British Empire Article


Contributed by David Nicoll-Griffith


A Career in the Colonial Service?
As far as I am aware, none of my relations has ever had any connection with the Colonial Service: I was attracted to it for a different reason.

When I was four years old my family moved to the Dorset coast and stayed there until I was in my late teens. Those were the days when almost everyone who travelled overseas had to go by sea, and I used to watch the great ocean liners as they sailed past the Isle of Wight, outward bound from Southampton to what I imagined must be exotic and wonderful places. I loved the sea and I wanted to go with them.

A Chosen Career
Union Castle Line
This feeling was further enhanced when, at the age of nine, I was sent away to boarding school. The train journey used to take me through Waterloo, then a depressing place of smoke and grime, and as I walked down the platform , depressed still further at the prospect of another term at school, I would see on the station building ahead of me a huge poster: it showed a lilac-hulled liner on a peacock-blue sea, with a palm-fringed shore and mountains in the background. Above and below the picture were the words: "Union-Castle Line to South and East Africa". Sailings from Southampton every Thursday at 4.00 pm."

At school I was no great scholar, usually ending up somewhere in the middle, but I did like the idea of foreign languages, eventually specialising in these and continuing with them at university. The study of a modern language at that level involves more than just learning the language: it includes the literature, the philosophy, and aspects of the history of the country as well. From the way that great writers expressed themselves through their language I felt that I could understand why the French and the Germans, for example. were so different and why they thought the way they did: it seemed to me that the character of the language reflected the character and outlook of the people themselves, and this aspect I found particularly interesting.

Thus it was that when the time came to choose a career I wanted one which would not only take me overseas but also concern itself with better understanding between people of different cultures. Parents and friends thought that I should try for the Foreign Service, this being the most prestigious of careers overseas, so I went ahead and applied for it. The first hurdle was a fearfully difficult written examination which, if one were successful, would be followed by a ghastly weekend at a country house where one's every move would be scrutinised and one's reactions constantly tested. Fortunately, having nicely failed the written, I was spared that ordeal!

The Colonial Service had always been in my mind as a second possibility; and this became a certainty after talking with a friend at university who was himself on the Colonial Services course. I had, too, always been slightly dubious about being suited to the formality of the Foreign Service; I feared that any individuality would be smothered by the requirement of political conformity, and that it would be rather like a career in a straitjacket. The Colonial Service, by contrast, seemed to offer wider horizons, greater freedom of action and plenty of opportunity for individual contribution.

In applying for the Service one could put down three choices of territory. I asked for Kenya, where there was a good racial/ethnic mix (African, Asian, European , Arab) and a country of immense variety; I also put down Mauritius (French-speaking) and Cyprus (Greek versus Turk - and I had done some ancient Greek at school!), but neither of these ever had vacancies for junior officers.

Having savoured the selection process for the Foreign Service I was especially pleased that selection for the Colonial Service was by interviews. All went well, and I was sent out to Kenya as a District Officer cadet, returning on my first home leave after three and a half years; it was then that I had occasion to call in at the Foreign Office, where my request was dealt with by a young man of about my own age. I asked him how he was liking the Foreign Service, and he said that he had spent most of his time sitting at a desk rubber-stamping documents. When I told him of my experiences in Kenya colourful and varied as they were, he wondered whether he had made the right choice.

As for me, I had no regrets at having missed that country house weekend, and in all the years since I have felt that the Colonial Service was the best career I could have had.

The Kenya Colonial Service
The Kenya Colonial Service
Coronation Day
In the early 1800s, and for centuries before that, there had been settlements on the Kenya coast, notably the port of Mombasa which had been founded by the Arabs as early as the 11th century, but the interior was unexplored and unknown. It was in the middle of that century that the first explorers began to penetrate inland from the coast; the tribes they encountered were at a very early stage of advancement, having invented little to improve their way of life - not even the wheel; Intertribal warfare was frequent, with the strongest tribes ending up with the best land. There was no form of government other than that exercised in each tribe by witchdoctors, and these were believed to possess supernatural powers.

When the explorers returned home, the reports of what they had found aroused such interest that having once opened the path they had also effectively opened the gate - to missionaries, anthropologists, mapmakers, big-game hunters and, inevitably, traders and developers. Once you have that you must have some form of government, and this was the start of the Colonial Service.

First of all it was necessary to establish law and order, and this had certain consequences. To prevent the tribes from fighting each other meant demarcating the areas which each tribe could call its own, and this entailed educating them in the best use of the land, whether for crops or for livestock, so that they would become settled and not be tempted to move onto land now assigned to others. This required the services of agricultural and veterinary officers, and with communities now becoming settled other government services were also needed: education, medical, welfare, marketing,and so on. Thus government services expanded and gradually spread throughout the country.

For administrative purposes the country was divided into provinces under Provincial Commissioners, and districts under District Commissioners, assisted by District Officers. I was one of these, and together we formed the Administrative Service.

We were responsible for the overall development of our district, and thus for coordinating the work of the departmental officers, but a much more important, and to me the most interesting, part of our job was to get out and about amongst the people, listening to what they had to say and explaining to them about any new developments we were proposing, and how these would be of benefit to them. They were naturally suspicious of new proposals, because they could not believe that we would spend energy and resources in this way without some sinister ulterior motive ("What's in it for them?", they would wonder). It might therefore take a good deal of patience to win their acceptance, even with an obviously advantageous project such as dam-building, but without their cooperation nothing would have been possible.

Many of the districts were thinly populated and remote, and in these there were fewer government services. In cases where a particular government service was not represented we had to answer on their behalf, as best we could, if presented with a problem when on safari. Because of this, our pre-appointment course at university had consisted of a wide range of different courses.

The whole purpose of the Service was to provide good government and to help the indigenous people to a better and more rewarding life; to educate them, indeed, to the point where they could safely manage their own affairs and face the complicated world outside. Once that point had been reached the Service would come to an end, and so we were told on appointment that we would eventually be working ourselves out of a job. My regret is that it was never allowed to happen, for Independence ended the Service before we had reached that goal.

I have to say, though, that my ten years in the Service were the most interesting and memorable of my life.

Kenya 1952 -1962
The Kenya Colonial Service
District Sports Meet
Most young people entering upon a career for the first time, no matter how rigorous their training, are given little responsibility until they have acquired some experience of actually doing the job. It was not so for someone appointed to the Colonial Administrative Service.

Kericho 1952-1953

I arrived at my first District, Kericho in the Nyanza Province, with only two weeks' experience of Kenya behind me. Admittedly, a year's course had been taken in which we had acquired the basic tools of our trade, and basic they certainly were: between October and June we studied - and were examined in - Swahili, Criminal Law and the Law of Evidence, Tropical Agriculture and Forestry, Field Engineering and Surveying, Colonial and Imperial History, Government of Dependent Territories, Anthropology, Economics and Accounts; the first two were the most important, but each of them were subjects of full-time study in their own right. On arrival in Kenya there was a week or so of orientation at Jeanes' School, Kabete, and it was with this that I was plunged into a District of Kipsigis tribal reserve, European farms at Sotik and Lumbwa, and tea estates at Kericho itself.

