Ralph Bagnold OBE (1896-1990) was one of a number of incredibly cinematic adventurers in the mid-twentieth century who could claim to have taken the rule that Reality Is Unrealistic Serial Escalation. In fact it is arguable that many fictional writers would be to embarrassed to actually write his Real Life exploits into their works.
Bagnold was born in Devonport, England. His father, Arthur, was an Old Soldier with the Royal Engineers. His sister, Enid was the writer of National Velvet. During World War I, Bagnold enlisted in his father's regiment and served for several years in France, winning a number of honors. After this he went to Cambridge to study engineering before doing a number of years military service, policing The British Empire. Then began the most interesting part of his life.
Reading about the mysterious Lost Oasis of Zeezura in the Libyan desert, Bagnold set off on a number of expeditions. He and his companions formed the Zeezura Club which included such colorful characters as the mysterious and aristocratic, Hungarian Count Laszlo Almasy and the ferociously religious Orde Wingate, making up a Badass Crew. Zeezura was never found but what was discovered was navigational methods in the desert and means of driving and maintaining motor vehicles in a desert environment.
When World War II broke out the Zeezura Club was split apart. Almasy, being a Hungarian took the Axis side and became a commando and spy, having a number of interesting exploits; the secret rescue of several Jewish refugees is credited to him. In the meantime Bagnold and his companions formed the Long Range Desert Group. This was a number of light vehicles that carried out recon, raiding, and similar operations in the desert; motorized light cavalry if you will. The confusion they sowed in the Italian army helped bring about the Allies first major land victory in the war. The LRDG continued to cover themselves with glory through the entire desert war. And while they no longer exist, their memory is a part of Britain's special operations tradition.
But besides being a warrior and an adventurer, Bagnold was a scientist. He did immense study of desert terrain and of the behavior of sands. He experimented with sands by testing them with a wind tunnel and taking notes of the behavior of grains of various size as well as cataloging the different types of dunes. His book, The Physics of Blown Sands and Desert Dunes is a classic that has not been made obsolete and it is used by NASA for the study of Mars to this day.
Tropes from Ralph Bagnold's life:
- Army Scout: Among other duties, the LRDG was a reconnaissance force, shadowing Italian and German units.
- Badass Crew: Both the Zeezura Club and LRDG qualify as this.
- Badass Family: Well sort of. His father was a Badass, and his sister was a great writer.
- Cavalry Officer: No horses, but he did the same sorts of things light cavalry used to do.
- Crossing the Desert: He became an expert in navigating the desert and surviving the journey.
- The Engineer: He was officially an officer of the Royal Engineers.
- Great Big Book of Everything: Physics of Blown Sand and Desert Dunes is the great big book of everything that has to do with deserts.
- Jungle Opera: He lived a Real Life one. Though more a desert opera then a jungle opera, but the same type of plot so to speak.
- Live-Action Escort Mission: One common job of the Long Range Desert Group was to escort SAS teams to the enemy's rear to conduct mayhem.
- Recycled In Space: He and his contemporaries are the Real Life versions of Indiana Jones.
- Sand Is Water: Averted. He specifically said it was not in his book. See the quote at the top of that site.
- Science Hero: He applied rigorous scientific methods to his adventures, ultimately resulting in his book.
- The Scrounger: Much of the LRDG s equipment was gotten this way.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Physics of Blown Sand and Desert Dunes is filled with this, interspersed by arcane mathematical formulas.