Chapter 5 – Travel in the Sahara

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This is an excerpt of the chapter where Bertie explains what travel in the Sahara was like in the early 1900s.

The immense desert of the Sahara stretches from the Nile on the East to the Atlantic Ocean on the West, and from the Algerian border on the North to a line running through Timbuktu, Agades, Lake Chad and Khartoum on the south, approximately 3500 miles from east to west and 1000 from north to south. It consists for the most part of sandy wastes, arid, hot and waterless: it is lacking in rivers, in vegetation and in tillable soil. These two latter find exceptions in the infrequent oases which vary in size from such an oasis as El Golea to the proverbial 2 date palms and a well. The Sahara is by no means as featureless as many people imagine: on our route, for instance, we shall pass directly through the Hoggar Mountains, an immense range attaining a height of some good feet and stretching for 120 miles from north to south and more from east to west. Parts of this range are still unexplored and it is said that from its mineral deposits were bought the jewels of the Queen of Sheba. Also on our route is the mighty gorge of Arak, along the bottom of which we shall travel. This varies in width from half a mile to 3 or 4 miles or more, the precipitous sides of the gorge rise to some 2000 feet sheer from the valley floor. The length of the gorge from end to end is approximately 50 miles which gives some idea of its magnificent grandeur and imposing size.

Along this gorge there is a dry river bed which is filled with a rushing torrent about once every 7 years. InJalah a small walled town containing a fort, a hotel, a Shell pump and probably about 30 native houses, is stated to be the driest place in the world: the average rainfall is 1/10th of an inch in 10 years! In addition to the Hoggar Mountains and the gorge of Arak, there are several escarpments, sheer cliffs sometimes 800 – 1000 feet high where the desert descends or rises to a different level. Shifting dunes of sand are also encountered almost every where throughout the Sahara, while lava rocks, sometimes rising to 100 feet or more sheerly from the flat sand, are often encountered so that the Sahara is not monotonous at any rate by the route we are using. The outlook is continually changing, sometimes nothing but a flat sandy waste, sometimes rocky, sometimes mountainous, but hardly dull.

Bertie then goes on to describe that the Sahara was first crossed by white men in 1823 and that camel caravans had traveled across it for centuries before this. The main commodities that were traded were salt in exchange for skins, ivory and various other commodities. In 1938 the camel tracks were still in existence and camel caravans still crossed the great desert from north to south and from east to west. An interesting fact in connection with camel caravans is the regular system of pilotage which prevailed. Bertie explains caravans would take on board a pilot who knew the locality and pilot them across the desert.

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From Symons’ book: “The well at In Abengaritt, usually deserted, was the scene of a teeming mass of sheep, goats and camels.”

He goes on with an interesting account of how the French managed to control the Sahara by using Citroen motor vehicles and aeroplanes to map out the route transversing the desert. Bertie writes in the diary “how I would love that job!”

There was a trans-Sahara bus service which was inaugurated and continued while Bertie and Humfrey were transgressing the Sahara. This service, run by the SATT went from Algiers to Zindes in French Equatorial Africa and onto Kano in British Nigeria. The buses were Renaults specially built for the job. They had enormous wheels shod with single 12 inch tyres, carried 6 passengers and a fair load in goods and supplies. They were very slow and frightfully noisy. The service ran twice a week as far as Tamaurasset and once a week on to the south. It took 16 days to go from Algiers to Kano, and gauging by the jaded appearance of the passengers who they saw at Agadez on their previous journey, it seems it was a pretty sound trip. The bus of course stopped each night the fare was about ₤27 which includes hotel accommodation. The drivers of these buses were Frenchmen, specially pick for the job and real tough guys.

With regard to privately owned motor vehicles crossing the Sahara, Bertie explains that the French authorities wisely insist that certain formalities are observed, the manager of the hotel at El Golea being the person responsible for seeing that they are carried out. First he has to be convinced that somewhere aboard the vehicle there is stored 5 gallons of water per person and also that there is a supply of food sufficient to last the crew a minimum of 8 days.