Kericho was a pleasant place, at an altitude of over 6,000 feet above sea level. Almost every day would dawn bright and fresh with the sun luminous in a sky of intense blue; by midday its heat had drawn up moisture from Lake Victoria about 50 miles away and puffy white clouds would appear, these gradually covering the sky until, invariably just as we were going home about 5.00 p.m., and looking forward to some outdoor sports, down would come the rain and it would continue until sunset. But this climate, infuriating as it might be, was apparently ideal for tea growing.

The Kenya Colonial Service
Tribal Policeman
Although the Kipsigis were administratively part of Nyanza they were unlike the other tribes of the Province. They were Nilotic, with finely-cut features, and in this way akin to the tribes of the Rift Valley, particularly the Nandi. They were a likeable people, generally cooperative and law-abiding. In earlier times their young men had expended most of their energy on cattle theft, but they had now been persuaded that athletics were a more acceptable pastime: they have produced some fine athletes, one or two reaching world class, and sports meetings were important District events.

Apart from dealing generally with problems arising within the District I was also given responsibility for the African (Tribal Law) Courts, the Lumbwa settled area (European farms) and the local prison. With such responsibility and so little experience I embarked with trepidation upon my career, and of course mistakes were made.

The Kenya Colonial Service
Prison Warders
There came one day from Provincial Headquarters an order to transfer a truckload of prisoners to Kisumu. This I arranged. However, the day before the transfer was to take place a signal arrived on my desk cancelling it; I read it but somehow failed to do anything about it. When the prisoners arrived in Kisumu - a journey of about 60 miles - they were sent straight back again, and a stiff reprimand came later in the mail. The District Commissioner (Peter Tait) minuted it to me with the words "I hope the prisoners enjoyed their tour of Nyanza. You may have to pay." I felt rather like a schoolboy waiting to see the headmaster, but in the end I was not asked to meet the cost.

Nor was I later when I could not understand why I should even have to justify it: this was a case of theft by an African Court clerk of fees and fines taken in court process. The Provincial Commissioner wrote and asked me to show cause why I should not be liable for the loss. I was astounded and sent him a letter explaining how I could not possibly have been criminally involved! He replied that he had not asked for an exposition of the law from me, but to justify the procedures by which such losses should be prevented. Then of course I understood, and the matter was cleared up.

The Kenya Colonial Service
Kipsigis Girl
A better example of how one was from the outset thrust into a position of prominence came with the declaration of the Mau Mau Emergency. Mau Mau was a terrorist organisation, the principal aim of which was the removal of all Europeans, especially settlers, by intimidation and murder. The tribe central to this movement was the Kikuyu, the same tribe which most farmers, including those at Lumbwa, had preferred to employ on their farms: if they had the energy and determination to launch a terrorist campaign they had those same qualities when engaged in more lawful pursuits. It was shortly after the declaration of the Emergency, a bare few weeks after my arrival, that I attended a meeting of the Lumbwa Farmers' Association as the government representative. "What was the bloody Government doing about getting our Kikuyu labour off our farms and back to their Reserve?" they wanted to know, and all looked to me for a reply. Of course I had no reply other than to say that I would find out, and they were understandably not satisfied. Voices were raised, the table thumped, and a proposal made that a telegram be sent to the Provincial Commissioner, copied to the Governor, about the inefficiency of the District Administration. They were very nice to me after the meeting, but I felt some relief when I was finally able to slink away. I doubt that any telegram was ever sent, and in any case it was not long afterwards that the colossal task of moving all Kikuyu back to their Reserves was undertaken.

The Kenya Colonial Service
Garden Party
My experience of the world of the tea companies was effectively limited to public social events. Other young officers and myself used to feel that we were very much the poor cousins, their fine houses and substantially better salaries putting them at an unbridgeable distance from us. One day, however, there joined us in our bachelor establishment a young police inspector who had until recently been himself employed on the tea estates. I asked why he had left and he said that the work was always the same, that he knew exactly what he would be doing on any date you could name over the next so many years. He had given up a good salary to do a job which was satisfying, rewarding and never the same from one day to the next. I later learned that another of the 'tea' had joined the Administrative Service and been posted to the Solomon Islands; he too did not regret his decision.

I cannot leave this account of Kericho without mentioning arap Aruasa. He was an elderly blind Kipsigis who stood all day across the road from the District Offices, dressed in pith helmet and army greatcoat. From about 7.00a.m. to 5.00p.m. he never stopped "addressing" the world at large with a speech which recounted the history of the District, episodes from the Second World War, East African Explorers, the British Royal Family, and so on. He knew you from the sound of your step and would come to attention, salute and greet you if you came up to him. If you ever asked him what he was doing, he would reply "Ninachunga nchi tu" ("I am simply looking after the country's affairs"). He was an inseparable part of the Kericho scene.

Marsabit 1953-1955

After a year at Kericho I was offered a transfer either to Kisumu, the Provincial Headquarters for Nyanza, or else to Marsabit in the Northern Frontier District. The Northern Province covered the entire northern half of Kenya and was divided into two "Districts", the NFD to the east of Lake Rudolf and Turkana to the west. It was a land of mountains and deserts, sparsely populated.

The Kenya Colonial Service
On Safari
All of us had to do NFD service sooner or later, and Marsabit was probably the best of the NFD postings. So the D.C. advised me to take it and get my NFD service over. I took his advice and am glad that I did so, for it was there that the greatest demands were made on stamina and resourcefulness, and it was the period of my service of which I have retained the most lasting impressions.

My first glimpse of the NFD was from the Nanyuki-lsiolo road; the road covers a mere 50 miles or so, but what a transformation is revealed. Nanyuki at the foot of Mount Kenya is green with temperate vegetation, and cold at nights, an extension of the highlands lying to the south and west, but as we travelled north leaving the mountain and the highlands behind I saw afar off, and 3,000 feet below us, a land of yellows and pinks lit by the evening sun: pastel hues like those of the Egyptian desert which I had seen from the Suez Canal a year earlier on the voyage out from England. I was travelling with my new D.C. (Windy Wild - Wyndham) in his Buick, and when we reached Isiolo (the Provincial Headquarters for the Northern Province) he declined invitations to stay the night but instead drove on to Marsabit, 175 miles away. It was a sensible decision: on the desert floor during the day the temperature reaches well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, yet at night it is pleasantly cool. As we left Isiolo we were confronted by a barrier across the road and on it a large notice board which read:

The Kenya Colonial Service
Chalbi Desert
Northern Frontier District
No persons may enter the NFD without at least ten days' supply of food and water and an adequate supply of fuel. Permits may be applied for at the Provincial Commissioner's Office, Isiolo.

Upon our identifying ourselves the askari raised it for us, and thus began my 18 months in the NFD.

