EQUATOR TO THE ARCTIC CIRCLE EXPEDITION
In A

AUSTIN A40 Somerset MOX 656

THE TEAM
Arctic Pictures A
Ken Whartton - Alan Hess - Ron Jeavons


My idea was to drive an Austin A40 Somerset from theArctic Circle to the Equator virtually non-stop and as fast as possible in order to submit it to extremes of cold and heat under actual and arduous working conditions. There are many types of test which may be simulated on the test bench, but the lessons to be learned from a high-speed run such as his can only be learned by actual practice.

The original intention was to start in the Arctic Circle on the North American Continent and run down the Alaskan and Pan-American highways to Quito in Ecuador and the run was planned from north to south for no better reason than that the phrase " From the Arctic Circle to the Equator " trips off the tongue more readily than " From the Equator to the Arctic Circle."

After a little thought, however, it seemed obvious to me that the drivers wouldn't be able to " take " Equatorial heat when they were tired, so I decided to reverse the route from South to North.

There was no difficulty about the northern part of the journey as the Alaskan Highway is a known quantity, but the southern section was full of imponderables and after three months of correspondence on the subject I had, reluctantly,to abandon the project because there are no through roads south of Mexico City since the governments of both Panamaand Costa Rica are holding back over their share of construction work on that end of the Highway in the hope that UncleSam, in desperation, will complete their roads for them.Instead, all they have to offer is a succession of barely penetrable tracks preyed on by brigands and in places pretty well impassable. Followed many weeks spent in exploring alternatives. The first and obvious one was to start the trip from Stanleyville in the Belgian Congo, cross the Sahara to Algiers, ferry across the Mediterranean to Marseilles and travel north through Europe, but this was no good because the Sahara is only a going concern in December and January and at that time of the year the Arctic section in Europe is definitely " out."

Any idea of penetrating behind the Iron Curtain on this marathon presented such refuelling uncertainties that this, too, proved impracticable.

There is a reasonable road northward beside the Red Sea and one might have started from Nairobi and kept cast through Abyssinia to Alexandria, but at this time there was all the trouble going on between Britain and Egypt in the Suez Canal Zone and it would have been folly to plan such a trip then through that territory.

Only one possible route remained and this entailed a hazardous crossing of the Nubian Desert where, since no roads exist, one would have to rely on native guides and one’s compass, but as this was the only alternative the obvious risk had to be taken.

It was therefore decided to start from the Equator south of Entebbe, on Lake Victoria in Uganda, and go north up the Valley of the Nile through Sudan and Egypt by way of Juba, Khartoum, Wadi Halfa, Assouan, Luxor, and Cairo to Alexandria. Then we should turn west along the North African coast to Tunis, catching the once-a-week ferry from Tunis to Marseilles and drive up through France to Strasbourg. We were to carry on north through Germany, using as much of the Autobahn as possible, by way of Hamburg to Grossenbrode where another ferry would be taken to Gjedser at the southern tip of Denmark, through Copenhagen to Helsingor, finally ferrying across to Halsingborg. The rest of our route was to be by way of Stockholm up the east coast of Sweden to Lulea from which point we should have to strike across country north-west into the unknown to the small township of Jokkmokk, just over the Arctic Circle.

Having settled for this route, timing became much more of a problem than I had expected. My Sudan contacts told me it was imperative that we should be through their country and into Egypt as early as possible in March as, if we were caught in the rains which start in early April, we should certainly get bogged down on the flooded black cotton soil with dire consequences. At the same time I learned from Sweden that March was really too early to expect to be able get north as far as Jokkmokk. After a great deal of research and study of meteorological records it appeared that there is only one week in the year in which it could be even remotely practicable to start this journey.

So here we were setting out on an expedition over the only available route during the only possible week in the in the year - and even then anything could happen.

As I have said, the object of the trip so far as the Austin Motor Company and Vacuum Oil Company were concerned was to learn as much as possible about engine and oil temperatures under actual working conditions in extreme variations of temperature, and to this end a variety of thermometers were fitted to the car in addition to an interesting array of prototype equipment. Furthermore, it was felt that the nature of this expedition might well capture the popular imagination and provide a good publicity story.

For me, I must admit that the real attraction lay in the fact that this was to be a journey of a type never previously attempted and one filled with many uncertainties and providing ample scope for resourcefulness and improvisation.

There are so few things left to do with a car that no one has ever done before and here was just such an opportunity to break new ground. The idea attracted me irresistibly.

Obviously the first prerequisite of such an undertaking is lot sit down and think; to try to foresee every aspect of it and decide on the order in which one should tackle the many problem involved.

When one is embarking on an unprecedented project, there is always the haunting fear that one's overlooked some vital but obscure factor and it's only by turning the whole plan over and over in one's mind, time after time, that such is to be avoided. Yet even this method has its drawbacks. One is apt through constant repetition to become too familiar with this ritual until one thought succeeds another automatically, habitually, until objective, creative consideration becomes atrophied.

Having obtained the " Go ahead " from Leonard Lord, I got down to the business of preparing the schedule for the trip and organizing the refuelling arrangements in collaboration with Guy Edwards, Vacuum's racing manager, and it immediately became evident that his company was keenly interested in the publicity angle because it was to be the first venture in Europe in which their newly-introduced fuel, Mobilgas, was to be used.

A meeting took place in London attended by the directors of Vacuum at which plans were discussed in some detail and I was delighted to discover the extent to which they were prepared to co-operate on the planning side in establishing refuelling depots practically wherever I asked for them, even though this was bound to involve them in much inconvenience and expense, because I was going to need the establishment of fuel and oil dumps in some outlandish spots.

One of the first jobs to be started and the last to be finished when organizing such an expedition, is the building up of one's schedule.

For this, I used a form similar to that which stood me in such good stead on my Round-the-World journey in 1951. This had nine columns. The narrow one on the extreme left recorded the day and date, the next one the name of the town, then came two sets of twin columns giving first of all scheduled times of arrival and departure, and then (left blank to be filled in during the run) actual times of arrival and departure.

Thus we could tell at a glance how we stood on schedule at any point and could calculate any required variation in average speed for the sections which lay ahead.

Next to these came twin mileage columns showing, first, intermediate mileages (i.e., distances between each of the towns) and then the growing (or total) mileage at each point.

Finally, on the extreme right, was a wide remarks column into which went all route-finding information, locations of frontiers, details of refuelling points, the names of any people we had to meet or contact en route, particulars of car or other documents required at any point, rates of exchange in the various countries, meteorological and topographical notes, addresses and telephone numbers of Austin, Lucas and Dunlop service stations on our route and all the other thousand-and-one essential points which had to be remembered.

The compilation of this bulky document calls for a great deal of research and patience, for it must be accurate in every particular - on this depends the success or failure of the entire expedition.

The A.A. supplied me with routes over the European part of our journey, but in some cases these conflicted with information gathered from local sources because one or the was concerned more with scenery than speed. That had to sorted out. But the A.A. only started at Marseilles, from which point on we were to use roads - although what they were going to be like in the far north was a bit unpredictable, even the A.A. not caring to commit themselves!

Over the African and Egyptian parts of our trip I was, so speak, out on my own.

I pestered all available sources for every scrap of information I could get and spent weeks poring over maps.

Every intermediate mileage I ultimately arrived at had to be checked and counterchecked before I dared insert it in the schedule and the average speeds between various points were adjusted in accordance with local conditions. It was a difficult but always fascinating process. I felt I had done the journey a hundred times over by the time our finally completed and still there were amendments and additions which continually became necessary in the Remarks column.

In its ultimate form, this document filled twenty-three foolscap pages, with three more pages at the end for official of our times of arrival /departure at key points and seven pages of maps, in addition to which local maps and street guides through large towns were pasted on the backs of pages to face their appropriate positions throughout the a schedule itself.

Quite an opus! But without it we might as well not have started and if it contained any inaccuracy it was likely to be more of a handicap than a help.

In addition to its obvious route-finding qualities, this bulky document possessed merits on the publicity side, for it enabled me to notify the editor of every single newspaper published in each town along our route of our anticipated time of arrival in his district when I sent him the advance story of our expedition with a map and photographs of the car.

There's nothing like " local interest " to interest locals ! By great good fortune, Horace White, a friend of mine, previously P.R.O. to the Government of Cyprus, had recently been transferred to Kampala to do a similar job for the Government of Uganda and his response to a probing letter from me was immensely encouraging.

He had no doubt that Sir Andrew Cohen, the Governor, would give us an official send-off, and he would be delighted to look after the Press publicity arrangements for me at the Equator end of the journey. This was good news indeed, because I already knew of his efficiency and realized we should be in good hands.

Austin's distributors in Kampala, some twenty miles from Entebbe, were equally enthusiastic, and again I was lucky, for Couperus, the managing director of Victoria Motors, was due to pay one of his rare visits to England and I was therefore able to discuss details with him personally.

So far so good, and I next set about tying up arrangements at the Arctic end through Hans Osterman of Stockholm.

But the bit in between the start and the finish was bristling with difficulties.

I expected resistance to the arrangements I should have to make for travelling through Egypt but, to my delight, these did not turn out to be too formidable. But it was altogether different with the Sudan. Every post brought me more warnings and discouraging forecasts of the complete impracticability of taking the route I'd planned - the only route which seemed to be available.

As ever, I relied on the Automobile Association to look after all the documentation necessary and, although this was more than usually complicated, Eric Ormonde completed all these arrangements for me without a hitch-but not without depressing me still further by sending me a number of horrific reports on what he described as the impossibility of following my route between Khartoum and Assouan, where no sane motorist dreams of driving, all cars travelling between one point and the other being taken up the Nile by river steamer.

Nor was I reassured in the least by similar reports reaching me from Mr. Stileman of Gellatly, Hankey and Company, who knows the territory intimately, and from Austin's distributors in Khartoum, both of whom seemed convinced that I was biting off much more than I could chew, and that I was attempting the impossible.

This sort of news would probably have deterred anyone of greater mental maturity than myself, but I have always believed that everything is impossible until someone comes along and does it - and it was really in this more or less desperate belief that I pushed ahead with my plans.

The first thing to do was to get the car and equip it with all the extras which I thought would be necessary. The acquisition of MOX656 was the signal for me to write to a number of suppliers asking their aid in providing – special equipment, and the immediate and enthusiastic response I received was one of those things which make projects of this sort so very much worthwhile. Indeed, I was nearly killed by kindness and was much embarrassed by the necessity to decline a great many offers of gadgets of whose material advantage to expedition. I was unable to share the conviction of their makers.

Even so, it was all, too clear that the car was going to be grossly overladen - a point which preoccupied the Dunlop experts no less than Austin's development engineers.

The spares we were to carry were kept down to the absolute minimum and yet they bulked some 10 cwt., and keeping the weight as much to the rear of the car as possible in order that it would be manageable on the icy roads up north proved a major problem.

Dunlops were providing us with sand tyres which we knew we would have to deflate to the lowest practicable pressure and I established a halfway-house with the Austin distributors in Copenhagen where we were to exchange these for snow tyres, at the same time changing over to Arctic equipment and Arctic oil, and where, in addition, the drivers sent parcels of warm clothing to replace the tropical equipment with which they were to start the trip.

One additional item which was sent to Copenhagen to await us was a case of self-heating tins of soup, similar to that used by the Everest Expedition. This took some getting and every official source I tapped proved useless, but in the end it was obtained for me by our own grocer in Worcester!



Arctic Pictures B
Reclining Passengers Seat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Mesh Fitted To Side Windows

Cutting though the multifarious items of special equipment called for and subsequently discarded in an effort to save weight, the car was finally fitted with, among other things, a specially strengthened Victoria roof rack which was ideal for our purpose, and did a wonderful job; a new type of Triplex windscreen called Sundym, shaded green at the top and down to clear by the time normal range of vision was reached – this too, was worth its weight in gold and saved our eyes a great deal of strain in the desert; one of those increasingly popular plastic oblongs standing up at right angles from the bonnet to deflect the airstream off the windscreen and keep it clear of flies. This little device is worth a special mention because it served us so well. Not only did it deflect flies and months from our screen, but also sand when we had to follow other vehicles, and even snow up in the north; so that we never had to use our windscreen wipers at all, except after using the Trico Folberth screen spray-when even this wind deflector found itself unable to cope with the impenetrable clouds of dust which engulfed us on some occasions.

Another unorthodox fitment which was to prove invaluable was a shockingly expensive and very powerful siren-totally illegal-but oh, so useful!

Stout towing hooks were fitted to the chassis fore and aft, a sump-guard in the form of strong steel skids and, as we expected to have to travel really fast through Europe if we were to average over 6oo miles per day from start to finish, including what we knew was bound to be slothful progress through the desert, the Lucas Company provided us with specially powerful head lamps and fog lights.

A hand-operated spotlight was added on the driver's side and two shovels were fixed in front of the bonnet (the legend " Yours " being painted on the handle of one, and " Not Mine " on the other-which shows the nice spirit existing between Ken Wharton, Ron Jeavons and myself from the outset!).

I could not have been more fortunate in my companions. Wharton is too well known and his driving prowess too out-standing for me to have to introduce him to most of my readers, but I might perhaps add for the benefit of those who may not normally be interested in motoring that, although only 38 years of age, he has attained the highest pinnacle of fame in every sphere of competition driving. He was British Trials Champion in three successive years, I 948-1950, and Hill-Climb Champion in 195 1 and 1952. He holds the records for Shelsley Walsh, Prescott, Bouley Bay, Rest-and-be-Thankful, Lydstep and the difficult French hill, Col Bayard. To add to the score, he has thrice won the Tulip Rally, and was also the victor in the Lisbon Rally in 1950. He was the first British driver to finish in last year's Italian Grand Prix at Monza, and immediately after his return from our expedition he collected fresh laurels by winning the principal race of the day at Goodwood on Easter Monday at record speed in the B.R.M.