Last, the owner of the vehicle is required to sign a ‘contract de depannage’ or ‘breakdown contract’ and to pay the necessary fee. This varies from 400 to 600 francs according to the horse power of the vehicle. The ‘contract de depannage’ is now compulsory. It used not to be so until a few years ago when two people, one an Englishwoman and a Belgium lost their lives in the desert and since then the authorities have made it obligatory for anyone insisting to cross the Sahara to sign this contract. The method of working is simple. When one is leaving, say, El Golea one is asked when one wants to be depannage. Suppose one starts at 6am on the Monday morning, one simply says “I wish to be depannage if I have not arrived at In Saleh” (the next desert post)”by 6pm on Tuesday”. Each of the desert posts is equipped with a wireless receiver and transmitter and a wireless message is thereupon sent from ElGolea to In Saleh, saying “Symons Wolseley left 6.00 depannage 18.00 Tuesday”. If then, delayed by a serious breakdown one has not arrived at InSaleh by 6pm on Tuesday the SATT undertakes that a rescue can/will be sent out from InSelah to find one and bring me in, so that, provided one has not wandered from the track, for the SATT naturally cannot undertake a search throughout the desert though they are pretty liberal about this one is bound to be rescued sooner or later, I say sooner or later because the cars used for this purpose are not exactly in the first flush of their youth and it is by no means unknown for the rescue car either to break down itself or to get stuck in the sand but it will arrive sometime. Still, that is the position and it is a valuable safeguard for the Sahara is a relentless enemy and one cannot afford to play the fool with it.

Remembering that if one should have lost oneself and consumed all one’s water, one cannot live more than 24 hours in the boiling heat and shadeless glare, the whole system is a wise precaution and the French government is to be complimented upon it.

This system works throughout the Sahara crossing, each post advising the next when you deguine depannage. I may say that in every case we arrived at the end of each stage before the wireless message announcing our departure from the beginning of it! But the ordinary traveller does not race across the Sahara quite as we did!

I have often been asked how we found our way. Resisting the temptation to carry on the tradition of traveler and make the most of difficulties, I do not purpose to do so.

The track is marked by little heaps of stones (“cairns”) about 18 inches high and 200 yards apart. It must be understood that these do not in any way constitute a road or path as there is just one line of them throughout: in the words they are meant purely as a guide to the direction and are not intended to be slavishly followed, though at night it is most inadvisable to miss one for fear that one may not find the next and so get lost.

It is very very easy to lose one’s sense of direction completely as there are very few landmarks to guide one. It needs a really sharp look-out at night to be sure that one does not miss a single cairn and at the same time to have one’s eyes glued to the track ahead in time to avoid obstacles in one’s path, such as gullies and rocks, and also to be ready for a lightening change down on sticking patches of deep soft sand.

The most awful dread is that of getting stuck in the sand; this may mean hours of work to get on the move again (it took Symons 23 hours on his first journey to Kano) and such a delay would mean goodbye to all hopes of beating Algiers – Kano record. So particularly at night, desert driving is nerve racking work when one is in a hurry.

Other features of Sahara travel will appear as we proceed on our way, so that we can now resume with our start from El Golea for the desert crossing proper.

 

Chapter 4 – Ghandaia – ElGolea 187 Miles 25/26 December 1938

Chapter 4 JPGGhardaia – El Golea

Bertie seemed to be a stickler for timing!

We left Ghardaia, refreshed by our good dinner, at 3 minutes past ten, winding our way slowly out of the sleeping town: and out on to the Southward track. In 14 miles, we climbed up a winding precipitous escarpment on to the plateau on which is the aerodrome of Ghardaia. We failed to see, in the darkness the next two logging points in our schedule, called respectively “Well 750 yards on right” and ”Hassi Gonselouda (well).” Humfrey was annoyed about this, but I ask you to be fair. How can one be expected to see a well 750 yards away from the track in the middle of the night? The track was in terribly bad condition and we felt that we were making very slow progress, but we kept reminding each other that we had noted on our previous trip that the track suddenly became very much better when we passed a signboard which said “Poste El Golea Limite”.

This did not, of course, mean that there was a speed limit: it merely meant that one had passed from the Ghardaia area to the El Golea area. We never saw this confounded post at all and were at last compelled to admit that we must have passed it without seeing it and, worse still, the track did not improve. Instead, we struck corrugations which had certainly not been here two years before. (This was when Bertie and Humfrey had done the Rolls Royce trip). We travelled on over those hideous ridges and hollows, and at last were cheered to recognize what appears in the log as HI DVAFOU WELL. It is simply a well surrounded by concrete walls, standing by the side of the rack, but we identified it simultaneously. I think that HI really should have been Hassi or well, but am not sure.