In this region there were few sections of road in the usual sense of the term. Where there was a base of earth, as in desert or scrubland, there would sometimes be well-defined wheel tracks and the going could be quite fast; the best was the Chalbi Desert north of Marsabit which was 50 miles of hard sun-baked mud as flat as a billiard table, and it could take whatever speed the vehicle was capable of. Over lava, however, one chose what looked like the least agonizing route and the going was invariably slow; some American missionaries who came through one day from Moyale described their experience of the Dida Galgalu lava plain: "We would get going quite well on the flat, but then we would come to a lava ledge and have to choke down to about 2 miles an hour; overall I guess we averaged 10 miles an hour, and if you can do that - boy, you're traveling!"

The Kenya Colonial Service
Kaisut Desert
A hazard of all roads were dry river-beds, known as "luggas". They were invariably of sand, and the trick was to go through at a steady speed in second gear; if you went too fast or else used bottom gear the wheels would plough in and it might take hours to coax your way out. At infrequent intervals, and without any warning, these luggas would become raging torrents of water: flash floods caused by heavy rainfall in mountains perhaps many miles away. On one occasion one of our trucks was returning from Isiolo and came to a lugga in flood; when it showed no sign of abating the driver turned the truck round intending to go back to Isiolo, only to find that another lugga a mile or so back (which he had crossed quite safely a few hours previously), was also in flood. There was nothing to be done but sit it out, and he was not able to proceed for three days.

Once the rains had officially started we always deemed the road to Isiolo - and most others - to be impassable, and at such times mail and supplies were brought in about every two weeks by light aircraft. A particularly bad area if there had been any chance of rain was the Hedad: this was an extensive semi-desert of scrub and black cotton soil between Marsabit and the southern end of Lake Rudolf, and run-off from heavy rain on Mt. Nyiru (9,000') to the southwest and Mt. Kulal (6,000') to the northwest would drain into it. Black cotton soil is the most treacherous of all: if it is at all damp - even below the surface - it will not bear the weight of a vehicle, and many a one has ventured onto a dry surface only to sink in up to the axles.

One could of course get stuck simply because of a breakdown, and all drivers became masters of the art of bush mechanics. On one of my safaris we replaced a broken rear spring with a block of wood and got home without difficulty, but the best instance was recounted by one of our police officers. He had stopped to help a Somali trader whose truck had broken down with a blown cylinder head gasket and a flat battery. Having said that he didn't need any assistance he dug a hole in the ground, put the battery in and lit a fire on the top of it. He then took off the cylinder head and replaced the blown gasket with rags well saturated in grease. He put the cylinder head back and then dug up the battery; it was so hot that he could hardly hold it, but the heat had given it just enough boost to get the engine going, and off he went as if this was an everyday occurrence. Indeed, it probably was, since some traders' trucks were in an advanced state of decomposition.

The Kenya Colonial Service
Samburu Border
It was because of conditions such as these that there was a barrier on the road north from Isiolo, nobody being allowed through unless they could satisfy the Administration that they were properly equipped and knew what they were doing. It was also standard procedure to signal all vehicle movements, giving estimated time of arrival, to their final destination and also to any intervening districts or police posts.

Mount Marsabit is extensive, covering about 50 miles north-south and rising some 4,000 feet above the desert floor, itself about 1,500 feet above sea level. The boma is almost at the summit and enjoys a cool green existence surrounded by forest. Mornings would often be misty, and sometimes the mist would not lift until midday. Indeed, the D.C. calculated that of the 33 inches of rainfall annually, 3 inches were due to mist condensation. It was a good place to come back to after a safari in the desert below.

The District covered some 30,000 square miles and had a population of about 17,000, nearly all of whom were nomadic herdsmen. Rainfall on the plains was sparse and the tribes (Boran, Gabbra and Rendille) had to be where there was grazing still to be found.

The Kenya Colonial Service
Police Rakoub
Shortly after my arrival the D.C, sent me on a safari all round the northern part of the District. I was asked to look for new grazing areas and also to note where the tribesmen were. The safari took three days, I covered 500 miles, and the only people I saw in all that time were police, either at the few scattered police posts, or on one occasion a rakoub (camel-mounted patrol) on the horizon. I did see some good grazing, however, close to the Ethiopian frontier. I reported to Windy with some misgivings, thinking that in some way I must have failed; but he was pleased and told me that he would have set out at once if I had seen any of our tribesmen.

The safari served two purposes: it showed me something of the vast extent of the District and also its major problem. When the Italians were driven out of Ethiopia in 1941 they left behind a large quantity of military equipment, including rifles and ammunition. Whatever the quality of Ethiopian administration in the country as a whole, it was ineffective in the provinces of Gemu Gofa and Sidamo which border on northern Kenya; certain tribesmen in the area, notably the Gelubba, had acquired these rifles and had trained themselves to shoot with remarkable accuracy, even though the rifling was so worn and corroded that a bullet could be dropped down the barrel with room to spare.

The Kenya Colonial Service
Police Post
Just before my arrival, the P.C. and D.C. had flown along the Ethiopian border in a light aircraft to see if they could sight the probable location of Gelubba hideouts; they were unsuccessful, but when the plane had landed back in Marsabit they found five bullet holes in the fuselage.

The Gelubba and, further eastwards, the Boran shifta (a word meaning bandits) were intent solely on murder. Their chief sport was to make hit and run raids Into Kenya, shooting and killing as many tribesmen as they could and then retreating back across the border. They were used to the desert, and could cover 60 miles a day (on foot) and survive on the few waterholes that lay on their route.

It was thus important that the tribes were kept to grazing areas as far from the border as possible. With rainfall never more than 10 inches a year, usually less and sometimes there was none at all, it was always a problem to find grazing of any kind; ail those virgin grasslands I had seen near the border could not, of course, be used. It was also desirable for the tribes to be near a police post, so that a runner could report a raid, a signal be sent to Marsabit and pursuit be under way within reasonable time.

In spite of this there had been no success in catching the bandits before they escaped back across the border, we having succeeded only in obtaining physical descriptions, and sometimes names. Representations made by Nairobi to Addis Ababa had always resulted in a denial that their tribesmen had been involved, and that only sets of fingerprints would convince them otherwise.

The Kenya Colonial Service
Mount Foroli
The plain fact was that it would have needed an army to protect the tribes properly and patrol the 150-mile long border, but equally it was an unacceptable risk to issue rifles to our own tribesmen - for this would be an invitation to civil war. We did what we could with the Kenya Police and Tribal Police at our disposal, but it was not enough until...

One morning we received a signal from a police post only 110 miles away that a raid had been carried out the previous night. We had a council of war as to the bandits' probable route back to the border, and a young Kenyan police inspector (Jerry Megson) and myself were despatched before midday with two truckloads of askari and supplies, and we headed straight for the border 120 miles away. We parked the trucks in the lee of the Hurri Hills, which run up to the frontier, and despatched three askari in plain clothes, and who were known in the area, to make gentle enquiries.

