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"I am just going outside and may be some time."

In 1911-1912 a British team led by Robert Falcon Scott attempted to be the first humans to reach the South Pole, the most southerly point on Earth situated on the Antarctic continent. They did in fact reach the Pole (on 17 January 1912), but discovered that the Norwegian explorer Amundsen had beaten them to it. The demoralized five-man British team then began the 895-mile (1,440 km) trek back to their base.

They never made it.

Hampered by worsening weather, poor provisioning, injury and frostbite, the team were destined to die en route. Edgar Evans was the first to die (17 February 1912), apparently as the result of a blow to his head when falling into a crevasse. The four remaining men struggled on, slowed by fierce blizzard conditions. And Oates' severely frostbitten and gangrenous feet and general weakness (possibly aggravated by an old war wound) began to hold them back further, so that they could not keep up the daily distances needed to reach provisions before their rations were exhausted. On 15 March Oates told the others that he could not continue, suggesting that they leave him in his sleeping-bag and go on without him. They refused. The following night, according to Scott's diary entry, in the early morning of 16 March 1912, Oates said to his colleagues: "I am just going outside and may be some time." Then, without going through the painful exertion of putting on his boots, he stepped outside into a raging blizzard and temperatures of -40.0 °C (-40 °F) to face certain death.

Oates' self-sacrifice did not save his colleagues from a similar fate. Scott, Wilson and Bowers died nine days later, eleven miles short of their next pre-laid food depot that could have saved their lives.

Oates died a bachelor the day before his 32nd birthday, probably still unaware that he had fathered a child with an 11-year-old Scottish girl when he was about 20, a fact that emerged many years later.

His memorable phrase lives on in the English-speaking world both as among the most famous of last words and as the epitome of heroic understatement and allusion.

Captain Lawrence Oates (1880-1912) English Antarctic explorer

demoralize (verb): cause (someone) to lose confidence and hope
trek (noun): long difficult journey, usually on foot
make somewhere: reach somewhere; arrive at somewhere
hamper (verb): make more difficult
provisioning (noun): the supplying of food etc
frostbite (noun): serious injury to body tissue (especially toes or fingers) caused by extreme cold
en route (noun) from French: on the way; on the journey
crevasse (noun): a deep open crack in ice
struggle (verb): fight; battle; try very hard
blizzard (noun): very strong snow storm
gangrenous (adjective): decomposing; dying
aggravate (verb): make worse
exhaust (verb): finish; use up completely
exertion (noun): hard effort
raging (adjective): violent and overpowering
self-sacrifice (noun): giving up your interests or life to help other people
epitome (noun): perfect example
understatement (noun): the presentation of something as smaller or less important than it really is
allusion (noun): an expression that suggests or hints at something without actually saying it

Contributor: Josef Essberger