The Ondaatje Lecture Theatre at the RGS

The Ondaatje Lecture Theatre at the RGS

As we sit here surrounded by snow, and the usual British chaos ensues outside, I’m reminded of events of about 12 months ago, when the magazine reported on the British Services Antarctic Expedition (BSAE).

We may think we have it bad here at the moment but spare a thought for these 24 brave ladies and gentlemen, who volunteered to visit the coldest place on the planet for two months (January and February) to commemorate our former Club President and national hero, Captain Robert Falcon Scott – or Scott of the Antarctic to give him his popularised nickname.

Last year, 2012, marked 100 years since Scott stood at the South Pole, somewhat deflated having realised that Norwegian Roald Amundsen had led the first team there just five weeks earlier.

Yet while Amundsen’s team came home, Scott’s five-man polar party perished during the return journey owing to a combination of malnutrition and freakish weather. This year on January 17, the same date Scott had reached the pole, the BSAE held a lecture at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) in Kensington, London, to share their adventure with family, friends, sponsors, dignitaries and academics.

The magazine was one of those sponsors, so, beating the arrival of the snow (just), myself and Editor Simon McGrath headed to London to hear what Lt Col Paul Edwards and his team achieved during their time on the ice last year. And what a tale they had to tell. White-outs, pack ice, rough seas, temperatures as low as minus 50, 90mph winds and deep crevasses crossing their path like cracks in a pavement. Not a challenge for the faint-hearted.

Most important of all to the expedition though – and a highlight of the lecture last week – was the programme of science that was conducted during it. It was this that set the expedition apart from others going to Antarctica at the time.

It’s clear that Scott’s aim was a purely scientific one, not a race to the South Pole, so the BSAE set out to honour that aim, and bring home important data that could help improve our understanding of the effects of climate change on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Despite the conditions and their hardships, the team members were, and remain, remarkably humble towards Scott’s expedition. Lt Col Edwards himself pointed out that Scott had been in the Antarctic for a full two years leading up to his death, with far inferior equipment and rations. Our own snow-bound adventures are simply tame in comparison. See for more information about the expedition.