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Oates Galleries opened

Tributes to “A very gallant gentleman”

“All who come to the museum will be reminded of his bravery, perseverance, determination and at the end, his extraordinary self- sacrifice.” (HRH Prince Charles, message to the Museum).

More than 150 people – Trustees, Patrons, Antarctic explorers, donors and other guests – packed the Museum on 10th March for the formal opening of the new Oates Galleries. So many accepted the Museum’s invitation to the opening that the formal speeches had to be held on the lawn outside.

The new galleries were formally opened by Bryan Oates, great nephew of Captain Oates and Ed Parker, founder of the charity Walking with the Wounded. Bryan Oates, who has provided much new Oates material for the revamped exhibition, said that Captain Oates was not much discussed by his family when he was young. But he noted that Oates is now seen as a symbol of many simple but heroic virtues and is attracting great interest again.

Ed Parker, who organised a recent expedition of wounded soldiers who walked to the North Pole at the end of 2011, gave a fascinating insight into the challenges faced by Scott and his team compared to modern Polar explorers.

Accompanying Ed Parker were four wounded members of the Royal Dragoon Guards (Oates’s regiment, 6th Inniskilling Dragoons, is now part of the Dragoon Guards). In December 2012 they will follow Scott & Oates’s route to the Pole, raising funds for Walking with the Wounded and the South Georgia Heritage Fund.

In her speech welcoming guests Dr Rosemary Irwin, Chairman of Trustees, said she was delighted to have received a message of support for the Museum from HRH Prince Charles, Colonel in Chief of the Royal Dragoon Guards.

“I am delighted that the Trustees of Gilbert White’s House and the Oates Collection have created a new permanent exhibition to commemorate the life of Captain Oates. It is entirely fitting that the opening coincides with the 100th anniversary of his heroic death in the Antarctic and that all who come to the museum will be reminded of his bravery, perseverance, determination and at the end, his extraordinary self- sacrifice.

“Captain Scott wrote: ‘…he took pride in thinking that his regiment would be pleased in the bold way he met his death.’ Members of my regiment still revere him as an inspirational figure and succeeding generations continue to be moved by Oates’s courage. This exhibition will serve as a permanent reminder of his unforgettable example. ”

Dr Irwin thanked the Heritage Lottery Fund and the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and other donors for their financial support for the project. Keith Halstead, from the Heritage Lottery Fund, said this sort of project was just the sort of exercise they wanted to support, and welcomed the new display. Philippa Foster Back, Chair of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, said she was delighted to see that the Trust’s money had been so well spent, creating a lively and stimulating new exhibition. She was particularly pleased at the educational elements of the exhibition.

The new galleries tell the story of Oates’s early life and his distinguished service in the Boer War – where he earned the nickname “No Surrender Oates” for refusing to surrender to a much superior Boer force. Most of the space in the galleries is devoted to the story of the Scott Expedition of 1910-12. The expedition was very well documented and photographed, and the new galleries have numerous artefacts, photographs and documents – many not seen before – from the expedition. A completely new section reflects the scientific importance and legacy of the Scott Expedition: almost all climate change science originates with the work done by Scott’s scientific team.

Guests were impressed by the quality of the new exhibition. Heather Lane, Librarian at the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge University, who has played an invaluable role in advising the Museum on the new exhibition, said she was delighted at the final product. “It is a very lively and fascinating exhibition. It really teaches you a lot about Polar exploration, and in a most stimulating way.” Representatives of British Antarctic Survey, based in Cambridge, and who have also advised the Museum, were at the opening, together with several distinguished Antarctic explorers.

Media interest in the opening has been massive, with articles in The Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Mail and the Express. A team from BBC Look South covered the opening and it was the longest item on Saturday’s BBC South News.

The focus of the day was firmly on the remarkable life and qualities of Captain Lawrence Oates, that “very gallant gentleman”.

In her introduction, Dr Irwin said: “in the last year, while we have been putting together our new exhibition on Oates, I think all of us involved have come to appreciate the qualities of this very British hero, a calm and unflappable man, who just got on with it without complaining. I hope that comes through when you look at the new exhibition. If ever the wartime slogan of “Keep Calm and Carry On” could be applied to anyone it is Oates. He’s just the sort of man you’d like to have with you when the going gets really tough. ”

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