Racing home across the world on a motorbike - how one man from Leyland was caught up in a political storm

More than 40 years after he was caught up in one of the most dangerous political operations of the late 20th century,  a globe-trotting Lancastrian has put pen to paper to record his dramatic story.

Friday, 2nd April 2021, 12:30 pm
Updated Friday, 2nd April 2021, 12:44 pm

The Mongoose and the Eagle’s Claw is an account of a solo journey made in 1980 by motorcycle from India to England, including a side-trip visit to the battlefields of Gallipoli by Michael Whittle.

Born in Preston and raised in Leyland Michael moved to Australia aged 21, and has lived in 12 different countries as well as working in Antarctica for the Australian Government, rebuilding scientific research camps.

After family illness, he moved back to Lancashire four years ago and now lives in Kirkham, where he spent the past 12 months writing and publishing his memoirs.

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Michael in 1980 after completing his journey on his Royal Enfield 350 Bullet

“It was never something I had any intention to do”, the 71-year-old said.

“But it was a strange year altogether. I was working in outback Australia, thinking about a trip back to the UK. I also wanted to trek to the Everest base camp in Nepal, then decided to make it into India.

“I accidentally got caught up in a world event.”

Infact, Michael was unwittingly caught up in the fallout from ‘Operation Eagle Claw’, the failed attempt to rescue the American embassy hostages held in Teheran, and this gung-ho raid caused him sleepless nights and frantic days as he raced across Iran on an Indian Enfield motorcycle, trying unsuccessfully to avoid police and demonstrating mobs.

Michael today with his Royal Enfield 500 Classic

He said: “Over time people have told me I should write something about it, and although a few years ago I made some notes, it wasn’t until the first lockdown that I actually sat down and wrote it. I suppose you could call it a lockdown book.”

Michael - a former Worden High School pupil and AN Tomlinson builders apprentice- says it took him six months to pen the book, and a further six months to get it through the publishing process - having struck a deal to share the costs.

He said: “The problem these days is that unless you’re already a known author, it’s very difficult to get any interest from publishers.

“You have to take the risk of writing it first and then you either have to go down the self-publishing route where you pay for everything, or, if the publisher thinks it might be a viable book, you can get a deal where you split the costs and profits with them.”

A Tibetan lady photographed by Michael on the journey

He added: “It wasn’t a problem remembering the events of 40 years ago - a lot of it you just don’t forget. I remember the main events quite clearly and then the more you think about things, the more that comes back.

“And I’ve always had an interest in photography, so there’s lots of pictures to remind me of places, and I kept a lot of documentation too.”

As well as the adventures in The Mongoose and the Eagle’s Claw, Michael has also motorcycled through 14 counties from Scotland to Singapore and made a trek around Annapurna in Nepal. He later worked for the Red Cross movement in Asia and worked for five years with the Australian Antarctic Division on their three Antarctic bases.

He said: “I’m going to see how this book does before I think of doing another. I don’t think I could write a whole book about one journey like this, but maybe a series of short stories.”

A photograph taken by Michael showing Everest from Kala Pathar summit

On returning to Lancashire, he said: “You do have to adapt. I decided I couldn’t take the level of heat anymore in Western Australia, but there are things I miss.”

Michael does not intend to make any money from the proceeds of the book, instead he wants to raise funds for the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, and MAG, a Manchester-based organisation which works to train women in developing nations how to clear landmines.

The book is available now online and in book shops for £11.99.

Lancashire Landing cemetery looking toward Cape Helles memorial to commemorate the missing 20,956 men with no known graves who died during the Gallipoli campaign