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Something Lost Behind the Ranges: The Autobiography of John Blashford-Snell.

'Go and look behind the ranges.' These quotations from Kipling are totally apt to 'Blashers' life. His early years with his Family and Other Animals might well have produced another Gerald Durrell. It was his mother with almost magical power over animals who refused to accept his shrivelled arm from a difficult birth in 1936, and worked it back to normality. Whether from his adventurous mother or fire eating padre father, life was always colourful to the young Blashford-Snell. He turned the Hereford Rectory into a Just William story in the war and indeed even out Williamed William, on one occasion when ordered to ring the church bell for early service. He decided to do this from bed, and, like his grandmother, already a good shot, let off his rook rifle. This certainly hit the bell but unfortunately scattered the intended congregation.

Blashers was packed off to Victoria College in Jersey and then Sandhurst where an RE training allowed full scope to an original. But it was his godparents, Lord and Lady Forester, who set his path on a life's dream. Cecil Forester, who had commanded the Royal Horse Guards and led a life of imperial adventure himself, had given generous hospitality to the exiled Emperor Hailie Selassi. Once returned to Ethiopia, he willingly agreed to a Sandhurst organised expedition to collect scientific specimens in 1964. This was followed by a larger expedition in 1966, organised by the Royal Military College of Science while a third, in 1968, set off to explore the largely unknown Blue Nile. In these expeditions Blashford-Snell played a leading role, and was then asked to organise first the Darien Gap Expedition and then the Zaire River Exploration in 1974. This last journey included three teenagers, and began the evolution from Outward Bound and the Junior Leaders Regiment, on to Operations Drake and Raleigh.

Because of his light-hearted style, crisply anecdotal, it is not always appreciated how much first class experience Blashers had in a career of forty years organising over sixty expeditions to all parts of the world. Prince Charles who became his patron summed up the need for Drake and Raleigh Operations in one phrase:-- the young were seeking some of the challenges of war in a peace-time situation. Walter Annenberg, American Ambassador to the Court of King James, contributed the necessary [pounds]50,000. For those who feared decadence in the younger generation, it was reassuring to know that 58,000 youngsters applied for the two hundred and sixteen places available. And, unlike many macho explorers, Blashford-Snell welcomed girls onto his expeditions. Through launching these operations he has enabled thousands of youngsters to experience the challenge of exploration at first hand.

Wiser than many leaders, he has now retired from active participation and is concentrating on a new idea: Discovery Expeditions for the elderly who are also seeking challenge in remote areas. One feels this won't be a SAGA-type tour but it will be fun. Youth, as Blashers ever optimistic says, is a state of mind, and Kipling still applies: 'Something hidden. Go and find it lost and waiting for you'.

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Author:Mortimer, Molly
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1994
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