AS the last Land Rover Defender rolled off the production line at the end of last month, this moment in history prompted one reader to recollect his experiences in the iconic 4×4.
The Defender may have been driven by everyone from the Queen to Steve McQueen but very few would have endured the ‘great escape’ which Robert Andrews completed in 1963.
Mr Andrews was just 22 years old when he joined two friends in a Land Rover to set off for a new life in Rhodesia in Southern Africa.
A story published in the Burton Mail in March 1963 explained how their 10,000 mile journey would take them three months to complete as they passed through France, Germany, Turkey, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Africa.
Mr Andrews was the son of Bob Andrews – a well-known face in the town as he was the free trade manager for the Marston, Thompson and Evershed brewery.
As Mr Andrews, who lived in Shobnall Road, said goodbye to friends and family along with his two companions, John Little and Ross Chapman, his father gave him the parting gift of a 12-bore shotgun for protection.
One of the intrepid trio – Mr Little – was a Rhodesian with a home just outside Salisbury (now known as Harare), and so the latter part of their voyage would be home from home for him.
Speaking to the Mail as the last Land Rover Defender rolled off the production line in Solihull, Mr Andrews shared memories of this life-changing trip which would see him living in South Africa for more than 13 years.
He said: “We sailed to France in early 1963 just as Europe was suffering its worst winter since 1948. We drove through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Austria before crossing the Alps to Zagreb in Yogoslavia.
“We then went on to Greece through Skopje, and Thessalonica to the Bosporous which we crossed by ferry to Istanbul. Then on to Ankara before driving to the coast at Iskenerun.”
As per the troubles of today, Syria was in the midst of a civil war in 1963 and permission had to be made so that the trio and their trusty Land Rover could travel through the country.
With permission granted, the trio were given orders to drive through the night but not to stop.
A couple of days in Beirut should have been time for rest but the Land Rover needed a few repairs before a boat could be taken to Port Said.
Delays with visas meant that the group then had time to relax and explore Egypt for a few days. Mr Andrews said: “We had to wait in Cairo for two weeks before our visas for the Sudan came through and we camped on the golf course at Mena House under the shadow of the pyramids at Giza.
“When the visas arrived, we drove to the Suez Canal then south to the Red Sea. We drove back to the Nile to Aswan where we boarded a steamer.
“The Aswan dam was being built and we were lucky to see many temples which have since disappeared and stood at the great monument at Abu Simbel.
“We disembarked at Wadi Halfa in the Sudan and drove south to Abu Hamed, Berber and on to Khartoum.”
For anyone who ever dared to question the durability of a Land Rover Defender, the last stage in the trio’s journey would have been impossible in anything but this iconic 4×4.
“There were just 25 miles of asphalt roads in the Sudan at this time so the journey was both uncomfortable and dangerous. Not from just the desert but also from the marauding horsemen and the chances of not finding fuel.
“As a precaution we carried an extra 100 litres of fuel in five containers.
“From Khartoum we drove to Malakal and then south with the intention of reading Juba.”
The group’s delay waiting for visas now came back to haunt them as this meant they were now travelling in the worst of the wet season.
Mr Andrews said: “At one stage we only managed a hundred yards in a day and the ground was deteriorating fast.
“We were forced to turn back but we were in a war zone and our three week visas had now expired.”
The group took a river steamer from Malakal (South Sudan) to Juba (the capital of South Sudan) in third-class which was very primitive by anyone’s standards.
Food for travellers was either goat or chicken – killed and gutted on the deck – and cooking was done over an open boiler. Visiting the toilet was definitely a no-go zone if you wanted to leave disease free from the filthy conditions and so time was passed speaking to a group of Sudanese soldiers.
Despite their visas having expired, this wasn’t a problem as the trio drove to Uganda which was the height of civilisation compared to Sudan with roads and signposts and well-dressed people.
As the Land Rover headed to Kenya the explorers passed the Equator for the first time and were pleased to reach Nairobi where they filled their fuel cans – only to find that money was now running rather short.
To ensure the group made it to Mr Litle’s home in Salisbury, Rhodesia, the journey was straight as they headed through Tanganyika.
Any hopes of finding work in Rhodesia were quickly dashed because of sanctions and so the trusty Land Rover – which was already second-hand when the trio took it on its journey – had to be sold and the money was split three ways.
The end of the Land Rover in which the threesome had ate, slept and lived for months also saw the end of the group as goodbye was said to John Little who was now back in his Rhodesian hometown.
Now just a daring duo, Mr Chapman and Mr Andrews hitch-hiked to Bulawayo (the second-largest city in Rhodesia) and then to Beitbridge.
The pair then hitched lifts to Johannesburg where they found work and settled.
Mr Chapman returned to the UK after a year but Mr Andrews stayed for 13 and a half years before moving to Cairo.
Speaking to the Burton Mail in March 1963, Mr Andrews senior said: “I wish I was going on the journey with them – but then come back to Burton of course”.
Mr Andrews did return to Burton – eventually – it was just 38 years after he left.
Now living in Draycott in the Clay, Mr Andrews has been back in the UK since the year 2000.
Would he recommend the trip to anyone else?
“I wouldn’t recommend doing what we did as we found out afterwards that both leopards and hyenas have been known to prey on humans, and this is alongside the normal robbers.”
As for the Land Rover?
“The Land Rover was ex-army and we found to our disadvantage that it had been a bit of a bodge-job as the prop shaft was broken and had been repaired with a bit of tin can soldered into place and cunningly painted. The AA said before our journey that it would be a miracle if it made it to Brighton but it made it to Rhodesia.”