The centenary of the death of Captain Lawrence “Titus” Oates was recently commemorated in the little Karoo village of Aberdeen. On March 16, 1912, Oates, a member of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole, stepped out tent during a blizzard saying: “I’ll am going out. I will be some time.” He was suffering badly, and in severe pain. He never returned. Scott and his companions died waiting for his return.
While Oates died on the ice, his death is linked to wounds received on the sun-scorched plains, outside Aberdeen in the Great Karoo. The full-day commemoration, during which tribute was paid to Oates as a man and a soldier, was arranged by Dallis Graham of the Aberdeen Heritage Society in collaboration with Dr Sydney Cullis, an expert on Antarctica. The guest of honour for the day was Oates’s great nephew, Laurie Oates, from Pretoria. Proceedings started with a memorial service, in the Aberdeen Methodist Church, led by Rev J L Jantjies, from Graaff-Reinet, who is superintendent of the Karoo East Circuit. Appropriate messages and readings formed part of the service and moving renditions of well- known hymns were given by the Thembalesizwe Choir. After the service a letter from Brigadier E J Torrens- Spence of the Royal Dragoon Guards in York, England, was read. This is the present day counterpart of the regiment to which Oates was attached. The regiment sent a memorial plaque to be placed in 16 Brand Street, where Oates was nursed after being wounded. The plaque was unveiled by Dr Cullis, who also loaned paintings and other material for display and who later gave a talk, on the history of Antarctica. The house today belongs to Albert and Magdeline Green.
Aberdeen historian Wendy van Schalkwyk paid tribute to Oates and told the story of his life, wounds, recuperation and association with Scot, at the church service and at a later function. The film 90 Degrees South, which contains footage of Scot’s expedition and Oates having a rather dramatic haircut, was also shown.
© Rose’s Roundup, May 2012 (No 220)
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