Next to Scott himself, Captain Oates is surely Antarctica's most tragic hero. His self-sacrifice on the return from the Pole is well known and his last words, recorded in Scott's journal, are often quoted: "I am just going outside and may be some time."
Laurence Edward Grace Oates, often called "Titus" or "Soldier," was born (1880) and died (1912) on the 17th of March. He grew up mostly in Essex in the small village of Gestingthorpe. The family house, Gestingthorpe Hall (218), just visible from the road, is a large rambling Georgian place that dates from the 17th century. On the death of his father, the sixteen-year-old Oates became lord of the manor. His mother continued to live in the house--she permanently moved into her son's spartan bedroom upon learning of his death--as did his sister, Violet. The property left the family in 1946 or 47 and is again on the market. For £550,000 any ardent Antarctican can purchase it (see the interesting articles in the Daily Telegraph of May 3, 1998 and the East Anglian Daily Times of May 21st).
Across the road from the Hall stands the brick and flint St Mary the Virgin Church (120), the oldest part going back to the 13th century. Its roof, of the double hammer-beam type, is considered one of the finest in Essex. In modern times the major benefactor of the church has been the Oates family, many of the restorations being supported by their gifts. The fifth of six bells was recast in 1901 as a thank-offering for the safe return of Captain Oates from the Boer War. The most noticeable item of Oates interest in the church is, however, the brass memorial plaque that was installed on the north wall and unveiled by General Allenby on November 8th, 1913. It reads:
"In Memory of | A Very Gallant Gentleman | Lawrence Edward Grace Oates | Captain in the Inniskilling Dragoons | Born March 17 1880 Died March 17 1912 | On the Return Journey from the South | Pole of the Scott Antarctic Expedition | [device] When all were Beset by Hardship he | Being Gravely Injured went out into | the Blizzard to die in the Hope that by so | doing he might enable his Comrades to | Reach Safety [devices] This Tablet is Placed | Here in Affectionate Remembrance by | His Brother Officers AD 1913".The brass, which is approximately 2 by 3 feet, is set on a dark stone backing which at the top has a brass depiction of the Inniskilling Dragoons device. It is said that Oates' mother, Caroline, dutifully polished the plaque once a week nearly to her dying day. The Inniskilling Dragoons hold a Memorial Service in the church each year on the Sunday nearest to the 17th of March.
[My thanks to Jeff Rubin and Antony Bowring for sending on the cited newspaper articles.]
Update 17 March 2000 (Oates's deathday): According to Bob Headland and Michael Smith, there's an altar cloth in the church made by Mrs Edgar Evans.