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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 August, 2003, 00:05 GMT 01:05 UK
Obituary: Sir Wilfred Thesiger
Wilfred Thesiger in the desert
Thesiger was inspired by his African childhood
Sir Wilfred Thesiger, who has died aged 93, spent most of his life roaming the most distant, desolate and inaccessible parts of the world.

Seemingly armed with little more than an all-encompassing gaze, he travelled with the hardiest and most daring of regional tribesmen.

His subsequent writings bore witness to both the savagery and beauty of the places and people he met.

In 1909, Thesiger's father was appointed British minister in charge of the legation at Addis Ababa. Wilfred, his youngest son, was born in the Abyssinian capital the following year.

The young Thesiger was soon entranced by the place, revelling in the sights and sounds of everyday life.

Above all, he was inspired by the dramatic return of the emperor's army in 1917, from one of the last great pitched battles between traditional African warriors.

"I believe that day implanted in me a life-long craving for barbaric splendour, for savagery and colour and the throb of drums,'' he said.

Following his family's return to England in 1919, Thesiger was educated at Eton and Oxford.

Wilfred Thesiger with a camel
Thesiger found the desert a natural home

Nevertheless, he found ''comradeship more easily among races other than his own" and, for most of his life, he had uneasy relationship with the western world.

From Oxford, Thesiger set out on the first of his many adventures in Africa. He joined the Sudan Political Service in 1934, and his first appointment was to the remote Kutum district where he lived in a thatched hut.

It was here that Thesiger fell in love with the desert. In his book, The Life of My Choice, he wrote: ''I was exhilarated by the sense of space, the silence.

"I felt in harmony with the past, travelling as men had travelled for untold generations across the desert.''

Meanwhile, Mussolini's invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 served only to strengthen his distrust of the western world. And, even in his 90s, he did nothing to mask his detestation for the forces of globalisation.

During World War II, Thesiger moved on to Cairo and Trans-Jordan with the Special Operations Executive.

He fought with the newly established Special Air Service in North Africa, before leaving to become an advisor to Haile Selassie in Abyssinia.

Wilfred Thesiger's book Arabian Sands
The first of Thesiger's travelling tales

In joining the Desert Locusts Research Organisation, he undertook a deeply dangerous journey across the uninhabitable dunes of Arabia - leading to the book, Arabian Sands.

By this time, Thesiger, the colonial officer and soldier, had effectively been reborn as an explorer and author.

Thesiger went on to record the lives of the remote peoples and places of Iraq, Persia, Kurdistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and, more recently, Kenya.

He rode camels and, amongst others, mixed with a murderous tribe which determined a man's status by the number of men he had killed and castrated.

Wilfred Thesiger was one of the 20th century's greatest explorers, and his recollections influenced a generation of travel writers including Colin Thubron and Paul Theroux.

Ill health left him little choice but to spend his last years in a Britain that was largely alien to his desires.

Knighted in 1995, he would have preferred to stay where his heart lay, in the deserts of Africa or the hills of the Hindu Kush.

Sir Wilfred Thesiger: Your tributes
26 Aug 03  |  Have Your Say

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