In the 1920s and 30s, a band of British officers stationed in Egypt began to explore the Western Desert which straddles the borders with Libya and the Sudan. Adapting a series of Model T Fords, Bagnold and his colleagues set out across territory hitherto traversed only by camel caravans. They mapped new routes across 'impassable' sand seas, in 'regions untrodden by man since the Stone Age'. They also uncovered inner strengths, an awed respect for the stern and beautiful environment and a tender relationship with the machines upon which their lives depended. Their knowledge went on to play a crucial part in the North African campaign during the Second World War. For these men formed the nucleus of the celebrated LRDG, the Long Range Desert Group, and the SAS. It is the quiet heroism of such men that is celebrated in Michael Ondaatje's triumphant novel, The English Patient.