Sir Wilfred Thesiger
Sir Wilfred Thesiger, who has been described as “the quintessential English explorer” and “perhaps the last, and certainly one of the greatest, of the British travellers among Arabs” was born in 1910 at the British Legation in Addis Ababa and spent his early years in Abyssinia. He was educated at Eton and Oxford. When he was twenty three, Thesiger made his first expedition into the country of the Danakil. In the Second World War, serving under Orde Wingate in Abyssinia, he was awarded a DSO. He later served with the SOE in Syria and the SAS on the Western Desert.
Sir Wilfred sought out the secrets of the desert in the years before Arabia was transformed forever by the oil beneath her sands. His reputation was established by two epic journeys he made in the 1940s across the Rub al-Khali, or Empty Quarter – the most forbidding and least-penetrated region of Arabia and explored the interior of Oman. Accompanied by his two ever-present companions, Salim bin Kabina and Salim bin Ghabaisha, and other Bedu guides and hunters, the barefoot explorer achieved what few believed was possible. His travels from Abyssinia to Arabia to Afghanistan in the company of some of the world’s little-known and misunderstood tribes.
His fondest memories, however, are of the five years he spent in Arabia, which he described as “the most important years of my life … the happiest period,” travelling from Hadhramaut to Abu Dhabi in the company of the Rashid and Bait Kathir, evading parties of Saar raiders, and enduring gruelling long marches. He was the first European to visit the Liwa Oasis , in the UAE, and was the first to cross the Umm al-Samim quicksands the so-called “mother of poison” in Oman.
Thesiger’s experience and knowledge of the Arabian Sands, its people, its tribal warfare and ancient history, its daily life and landscape, were unique and will remain so, for the world he describes has since altered beyond recognition.
Thesiger’s role has been that of both participant and recorder in the events he so eloquently describes in his best-selling books: Arabian Sands, The Marsh Arabs, Desert, Marsh and Mountain, Visions of a Nomad (a collection of his fine photographs) and his autobiography, The Life of My Choice.
For his achievement he was awarded the Founder’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society; the Lawrence of Arabia Medal; the Livingstone Medal of the SRGS; and the Burton Memorial Medal. His writing won him the Heinemann Award; the Fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature; and an honorary D.Litt. from the
Universities of Leicester and Bath. In 1968 he was made a CBE. He was an Honorary Fellow of the British Academy and an Honorary Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford.
From 1978 he spent the greater part of each year among the pastoral Samburu of northern Kenya, before returning to England in 1994. He was knighted the following year.
Thesiger visited the Emirates several times during the 1990’s as a guest of Motivate Publishing who have produced ten books by or about him.
Sir Wilfred Thesiger passed away in 2003.
Further information and photographs can be obtained from Sir Wilfred Thesiger’s publishers in the UAE, Motivate Publishing. Please contact: email@example.com