What’s on : Lectures

Captain Oates: soldier, explorer, hero

16 Mar 2012
Start time
7:30 PM
Tempest Anderson Hall
Major General Patrick Cordingley
Captain Oates: soldier, explorer, hero

Event Information

Captain Lawrence Oates: soldier, explorer, hero
Major General Patrick Cordingley, DSO, DSc, FRGS

Oates had lived in obscurity. When he died, he became the world’s property: a dead hero, his name a touchstone for certain values, his death an example which thrills the imagination. The illustrated talk first tells the story of his life as a soldier in the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons. He saw service in South Africa, Ireland, Egypt and India. He was badly wounded in the Boer War and recommended for a Victoria Cross for his bravery. The second part details Oates’ part in Captain Scott’s 1911-1913 Antarctic Expedition and how he was selected as one of five who reached the South Pole before struggling for survival on the return journey. Death was coming too slowly for him so he simply left the tent and went out into a blizzard to meet it. His last words to his friends were, ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’

Oates died 100 years ago on 16th/17th March 1912.

by Carole Smith

The Boer War gave Lawrence Oates his opportunity to rise above early illness and academic failure. He served in the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons and his characteristic tenacity of spirit was demonstrated in an apparently unwinnable battle, during which he was badly wounded. (The Boers he had been fighting gave up and left.) His ability to tolerate pain and survive extraordinary setbacks  and extreme conditions undoubtedly qualified him to take part in Scott’s expedition to the South Pole – though his money mattered more to Scott himself.

The Antarctic expedition of 1912 is well documented; Oates’ part was chiefly to keep the ponies healthy enough at least to attempt the journey. That they could not was despite, not because of his efforts. The trek to the Pole was an appalling experience and in the end all died. The story of Oates’ walk into the blizzard and certain death, in the hope of giving the others a chance to survive, has never been other than moving. On the anniversary of Oates’ death, General Cordingley gave an intensely sympathetic portrayal of a very British, unassuming, hero.


Captain Oates: soldier, explorer, hero from Yorkshire Philosophical Society on Vimeo.



Major General Patrick Cordingley is co-author of the following book which is related the subject of the lecture: