Desert Mysteries, Part One

John Tull, Going Postal
Blackwood’s Magazine.
Public domain

Some years ago, for only a few pounds, I purchased from a local antiques fair a June 1939 edition of “Blackwood’s Magazine”, this magazine and miscellany (pictured) ran from 1817 to 1980.

I bought it for the article called “Libyan Desert Mysteries” that I thought would help my research into the Desert War by giving some background about the desert itself and those who had explored it before the subsequent Desert War battles were fought over it.

Read and then put aside until recently, it surfaced again during a tidy up of my study.

Taking another look at it, I took more notice of what had been hand written on the front cover and on an inside page.

Written on the front in black ink in a Victorian style cursive hand is “Return to Ed. D. Moore Esq.”.

Below this, showing the magazine had been to India and back, written in a more contemporary cursive style in ink is “From Paddy O’Connor. Itakhoote, Khelo P.O. Assam” along with an asterisk which is also repeated next to the “Libyan Desert Mysteries” article in the contents list.

In pencil at the top of the page is written “F. Woolley Smith” with a double underlining.

On an inside page is written, again in ink in a cursive hand is “Return to Ed. D. Moore Esq. Brampton Brian”.

Brampton Bryan (note spelling) is a village not far from where I live in Herefordshire, as quiet and bucolic a place as redolent of old middle England as you would ever want to visit.

Research has led me to find that “Brampton Brian” had been a farm in Brampton Bryan that used to belong to a Mr Edward Davis Moore.

Edward Davis Moore MC, born 3rd August 1884, had been a cattle breeder in North Herefordshire, who died on 14th October 1955 and was buried in Brampton Bryan on 16 October 1955 age 71.

As a Hereford cattle breeder, he had specialised in sales to South America, and he died during the actual dispersal sale of his herd that had been brought about because of his retirement from farming but with no heirs to take over his business.

When this copy of Blackwood’s Magazine was published, according to the 1939 Register (taken on 29th September), he was living with his wife Dorothy St Clair Snow, whom he had married in 1920, and his daughter Sheila at “Brampton Brian” his farm in Brampton Bryan and so was the original source of my magazine.

So how does Edward Davis Moore connect with “F. Woolley Smith”, “Paddy O’Connor” and, presumably, the Libyan desert?

More research revealed that Edward Davis Moore had been in World War 1, a member of the “Light Car Patrols”, the forerunners of the Long Range Desert Group and the SAS.

At the start of WW1, he had been in the Shropshire Yeomanry but, as many of these Territorial Cavalry Battalions were, he had been unhorsed and sent out to Africa to be retrained as Infantry.

There he had volunteered to join the embryonic Light Car Patrols, was subsequently commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and became commander of No.3 Patrol.

The Light Car Patrols used virtually “off the shelf” Model T Fords to patrol the desert and to control the indigenous tribes, such as the rebellious Sanusi Bedouin, through to February 1917 when the LCP became part of the Motors section of the Machine Gun Corps on the conclusion of their campaign.

The Sanusi or Senussi had been encouraged by the Turks to revolt against the Italians in Libya and the British in Egypt and they sought to capture the coastal towns of Sollum, Mersa Matruh and Da’aba whilst from other Senussi occupied oases to the south, they launched raids into British-held territory.

Lt. Moore and his patrol having been in one of the remotest and most inhospitable stretches of desert in the world for many months, had asked to be recalled but instead were told by Army GHQ to undertake a reconnaissance out to Kufra, beyond the Sand Sea, to track down Sayyid Ahmad Al-Sharif, the Grand Sanusi of the Sanusi Brotherhood, an Islamic sect.

To do this they had to travel over 450 miles from their base at the Dakhla oasis in the middle of the Western Desert at the start of the sandstorm season, going backwards and forwards setting up dumps of petrol and food on the way, resulting in thousands of miles of desert driving in what was then virtually unknown territory.

How they eventually accomplished this feat is recorded in the book “Light Car Patrols 1916-19”, the memoirs of Captain Claud H. Williams who had been commanding officer of No. 5 Patrol (available from Silphium Press).

The Blackwood’s article itself, “Libyan Desert Mysteries” by “Major C. S. Jarvis”, has on re-reading references to the LCP such as “the first attempt at exploration by motor was made by a Libyan Car Patrol (sic) under Lieutenant Moore. With the patrol went Dr Ball, a member of the Egyptian Desert Survey, who is responsible for mapping of the Libyan Desert. The aim was to find a possible track to Kufra, which lies due west from Dakhla, but the cars met the great sand sea that runs south from Siwa in an unbroken line for 250 miles and, since it is well over a hundred miles wide, further progress was impossible”.

The article also has markings made in pencil with the odd exclamation mark, question mark and the word “correct”. Made by “F. Woolley Smith” perhaps?

So, an old Hereford farmer and reader of the Blackwood’s Magazine turns out to have been a desert explorer and pioneer of desert warfare in his youth. But what of “F. Woolley Smith” and “Paddy O’Connor”?

In part 2, I’ll reveal the even more amazing life of “F. Woolley Smith”…

© John Tull 2024