|Sir Wilfred Thesiger|
3 June 1910|
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
|Died||24 August 2003
Croydon, London, England, UK
|Alma mater||Magdalen College, Oxford|
|Known for||Exploration, Writing, Photography|
|Notable work(s)||Arabian sands
The Marsh Arabs
|Years of service||1940-1943|
|Unit||Sudan Defence Force
Special Air Service
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Major Sir Wilfred Patrick Thesiger, CBE, DSO, FRAS, FRGS, also known as Mubarak bin London (Arabic for "the blessed one from London") (3 June 1910 – 24 August 2003) was a British explorer and travel writer.
Thesiger was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the son of diplomat Wilfred Gilbert Thesiger, British consul-general and minister to Addis Ababa from 1909 to 1919. Thesiger's grandfather was Lord Chelmsford. Viscount Chelmsford, future Viceroy of India was an uncle, and the actor Ernest Thesiger was a cousin.
Thesiger was educated at Eton College, Berkshire, followed by Magdalen College at the University of Oxford, where he took a Third in History. Between 1930 and 1933, Thesiger represented Oxford at boxing and later (in 1933) became captain of the Oxford boxing team. He was awarded a boxing Blue for each of the four years that he was at Oxford.
In 1930, Thesiger returned to Africa, having received a personal invitation from Emperor Haile Selassie to attend his coronation. He returned again in 1933 as the leader of an expedition, funded in part by the Royal Geographical Society, to explore the course of the Awash River. During this expedition, he became the first European to enter the Aussa Sultanate and visit Lake Abbe.
Second World War
At the outbreak of war, Thesiger joined the Sudan Defence Force, helping to organise the Abyssianian resistance to the occupying Italians. He was awarded the DSO for capturing Agibar and its garrison of 2,500 Italian soldiers.
He later served with the Special Operations Executive in Syria and the Special Air Service during the North African Campaign, attaining the rank of Major. From 1943 to 1945 he acted as political adviser to the Abyssinian Crown Prince.
|This section requires expansion. (February 2014)|
In 1945, Thesiger worked in Arabia with the Desert Locusts Research Organisation. Meanwhile, from 1945 to 1949, he explored the southern regions of the Arabian peninsula and twice crossed the Empty Quarter. His travels later also took him to Iraq, Iran, Kurdistan, French West Africa and Pakistan. He would live for many years in northern Kenya. He returned to England in the 1990s and was knighted in 1995.
Thesiger is best known for two travel books: Arabian Sands (1959) recounts his travels in the Empty Quarter of Arabia between 1945 and 1950 and describes the vanishing way of life of the Bedouins. The Marsh Arabs (1964) is an account of the Madan, the indigenous people of the marshlands of southern Iraq. The latter journey is also covered by his travelling companion, Gavin Maxwell, in A Reed Shaken by the Wind – a Journey through the Unexplored Marshlands of Iraq (Longman, 1959).
Thesiger took many photographs during his travels and donated his vast collection of 23,000 negatives to the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. His books were analysed, from a collector's point of view, in Book and Magazine Collector magazine, No.65, August 1989, and again in 2008, Issue No.295.
- Master of Arts, MA, Oxon
- Third Class Star of Ethiopia 1930
- Companion of the Distinguished Service Order, DSO 1941
- Founder's Medal, Royal Geographical Society, RGS 1948
- Lawrence of Arabia Medal, Royal Central Asian Society, RCAS 1955
- Livingstone Medal, Royal Scottish Geographical Society, RSGS 1962
- W.H.Heinemann Award 1964
- Royal Society of Literature, RSL 1965
- Burton Memorial Medal, Royal Asiatic Society, RAS 1966
- Honorary Dlitt Leicester 1967
- Commander of the Order of the British Empire, CBE 1968
- Fellow Royal Society of Literature, FRSL 1982
- Honorary Fellow British Academy, FBA 1982;
- Honorary DLitt, University of Bath, 1992
- The Last Nomad (1979)
- 1980 – William Collins; ISBN 0-525-93077-9
- The Life of My Choice (1987)
- 1987 Harpercollins;. ISBN 0-00-637267-8
- Visions of a Nomad (1987)
- 1987 Collins; ISBN 0-00-217729-3
- The Danakil Diary: Journeys through Abyssinia, 1930-4 Hammersmith, 1996, ISBN 0-00-638775-6 His account of exploring the Awash valley, and encounters with the Afar people.
- Among the Mountains: Travels Through Asia Harper Collins, (1998); ISBN 0-00-255898-X. This account presents edited portions of journal entries written during trips to remote mountain areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kurdistan between 1952 and 1965, as well as numerous black-and-white photographs that he took at the time. There is little detail since the book is based on his diary entries. For a better account, read The Life of My Choice.
- Crossing the Sands Motivate Pub Ltd (2000) 176 pp; ISBN 1-86063-028-6. About his journeys in the Empty Quarter and the Arabian Peninsula during the late forties, with photographs.
- My Life and Travels (anthology)
- A Vanished World
In popular culture
In 2008, Majid Abdulrazak (a film director from the United Arab Emirates) produced a film version of Arabian Sands which was self-funded and employed actors from the UAE and Oman in most of the major roles.
Notes and sources
- Byrnes, Sholto (12 July 2010). "Wilfred Thesiger in Africa, by Christopher Morton and Philip N Grover". New Statesman. Retrieved 2013-08-13.
- Langham, Eric; Goaman-Dodson, Toby; Rogers, Lyn (2008). Mubarak Bin London: Wilfred Thesiger and the Freedom of the Desert. Abu Dhabi: United Arab Emirates Authority for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 2013-08-13.
- The London Gazette: . 26 December 1941. Retrieved 23 June 2008.
- "Honorary Graduates 1989 to present". bath.ac.uk. University of Bath. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
- Asher, Michael (1994). Thesiger. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 978-0-670837694.
- Asher, Michael (23 August 2003). "Obituary: Sir Wilfred Thesiger". The Guardian (Guardian Media Group plc). Retrieved 15 January 2013.
- Glancy, Jonathan (29 June 2002). "The Profile: Wilfred Thesiger 'Wild at Heart' ". The Guardian (Guardian Media Group plc). Retrieved 15 January 2013.
- Maitland, Alexander (2004). Thesiger: A Life in Pictures. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-002572248.
- Maitland, Alexander (2006). Wilfred Thesiger: The Life of the Great Explorer. London: HarperPress. ISBN 978-0-002556088.
- Thesiger, Wilfred (1987a). The Life of My Choice. London: Collins. ISBN 978-0-002161947.
- Thesiger, Wilfred (1987b). Visions of a Nomad. London: Collins. ISBN 978-0-002177290.
Photographs by Thesiger
Obituaries and Profiles (mostly August 2003)
- Daily Telegraph obituary
- Review of maitland's official biography discusses various aspects of the explorer's life and characters.
- BBC obituary (26 August 2003) contains errors such as Wilfred being the youngest son, which he was not.
- Profile by Jonathan Glancy in The Guardian
- Eric Newby's recollections of Thesiger
- Frank Gardner (journalist), the BBC's Security Correspondent, recalls personal memories of the great explorer including inspiring Gardner to learn Arabic.