After they passed Hi Djafon, Bertie noted that steering column felt loose and they were able to rectify the problem- but Bertie was concerned about the loss of 18 minutes. This was their only involuntary stop between Algiers and Kano – over 2200 miles.

The expected improvement in the track did not take place and it began to be increasingly clear to us that something must have happened to alter conditions so much from our recollections of the past. When we came along here two years before in the Rolls Royce we had found a good, hard, smooth surface, so that we were able to travel mostly at quite high speeds 50 – 60m.p.h; whereas now we were struggling to keep up 38 to 40.  We were becoming convinced that, if conditions throughout the desert crossing had deteriorated to this extent, it was going to be quite impossible even to approach the times we had set ourselves to accomplish. Anyway we were proceeding, even if not as fast as we wished.

We passed our next logging point “Onangle Track comes in on Left” and the remaining 60 miles to El Golea were simply a struggle against the rough broken condition of the track. At last we cautiously descended the steep winding stony hill to El Golea.

He goes on to describe the simple beauty of El Golea under the silver light of the full moon and how large El Golea is – over 5 – 6 square miles with the scent of millions of flowers. They booked into a magnificent hotel run by M. Desnoyens, an ex sergeant-major of the Foreign Legion and he is described as a ‘prince of hotel-keepers’.

Below is a picture from the Rolls Royce trip two years previously.

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True, we were late. Our schedule time for arriving at El Golea was 10.35, as we had not intended stopping for dinner at Ghardaia but had a late supper here. It was now 3.53 in the morning. Our scheduled time for the 187 miles from Ghardaia was 5 hours and 5 minutes, whereas we had taken 5 hours and 50 minutes: 45 minutes slow of which 18 minutes had been lost replacing the clip on the steering column: still, we had averaged 32 m.p.h.

We had decided before arriving at El Golea that we would merely fill up with petrol and go straight on but when we broached this with Desnoyens he seemed so heartbroken that we agreed at least to drink some of the coffee he had prepared for us. We did not waste much time over it; we refilled with petrol, drank our coffee, ate some biscuits, and were off again in 32 minutes. We could now see our position again with reference to our schedule time. We had been due to leave El Golea at 11.50 p.m. whereas it was now 4.25a.m, so we were 4 hours 35 minutes behind schedule. We had travelled 572 miles since the day before and, excluding the 2½ hours lost before we left Algiers, we had only lost 2 hours. Not good, but not bad.

I should mention that, on our remarking to Desnoyen’s comment on the bad shape of the track, he told us that there had been very heavy and unprecedented rain and that the track further on was very much worse!

I must at this point say that I would love to know where Bertie’s book recording the predicted and actual times of departure and arrival is. Anybody got ideas about where one could start looking?

 

Chapter 3 – Africa Algiers – Ghandaia 384 miles 25/26 December 1938

Africa

It was Christmas morning and there was a huge crowd waiting on the white quay to greet the French ship from the home country. We soon picked out the tall figure figure of Captain de Malglaive waving frantically to us and, picking up our bags, we made our way along to the hold where our car was standing, nose to door, as if anxious to get ashore. We started the engine, to the consternation of member’s of the crew in the hold, in order to get it warm; then leaving Symons with the car, I went up on deck to meet de Malglaive, half English himself, and a confirmed Anglophile, served with the British Army in the war 1914 – 1918 and anything he can do for an Englishman is done with true Gallic enthusiasm.

Greeting him and his wife, I found that they had with them the Shell representative who had come along to ensure that the petrol tank wagon, which we had arranged to have waiting for us, was there and also the President of the Algerian Motor club in person.

We had asked de Malglaive to see if he could get a representative of this club to meet us and to sign officially our book showing the time we left Algiers, and the President had insisted on coming himself. A pretty sporting action to get out of bed at 6.30 on a Christmas morning for the sake of a couple of foreigners!

