the party – every man has his work and is especially adapted for it; there is no gap and no overlap – it is all that I desired, and the same might be said of the men selected to do the work.’
It promised to be very fine to-day, but the wind has already sprung up and clouds are gathering again. There was a very beautiful curved ‘banner’ cloud south of Erebus this morning, perhaps a warning of what is to come.
Another accident! At one o’clock ‘Snatcher,’ one of the three ponies laying the depot, arrived with single trace and dangling sledge in a welter of sweat. Forty minutes after P.O. Evans, his driver, came in almost as hot; simultaneously Wilson arrived with Nobby and a tale of events not complete. He said that after the loads were removed Bowers had been holding the three ponies, who appeared to be quiet; suddenly one had tossed his head and all three had stampeded – Snatcher making for home, Nobby for the Western Mountains, Victor, with Bowers still hanging to him, in an indefinite direction. Running for two miles, he eventually rounded up Nobby west of Tent Island and brought him in._20_ Half an hour after Wilson’s return, Bowers came in with Victor distressed, bleeding at the nose, from which a considerable fragment hung semi-detached. Bowers himself was covered with blood and supplied the missing link – the cause of the incident. It appears that the ponies were fairly quiet when Victor tossed his head and caught his nostril in the trace hook on the hame of Snatcher’s harness. The hook tore skin and flesh and of course the animal got out of hand. Bowers hung to him, but couldn’t possibly keep hold of the other two as well. Victor had bled a good deal, and the blood congealing on the detached skin not only gave the wound a dismal appearance but greatly increased its irritation. I don’t know how Bowers managed to hang on to the frightened animal; I don’t believe anyone else would have done so. On the way back the dangling weight on the poor creature’s nose would get on the swing and make him increasingly restive; it was necessary to stop him repeatedly. Since his return the piece of skin has been snipped off and proves the wound not so serious as it looked. The animal is still trembling, but quite on his feed, which is a good sign. I don’t know why our Sundays should always bring these excitements.
Two lessons arise. Firstly, however quiet the animals appear, they must not be left by their drivers; no chance must be taken; secondly, the hooks on the hames of the harness must be altered in shape.
I suppose such incidents as this were to be expected, one cannot have ponies very fresh and vigorous and expect them to behave like lambs, but I shall be glad when we are off and can know more definitely what resources we can count on.
Another trying incident has occurred. We have avoided football this season especially to keep clear of accidents, but on Friday afternoon a match was got up for the cinematograph and Debenham developed a football knee (an old hurt, I have since learnt, or he should not have played). Wilson thinks it will be a week before he is fit to travel, so here we have the Western Party on our hands and wasting the precious hours for that period. The only single compensation is that it gives Forde’s hand a better chance. If this waiting were to continue it looks as though we should become a regular party of ‘crocks.’ Clissold was out of the hut for the first time to-day; he is better but still suffers in his back.