Childhood & Early Life
Born on March 17, 1880, into a wealthy landowning family of Putney, London, Lawrence Edward Grace Oates was the elder son of F.R.G.S. William Edward Oates and Caroline Annie.
The family moved to Gestingthorpe, Essex in 1891, after Oates's father was named the Lord of the Manor of Over HalI.
He attended 'Willington School' and then joined 'Eton College.' However, he dropped out later because of his ill health.
He then joined a cram school in 'South Lynn School,' Eastbourne, to prepare for the army exams.
Continue Reading Below
Oates was drafted to the ‘3rd (Militia) Battalion’ of the 'West Yorkshire Regiment' in 1898 and was later moved to the ‘6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons.' There, he served as a junior officer during the Second Boer War.
He became a second lieutenant of the regiment in May 1900 and participated in operations in the South African Republic, the Orange River Colony, and Cape Colony.
In March the following year, his left thigh was badly injured by a gunshot. The injury left his thigh an inch shorter than the right one.
Oates was asked to resign from his military service, but he refused.
He rose to prominence when his name was recommended for the 'Victoria Cross.'
Oates was appointed as a lieutenant in 1902. He moved to England after South Africa signed a peace treaty.
Oates was promoted to the rank of captain in 1906, and he continued his military service in Ireland, Egypt, and India.
While serving in India in 1909, hunting became one of his favorite hobbies. He was, however, unimpressed with the Indian foxhounds. Hence, his brother in England sent him a fresh pack of dogs to meet his hunting standards.
In 1910, Oates was selected for Robert Falcon Scott's South Pole expedition, named the 'Terra Nova' expedition. His application was accepted majorly because of his expertise with horses and his ability to raise and contribute a considerable amount of sum to the cause.
Continue Reading Below
He was then granted the necessary permissions from the ‘War Office’ to join the expedition.
Nicknamed "the soldier," he began his duties as one of the expedition members. Despite his expertise with horses, Scott did not send him to Siberia to get the ponies required for ration transportation during the trip. He instead assigned him as a midshipman of the 'Terra Nova' ship that would take them to their destination.
This was the beginning of a series of disagreements between Scott and Oates. In a letter that Oates had written before the journey started, he mentioned about the unfit ponies that Scott had brought with him for the expedition.
His diary also stated that he had grown to dislike Scott as a result of his constant confrontations with him. He stated that he even contemplated quitting at a point. He described Scott as a selfish man. He also mentioned that the only thing that had kept him motivated was the golden opportunity he had as a British soldier to make his country proud.
In a letter to Oates's mother, dated October 1911, Captain Scott, however, acknowledged his integral role on the team and the fact that he had done an excellent job of taking care of the ponies.
On November 1, 1911, along with the other members, Oates set off on the journey to the South Pole from the Cape Evans base camp.
The party struggled to reach the point they believed was the South Pole. Moreover, by then, all the members had realized that the ponies were not fit for such a challenging expedition, which proved Oates right.
On January 4, 1912, only five (Captain Scott, Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Edgar Evans, and Oates) of the 14 members of the team remained for the rest of the journey. The South Pole was still 167 miles (269 km) ahead of them.
After reaching the Pole on January 18, they found the tent of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his fellow team members. The tent was built behind their Polheim camp.
Continue Reading Below
Inside the tent, Scott's teammates found a handwritten note by Amundsen, which suggested that they had lost the South Pole race to him by 35 days. The Amundsen team had reached the Pole on December 14, 1911.
The most challenging part of the expedition was the return from the Pole. The adverse weather conditions, the lack of food supplies, their injuries, and ailments such as scurvy and frostbites had made their already-challenging journey more difficult.
Evans succumbed to the conditions on February 17, 1912, near the foot of the Beardmore Glacier.
Oates's condition, too, was vulnerable. He had developed sores on his feet due to severe frostbite. Though not confirmed, it is suggested that a bout of scurvy might have opened his war wound, causing him extreme pain.
He, however, endured all of it, without any complaint.
Unfortunately, his wound made him the slowest of all the remaining members, which caused the party to lag behind their schedule. They had to walk 9 miles a day to reach the point from where they had to collect the ration required for the final lap of 400 miles across the Ross Ice Shelf. Because of Oates, their speed had reduced to just 3 miles a day.
On March 15, Oates suggested his teammates leave him and move ahead. They refused, and Oates had to manage a few more miles. However, his condition worsened by that night.
By then, Captain Scott had lost track of days. Hence, in his diary, he mentioned that on the day, which could be March 16 or 17, Oates left the tent saying, "I am just going outside and maybe some time." They did not know those were his final words.
Oates walked into a freezing −40 °F blizzard and was never seen again.
Continue Reading Below
The remaining members, Scott, Wilson, and Bowers, walked 20 miles more, toward the One Ton food depot but had to stop due to a blizzard on March 20. They starved in their tent and died 9 days later. They were just 11 miles away from the destination.
On November 12, a search party discovered their bodies. However, Oates's body was never found.
The search party erected a cairn and cross at the point they believed Oates could have died.
Family & Personal Life
Oates was also referred to as "Titus Oates."
Apart from hunting, his other favorite leisure activities were racing and boxing.
In 'I am Just Going Outside: Captain Oates – Antarctic Tragedy,' Oates's biography by Michael Smith, published in 2002, there was a mention of a daughter born to him out of wedlock. The biography claimed that he was 20 when he had had an affair with an 11-year-old Scots girl named Ettie McKendrick, daughter of a Paisley master builder.
She had delivered a baby girl at a secret location in Ireland, as it was a matter of shame to her family. The baby, named Kit, was given to a special home in Surrey, where she was raised by Blanche Wright, the owner of the home.
Kit came to know about the identity of her parents after her marriage in 1926.
Oates's self-sacrifice is now cited as a real-life example to describe the traditional characteristic of British people.
His reindeer-skin sleeping bag is on display at the 'Scott Polar Research Institute' in Cambridge.
There is an 'Oates Museum' at the 'Gilbert White's House,' Selborne, Hampshire.
The ‘6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons,' which is now known as the 'Royal Dragoon Guards,' has assigned a day to commemorate Oates's life. His 'Queen's South Africa Medal' and 'Polar Medal' are now on display at the regimental museum in York.
Actor Derek Bond portrayed Oates in the 1948 film 'Scott of the Antarctic.' Richard Morant played his character in the 1985 'BBC' miniseries 'The Last Place on Earth,' an adaptation of Roland Huntford's book 'Scott and Amundsen.'
The song 'A Gallant Gentleman' by Australian post-rock band 'We Lost The Sea' was dedicated to Oates's sacrifice.