The Comex overland expeditions were created by Lt.-Col. Lionel Gregory, OBE, a visionary man whom I (Stephen Stewart) am proud to have met. Although I didn't appreciate it at the time I suspect that taking part in the third Commonwealth Expedition to India (Comex 3) in the summer of 1969 changed my life. (I was originally one of the radio operators on the Yorkshire coach but was elected leader in a bloodless coup, staged rather unfairly by the contingent from York University.) Each coach kept an official diary of the journey. A film of the Comex 3 expedition to India was made by Ron Crompton and Pete Wolf.
The expedition consisted of twenty coaches each carrying 25 people travelling overland from England to India and back. Comex 3 was (in 1969) the largest peaceful overland expedition ever to be mounted.
Most of the twenty Comex 3 coaches at an American air base in Frakfurt (Germany).
About half of the Comex 3
expedition breaking camp in the desert near Herat (Afganistan) after sleeping
under the stars.
Lt.-Col. Lionel Gregory, OBE,
raises morale at Kavalla (Greece).
Poster advertising the "First
Commonwealth Youth Festival" held in a massive open-air stadium just outside
Delhi. (Note the Yorkshire "Beat Group".)
Two members of the
Yorkshire coach discus the price of bread in the Murree Hills (Pakistan).
Members of the Yorkshire coach in
quarantine for possible cholera in Iran on the return journey to England.
In 1965 the first expedition (Comex 1) of 210 young men and women travelled over-land to Pakistan and India via the Arab States in five vehicles. The journey took 23 days and ran into the Indo-Pakistan conflict. In spite of this the programme was carried out as planned; Indian and Pakistani students were allowed to remain with the expedition throughout. The road back was closed and the expedition returned to London in the Boeing 707 Kinchenjunga.
In 1967 Comex 2 of 320 members, organised in 11 contingents, and with much wider representation, including many Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth participants, repeated the programme this time travelling direct from Turkey to Iran and then to Pakistan and India via Afghanistan and the Khyber Pass. On the 20th anniversary of the granting of independence to India and Pakistan and the unofficial birthday of the new Commonwealth, they bivouacked on the Khyber under the watchful eye of hospitable tribesmen.
After 15,000 miles and within 48 hours of home 14 men and women of the Durham contingent were killed in a tragic road accident. Nine months later the case and all the prosecution against the driver were abolished.
In July, 1969, 500 young men and women travelling in 20 vehicles, undertook what must rank as the longest and largest overland journey in history. When they disembarked at Dover 83 days later, they could claim to have crossed and re-crossed two continents; covered an average distance of 17,500 miles per contingent; carried out every task essential to the expedition, contributed towards the cost and presented free cultural programmes before audiences totalling about 100,000 people in Zagreb (Yugoslavia), Kavalla (Greece), Istanbul (Turkey), Tehran (Iran), Shah Passan (Caspian Sea, Iran), Herat (Afghanistan), Kabul (Afghanistan), Rawpindi (Pakistan), Murree Hills (Pakistan), Delhi, Aurangabad, Agra, Aligarh, Ajmer, Allahabad, Benares, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Jaipur, Jubblepore, Nainital, Manali, Kanpur and Roorkee (India) independent of special presentations of Shakespeare in five centres in New Delhi, the Institute of Education in Istanbul and a Zagreb school, the final Comex 3 entertainment was staged at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
They had overcome innumerable problems and returned, better friends than when they set out, on the date appointed for the event without mishap. It was a fully exposed operation; open to the glare of publicity, its hostility and its generosity. At the end much was criticised but much also was accomplished.
The co-operation of Arlington Motors, Black and Edgingtons, the National Coal Board, the Commonwealth Secretariat, Duple Coachbuilders, the English-Speaking Union, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Greater London Council, higher educational establishments, local education authorities, police forces, Pye of Cambridge, the Services, Universities, and Vauxhall Motors in mounting Comex 3 is acknowledged here with much appreciation.
For more information about Comex and Lt.-Col. Lionel Gregory, OBE click here.
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