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This month with Martin Horwood

Martin Horwood MP for Cheltenham, pays tribute to Cheltenham’s great explorer, Dr Edward Wilson who was on the fateful Scott Expedition to be the first team to reach The South Pole.

It’s December 1902 – long before GPS or modern fabrics – and you’re trudging across an Antarctic wasteland dressed in woollens that soak through with perspiration and melting snow in the southern summer sun, then freeze solid when the temperature plunges. Heading further south into the unknown than ever before, you’re struck by painful snowblindness from the constant glare. What do you do?

The Cheltonian doctor, naturalist, artist and explorer Dr Edward Wilson just pressed on.

This month we rededicated Wilson’s statue in The Promenade and I discovered much more about this gentle and courageous man. 100 years ago this month, Wilson, Captain Scott and three others died returning from a later journey that reached the South Pole only to find Amundsen’s Norwegian flag already fluttering there.

From my own reading of Wilson’s diaries, I chose a passage from that earlier expedition with Scott and Shackleton, written at a point when anyone now would surely turn back. It expresses the courage and compassion of these explorers, as well as Wilson’s particular artistic eye and his lifelong attachment to Gloucestershire, wherever he found himself:
‘I lay in my bag with my eyes bandaged... The Captain and Shackle did everything for me. Nothing could have been nicer than the way I was treated…From start to finish today I went blindfold both eyes, pulling on ski. Luckily the surface was smooth and I only fell twice. I had the strangest thoughts or day dreams as I went along, all suggested by the intense heat of the sun I think.

‘Sometimes I was in beech woods, sometimes in fir woods, sometimes in the Birdlip woods, all sorts of places connected in my mind with a hot sun. And the swish-swish of the ski was as though one's feet were brushing through dead leaves or cranberry undergrowth or heather or juicy bluebells. One could almost see them and smell them. I had no pain in my eyes all day, a trifling headache. Towards evening, we came in sight of a splendid new range of mountains still farther to the south.’

I’m pleased that Cheltenham still remembers him with pride.

Martin Horwood MP, www.martinhorwood.net 01242 224889, 16 Hewlett Road, Cheltenham. GL53 9AQ.