Sandeha Lynch ... Photography and Sculpture
A Road Trip in 1940

This roll of Eastman Panatomic-X is the first set of 35mm negatives in a filing album stamped “NASS PHOTO MINIATURE-NEGATIVE-ALBUM” and the only complete roll that is fully annotated, frame by frame, by my father. Some other sequences of negatives in the album have partial annotation. At the time, he was a Flight Lieutenant and Intelligence Officer with HQ 203 (Maintenance) Group RAF, based in Khartoum, Sudan.

According to his hand-written log, sometime after the 4th October 1940, he travelled overland in a convoy from El Fasher (Al Fashir) in Sudan to El Geneina (Al Junaynah) near the border with French Equatorial Africa (now Chad), going as far as El Adre (Adré) in Chad before returning to Khartoum by the same route. The thirty-five frames document the drive from Fasher to Geneina.

The convoy was likely connected to the RAF aircraft resupply chain known as the Takoradi Route, where crated aircraft parts began to arrive from the Americas at the Gold Coast port of Takoradi (now Sekondi-Takoradi in Ghana) to be assembled for flying to Sudan and then Egypt. The logistics were complex, needing prepared staging posts to get fuel, ferry pilots, and mechanics to the right places in sequence.

The first flight of seven newly assembled aircraft had just taken place in late September, although only six planes (or just five, depending on which record is followed), arrived on time at their destination of Abu Sueir in Egypt. Eventually more than 5,000 aircraft were flown along this route. Geneina and Fasher airfields were two of the Takoradi refuelling stops for aircraft.

As an aside, Amelia Earhart stopped overnight at El Fasher on her second attempt at circumnavigation in 1937, continuing eastwards the next day to Khartoum and Massawa in Eritrea.

From his log; the first parts of the journey were by air, with the names of the pilots in brackets.


Oct 2
Carthago/Erkowit (Pelly-Fry) air
Oct 4
Khartoum (Selway) air
El Obeid (Villiers) air
El Fasher air
El Geneina road
El Adre road
El Geneina road
El Fasher road
El Obeid (Mooney) air
Khartoum (Mooney) air
Nov 27
Wadi Halfa – Cairo (Upton) air
Nov 28
Dekheila – Heraklion – Eleusis air

While the log entry begins with the flights to and from Carthago, corroborated by the Operations Record Book of No. 203 Group for October 1940 which specifies “Intelligence Duties”, there are no entries in the ORB related to his journey to El Adre. The ORB record of a Group usually lists all movements of aircraft and personnel, but my father’s next log and ORB entries were on 27th November when he left Sudan to take up a posting with the British Expeditionary Force in Greece.

It is just under 400km between El Fasher and El Geneina which might take seven hours on the highway of today. But there was only a dirt road at that time, and two vehicle breakdowns were recorded on the trip. No other dates are given, so there is no record of how long the convoy took or when he got back to Khartoum. They may have stopped overnight at the village of Kabkabiya as it is roughly halfway.

It’s possible that certain supplies flown in to El Fasher had to be taken by truck to El Geneina instead of flying them there (although there were occasional flights from Khartoum to Geneina). However, there is nothing in the photos to suggest anything unusual was being delivered, so perhaps it was simply that Geneina airfield needed some replacement trucks.

It’s even less clear why he might have gone to El Adre. This was October, and ‘French Tchad’ had become a ‘Free French’ territory in support of General de Gaulle and the Allies just two months earlier. Was there some ‘Casablanca-style’ intrigue going on at the border that required the presence of an Intelligence Officer for a couple of days? Something that, for reasons of national security, could not be recorded in the ORB?

Whatever the reason, it provided my keen-photographer dad with the opportunity to shoot one roll of film along the way. There is no indication of what camera he used.

Numbered frames, with several descriptions repeated.

1. Through doorway rest house El Fasher

2. Fasher Suk in distance

3. Fasher Suk in distance

4. Fasher Suk in distance

5. Memorial El Fasher

6. El Fasher street

7. Rest house compound El Fasher

8. Loading up convoy for Geneina

9. Loading up convoy for Geneina

10. Loading up convoy for Geneina

11. Peak between Fasher and Kabkabiya

12. Peak between Fasher and Kabkabiya

13. Hill profile between Fasher and Kabkabiya

14. Breakdown on road between Fasher and Kabkabiya

15. Country in Darfur Hills, trees and grass

16. Hill profile between Fasher and Kabkabiya

17. Hill profile between Fasher and Kabkabiya

18. Headman of Kabkabiya

19. Headman of Kabkabiya

20. Headman of Kabkabiya

21. Cattle in Darfur country

22. Cattle in Darfur country

23. Convoy breakdown between Kabkabiya and Geneina

24. Convoy breakdown between Kabkabiya and Geneina

25. Camel in Darfur country

26. RAF station in Geneina

27. RAF station in Geneina

28. RAF station in Geneina

29. RAF station in Geneina

30. RAF station in Geneina

31. RAF station in Geneina

32. RAF station in Geneina

33. RAF station in Geneina

34. RAF station in Geneina

35. RAF station in Geneina

The Khartoum Station ORB offers some additional detail. My father "deplaned" at Fasher on the 28th October 1940, and (presumably) flew back to Khartoum on the 5th November. This assumption is based on the recorded movements of the Vickers Valentia K3614 that he flew in as, unusually, he is not mentioned by name on the return flight.

According to the Station ORB, the return flight of K3614 was "delayed awaiting spares", but this eight-day gap could have allowed him to travel overland and back to El Adre in Chad. El Adre is just a few miles inside the border.

There are only three points of reference: the photos, the ORBs, and the log. Only his personal log mentions El Adre as a destination. The mystery is twofold: why he might have gone there, and why the trip is not mentioned in any official record.


Some details of the aircraft replacement route from Takoradi to Khartoum and beyond, are described in an RAF Narrative entitled ‘THE WEST AFRICAN REINFORCEMENT ROUTE’:

And the route itself is described in an RAF 238 Squadron blog:

It’s now some 84 years since this roll was shot and developed. The bulk of my father’s photos are in an album, ‘B J Lynch’, on Flickr: