6th January 2015 Oslo, Norway

Captain Scott’s Norwegian memorial

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Contributed by Lt Col Matt Skuse RM,
British Defence Attaché in Norway.

On 28 December 2014 the British Embassy was invited to participate in a ceremony commemorating the 100 year anniversary of a Captain Scott memorial monument raised on the mountain plateau at Finse. Captain Robert Falcon Scott, a British Royal Navy Officer and explorer, visited Norway several times to train for polar expeditions: the unforgiving cold and storm-whipped plains offer suitably challenging winter training conditions, as thousands of British service personnel who have visited over the years can testify.

Finse landscape. Photograph: Finse1222
Finse landscape. Photograph: Finse1222

An article from Aftenposten newspaper on the day the five metre stone pillar memorial was erected in 1914 explains that when Scott and his men perished during their race to the South Pole against the Norwegian party led by Roald Amundsen, the entire international community grieved.

Captain Scott and his party at the South Pole 17 January 1912. Photograph: public domain
Captain Scott and his party at the South Pole 17 January 1912. Photograph: public domain

Norwegians in particular identified with Captain Scott and felt deep sorrow at his fate. His rival Amundsen who reached the South Pole first (by 34 days), was of course Norwegian, as was Tryggve Gran: a member of Scott’s support crew who was dropped from the final expedition team but had trained Scott’s men to ski and would later trace Scott’s path to find him in his tent at the South Pole. That the Norwegians held Scott near to their hearts was not only down to his connections with Norway but also because Captain Scott’s noble determination to overcome nature’s obstacles in the pursuit of exploration and science resonated with the Norwegian people.

Facsimile of Aftenposten article from 28 December 1914, the date of the Scott monument unveiling at Finse
Facsimile of Aftenposten article from 28 December 1914, the date of the Scott monument unveiling at Finse

In some ways it remains a mystery that while Scott is known to have conducted ski expeditions on Hardangervidda, there is no documentation that he ever went to Finse, where the pillar in his memory was raised on 28 December in 1914. At the time however Finse would have been the location where most mountain-travellers would have seen the monument. At 1222m above sea level Finse is the highest point of the cross mountain railway connecting Oslo and Bergen, and has been a centre for Norwegian mountaineering and winter sport for over a century. Before commercial aviation, arriving at the port of Bergen and continuing by train was a traveller’s main – if not only – route into Norway, Sweden, Finland and western Russia. Finse is still popular both for expedition training and for recreation, including with the British armed forces. The terrain is challenging but beautiful and thankfully the local welcome is always warm. To this day it is not accessible by road, and the only approach is by rail, bicycle or a long cross country ski trek.

Aftenposten noted on 28 December 1914 that the friends of Captain Scott and other notable British guests who had previously been to Finse were prevented from attending the pillar’s unveiling because of the outbreak of the First World War. It was in a way rather fitting to be able to represent them a hundred years later in the laying of a wreath.

British Defence Attaché Lt Col Matt Skuse RM lays a wreath. Photo: Trygve Norman / Finse1222
British Defence Attaché Lt Col Matt Skuse RM lays a wreath. Photo: Trygve Norman / Finse1222

Capt R. F. Scott
Dr. E. A. Wilson
L.E. G. Oates
Lt R.R. Bowers
Officer E. Evans
18 January 1912.
Reist af Nordmænd til ære for arktisk forskning og heltemod
(Raised by Norwegians in honour of polar research and heroic courage)

Public at the centenary of the Scott monument unveiling. Photo: Trygve Norman / Finse1222
Public at the centenary of the Scott monument unveiling. Photo: Trygve Norman / Finse1222

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