I knew all about him, of course, as a driver, but what I had not expected was that he would exhibit such a lively interest from the very start of our project and offer so many helpful suggestions in connection with the equipment of the car.

Jeavons, although only 34, is an old, tried and trusted partner, having been with me in 1950 at Long Island when Goldie Gardner and I attacked Stock Car Records there and later that year having been one of those who shared the driving with me at Montlhery, outside Paris, when we made our 10,000 miles in 10,000 minutes' run, and finally having partnered me in our drive Round-the-World in three weeks in 1951.

Although they have in common a love of motoring adventure, it would be hard to find two men less alike in every other respect. Jeavons blond and impassive, Wharton dark and volatile. Jeavons always content to take things as they come, Wharton impatient to make them happen his way. Jeavons the reliable, plodding, text-book type of mechanic, steeped in Austin practice; Wharton quick, opportunist, original, a staunch believer in the merits of unorthodoxy.

Not only in theory but in practice, too, they were an ideally ill-assorted pair who got on splendidly together.

The kind of thing which helped to keep us on a level keel temperamentally during the run itself was that little business, that trivial but oh, so important little business, of the ring-spanner.

Jeavons had borrowed some special tools from the works and had signed a receipt for them, pledging that he would take care to return them all.

Wharton found among them a ring-spanner which he coveted.

Came a time when Jeavons missed this tool out of his kit. Not unnaturally Wharton fell under immediate suspicion nor did his replies under interrogation do much to establish his innocence, especially when he ended his denials by offering to " flog " one of the car's accessories to Jeavons in exchange for the missing object !

I should say that ring-spanner changed pockets a dozen times throughout the trip as one of them "acquired" it from the other, the dispossessed always complaining loudly of the dishonestly of his companions.

Jeavons, of course, was the final victor, justice sometimes being what it is believed to be. I'm sure Wharton always intended, really, that it should end that way; and although all this may appear very childish when written, I do assure you that it had a very real value at the time, for when one is cooped up for days and nights on end with one's fellow beings, one's thankful for anything which lightens the atmosphere.

I wonder why it is that people get on one another's nerves, whereas animals never seem to be similarly afflicted when herded together ?

In working out our schedule I had provided for stretches of 350 miles between refuelling points and had decided to carry on the roof four jerricans of petrol as an emergency ration. As we were also to carry sand-tracks, a jerrican of water, two additional spare wheels, a large blow-lamp which could be used as a flame-thrower against snow-drifts and an Aldis lamp whose purpose I will describe later, in addition to our 10 cwt. of spares, a nylon tow rope, de-ditching gear, all our clothing, food flasks, etc., it will be appreciated that the boot was soon going to be filled to overflowing and much weight would have to be carried on the roof. This was the last thing we wanted and it was Wharton who suggested that we could save roof weight by dispensing with one or possibly two jerricans if we utilized odd nooks and crannies in the boot for additional tankage. This idea was promptly acted upon, giving us a tank capacity of 18 gallons, and as time went on other modifications were made, including a fitment for one of the spare wheels on the outside of the boot lid.

After the interior of the boot had been adapted it was found that it would still accommodate not only the second spare wheel but also both jerricans of petrol, and this left the roof rack free for less weighty but no less bulky objects.

The nearside rear seat and squab were removed and a sling for the jerrican of water was substituted for the latter, while the back of the nearside front seat was made to let down flat to form a bed. On the run, unfortunately, we found we had so much clobber in the back of the car that we were never able to avail ourselves of this luxury, but it remained a good idea in theory.

Over the windows were fitted removable close-mesh wire gauze frames which would let in air but keep out insects, and these were to play an important part later on, although in a totally different role.

Arctic Pictures C
The large external thermometer was fitted in the tarpaulin to provide
a photographic record of outside temperatures at refuelling points, or other times.


An underbonnet inspection lamp, four fitted pockets for thermos flasks behind the navigator's seat and a map-reading lamp fitted to the outside of the lid of the glove box were other items worthy of mention, while, finally, the whole of the front of the car was finished off with a matt paint to eliminate reflections and rather colourful maps of our route were painted on both the front doors. The drivers each went into his own interpretation of the word " training " about the only factor common to all three being a determined effort to keep " on the wagon " until the trip was over and we then set about having all the unavoidable inoculations which seemed to cover every scourge known to medical science.

We deployed our personal clothing with some forethought, sending our warmest stuff to await us at Copenhagen and each sending a respectable outfit to Stockholm to be there when we should arrive back from Jokkmokk, while we knew we should also each have to take a decent suit with us to Entebbe as on the eve of our departure I planned a dinner there for the Governor and local notabilities and Press and all those who had helped us during the final stages of our preparation. All this strained our sartorial resources to the uttermost and what we should wear immediately on our return home should we fail to complete our journey was a thought none of us dared to entertain.



