Wheels Across the Desert, by Andrew
Goudie. London, Silphium Press, 2008. Pb, 205 pp, ISBN 978-1-900971-07-2. £12.
In 2005 the Society for Libyan Studies published, under the Silphium label, Travellers in Libya, an anthology of writings by visitors to Libya from Leo Africanus in the early sixteenth century up to the arrival of the Italians at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Society has followed this by producing Wheels Across the Desert, by Andrew Goudie, in a similar format, covering the first half of the twentieth century but with particular emphasis on the introduction of the motor car to desert travel.
This volume differs from its predecessor in that the author defines the physical characteristics of the desert from the western borders of Libya eastwards towards the Nile and follows this with a review of all the relevant accounts of the motorised exploration of the desert. It begins with the use of Model T Fords by the Light Car Patrols based in Egypt during the First World War and ends with the use of Chevrolets by the Long Range Desert Group in the Second World War. This period of some twenty-five years heralds the almost complete transformation of desert travel from the reliance on beasts of burden to that of the internal combustion engine. After some limited experience in the First World War, there followed years of exploration, surveying, mapping and archaeology. Many of the participants in these activities took their experiences into the second World War—Ralph Bagnold, Pat Clayton and W.B.K Shaw made use of their considerable abilities in the L.R.D.G, and Count László Almásy proved of service to General Rommel. New methods of navigating using a sun compass were devised, and ‘dune driving’ became a desirable accomplishment.
Almost anything you might wish to know about explorers in this period in the Western Desert is contained within this modest volume—a veritable vade-mecum for future students. There are relevant maps, portrait photographs of the main characters and suitably nostalgic snaps of dusty, open-topped vehicles up to their axles in sand. The book concludes with a comprehensive bibliography of 150 references, which includes the recommended and relevant book by the joint editor of this Bulletin, Russell McGuirk, The Sanusi’s Little War (Arabian Publishing Ltd., 2007).