The Kenya Colonial Service
A Manyatta Hut
We were just in time: the shifta were resting up in a manyatta (small huts made of stretched cowhide, characteristic of the NFD tribes) not a mile from the border and hard by Foroli, the sacred mountain of the Boran. Jerry Megson did an admirable job in planning the assault so that nothing would be suspected until the last possible moment, and all went well. As the men were closing in, however, the shifta realised their predicament and opened fire. A gun battle ensued in which one of their number was killed and the rest managed to escape. None of our men was injured.

The Kenya Colonial Service
Interpreter
We had no fingerprinting equipment with us, so the dead man's right hand was cut off to be dealt with on our return to Marsabit.

There were no further shifta raids for a long time. In letters from the P.C., Jerry and I were given equal commendation. In fact the success of the operation had been entirely due to his greater experience of the country and tactical expertise.

That wild part of Kenya had dangers other than Ethiopian bandits, Wherever we went on safari we would take with us enough askari to provide the camp with double sentries all night; the men, too, would keep the fire going as long as possible - and not just so as to keep warm. One night in the small hours I was wakened by shouts of "Kifaru, Kifaru!" (Swahili for rhinoceros) and in one movement was crouching behind the camp bed, my rifle in my hands. Actually this rifle was more something to hold onto than an effective weapon against two tons of rhino: it was only a .22, suitable for shooting birds, and I would probably have achieved more by using it to hit the rhino over the head than by shooting at it. I could not see the rhino, but could hear it thundering towards us as it made its first charge; fortunately I also heard an infernal racket as pots, pans, tyre levers and other available metalware were banged together, whilst I joined the others shouting and yelling. The rhino veered off, clearly not quite sure what it had come up against, but a few minutes later charged from a different direction. Upon being greeted in similar fashion it then decided that it might have better luck elsewhere.

The Kenya Colonial Service
Ethiopian Border
Near the summit of Mount Marsabit there was a natural spring which provided the whole boma with a piped water supply. One day this supply dwindled to a trickle and a police officer (Frank Church) and myself, with two askari, went to investigate. There was a track through the forest, covering the mile or so to the spring, and we were well on our way when suddenly there appeared over the next rise the head of a buffalo. Buffaloes are, when stalking, perhaps the most persistent and least predictable of all East Africa's wild animals: they have been known to walk away from a confrontation with hunters and much later make a successful (and totally unexpected) charge from behind. They are also past masters of the art of concealment, and will suddenly appear as if from behind a blade of grass. Finally, to add to the danger of this animal, a .303 bullet cannot penetrate the front of solid bone which the buffalo presents when head on. It was therefore with some trepidation that we stood, guns lowered but ready, in line abreast across the path; we hoped that one or other of our rifles might find its mark in the neck behind the forehead, once its head was lowered in a charge, but our best rifle was Frank's 10mm. Mannlicher, only slightly better than the .303 service rifles in the hands of the askari, whilst I, of course, had only my trusty .22. I can see that buffalo now, as clearly as if it were yesterday, and it seemed a very long time while he and ourselves stared at each other, neither of us moving. Then he suddenly crashed off into the forest and we proceeded on our way. As we breasted the rise we saw that he had been guarding four cows. Fortunately they had had no calves with them...

The Kenya Colonial Service
Chief Tulu
Water may have been in plentiful supply on the mountain but it was a very precious commodity in the District as a whole. One day Windy pointed out on the map an area between the Hurri Hills and the Chalbi Desert where the South African army had sunk a borehole during the last war, and asked me to see if I could find it and if it was still usable. We made camp at the nearest point on the road and set off on foot at 4.00 a.m. the next day. The askari with us knew of the borehole and I asked them how far it was. The reply was "Si mbali sana: ni huko tu" ("not very far: it's just over there"). It was difficult going because we were walking not on flat ground but through lava boulders, strewn as if by a giant's hand over the desert. After about two hours I asked again and got the same reply! I realised then that the only way to get a useful answer was to ask where the sun would be when we got there. They pointed to half way up the sky from the east (i.e. about 9 o'clock). Sure enough, it took five hours to get there (not very far!) but we found that the sides had fallen in and it would have needed completely reboring. Never had camp been so welcome as when we saw it again in mid-afternoon.

It was about this time that I got married and my wife, Eileen, was given permission to join me. She had never left Europe before, and after two days at the New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi we set off by bus for Nanyuki. It was the start of the rains and at one point, long after we had seen the last of the tarmac, the bus slid off the crown of the road into the ditch. All passengers got out, including Eileen in her city suit and high heels, to stand in the mud and wet while they got the bus going again: her first taste of Kenya life. At Nanyuki we were met by the D.C. and one of the 3-ton district trucks, loaded with several armed askari and supplies for Marsabit. It rained again on the way to Isiolo, but not before an askari had (accidentally) put a hole in her suitcase with his rifle; the result was a totally ruined silk dress. Late evening in Isiolo, supper with the D.O., and then bed? Oh no: the D.C. wanted to push on. So on we went and Eileen was told that we would spend the night at Laisamis. Laisamis was a couple of tin dukas (small shops, selling basic commodities, usually run by Indians) in the middle of the Kaisut Desert, 100 miles and six or seven hours away, and the hoped-for hotel turned out to be camp beds under the stars with armed askari patrolling all night. (Where do I undress? Where do I you know what?) My wife is half Irish and usually leaves one in no doubt about her feelings, but on this occasion she must have been rendered speechless by the horror of the situation. It is to her credit that she adapted to a mode of life totally lacking in amenities and aids to feminine comfort.

The Kenya Colonial Service
Commissioner of Police
Before Eileen arrived I had lived in a small mud and wattle house with thatched roof, and it was decided to build one in more permanent materials. A Ministry of Works design (Class II Highland) was selected, but the P.W.D. in Nanyuki - the nearest depot - said that they could not possibly undertake the work at such a distance, and with the Emergency having first call on their resources. They would, however, allocate the funds to us if we undertook to build it ourselves. Apart from the district prison, we had in Marsabit at that time some influential Mau Mau detained in a special camp. Amongst them was Mwangi Macharia, who had organised the general strike at the Coast in 1947 but who was also a trained plumber, and he accepted our invitation to help with the project. Otherwise, the D.C. and I, assisted by prison labour and other well-intentioned volunteers, built the entire house: concrete floors, concrete block walls, corrugated iron roof, piped water supply. It took quite a long time because costing had to be carefully done and all materials brought 225 miles by road.

The house was sited at the edge of the forest and we had to dig a three-foot wide trench between the garden and the forest proper. This became necessary because the garden was regularly trampled by both elephant and buffalo, both of them dangerous when confronted, and the trench kept them at a safe distance. There were also baboons in abundance, and their antics were a constant source of entertainment.

The Kenya Colonial Service
Inspection of Dubas
This was but one example of how in such stations one learned to be a jack of all trades. Apart from ourselves and the Police there were no specialist officers other than an agricultural assistant and a medical dresser, and we were often called upon to make decisions in all sorts of situations where reference to specialist officers would have been desirable, but was not possible. And of course the consequences of such decisions could be not only critical to the people but upon them depended our own reputation for fair and sensible dealing.