PART TWO


Reece to the Equator - Co-operation at home
B.O.A.C. alert their aircrews - Petrol panic - The rains come
Heathrow send-off - Entebbe again - Final preparations (and warnings)
We entertain


On 19th February MOX656 left, crated, by sea for Mombasa, whence it was to be taken by rail to Kampala to await our arrival on 11th March.

A week after the departure of the car the Vacuum Oil Company gave a Press Luncheon at the Dorchester House, Park Lane, to announce the forthcoming expedition. This was presided over by J. C. Gridley, their chairman, who, with his fellow-director Miles Reid, welcomed Leonard Lord whose presence, my co-drivers and I felt, set the seal of his personal interest in our plans.

By this time I had already paid a brief visit to Entebbe to tee-up the final arrangements there having flown out by Comet on February 3rd, returning three days later.

This literally flying visit had also enabled me to meet contacts in Cairo and Khartoum when the plane touched down there to refuel and during these brief encounters I was able to achieve more than could possibly have been done in months of letter-writing.

I hope I have not conveyed the impression that all the preliminary arrangements had been undertaken single-handed by myself during the preceding weeks, for a tremendous amount of hard work had also been put in by Guy Edwards and, on the advertising side, by his colleague Peter Bancroft, and my own colleague Sam Haynes, but the preparations for the actual driving part of the whole project were essentially my own preoccupation.

In addition, Caldwell in Khartoum and Neville Flower in Cairo had to work really hard to obtain permits and passes for us, without which we could not proceed through the Sudan or Egypt.

Peter Newell, of Austins, made himself responsible for the visas for Wharton, Jeavons and myself, and also for getting the currency I asked for from the Bank of England. The sort of' silly thing which crops up to cause delays was the insistence of the Egyptian Government that we furnish them with positive evidence that none of us was a member of the Jewish faith.

After a number of possible methods of satisfying them had been discussed and rejected some because they were considered frivolous, letters were obtained from Church of England parsons testifying to our faith and all was well.

At this time, too, concerns entirely outside the normal orbit of motoring were giving valuable help. B.O.A.C. issued a Crew Notice instructing their pilots to watch out for us during the desert crossing. This took the following form:-

CREW NOTICE
AUSTIN MOTOR COMPANY'S EQUATOR/ARCTIC EXPEDITION

An Austin Motor Company team of three intend to drive an A40 from the Equator (at Entebbe) to the Arctic Circle (Northern Scandinavia).

They will leave Entebbe at 0800 hrs. on 17th March, 1953. The route they will follow is displayed on a chart in Flying Staff Administration Office.

The main points on the route are Kampala, Juba, Malakal, Kosti, Khartoum, Berber, Wadi Halfa, Assouan, Luxor, Assiut, Cairo.

A schedule for the journey as far as Cairo will be placed in the First Officer's folder.

If a real emergency arises signals will be made in the hope of attracting the attention of aircraft.

They carry no radio and their signals will be as follows.

(a) At night a beamed light directed towards the aircraft;
(b) In daylight an oil fire (dense black smoke); and
(c) White arrows on the ground near the car. If the arrow points towards the car it means that medical
supplies are urgently needed: if the arrow points north it indicates that water is urgently needed.

You are requested to keep a particularly sharp look-out during the period of the car schedule, and should any of these signals be sent, signal the information to your Control Station. Should you receive a message from the ground stating that the car is in genuine difficulties, then you are authorized to make whatever search you may consider at your discretion to be necessary.

(Signed) W. B. HOUSTON.
Origin: Fleet Manager,
February 13, 1953.

Another firm, Pest Control (Sudan) Ltd., who operate a fleet of helicopters in the Sudan, similarly instructed their pilots.

Offers of help poured in from all quarters, including the provision of a couple of torch screwdrivers from John Clennell & Co., a number of Smog anti-mist cloths from Wayte Smith & Co., even a supply of tissues from Kleenex and, perhaps most acceptable of all, the weatherproof binding of our Schedule and Log by Messrs. Kalamazoo.

It was to enable us to signal to B.O.A.C. or Pest Control aircraft that I had borrowed from the Aldis Co. one of their Morse-signalling lamps and as none of us knew the Morse Code I cast around for a means of getting this done out in luminous paint on a black background for use at night. The obvious people to ask were Smiths Motor Accessories and my good friend Frank Hurn immediately complied. By the way, I had collected this lamp personally from John Aldis at their works and was immensely impressed by a large board outside proclaiming: " Firms' Representatives are welcomed here. Otherwise we might miss something."

That was that, but good as it was it was by no means enough, I felt.

