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The book started with Dahl's voyage to Africa in 1938, which was prompted by his desire to find adventure after finishing school.[1] He was on a boat heading towards Dar es Salaam for his new job working for Shell Oil. During this journey, he met various people[2] and described extraordinary events such as a lion carrying a woman in its mouth.

He eventually joined the war as a squadron pilot in the Royal Air Force, flying the Tiger Moth, Gloster Gladiator, and Hawker Hurricane. He was among the last Allied pilots to withdraw from Greece during the German invasion, taking part in the air for the Battle of Athens on 20 April 1941. In one of his accounts, he described a crash in the Western Desert, which fractured his skull and brought him several other problems such as temporarily being blinded during his days in Greece.[3] After the country fell to the Nazis, he went to the Middle East to fight Vichy French pilots after staying for a brief time in Alexandria, Egypt.

Going solo

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