A piece of equipment which was taken on all safaris was the medical chest. It contained not only first aid and an assortment of pills but also more advanced items like scalpels and acriflavine. The tribes had a strong faith in the white man's medicine but in such remote areas they had no medical services in the accepted sense of the term; the medical chest was thus not only for us but for general use as well. I remember on one safari a woman being brought to me. She was feeling unwell and had a very swollen abdomen which, I was assured, was not due to pregnancy. "Would the Bwana do something to help her?" they wanted to know. The long trip back to Marsabit was to be avoided if possible, since we were still on the outward joumey, so I asked various questions about her condition. None of the answers I got were of much help (I know nothing about medicine anyway), so I solemnly gave the Headman some cascara tablets with instructions as to their use and offered up a silent prayer for her recovery.

I called there again on our return, about a week later, and was told that her husband wanted to see me. ("What can have happened?" "Surely she can't have died?" - the thoughts raced through my mind). He came up all smiles, seized my hand in both of his and, bowing low, thanked me for her remarkable recovery. She herself appeared and, sure enough, she was - so to speak - in great shape. How much of the recovery, I wondered, had been due to the cascara, and how much to her faith in it?

Our lack of specialist officers should have been alleviated by the doctor at the Protestant Mission, but he had had a series of failed operations and the locals had lost all faith in his powers. There came one day to my office a Habash (from Ethiopia); he had walked from Moyale, 170 miles across a lava desert, in order to be operated on for a hernia! When I told him that I would make immediate arrangements for him to be attended to, he shook his head vehemently: he wanted a pass to go on to Wajir because he would not agree to be operated on in Marsabit under any circumstances. Incredibly, he reached Wajir and was successfully operated on, after a total walk of at least 350 miles.

There was always a trickle of people wandering in from Ethiopia and they would all carry rubber-stamped passes. At least, that is what we supposed they were: they were all written in Amharic - including the rubber stamp - and totally incomprehensible to any of us. When the visitor had stated his reason for coming into Kenya I would look carefully at the pass - as though reading it - countersign and stamp it, then nod at my interpreter in an official manner, who would tell him that everything was in order!

All the people of that harsh land were good walkers, and ready to offer their services without thought of reward. Once, when all contact with Isiolo was cut off and we had to get a message through urgently, five volunteers appeared, all willing to walk there (and back, a total distance of 350 miles and which would take them, say, 9 or 10 days), simply because the need was apparent. On another occasion a young Rendille came into my office to ask if the Government would arrange a livestock (auction) sale for them because by their calculation the time was due for them to pay their annual poll tax. He had walked 85 miles to make this request.

These examples illustrate something which I first really observed when in Marsabit: that, generally speaking, the fewer material possessions a man has and the harder his life, the less selfish will he be and the more concerned for his fellow man.

The Kenya Colonial Service
Stock Sale
Our arranging of livestock auctions was not just to collect poll tax (at that time 10/- a year) but to see that the sale was properly conducted and fair prices paid. The buyers were always Somalis, for it was they who ran the butchery business in Marsabit, and generally elsewhere in the NFD. Although they were indeed in competition with each other the sales were a buyer's market, the tribesmen being usually unsure what their stock was worth in money terms.

The Somali butchers in Marsabit numbered only half a dozen or so, but they took up more of our time than any other group on the mountain with their constant fitina. Windy told me that the best way to deal with them was to write down everything that was said; the complainant would then go off satisfied that his story had been seen to be important and that action would no doubt be taken. But of course it never was, these complaints of one against another being nothing more than malicious gossip and slander. One day Windy called me into his office, and as I went in I saw all six Somalis sitting in a row outside. He had me sit next to him and told me that he had summoned them specially. He then had them all called in and told them what each had said about the others over the last several weeks.

The result of this revelation was that they stormed out of the office and went back to the township shouting and gesticulating furiously at each other. It was quite a while before we saw any of them back again.

The Kenya Colonial Service
Locust Swarm
At this time (the Mau Mau Emergency) frequent circulars were sent to Districts from Central Government, particularly from the Commissioner of Prisons. At the outset they were merely marked "Urgent", but as the Emergency progressed we had "Most Urgent", "Immediate" and even "Most Immediate" (how can anything be more immediate than "Immediate"?). Many of them dealt with prison security and required such things as electrical fencing, watchtowers and searchlights, but no suggestions were given as to how we were to obtain these things, or generate the electricity to run them, being 225 miles from the nearest shops and electricity supply. None of it was necessary, anyway, because Marsabit was an island in the midst of miles of inhospitable desert, and escape from it effectively impossible.

There was one consolation: the mail would be delivered about once a week by a trader's truck, or once a fortnight by air during the rains, and amongst the sheaf of circulars there would sometimes be one (probably "Immediate") which cancelled another one (probably "Most Urgent") in the same mail delivery. We therefore saved ourselves time by reading the later ones first. A government department may perhaps be forgiven for sending the same circular to all Districts regardless, but the same cannot be said for the Provincial Medical Officer (in Wajir) who once sent us an urgent signal asking us to list our operating theatre equipment, oxygen cylinders, electric massagers - and the list went on. All we had (as he must have known) was one African dresser in a hut with little more than First Aid supplies, so Windy, suiting his words to our feelings, sent in reply "My father has a bicycle". The P.M.O. was not amused.

Marsabit was remote, but not so isolated as it had once been. We once discovered some old files dating back to the early years of the century, and in those days there was only one file for the entire year. One I particularly recall had only three letters in it: a request from Nairobi for details of tribal movements, a reminder a few months later, and the D.C's reply - much later still - in which he apologised for not having replied earlier but he had been out a lot on safari...

Kitui 1955-1956

Kitui was one of the two Kamba Districts. It was large, extending about 150 miles north-south and about half that at its widest point. There were Agricultural, Veterinary, Education and Medical officers, apart from the Police and ourselves, and we had plenty to do. There were 23 Locations (each with its Chief), an African District Council, African Courts, Tribal Police and Prison, all coming under the D.C. and just two (but later three) District Officers.

The Kitui Kamba were, as a tribe, pleasant, likeable and totally loyal. They also made excellent soldiers and policemen, taking eagerly to discipline and service.

Their contribution in the King's African Rifles during the second world war was greater than that of any other tribe, and possibly the greatest single contribution was made by Senior Chief Kasina of Migwani (a Location in the Northern Division). He not only organised recruitment of his tribesmen on a large scale but himself, impatient to do his own part, walked all the way to Jubaland in order to join up with the Colours. After the war the military decided that a suitable presentation should be made to him, and he was asked what he would most like to have as a token of their esteem. He said that if he could have permission to fly it outside his house he would most like to have a Union Jack, and this was presented to him at a special ceremony. When I was in Kitui, and in charge of the Northern Division, I would see Kasina's Union Jack flying from its pole whenever I went through his Location.

The Kamba, with their love of soldiering, responded to the Mau Mau Emergency by forming Home Guard platoons in each Location. These Home Guard (rendered into Kikamba as "0 Mugati"!) were armed, not with spears as most tribes would be, but with bows and arrows: the traditional weapons of the Kamba. They appointed their own NCOs, trained on a regular basis, and whenever I camped in a Location I would hold an archery competition, the prize being a 5/- note on a target board.