From all I had learned of the kind of trip this was to be, I was convinced that nothing must be left to chance and that I must face up to every eventuality, however macabre. And so it was that I asked Austins to take out special insurance policies for each of us for £5,000; then I set my personal affairs in order-in so far as such chaotic matters may ever be regularized-writing a lengthy and faintly melancholy letter to my brother-in-law, outlining just how materially my failure to return might be expected to benefit my wife. From all this, the conclusion was inescapable that I should be a much better investment to her dead than alive, a humbling but comforting consideration.

I must admit that I was at pains not to reveal to Diana just how grim a prospect our impending journey presented. I don't call this duplicity on my part although I was troubled by the thought that I was not being honest with her.

She, bless her, was wonderful about it all, as she always is on these occasions. I must have been a rotten companion for her for months before we left, for I was oppressed by a multitude of detail which all had to be made to dovetail somehow, a process calling for intensive concentration, so that I tended to become absent-minded about those vital domestic concerns the sharing of which forms the foundation of all happy households. I grew absorbed, morose and intolerant and behaved with a selfish disregard of others, I can see it all now, in retrospect.

And through it all, Diana helped and encouraged me and I put up a brave facade of courtesy to outsiders behind which I was glad to hide.

This she did because she could see with what a complex mass of itemized organization I was wrestling. Whether she would have entered into the spirit of those days quite so wholeheartedly if I had been frank with her about the perils which lay ahead of us, I rather doubt.

Bit by bit, the elaborate jig-saw of our arrangements became built up into a more or less recognizable whole but not without last-minute alarms, lots of them.

Just as I thought all my refuelling arrangements were completed I was thrown into a minor panic by Hinchcliffe, who, in the course of a talk on his recent Sahara crossing, divulged that through much of the thick sand he had only managed to average 6 m.p.g. I knew that I'd cut down the petrol we were carrying to very near the bone for some of the longer stretches and I was acutely worried by this revelation. But the Vacuum boys came to the rescue and arranged at short notice to have emergency supplies available for me at four vital points-Kosti and Abu Hamed in the Sudan, and at Assouan and Assiut in Egypt.

This was a load off my mind and as by now we'd received all the visas and currency I felt we were pretty well all set, but I wouldn't go so far as to rate our chances of completing our journey on schedule any higher than 20 per cent. for and 80 per cent. against, because there are so many unknown quantities to be faced, both in the desert and after leaving Lulea in the north, and even the known difficulties were indeed so formidable.

Then, five days before we were due to leave, I had a letter from Keith Baldry, the Standard Vacuum Company's Nairobi representative who had flown up to Entebbe to meet me a month before, saying: " It may be of value for you to know that as far as the rains in East Africa are concerned, the worst seems to have happened-they have arrived some four weeks early. In Nairobi we have already had 24 hours of heavy rain, but as yet I have no information about Kampala. I am, however, expecting to receive some within the next two or three days and if their rains are also early I will notify you by wire."

I heard no more and although that might have been construed as good news it did nothing to assuage my acute uncertainty.

On the morning of March 9th, the Lord Mayor of Birmingham received the three of us at a Press conference and wished us luck, saying that he would watch our progress with interest and asking me to cable him on arrival at Jokkinokk.

One of the last things I did before leaving was to make a number of purchases from a local chemist. These included everything I knew we should need, in triplicate, and a number of things I thought we might find useful. Into the latter category came some boxes of Macleans throat tablets. These were a frankly speculative investment, based on the assumption that our throats would get dry through dust; had I but known it they were destined to play a much more important part than just that and I really believe that I am not overstating the case when I say they probably saved my life

Bill McClure and his colleague Freddy Gillman, Public Relations Officer (P.R.O.) to British Overseas Airways Corporation, had been tremendously helpful to me all along. It was Gillman who indirectly had arranged for the Crew Notice to be issued and who had, also helped me to fix arrangements at Entebbe Airport for the Governor of Uganda to see us off when we started and who, furthermore, had enabled me to arrange a refuelling point at the Sudan Airways station on the White Nile at Malakal in Southern Sudan and even to lay on some iced champagne to be awaiting us there. What a man! And it was Gillman who gave us a cheery send-off luncheon at Heathrow on March 10th, at which we were delighted to see Sir Miles Thomas, who had only flown in that morning from the Caribbean, but came to wish us God-speed and accompanied us out on to the tarmac to see us into the Comet that was to take us to our starting point.

Among the sheaf of good luck telegrams we received at Heathrow was one from the Lord Mayor of Birmingham surely a very graceful gesture on his part.

During my previous Comet flight to Entebbe I had sat with Humphrey Bogart as far as Rome and it was music to my ears to hear an American who was so obviously "sold" on the merits of the world's first jet airliner. " Gee, what a ship," he kept exclaiming, " we've got nothing like this."