When we all got off the ship on the quay, we found Humfrey already there with the car, filling up from the petrol wagon. The customs people, warned in advance that we were in a hurry, waved aside at once any question of formalities (it was Vive le Sport! with them with a vengeance) and in 12 minutes from the time the ship tied up to the quay, that is at 10 o’clock exactly, we were off, petrol tank full to the brim, customs papers signed, the magnificent supply of sandwiches, fruit and salads and the two bottles of whisky supplied by Madame de Malglaive in their lockers, our book signed by M. le President. Twelve minutes! How long would it take a sporting Frenchman setting up a record say from Monte Carlo to John o Groat to get clear of his English port of arrival? Well, more than twelve minutes, I’m sure.

Though we were already exactly 2½ hours behind our schedule, we didn’t care. Was there not 2200 miles to make it up in before we reached Kano?

The car was running well and as they drove to Boufarik the first part of Algiers reminded them of the French Riveria – unfortunately they managed to get momentarily lost.

Beyond Bonfarik there began to loom up in the distance the great mass of the Atlas Mountains, where the road rises to 3900 feet and we were decidedly perturbed to overtake several cars carrying, most ominously, winter sports equipment. Did that foreshadow snow in the mountains?

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When at last we emerged from the gorge and saw Medea ahead we had climbed in the 20 miles from Blida at 600 feet above sea level to Medea at 2800.

But what was not so satisfactory was the view in front. Indeed, it was most unsatisfactory. There was no possible doubt that snow lay ahead. Higher we climbed into deeper snow but still we said “It must be all right. That lorry had come through and it it can we can”. But I think we both had the same dreading idea at the back of our minds. It was “Suppose that lorry has tried to get through and has had to turn back.”  In fact, Humphrey had just remarked “It looks to me as if only that lorry has been along here,” when suddenly as I cautiously rounded a shoulder on the mountain side, the track in the snow simply came to an end! In front of us across the road was a virgin snow drift 8 feet high blocking the road. So that was that!

Turning around wasn’t a nice business. The road was not wide, the snow was very deep, the hills all rose steeply on our left and on our right was a sheer drop of probably 1200 feet to the plain below. No, not nice. But at last, after many reverses, it was done and we slithered our way down again through the deep soft snow ruts.

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After discussion they returned to the used snow ruts and after leaving the snow they returned to look for the sign post for ‘ARTHUR’ and ‘BOGHARI’ – their next stop. Once they left the snow (which cost them 24 minutes) the road was good and they were able to travel at comparatively high speeds. They passed through Boghari and past the Rocher de Sel at which point they had covered 77miles with an average speed of just over 50 m.p.h. Their next stop was Dielf where Humphrey tried to phone the hotel in Ghardaia to tell them their estimated ETA but he couldn’t get through and the stop cost them 9 minutes. The road to Layhonet was dull and uninteresting. Bertie describes Layhonet as ‘rather a jolly place’ in a Moorish style. Layhonet was an important junction of the many desert tracks. At which point they had lost 1 hour and 3 minutes – yet averaging just over 39m.p.h.

After leaving Layhonat one looks out ahead over the desert and here the road abruptly comes to an end: at times driving is bewildering for when one set of ruts has grown too deep to be used, vehicles turn aside and make a new set : these are in turn rejected when they have grown too deep, and so it sometimes happens that one will find six or seven sets of tracks, all travelling completely in the same direction, but sometimes criss-crossing wildly as if in effort to find the best surface.

Soon after leaving Layhonat darkness came down and there are no landmarks and one cannot see anything except the two beams from the headlamps lighting up the desolate trail in front. We passed Tibeut, called an Oasis, but as far as we have ever been able to discover, consisting of one stone building which looks like a fort and is actually a “bordj.” This is the name given to a rest-house where one can sleep and at some of these rest-houses there is a native who will provide food. I believe that the native the Tiheut is an excellent cook and can produce a first class meal (gazelle pie being his specialty) if advised by telegram before hand, but I am only speaking from hearsay as we have never had time to stop there. This is, of course, the hideous disadvantage of record-breaking: one never has time to stop and see anything.

They passed Tibeut 57 miles from Layhonet – having lost 5 minutes. Bertie describes how well the Wolseley was going and they were pleased with their average speed but the corrugations were indescribably awful! He gives an explanation as to why the speed appears high and a detailed description about corrugations – very funny reading (it must have been awful). They continues to Beniane, a jolly little oasis of palms trees and “one way traffic” and then to Ghardaia.

