An epic expedition from Singapore to London by Land Rover will take place later this year, a reverse version of The First Overland trip in 1955…
Sometimes, everything falls into place to make a great story, and when all the parts come together we start to wonder whether it’s controlled by fate, chance or coincidence – either way, these are the tales we remember and enjoy. When Tim Slessor, having just finished his degree, set out in his Land Rover to travel across Europe and into Asia from Hyde Park in 1955 with a group of friends, little did he know that 64 years later the historic journey would rise up once more for the now 87-year-old.
The First Overland
The team of six Oxford and Cambridge students were the first to drive more than 10,000 miles from London to Singapore in a pair of Land Rovers named, fittingly, ‘Oxford and ‘Cambridge’. Following the Hyde Park start, the Land Rovers were flown over to France where the journey began in earnest, travelling through Monaco, Germany, into Austria, then onto Yugoslavia, Greece and Italy. The journey then moved into the Middle East via Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, then Pakistan and India. They then moved into Nepal and Burma (now Myanmar) and on to Thailand, Malaya (Malaysia) and finally, Singapore. The trip took 6-months, 6-days and lasted from 1st September 1955 until 6th March 1956.
People had tried to do similar journeys before; but these were different times, and although it was possible to get as far as India, travellers would then come upon the problem of roads simply not existing, making the continuation of such a journey by vehicle a massive challenge. It was as a result of the 2nd World War that the US Army built a road through Burma, which then later got extended through to Singapore, that made such journeys feasible. “When you say to a 22 or 23 year old, you can’t do that – careful, because the 22-23 year old may say, we’ll give it a go!” Slessor remembers.
The trip itself was a publicity effort from Land Rover to introduce the world to the new Series 1. Arguably, it was this trip which cemented the ‘bolt-together’ Land Rover as being the perfect utility vehicle for adventure travelling, proving itself to be able to be fixed on-the-go by anyone anywhere with a bit of knowledge and a spanner.
Slessor was born in 1933 and was, in retrospect, the perfect choice for the mission as far as Land Rover was concerned, as the man we know today is an award-winning BBC presenter, author, traveller and cameraman. For the trip, he was assistant-cameraman. Slessor joined the BBC a year after the London-Singapore expedition had finished, where he resided for over 30 years making documentaries and eventually earning himself a Peabody Award – an award given out to those who are deemed to have produced the most enlightening, powerful stories via either radio, television or online media. You can currently find a 1964 Slessor documentary on the iPlayer entitled Jungle Green: Borneo, a documentary about British marines on patrol in the jungles of Borneo.
Alex Bescoby is also a filmmaker, albeit one at the other end of his career to that of Slessor. Obsessed with Land Rovers, Bescoby read Tim Slessor’s book First Overland: London to Singapore by Land Rover. Bescoby was so taken with this tale that he decided that he would make contact with Slessor, seeking some way to pay homage to the original journey.
This is where fate – or coincidence – plays its part. For not only did he find Slessor in good health, but he also found that he was thinking along similar lines himself. It is also 200 years since Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore as a trading post for British East India Company – and, one of the original Land Rovers had also found…
Nobody knows what happened to ‘Cambridge’ but remarkably, ‘Oxford’ was found being used a chicken coop on the isolated island of St Helena, a small volcanic island situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Yorkshireman Adam Bennett decided to restore the Land Rover to its original working state. Amazingly, it passed the MoT at first attempt, which says something for both Land Rover build quality and Bennett’s restorative skills. ‘Oxford’ even has had its original number plate reinstated – SNX891. Last year, Adam gave the Land Rover to Tim with the wish that somehow it could serve a part in a similar journey today. At this point, it would be hard for anyone to turn away from the project; all the stars seemed perfectly aligned.
The Last Overland 2019
The new journey will be called The Last Overland 2019 and will be undertaken in reverse, taking in some additional routing that the original trip did not, through the likes of China. The world has changed, and the team will not be travelling through Syria or Afghanistan this time.
The 2019 Team
The 2019 team consists of 8 individuals: Tim and Alex of course, plus Marcus Allender, Larry Leong, Adam Bennett, Léopold Belanger, Dr Sil and Thérèse -Marie Becker.
- Marcus Allender is an experienced travel expert on Southeast Asia; Marcus will be responsible for safety and route planning.
- Larry Leong will be putting his 30 years of experience in IT and IT security plus his national service with the Singapore Armed Forces to good use, where he served as a combat medic. He is also a bit of Land Rover enthusiast and traveller himself, having driven from the Solihull factory to Singapore in 2007.
- Adam Bennett is described as an ‘eccentric Yorkshireman’ by Slessor, Adam used to run his own vehicle restoration garage in the eighties. Another Land Rover enthusiast, Adam will be on hand to not only be part of the journey he desperately wanted to happen but to tackle any mechanical issues that may arise.
- Léo Belanger is a photographer. Born in France, he has been based in Southeast Asia for some time and the documenting of the journey will be in his capable hands.
- Dr Silverius Purba has experience with working with the BBC Natural History Unit. Another Land Rover owner and enthusiast, Dr Sil will be on hand to look after the health of the team, who will be driving up to ten hours a day.
- Thérèse-Marie Becker is an adventurist and Digital Strategist at Digital et Moi, whose clients include Renault, Epic TV and Expedition Studios. Born in Belgium, she will be looking after all online communications.
As Tim Slessor says about the new journey: “Give it a go – before it’s too late. It’s now or never.”
For more articles like this, receive our weekly e-newsletter, including partner deals and all things motoring, register your email below.