This time it was a British actor who was the star of the trip, Sir Laurence Olivier. At Rome the airport was thronged with his fans and cinematographers went into action in a big way, as, rather nervously I thought, he descended the rickety steps to terra firma.

If any Comet flight can be termed uneventful, this one was-apart from the fact that we were half an hour late leaving Rome because of a strike of ground staff there, but picked up this time by cutting short our subsequent stops at Cairo and Khartoum by a quarter of an hour each, arriving at Entebbe punctually early the following morning.

I was glad for Wharton's and Jeavons' sake that we crossed the desert in the dark, for on my return flight from Entebbe a month before I had flown by Hermes which made that part of the trip in daylight, and I must admit I'd been more than a little daunted by the interminable miles of trackless wastes we flew over hour after hour and which I knew we were to motor across a few weeks later.

Entebbe was bathed, as ever, in hot sunshine and we were met on arrival by Hugh Dawson the Station Commander, and Denis Lloyd, East African Airways Corporation commercial manager, with both of whom I'd formed a more than business friendship during my previous visit and who were flat out to do everything possible to help us and bring their Station into the picture of our expedition.

Bristow, Vacuum's Uganda manager, was also there to meet us and took us with our baggage to the hotel, and we'd not been ensconced very long before Couperus arrived with the A40 he was lending us as a runabout for the week we were to spend finalizing our arrangements for the start of our trip, for Kampala is 21 miles away and obviously we were going to need personal transport.

What we should have done without this car I can't think, for we were continually ferrying back and forth and we soon found there was much more to do than we expected. We had all looked forward to this week as an opportunity to rest and condition ourselves for what lay ahead, but this was not to be and we were kept hard at it right up to the "off."

The first thing we discovered when we got into Kampala later that morning and were able to take the car out from Victoria Motors to test it was that it was running rather hot. The thermostat had been removed at Longbridge at my request but we felt, and this was subsequently confirmed by Bristow, that too heavy a grade of oil had been prescribed and this was duly adjusted. In a further effort to aid cooling we filed down to about half its normal width each lateral strip of the radiator grille, covered in the aperture between the top of the radiator and the front cowling so that the air that came in was scooped into the right channels and rather crudely made an air vent on either side at the back of the bonnet for hot air to get out.

These measures did the trick and from then on we had no more overheating troubles.

The staff of Victoria Motors who carried out these jobs were full of zeal and made many valuable and practical suggestions which they proceeded to implement for us and every job they undertook was carried through magnificently.

Remembering what I had learned before starting of the likelihood of birds, dazzled by our headlamps, starting up to late to avoid crashing into them or our windscreen, we fitted guards to protect our frontal glass and while all these things were going on I went off to see Horace White and do some necessary shopping.

So far as I can make out shopping in Kampala, apart from foodstuffs, centres around drapers' stores and it was there that I procured everything from raffia seats (which have a notable anti-sweat value) to essential hardware such as tin-openers, paper cups, cutlery and a fascinating gadget which delivers either salt or pepper or a mixture of both at the twist of a knob.

It was a good thing that I also bought some sun-glasses, for our consumption of these during the journey was quite phenomenal as they continually got lost or scratched or broken and repeatedly had to be renewed.

As time went on I got the very firm impression that even our best friends in Kampala did not really believe that we should succeed in what we were starting out to do, while strangers who could not be expected to realize how seriously we were taking the whole thing did little, and in some cases nothing, to hide their scepticism.

I shall never forget the visit I paid with Couperus to Duffield, editor of the Uganda Herald.

He is an expert on Africa, and he as good as told me that I was sticking out not only my own neck, but those of Wharton and Jeavons, by undertaking such a foolhardy enterprise and ended by assuring me of his personal conviction that we shouldn't even get as far as Khartoum.

"Up to Juba," he kept saying," you'll be all right, but after that anything can happen and no one need ever know."

This sort of talk from some people would not have worried me particularly, but I must admit that I felt bound to attach importance to such sentiments coming from a man of Duffield's wide experience and obvious sincerity.

If I were shaken I tried not to show it. Our plans had advanced too far now for retraction and the best thing to do was to put a good face on the situation and press on.

I didn't tell Wharton and Jeavons all that Duffield had said, but I did intimate in what I hoped sounded like an off-hand manner that we were not expected to get as far as Khartoum, at which Ken Wharton remarked on the coincidence of the name which, he thought, might alternatively be spelt CAR-TOMB.

The hotel at Entebbe was full. In addition to the usual crowds there was an incursion of film folk from the Ealing Studios on their way home from making a sequel to the film " Where No Vultures Fly," which, sooner or later, is due to be released under the title " West of Zanzibar."

They were a cheery bunch, but we really hardly got to know them because we were so busy, so that we were particularly touched when, the day we left, we received a telegram from them, despatched just before their own departure the day before, wishing us luck on our trip.