At Ghardaia the Shell filling station we found the native attendant still waiting, although it was 3½ hours after the time at which he had been told to expect us. We re-filled our petrol tank taking 25 gallons, only about 15½ miles per gallon instead of the 16½ we had hoped for. We had expected our fuel consumption to be considerably heavier than the normal for the 18 Wolseley. Normal being about 19 m.p.h.  We hoped that even with our greatly increased load we should be able to do 16 to 16½, giving us a range of about 500 miles. The engine needed no oil and the radiator no water, so we went straight along to the hotel. The hotel, one of the excellent ones run by the Societe Algerian des Transport Tropicaux and called by the generic title of “Transalt”, is managed by an enthusiastic Frenchman who prides himself on being, as he says, “the best cook in the Sahara.”

Bertie goes into an elaborate description about Ghardaia and an interesting “sweet story” about how a princess saved it.

We had not expected to stop at Ghardaia as we had intended to go straight to Le Golea for dinner that night but he greeted us with delight. We were the only guests: it was Christmas night: we were hungry: splendid: in one all little minute an excellent dinner would be ready for us. And it was. I cannot remember all we had, but I know that turkey formed the backbone of the feast. Personally, I was stumped before the end but Humphrey, who has an excellent appetite, ploughed steadily through the numerous courses. We drank Algerian wine and coffee.

 

Chapter 2 – Across France 650 miles 22/23 December 1938

It was very cold on the boat and the sea was decidedly rough. However, we lay down in our cabin for a time and then went down to the saloon for a meal. The time thus passed quickly and when the boat entered the harbour at Boulogne where we found snow falling fast and the ground thickly covered. A pleasant prospect for an all-night drive! We were through the customs in a very few minutes, special arrangements having been made by the AA representative to get us off quickly and with a few gallons of petrol in our tank, we started off to find a garage where we intended to fill up our huge 31 gallon tank.

However, it was warm in the car and I should add that we were quite pleased in view of the intense cold, to find that somehow, in the hurry of loading the car, we had somehow come away with Mrs. Symon’s favourite travelling bag, which we had not intended to bring at all. This bag will figure at a later stage of our adventures.

As we were climbing the steep winding road into the old town of Montreuil the engine gave two or three splutters and stopped dead. Humfrey tried the starter but there was nothing doing, so out we had to get. We were distinctly annoyed because it was snowing hard and it was obvious that we were going to feel both very cold and very wet.

We took the cover off the distributor, thinking that the points might have stuck. It seemed to be all right so he replaced the cover and tried the starter. Off went the engine and, rather mystified, we proceeded, having got both wet and cold, as we had expected.

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The cold was certainly awful and I was glad, when I took over the wheel at the end of two hours, to have something else to think of besides how infernally cold I was. It was about this time that ice began to form on the windscreen and we blessed our forethought in having brought with us a heated panel for the screen, without which it would have been quite impossible to see anything. The screen on the passenger side where there was no hot panel, was thickly encrusted with ice so that, Humfrey, after holding his hand against it for some time with no other result than getting his hand nearly frozen, said “Well, I can’t see anything so I may as well go to sleep.”

Above the windscreen of the car, Wolseley had mounted a thermometer. During the night the red liquid vanished into its bulb and did not reappear until after daylight.

We went steadily through the cold and the dark, till at last we were cheered by the breaking of the dawn. We then saw why it had been so appallingly cold in the car, for not only was the whole windscreen, except  the small heated panel, covered with ice to a depth of about ¼ of an inch, but all  the woodwork on the dash and doors was covered with ice also! Just about full daylight we stopped at Avalon for breakfast – it was 7.33 and we had come 300 miles in 9 hours. When we got out of the car we found that we were even colder than we had thought: we were both shivering and we each drank a large glass of brandy before we could think of breakfast while the kindly manageress of the hotel brought us hot bricks to thaw out our frozen feet. The thermometer in the courtyard of the hotel registered 12 degrees below zero, 44 degrees of frost! It was not surprising we had found it cold!

