It had been a long and somewhat tiresome day bent over my quill pen (long before computers) in the Ministry of Defence’s Old War Office Building, when our Chief Clerk announced “There is a young officer at reception who wonders if you could spare him a few minutes”. Anything would be better than adding up the numbers of mechanical minelayers, bulldozers and trench digging devices that the Royal Engineers would need to keep the Soviet Army out of England I thought. “What does he want”? I asked passing the pile of paper into my pending tray. “Wants to go on an expedition” replied the Chief. Captain Sir Ranulph Twistleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, tall, slim and bronzed entered, bearing a battered old map case. As one of the staff who advised on the Army’s programme of adventurous training, I was used to meeting a wide variety of enthusiastic individuals who came forward with proposals ranging from deadly dull, to utterly foolhardy, but there was something about the determined glint in the newcomer’s eye that suggested this man was completely serious.
“I understand you are Chairman of the Scientific Exploration Society” he smiled “and support soldiers who want to go on expeditions”. “Not financially” I interjected “ but we can sometimes help with equipment or find sponsors”. “I want to navigate the length of the White Nile using small hovercraft” confided my guest, unfolding a tattered map. “I’ll count the mechanical minelayers tomorrow” I told my clerk and for the next hour discussed the cataracts and likely diplomatic obstacles that Ran Fiennes would have to overcome. By 6pm I’d agreed to become this persuasive young man’s rear party rep in Britain and seek support for his venture. “You must meet my Mother and my girlfriend” he said on departing and that weekend Judith and I lunched with Lady Fiennes and Ginny Pepper. They were every bit as enthusiastic as Ran.
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