Attached to these movie men, was a White Hunter who'd been on location with them who took a lively interest in our plans-a "clinical interest," he called it-and, learning that we were unarmed, presented me with a frightening-looking panga.

Also in the hotel was a young super-salesman on safari from Nairobi who overwhelmed us with gifts to add to our equipment made by various firms he represented. The idea was that he would show the concerns back home how much more "on the ball" he was than they were, by cabling them after we had triumphantly concluded our journey, pointing out that, solely due to his personal enterprise, they could claim part of whatever credit might be due! All this would have had more value to us if only his wares had been appropriate to our needs, but unfortunately they were not, with the result that they merely cluttered up still more the already drastically restricted room inside the car.

But he was so nice about it all that we simply hadn't the heart to turn him down flat. The morning of March 16th was spent in loading the car. This was no haphazard operation, for logic dictated the procedure. Those spares most likely to be required were on top and near the front in the boot while the parts we thought would not be wanted were underneath and at the back.

All the electrical spares were kept together (and that included even such items as spare bulbs and batteries for our hand-torches) while other groupings included carburation items, suspension spares, and so on.

In addition to all this, we tried in so far as it was possible to maintain a balance of weight in the final distribution.

It was while we were preparing to stow away our freight and had it all unpacked and laid out in Kampala that we came upon an envelope in with our spares which, when opened, gave us a surprise. All it contained was a card on one side of which was a weird and wonderful pastel drawing of the bonnet of our car in a forest of horrific Disney-like trees of sinister aspect and on the back the well-known " Ghoulies and Ghosties " prayer, with a good luck message for us. This had been executed by the Export Packing Department back home, and we were delighted by their interest in our trip which it showed.

At last this lengthy but important task was completed and we felt we'd made a good job of it.

We drove MOX in from Kampala to Entebbe and knew that we were all set for our start the following morning after the farewell party we were giving that night.

Here I must break off to say a word about Entebbe's lake flies. The first I knew of them was when I looked out of my window one morning and saw a dark cloud of insects hovering over a hedge in the garden. A purposeful little dog went prancing down the path right through this cloud and I was amazed to find that, despite his undoubted aroma, the flies were not diverted from their apparent interest in the hedge.

The activities of the day drove this from my mind, but when night fell I had every reason to remember it, because (countless millions of these flies invaded the hotel and formed a cloud round every light.

The flies don't bite and don't do any harm, but they are an intolerable pest. It appears they live in the mud at the bottom of the Lake Victoria and at certain phases of the moon emerge and come up through the water to infest the town.

You have literally to fight your way through them and when I entered my bedroom, the moment I switched on the light the room was full because the wire gauze had come away from the window at one point, leaving a small gap.

In my bathroom was a Flit gun, the reason for which I had wondered at, because both Entebbe and Kampala are quite phenomenally free from insects. Now I knew. Beating off the invaders I made a dash for the Flit gun but, of course, it was empty.

An S.O.S. to the management and an army of native boys came up and flitted wildly, but by this time the flies were everywhere, in the bed, in the wardrobe, and even, miraculously, inside my closed suitcases.

The next morning the hotel corridors were thickly carpeted with the dead bodies of these tiny insects which were swept up into huge piles and taken away in buckets.

There is a singularly defeatist attitude to this nuisance among the people of Entebbe. " Nothing can be done about them," one is told, " and anyhow they don't do any harm, they're just a bother." All of which seemed a masterly understatement to the three of us.

The visitations from these insects last some days and I wondered what they were going to do to our dinner party that night.

They were there all right, in their millions, but it didn't really matter. The management switched out the centre lights over the tables and we sat down surrounded by a number of small clouds clustering round the wall lamps and I think it may safely be said that once the proceedings started the flies were forgotten and everyone enjoyed themselves. I was fastened on to early in the evening by Jack Hayes, Uganda's Traffic Superintendent, who seemed to perceive in me a link with home as he took pride in telling me that he had sat next to Dodd, Chief Constable of Birmingham, through Police College, and I was charged to deliver personal greetings for him on my return. Arising out of this, he offered us a police escort to by-pass Kampala on our way from the Equator the next day and topped this off by saying that if, on arrival at Gulu, there were any spares we wanted we could get through to him direct from his private wireless station at Gulu and he would fly them out to us within two hours.

This was typical of the spirit of co-operation and interest we found everywhere and it was a great pity that the annual Prize Giving at the Mackerere College should have clashed with our dinner and so prevented the Governor or the Mayor of Kampala from being with us, but most of the other important officials turned up, and in particular we were glad to welcome the various representatives of Victoria Motors and the Uganda set-up of Vacuum as well as the local Press.