We found the hills from Saulien over to Chalon clear of snow but in a dangerously icy condition. However, we were in no hurry and eventually arrived at the Shell filling station about a mile south of Chalon. We had taken 2 hours exactly for the 76 miles. We never pass this place without a stop to greet our good friends, the filling station attendant and his wife. We had wired them from Avalon to expect us and we found them awaiting us on the doorstep. As usual, they greeted us with enthusiasm, and drew us into their warm room to participate of steaming hot black coffee and Vieux Marc. Of course they think we are quite mad but almost all French people of the lower classes think that that is the normal state of the Englishman! Then we went out to fill our petrol tank for the first time since leaving Boulogne 380 miles back. Our friends examined the car with the greatest interest, calling each other’s attention to the huge tyres, to the metal strips bolted to the back  (to be used, if necessary for getting out of soft sand), to the equipment of the instrument board for French people love lots of instruments, and so on. Then aback into their house for more coffee and more Vieux Marc and then, invigorated by the delightful welcome of our old friends and, a little, by the influence of their excellent liqueur, we resumed our way south over the shining ice-covered roads.

It was soon after we had left the Chalon filling station that we became convinced that the engine was misfiring. We had both thought that we noticed it before – the misfire was very intermittent – but had tried to pretend to ourselves and each other that it was purely imaginary. But now there was no doubt about it, the engine would cut out completely for a second or so and then resume its normal smooth rhythm. At last, there was nothing for it but to stop and make an examination. If there was anything wrong, now was the time to find it. For two reasons:- One was that we had plenty of time to spare which we should not have once we started off from Algiers and the other was that if the engine were to misbehave like this when we were crossing stretches of soft land in the Sahara we should, inevitably come to rest. The resistance of deep sand is so tremendous that even a temporary misfire is quite sufficient to bring the car to a sudden stop. And a sudden stop might mean hours of digging to get on the move again.

So, on all accounts it was desirable to find out at once what was the matter. Actually we discovered, or rather, Humfrey discovered the cause almost immediately. Almost the first thing he looked at was the distributor, (we had in mind possible condensation inside from the cold) and he was poking about inside it with his finger when he exclaimed “Good Lord, what’s this?” He held up a small carbon brush which he had found floating about loose. We examined it: it was unbroken and, as far as we could see, unused. It did not belong to any part of the distributor that we could discover. The engine started and ran perfectly and from that moment until the end of our journey to Cape Town the engine never once misfired. I cannot explain how it got there, nor were the Wolseley Company to whom we showed it when we got home, able to account for its presence.

Our scheme therefore, was that our Wolseley, would be kept on the quayside until the last minute, then driven in and turned round with its radiator against the port in the ship’s side, all ready to be driven out again as soon as the ship docked. This plan was carried out to the letter, the laggard boat train arrived, and eventually, just over 2 hours later, we started on our 19 hour crossing of the Mediterranean.

We could therefore not expect to arrive at Algiers before 9.30 instead of 6.30. Very annoying! However, it couldn’t be helped and we cheered up as the African shore drew near, and we saw the brilliant sun glistening on the tiers of white houses climbing up the steep hill from the sea that make Algiers a vision to be remembered.  And eventually we drew in to the harbour.

Chapter 1 – Preliminaries

Welcome to Bertie Browning’s diary. I will be taking extracts from each chapter to give a brief overview of this amazing journey. My words are in italics.

In 1938 Bertie Browning and Humfrey Symons “were to start on our long-looked for adventure: our attempt to set up a record run by car from England to the Cape”.

One of their 3 goals was “To set up a record for the whole journey from England to the Cape. This distance is 10300 miles and no one had ever attempted to do the journey in really fast time or, if they had, they had fallen by the wayside.”

A word as to who “we” are. H E Symons was the “skipper” of the team. Once the first Grande Vitesse of “The Motor”, latterly motoring correspondent of the Sunday Times, the Sketch, the Cape Argus, the Johannesburg Star etc. A brilliant driver, safe and fast, the best driver, in fact, that I ever sat in a car with; with tremendous powers of endurance and a great gift for making high average speeds without driving needlessly fast; an indefatigable worker with and unfailing store of energy; an organizer with a wonderful gift for attention to detail; able to maintain an atmosphere of unruffled calm in emergency – as you shall learn – and a marvelous knack of falling on his feet.

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Myself, a good deal older than Symons, a good deal more cautious, with great stamina and a record of 33 years driving without a crash: a record, alas! to be lost on this journey.

