Colonel John Blashford-Snell OBE

Presented by Professor Frank Sanderson

Honorable Pro-Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Colonel John Blashord-Snell for the award of an Honorary Fellowship of Liverpool John Moores University.

Colonel Blashford-Snell, a former British Army officer, is one of the world's most renowned and highly respected explorers. He has led over 100 expeditions – not only carving new trails all over the world but also in the process fulfilling important environmental, medical and scientific objectives. He also supports and works with numerous charities concerned with underprivileged youth in the UK, as well as undertaking countless community aid projects in remote parts of the world. 

Born in 1936 into a family with maritime and army connections, John Blashford-Snell was educated at Victoria College, Jersey. 

His interest in army life and adventures began in the Victoria College Combined Cadet Force where, he says, 'diving underwater, shooting, sailing, blowing things up and exploring German tunnels was bound to leave an impression'. After attending the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, he was commissioned into the Royal Engineers where he served for 37 years, seeing active service in many areas. 

He has been married to Judith Sherman for 50 years. John has had an eventful career to date: in 1968, at the invitation of Emperor Haile Sellassie, he led a British Army expedition on the first descent of the infamous Blue Nile. 

After the success of this expedition, in 1969 he and colleagues founded the Scientific Exploration Society with the aim of fostering and encouraging scientific exploration worldwide. In the early 1970s, he oversaw the first north-south vehicle journey from Alaska to Cape Horn, including crossing the Darién Gap, the missing link in the Pan-American Highway.  

In the mid-70s, he undertook an almost complete navigation of the Congo River, at the time pioneering the new technique of negotiating white water in inflatable dinghies which led to the modern worldwide sport. 

In 1978 with the support and involvement of Prince Charles, he established Operation Drake, a two year round-the-world voyage in which 400 young people from 27 nations worked with scientists and servicemen on projects in 16 countries.  

In 1984, at the request of the UK government and a number of organisations, John launched Operation Raleigh, a much larger global youth programme. By 1992 over 10,000 young men and women from 50 nations had taken part in challenges and worthwhile expeditions all over the world, returning home as seasoned pioneers ready to put something back into their own communities. 

In 2006 he helped the London hatmakers James Lock design an explorer's hat – with built-in mosquito net and cooling crystals in the brow band.  

Since 2001 he has been the Honorary Life President of the Centre for Fortean Zoology. He is also a member of the Ghost Club. 

The Colonel has a strong connection with Liverpool, not only through Operation Raleigh. In 1993, he chaired an £2.5 million appeal for funds to establish a centre for vocational training and guidance for the youth of Merseyside. 

Later he helped to set up the Liverpool Construction Crafts Guild to promote the training of skilled craftsmen in Liverpool. And recently, he has assisted our University in an appeal for funds for our new Art and Design Academy. His charitable work is varied and extensive, some of it deriving from his experience on expeditions: for example, he is President of the Just a Drop charity, providing drinking water for remote communities. And much of it is connected with his interest in helping disadvantaged young people:

  • He is a Patron of the Moorlands Community Development in Brixton  
  • He assists the Calvert Exmoor Trust in its work with physically handicapped young people
  • From 2004 to 2009 he directed the Trinity Sailing Trust appeal that raised funds to give disadvantaged youngsters short sea training courses  

He is also a fervent supporter of British Army charities and a Vice President of the St George's Day Club. He continues to lead expeditions worldwide. In recent years he has concentrated on exploration in little known areas of South America, on one occasion transporting a grand piano to the Amerindian WaiWai hunter-gatherers of Southern Guyana. And earlier this year, he found the legendary trans-ocean link in Nicaragua.

His phenomenal energy has enabled him also to find the time to write 13 books, including In the Steps of Stanley in 1975 and his autobiography, Something Lost Behind the Ranges, published in 1994.

He was awarded the Segrave Trophy in 1974 – a trophy for the British national who accomplishes the most outstanding demonstration of the possibilities of transport by land, sea, air, or water.

Also in 1974, he received the Livingstone Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society  In 1993, he was awarded the Patron's Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society, other notable winners have been Sir Henry Morton Stanley and Sir Edmund Hilary. 

He was awarded the Gold Medal of the Institution of Royal Engineers in 1994. And he has received an MBE for his leadership of the Blue Nile Expedition, and in OBE for this work with Operation Raleigh. 

John's strong spirit of adventure, his great leadership qualities, his physical and mental courage in adversity, and his generosity to others less privileged than himself underpin his exceptional achievements and make him an ideal role model for our graduands. 

We are delighted to be associated with such an inspirational and enterprising individual.  

It is therefore with great pleasure that I present Colonel John Blashford-Snell, this most distinguished person for the award of our highest honour of Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.