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The Man Who Found Captain Scott.


by Michael C. Tarver; Pendragon Maritime Publications; 25 [pounds sterling] (hardback)

Edward Leicester Atkinson (1881-1929) was a Royal Navy surgeon who joined Scott's Terra Nova expedition as a physician, but unexpectedly found himself in charge when the pioneering polar party failed to return to base. He was left in command at Cape Evans through much of 1912 and went on to lead the search which found the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers. Michael Tarver has written the first full biography of an action-packed life and his research unearths a tale which stretches from Walthamstow to the Windward Islands and from Gosport to Gallipoli.

Tarver analyses the fateful polar journey and reveals, in detail, many of the events that culminated in the sad final outcome. Atkinson took responsibility in the immediate aftermath, but some of his decisions still prompt debate, particularly with reference to Scott's written orders regarding the use of sledge dogs. The unfolding story is one of ice and isolation. Back then, actions had to be taken without the benefit of communication equipment or emergency transport.

Atkinson's modesty was legendary, despite derring-do years in the Antarctic and, afterwards, during the First World War. He fought at the Somme, took part in the Russian campaign and suffered dreadful injuries due to an explosion in Dover Harbour. A number of appendices are testament to his technical skills, including a dissertation on the eradication of flies and a review of surgery conducted in the trenches of northern France.

His courage and determination lives on through Scott's last letters and those poignant messages and items of correspondence that might otherwise have been lost for ever. Undeterred by the tragedy inside the tent, he pushed south to look for Oates, but found only a forlorn sleeping bag. Today, his life is commemorated by the Atkinson Cliffs on the northern coast of Victoria Land in Antarctica. If anyone ever asks who these were named after, the best reply would be: 'Read the book!' ROGER BUTLER

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Author:Butler, Roger
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2016
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