We were old friends – we had indeed shared homes for 3 years before Symons’ marriage – we knew therefore each other’s failings and besetting sins. We had driven together for thousands of miles and had complete confidence in each other, a very essential fact for a journey such as this. We both love long distance driving and have done a great deal of it. For instance, Symons has taken part in 8 times in the Monte Carlo Rally, king of long distance motor competitions and I in 7. We had the same outlook on things, enjoyed the same jokes and had the same ideas.

W.M.W. Thomas, the Managing Director of Wolseley’s Motors Ltd agreed to provide a car equipped to our specification for the Cape Record run and then work really started. The car was a standard 18/85 Wolseley chassis with salon body. The rear seat was removed and a 31-gallon petrol tank fitted in its place, the original rear tank being dispensed with. Nine-inch tyres were fitted in place of the standard 6.25-inch to give a larger bearing on the ground surface and to facilitate dealing with soft sand and mud. Tanks were fitted on the floor of the rear compartment to carry 10 gallons of water, the amount demanded by the French regulations before any car is allowed to start the Sahara crossing proper. The two front seats were arranged to let down, and seat cushions to fold forwards so that full length (5ft 10½ inches long beds) with Dunlopillo mattresses were obtained. They were very comfortable. All other details as to special equipment will be found in the appendix.

Humfrey and I agreed at our first conference that we would divide the preliminary work between us. He would deal with everything to do with the preparation of the car and I, having more leisure time than he and a “kind of flair” for the work, would undertake all the work referring to routes, schedules, etc. We interviewed everybody we could think of who could give us valuable information and, among others, the Foreign Touring Department of the A.A. and the Shell Co. very kindly put their whole of their vast organisations at our disposal. Nothing was too much trouble for them. If we wanted information as to whether a certain ferry in the middle of French Equatorial Africa ran, or could be persuaded to run, at night the Shell people were quite prepared to cable inquiries for us. This they actually did with reference to the ferry across the river at Bambari with the result that when we arrived the natives were awaiting us.

The Shell Company was involved in ensuring that filling stations would be open when they needed to be. Bertie describes it as follows:- What record-breakers by air or by land owe to the marvelous organization of the Shell Company and to the good fellows in charge of their various areas, is quite beyond expression. Suffice it to say that every Shell filling station and local depot between Algiers and Cape Town was advised by them, not only of the day but of the exact hour of the day or night when we expected to reach them.

They had worked on two schedules and “after two months of really hard work, during which I worked about seven hours a day, all the schedules were worked out; the slowest showed 21 days to the Cape and the fastest, which was christened “W.H.” (“Wildest Hopes”) at 17 days.”

On visiting the Wolseley Factory they were thrilled with the progress and the men working on the car. “When we visited the works together, I felt the same. It was quite wonderful to see the interest that everyone took in the “African Car”; one felt that it was THEIR car and by Jove they meant to see it was a worthy example of the Wolseley Factory. On the day we arrived we were in the works ‘til eight o’clock at night and none of the men who were working on the car even thought of the time or anything else except of the “African Car” and making sure that everything was just as we wanted it.”

On the day of departure, 23 December 1938, the A.A. advised them not to travel due to bad weather. The message from Mr Donald of the A.A. Foreign Touring Department was “Here is their (the A.A) message. They say “It is inadvisable for motorists to attempt to travel from Boulogne to Paris at present. They should put their car on the train.” This did not deter them. This was Bertie and Humphrey’s dream the “Cape record! Cape record! For years we had dreamed of this next adventure, had discussed ways and means whenever we met and the words “Cape record” sang in our ears like a clarion call to romance”.

We asked the AA Port Representative to sign our book as evidence of the exact date and hour when we left Folkestone. Long distance record-breaking is timed definitely from start to stop. By this I mean that the time taken for a given journey is reckoned from the moment of departure until the moment of arrival at the destination. In several cases considerable doubt has been cast on the time that have been given out and we were determined that in our case we would arrange to have documentary evidence. We had therefore had a book printed both in English and French which we proposed to get signed by some responsible person on departure, on arrival and at several places en route. There could thus be no question that we were at certain points at certain times and on certain days.

So their journey began and they had little idea of what lay in stall for them in Africa.