My name is Slawomir Rawicz, and though not a native of Nottingham, I settled here after the Second World War, married a local girl and co-wrote my account of the escape from the Soviet Gulag Camp 303 here. Released in 1955 and now translated into 25 languages, The Long Walk has remained in print ever since. It has been a source of inspiration for thousands of people, including renowned adventurers such as Benedict Allen, and in 2010 was the source for Peter Weir’s feature film, The Way Back, itself a source of inspiration for those disinclined to pick up a book.
Now I know that worldwide exposure on the big screen kicked up a storm of controversy about the credibility of my story, but this was nothing new. When the book first appeared, the mountaineer Eric Shipton dismissed it as fiction, largely based on the Himalayan chapter and my ‘claim’ to have encountered a Yeti (aka Abominal Snowman). Peter Fleming (brother of Ian) refused to believe anybody in our condition could walk 6,500 kilometers across mountains, wilderness and desert, while others cast doubt on anybody’s ability to traverse the Gobi Desert on foot, without a support team.
On the other hand, Brick, the author of this piece and someone I met (as John Clark) in the early 1970s, argues that had he not read The Long Walk when he was a lad, he might never have become a life-long addict of outdoor adventure stories. He might never have crossed America and the Sahara Desert by bicycle, might never have found solace in deserts, peace in the wastelands and refuge in the wildernesses of Scotland. To this day, he cites my book as the force that drives him, now in his Sixties, to relish bivouacking in extreme weather, facing the raw power of Nature, both without and within.
As someone who devoted his retirement to giving talks to young people and religiously answering ‘fan mail’ in that hope others will be similarly inspired, that’s good enough for me. I know the truth of the matter, and it has died with me.