Scott descendants mark famous dinner 100 years on

By David Shukman
Environment & science correspondent, BBC News

image captionThe midwinter dinner was the last great feast for five of the explorers

Exactly a century ago Capt Robert Falcon Scott and his polar team lifted their spirits in the dark Antarctic wastes with the traditional treat of a "midwinter dinner".

In the sanctuary of their wooden hut, they broke from their usual rations to enjoy seal soup, roast beef and plum pudding, washed down by champagne.

For five of them, it was to be their last great feast.

Within nine months, in one of the most tragic episodes in British exploration history, Scott and four of his companions, returning from the South Pole, were to run out of food and die on the ice.

On Thursday 23 June descendants of the five doomed men will attend a special commemorative dinner hosted by the Royal Navy on HMS Victory at Portsmouth.

They include two of Scott's grandchildren, a great-nephew of Dr Wilson, a great-nephew of Capt Oates - famous for his final words of "I am just going outside and may be some time" - a cousin of Lt Bowers and a grandson of Petty Officer Evans.

This is one of a series of events marking the centenary of Scott's journey - including two planned expeditions in Antarctica next year.

In one, a combined team from the armed forces will traverse the Antarctic Peninsula gathering scientific data; in the other, relatives of the men who died plan to visit the site of the final camp to hold a memorial service.

Capt Scott and his team had successfully reached the South Pole in January 1912 only to find the Norwegian flag already planted - a rival team led by Roald Amundsen had got there first.

Scott's supporters have long argued that his primary goal was not to win a race but to pursue useful research - to map, study and measure an uncharted land.

On their return from the Pole, bad weather delayed them and they failed to reach a vital supply store, at which point death became inevitable.

For David Wilson, great-nephew of Dr Wilson who died alongside Scott, the commemorations are "vital to remind people of the significance of Scott's scientific and technical accomplishments".

His use of the first motorised vehicles in Antarctica and his decision to abandon furs for the layered clothing since favoured by explorers are ranked as key innovations.

His team's collection of weather records, geographical information and fossils of fernlike plants - proving that Antarctica was once a warmer continent - are seen as pivotal examples of modern scientific fieldwork.

"This was an epic tale on the scale of the great Greek epics but it was real and can't be dismissed as a myth - so it can inspire people and show the power of the human spirit."

Ahead of the commemorative dinner, and as a further reminder of Britain's Antarctic ties, the Royal Navy will commission into service a new icebreaker, HMS Protector, to patrol the South Atlantic and Antarctic Peninsula.

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