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Last updated: Thu 5 Jun 2014

A Nunney woman is not for sale

Two women from Nunney and Trudoxhill travelled across the Sahara desert together in the 1930s.

desert

The desert south of Biskra

Mrs W. Brodie of Trudoxhill and her maid, Miss Edna Vince from Nunney, spent five months facing the dangers of the desert.

On their 1,000 mile journey across the Sahara they often visited places never before seen by white women.

Mrs Brodie was described as “a frail, white-haired little Somerset widow” in newspaper reports of her adventure in 1934.

She was accompanied on her expedition by Miss Vince, a French guide and three French chauffeurs in two cars.

Sahara rally 1930The women set off from northeastern Algeria, part of the French colonial empire at the time.

Here the town of Biskra formed their starting point.

Biskra was a popular winter resort, compared to Nice in France. It was a military post and surrounded by date and olive groves.

Sahara rally 1930

Hotel du Sahara Biskra

Biskra was a popular winter resort with many luxury hotels

Interestingly, Diana Mayo, protagonist of Edith Maude Hull’s bestselling 1919 novel The Sheik, starts her journey into the desert from Biskra.

The Sheik

The Sheik made Rudolph Valentino a huge star.

The silent film based on the novel was a huge box office hit and helped propel Rudolph Valentino to stardom. When Valentino died, aged 31, just five years later, an estimated 100,000 people lined the streets of New York to pay their respects.

“We started from Biskra last November,” Mrs Brodie told an interviewer. “Our route lay along a rough track which had been used only two or three times before by white men, and then only by scientific expeditions.”

“When we reached the scrub country in the south, we had the greatest difficulty in persuading the French military commander of the area to allow us to go on.”

This was because the Touaregs, a fierce native tribe, had been pacified only six years earlier.

Touaregs 1930

Touaregs

“They are said to be descended from a band of French Crusaders who got lost on their way home from the Holy Land,” Mrs Brodie explained.

They still break out occasionally and massacre small parties of white people.”

Undaunted, the two women managed to persuade the French military commander and travelled on. For four nights while they were in Touareg territory the men kept guard while the women slept.

“They all carried revolvers and were ready for any attack,” Mrs Brodie said. “I rather enjoyed it.”

Sahara rally 1930

A desert camp during a 1930 car rally through the Sahara

Touaregs 1930The two women reached the border with Niger, a French colony to the south of Algeria.

Here a local African chief took a shine to Miss Edna Vince, the maid from Nunney. He offered to buy her.

“He made this offer by pointing at her and tapping his palm with his thumb four times,” according to Mrs Brodie. “But Edna was not for sale. We were extremely amused.”

She explained that the whole adventure had been far the hardship one would imagine.

Touaregs 1930“We lived in perfect comfort all the time,” she added. “We spent the nights in tents, lit by electric light from the cars.”

The women eventually made it back safely to Nunney and Trudoxhill. Far from taking a well-deserved rest, they already started planning their next expedition.

“I shall not be able to stay at home,” Mrs Brodie concluded.

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