There was great keenness in all Locations and it was a matter of embarrassment to the Chief of Katse when a Mau Mau gang from Embu managed to cross the Tana River into his Location without his Home Guard knowing about it. They lay up in the Mumoni Hills and the first we knew of their infiltration was when reports came in of oathing ceremonies. In fact, neither the Chief nor his Home Guard was really to blame: between the Tana River and the Mumoni Hills is a stretch of country about five miles wide, with just a few huts and shambas on it, and neither Chief nor Administration had ever thought its importance justified the somewhat arduous walk over the hills, which rise about 3,000 feet above the level of the plain. The gang had chosen well.

It was decided that the Police would mount an operation to capture the gang whilst I set up camp as high as possible on the lower slopes, both to hear (as magistrate) the cases of the hoped-for prisoners and also to plan a strategic road for patrolling the area in future. The D.C. (Alan Birkett) had, with great difficulty, managed to obtain 500 pounds for the project ("not important enough for diverting funds", "every cent needed in the major operations against gangs in Central Province", and so on), and he told me to do what I could.

I held a baraza with all Chiefs of the area explaining that we would need labour to build the road, that it might take some time, and that I had money to feed them but not enough to pay any wages. They agreed that they would help. In the meantime the police operation had been successful, the gang flushed, and all captured including a corporal. They were charged, convicted and taken away to serve their sentences.

The Kenya Colonial Service
Women's Dance
I next set about surveying a suitable alignment, the idea being to run a track through the hills and then parallel the river to converge with the existing road some ten miles further on. I decided to climb the hills in order to determine the best route through them, and for this ascent we left camp at 3.30 a.m. so as to have the climbing done in the cool hours. In Kenya, at most seasons, cloud forms around the mountaintops during the night, and I remember to this day the experience - almost not of this world - of walking up through the cloud mantle just as dawn was breaking: I had emerged from a clammy greyness into a sea of pink and golden light.

Later that morning, when I had come down to earth (as it were) on the far side we came upon two or three huts; their occupants looked at me in utter astonishment, mouths agape, for they had never seen a white man before.

The survey took me about a week and I calculated the total distance of the road at about 14 miles. Whilst it was going on the Chiefs gathered together a workforce of about forty, all prepared to help in the project for no pay. I bought shovels, pickaxes and karais (large metal bowls), arranged for maize meal to be bought and delivered, and with that we started work.

Eileen was with me throughout. She had never taken to small boma life and would come with me on all safaris. The D.C.'s suggestion that she should stay at the nearest Mission (about 35 miles from Katse) was not taken up for very long: it seems that life there was worse than in the boma, worse even than the prospect of camping in a small tent in the Mumoni Hills with a Mau Mau gang in the offing! The tent was small too: it was a porter's tent, just large enough for two camp beds with about 18 inches between them. I remember waking up one morning after a downpour to see water about 3 inches deep flowing between (and under) our beds! On another occasion I was woken up by Eileen landing on top of me and pointing in horror at the shape of a hunting spider silhouetted by flashes of lightning on the outside wall of the tent. These spiders look fearsome, being hairy and 5 or 6 inches long, but are in fact quite harmless to humans; they do not spin webs but live in holes in the ground.

The Kenya Colonial Service
Provincial Commissioner Southern Province
We had in fact no large tents in the District; each Chief having built a mud and thatch hut in his Location for D.C's safaris, complete with flagpole, so tents had never been needed. This was also the only District I served in where a Union Jack was always taken on safari and a bugler included in the Tribal Police detachment who came with us. The flag would be hoisted at dawn to the accompaniment of Reveille, and lowered at sunset with the Last Post. I am quite sure that this colourful practice had been instituted at the behest of the Chiefs, and not by us - otherwise it would have been practised elsewhere.

But to return to our road-building. The difficult section was the 2-3 miles which went through the hills proper, and a great deal of cutting and filling had to be done. After about three days a large lorry drove up with Chief Kasina in the front seat. It was loaded with some 50 chickens and a herdsman. "To help feed the men", he said. When I said that we would refund him the cost of hiring the lorry, but that it might take some time, Kasina looked offended, replying that it was, of course, all part of his personal contribution towards the effort. A few days later three head of cattle arrived with a herdboy - a personal gift from the Chief of Mivukoni "to provide milk and meat for everybody". I was overwhelmed by such generosity.

We completed the road to a standard sufficient to take a Land Rover. It took about six weeks, and at the end of it I gathered everybody to a baraza and told them what a splendid effort they had made. I also had just enough of the 500 pounds left to give each man 5/-, and they all came up in turn to receive it. The road survived longer than I would have predicted. Ideally it had needed culverts in sections, but I was pleased to have seen it still marked out on a 1978 large scale map of Kenya.

The Mumoni Hills were now encircled, and thereafter were regularly patrolled by the Home Guard. There were no further incursions.

I don't know whether the D.C. thought that I had somehow given myself a qualification in surveying, but over the next few months I was directed to design and lay out three barter markets with shops and also site, design and cost a new African Court building.

The Kenya Colonial Service
Oldest Inhabitant
There was in Migwani Location a very old oldest inhabitant, reputed to be 110 years of age and with a remarkable memory. Others before me had spent time with him and (so I believe) made detailed notes of what amounted to a history of the Kitui Kamba, and I felt that I should pay my respects to so venerable a person. I was told by Chief Kasina that he would agree to answer a question if I put it to him, so I asked him what his earliest memory was. He replied that he could remember the consternation caused to the tribes by the penetration inland of the first European explorers (Ludwig Krapf and Johannes Rebmann had sighted Mount Kenya by 1849); consternation caused primarily by the fact that the full powers of the witchdoctors were having no effect on them, nor subsequently on any Europeans.

It was indeed from the coming of the Europeans that witchcraft began to lose its ascendancy, and this loss was accelerated by the fact of its inclusion in the Laws of Kenya as a criminal offence. Nevertheless, there were still witchdoctors and they did still practise. A man came one day to the hospital in Kitui complaining of feeling unwell, but the M.O. could find nothing wrong with him so admitted him for observation. His condition slowly deteriorated without the medical staff being any nearer to a diagnosis, and we decided to make enquiries in the Reserve. It became clear that he had fallen foul of a witchdoctor who had assured him that he would die before the next harvest. This harvest was not far off, so a campaign was launched to identify the culprit; it succeeded, and I was somewhat embarrassed to learn that he was the President of one of the African Courts in my Division, paid by the Government to administer tribal law without fear or favour! With the prospect of durance vile staring him in the face he reluctantly came to Kitui and lifted the spell. The victim recovered rapidly. Later investigation uncovered a second recent case, in which he had told a victim that he would break his leg before the new moon was seen. Sure enough, a week or so later the man got off a bus before it had come to a complete stop, fell - and broke his leg. The African Court came under new presidency.

Mombasa 1956-1958

If I had wanted an office job in some city there would have been plenty of public services to choose from. What had attracted me to the Colonial Service was the prospect of exotic places, wide horizons, freedom of action - and I saw myself in the midst of it, doing a job which required not only intellect and ingenuity but physical fitness as well. I had therefore recoiled at the prospect of a posting to Nairobi, whether to the District or to the Secretariat. Fortunately they sent me to Mombasa for my experience of urban administration, and it had much to recommend it.

The Kenya Colonial Service
Dhow
The coastal strip, with Mombasa as its chief town and port, was strictly speaking not part of the Colony, but a Protectorate of the Kenya Government acting on behalf of the Sultanate of Zanzibar; in practice this meant full administrative control, only a symbolic sovereignty being excluded. Our two children, both born in Mombasa, were thus theoretically subjects of His Highness the Sultan of Zanzibar: a fact which always brings to my mind images of spices, bazaars and the Arabian Nights.

There was indeed an exotic atmosphere in Mombasa, particularly in the Old Town with its mosques and temples, narrow streets, tall overhanging buildings, carved doorways bearing quotations from the Koran and a strong Arab influence. The importance of the Arab connection was recognised by the inclusion of Arab officers in the Administration. Even I, as an ordinary District Officer, had two Mudirs on the staff: Sheikh Mahsoud and Sheikh Rashid; they did a good job and were a pleasure to work with. Each District had its Liwali, and the Liwali for the Coast enjoyed a prestige and respect superior to that of the Provincial Commissioner. Muslim festivals were important events and all of us would put on our finery for the formal processions, baraza and reception of 'Idd-ul-Hajj and 'Idd-ul-Fitr; fortunately we were not also expected to observe the fast of Ramadhan which preceded the latter (but no doubt it would have been good for us!). The extensive Arab influence at the coast originated with traders centuries ago - indeed, Mombasa itself is said to have been founded by the Arabs as early as the 11th century - and their dhows still sailed on the northeast monsoon from Aden and the Persian Gulf, arriving in the Old Harbour with crews chanting and drums beating, their decks laden with cargoes of carpets and other delights (dried shark, for instance!). When Vasco da Gama visited Mombasa in 1498 he found it already a thriving port of commerce, and it was his own countrymen who built Fort Jesus at the close of the 16th century.

The Kenya Colonial Service
Liwali of Mombasa
If Mombasa had both history and a colourful Arab influence, it was also interesting from an administrative point of view. Four racial groups were present in substantial numbers: African, Asian (from the Indian subcontinent), Arab and European; and all the major African tribes were represented - these were of course urbanised as to way of life but they had not lost their tribal characteristics. The District was divided into nine Wards, each with its Chief, and we were careful to choose these from appropriate tribes: most were Muslims from the coast, but we also had Kamba, Luo, Maragoli and Taita represented. Where the Chief was a Muslim he would have a Sub-Chief from an up-country tribe; similarly, an up-country Chief would have a Muslim Sub-Chief. In this way, Africans from whatever background could go to the Chief's office with their concerns, and they would be fairly represented. This was particularly important for Africans coming to Mombasa from remote and rural parts, perhaps looking for employment, and who may well not have experienced urban or cosmopolitan life before.

It was thus an important aspect of our work to see that Africans were settling in and not being exploited, and this involved fostering interracial cooperation. Every week I would meet with the Chiefs and we would discuss how best to deal with any problems which had arisen. It seemed to work well; and as far as our own interracial and intertribal mix was concerned, I can recall no instances of friction between any of our Mudirs, Chiefs, Sub-Chiefs, Goan staff or Europeans based on ethnic differences. Indeed, all seemed to enjoy being part of the same team.

Urban Mombasa was contained on a 6 square-mile island, but the District extended for several miles into the mainland on all sides. The three mainland Wards contained some residential and light industrial areas, but for the most part were rural and had received scant administration. I decided that I would get to know these areas and carried out many a foot safari in the process: much more the real thing, I think, than was found by the D.C. Nairobi (I believe it was Roger Wilkinson). The story goes that a fellow administrator hailed him as he was walking down Delamere Avenue and was met with the reply: "Don't stop me now, I'm on foot safari in my own District."

The Kenya Colonial Service
Baraza
There was one boat safari. It was a three-hour trip up a long creek to the villages of Maunguja and Mwakirunge; there we would hold a baraza, pay our respects to the mosque and part with mutual expressions of goodwill. It was in fact a day's holiday, particularly welcome at times of pressure, and Chief Ahmed Nassor - in whose Ward it lay - seemed to know just when to arrange it. "The people of Maunguja and Mwakirunge would like a visit", he would say, "What day shall I order the boat for?" Chief Ahmed was a Swahili with so many of the likeable qualities which were to be found amongst the coast peoples: charming, with impeccable manners, easygoing, never angry or flustered, always ready to help. He had had an interesting life too, ranging from post office clerk to dhow captain.

Social engagements were inevitably part of the job in an urban area. Nearly every weekend there was a "tea-party" (always referred to by us as a bun-fight) which included tea, soft drinks and sweetmeats but never, of course, alcohol, and at which we socialised with groups, clubs, associations - of Goans, Hindus, Jains, Muslims, Sikhs. Once or twice I was detailed by the Provincial Commissioner to be his A.D.C. for official calls on foreign warships; these were always formal, ceremonial affairs, for which we would wear full dress whites. My wife and I also remember, as an example of informality, the wedding of a Chief's daughter held in a rural part of the District. We arrived at the appointed hour to find that we were the only guests. All the others were accompanying the bridal party, which was singing and dancing its way from the Church some three miles away. While we waited the Chief conducted us into the bridal bed-chamber (!)... there we were served tea and cakes and there, a while later, the bride and groom were brought in and introduced to us.

An extension to the social calendar was provided by three Royal visits: those of The Queen Mother, Prince Philip and Princess Margaret. I am not sure how much good was achieved by these visits; they certainly involved all of us in a great deal of extra work, and Government and Municipality in much expense.

Before we left Mombasa I was able to make a trip to Lamu to interview a candidate for the post of Chief. Like Mombasa, Lamu is situated on an island but it is wholly an old-world Arab town . It is possible to reach it by road in the dry season but it is a long weary journey, and it is easier- and probably just as quick - to go by dhow. To do the trip there and back in a day, as I had to, meant flying in a police aircraft. No vehicles are allowed on Lamu island and the "streets" are scarcely wider than footpaths. It has an atmosphere all its own, and as I wandered its quaint ways I realised that it must scarcely have changed for centuries.

Fort Hall 1959-1961

When we arrived at Fort Hall, once at the centre of the Mau Mau uprising, military operations against the gangs had finished and the Emergency was effectively over. There was, however, still a close administration in the Locations and the people were still in the villages which had been set up at the start of the Emergency. There were here and there other reminders of what had gone on in this place but a few years previously: I shall always retain the memory of a wooden cross by the roadside not far from Fort Hall; with Mount Kenya in the distance as a backdrop the inscription commemorated a District Officer killed by terrorists at Gakurwe.

Even at the start of the troubles the number of terrorists had not been large and not all Kikuyu had supported them. Indeed, we all admired the courage and strength of character of the Kikuyu who remained loyal to the Government; many were killed for their refusal to aid the gangs, their families massacred and their homes burned. Not that they may not have wanted to move towards Independence, but they saw that the violence and bestiality of Mau Mau were not the way to achieve anything.

The Anglican Church at Fort Hall was the cathedral church of the Fort Hall diocese and its bishop was himself a Kikuyu, the Rt. Rev. Obadiah Kariuki. The church, dedicated to St.James and All Martyrs, had been built as a memorial to the loyal Kikuyu who had fallen, many of their relatives and those who survived having contributed towards the cost. There is in it a set of superb murals, painted with an African motif by an African artist and depicting events in the life of Christ.

The ending of the Mau Mau Emergency heralded the beginning of a more acceptable expression of political aims, namely the formation of African political parties properly constituted. As far as Fort Hall was concerned this meant the Kenya African National Union (KANU); at the outset it was exclusively Kikuyu in membership, and there followed many months of campaigning by Kikuyu politicians. The theme was, of course, Independence for the country with KANU forming the Government, and this message was promoted by all kinds of cajoling and propaganda at large public gatherings. Kikuyu would come from all parts of the District to attend these, and the police were fully extended in covering them.

One day I was returning to Fort Hall in our car with my wife and two-year old son. As we rounded a bend we found the road blocked by a huge crowd of Kikuyu who were making their way to a political gathering. They were already in an excited state, evidenced by their dance-like movements and ululations from the women. We edged our way through at a very slow pace, the entire car surrounded by the crowd; I knew full well that if a wheel had gone over somebody's foot we would have been in serious trouble. We emerged without mishap, but the experience was unsettling.

We would get reports of what was said at these meetings, and it was distressing whenever we learned of instances of those simple people being duped by false promises. "You see those nice houses over there? If you vote for us you will all get to live in houses like that after Independence" was one such example. There were also cases of tribesmen from the Reserves being accosted on the streets of Nairobi and asked to select a car they would like from those parked nearby; the number of the car was then written on a piece of paper and handed to its new "owner" in exchange for 10/-, with the promise that when Independence came he could claim it. Anything we might have said on the matter would of course have fallen on deaf ears, because we were labelled as the cause of all of life's woes, and our position had not been improved by 'fact-finding' visits from British socialist politicians. These rarely lasted more than a week or so and one cannot even begin to form a judgment of a country and its people in a couple of weeks, for in such a time it is only the most vociferous of agitators who are likely to leave their impression; I personally did not get the 'feel' of Kenya until I had been there several years. Yet on the basis of such visits articles appeared in the British press with such titles as "Kenya under the Iron Heel" and a picture of Nazi jackboots alongside. All of us in the Service had in fact spent our entire working lives, and a great deal of energy, in trying to help the indigenous people to a better and more rewarding life; to educate them, indeed, to the point where they could safely manage their own affairs in the face of the complicated world outside. It was therefore particularly depressing to realise that the 'facts' as 'found' were not designed to present a balanced view at all, but only to gain political capital.

Things moved inexorably forward, and towards the end of 1960 I was given the job of organising the registration of voters for a General Election to be held in 1961. The government had laid down that all adults would be eligible to vote provided that they had achieved a basic level of education (I think it was completion of primary school). Fort Hall was not a large District in area but it had a population of about 400,000. There were four administrative divisions, each with a District Officer in charge, and twenty Locations, each with its Chief, Sub-Chief and Headmen. With such numbers it would have taken weeks to check everyone's credentials (even if they had had documentary evidence at all) and the practicalities of it were that divisional D.Os registered every adult who came forward. They had, in theory, been screened by the Chiefs beforehand but on my visits I saw precious little evidence of this. Most would have qualified anyway, and I doubt that the rest would have had any significant effect on the outcome of the election.

We had registered 87,000 in the first three weeks (the highest for any constituency) and reached a final total electorate of more than 102,000. The election itself went off smoothly and we recorded a 92% poll.

Although politics had become a matter of general concern, there was always a great deal of other administrative work going on. The Kikuyu at his best is reliable, intelligent and astute, and we were inundated with applications to engage in any and every sort of business venture; they ranged from selling produce to running an inter-district bus service. As far as the latter was concerned licences were issued not by us but by the Transport Licensing Board in Nairobi; this meant that we had to represent the District's interests at their hearings. My predecessor (Peter Lloyd) had undertaken two surveys of buses (frequency, areas covered, economic factors) and these were valuable aids whenever I had to appear and state our case. As for trading licences, if one asks people to pay for the right to trade one has to be sure that there is reasonable scope for a livelihood to be made, without reducing the prospects for those already licensed.

It was about this time that the Government, on behalf of Rotary, arranged to vaccinate the entire population against polio, free of charge. I think it was the experience of all of us that almost any new project by government to improve the people's lives or environment was met with suspicion: they could not believe that we would spend energy and resources in this way without some sinister ulterior motive; even with projects as obviously advantageous as dam-building it might take a lot of patience before cooperation was gained. The polio vaccination campaign suffered from the same mistrust, and word got about that it was a scheme to sterilise the entire indigenous population. As a result it was a disastrous failure, and on one occasion when my wife went out to help with a vaccination safari their Land Rover was stoned as it approached a village.

Nevertheless, the Government was not to be so easily deterred. Some months later it was announced that a new vaccination was available, but anyone who wanted it would have to pay a shilling. They came in their hundreds and the scheme succeeded. The mistake on the first occasion had been to offer it for nothing.

Much of the D.O.2's time was taken up with the Tribal Police. They numbered 400 and had a full-scale band which gave a Beat the Retreat concert every Saturday - something unique in my experience.

Besides the Kenya Police and ourselves there was a whole range of other government services: agriculture, education, marketing, medical, revenue, veterinary. But we did not have a Resident Magistrate and I was involved in a regular amount of court work.

All in all this was an advanced, high-powered District such as no other in which I had served, but with Independence around the corner there was no point in planning any form of future development. We all felt that we were being ordered out before we had finished the job, and with the terrible bloodbath in the Congo fresh in our minds who could say that something similar might not happen in Kenya upon Independence? We had ourselves witnessed, right on our doorstep, the mass hysteria attendant upon political gatherings.

Thus it was that when our second child was conceived we decided that Fort Hall was no place in which to bring it into the world. I requested a transfer back to Mombasa, for it was there that our first child had been born, with my wife in the care of an experienced and understanding doctor. So we left Fort Hall and returned to the Coast.

Mombasa 1961-1962

The Kenya Colonial Service
Me, in my whites
It was not the same place that we had left two years previously. Several political parties had sprung up and it was open season for anyone to try their hand at the new power game. I can recall visits to my office by gentlemen wearing sunglasses and carrying briefcases; they would walk in unannounced, lean over the desk and tell me of all the wonders that would occur once Independence had been gained. One informed me that they would do away with many of the unnecessarily restrictive laws which hampered the people's freedom. When I asked him to give me an example, he said: "Why, for instance, do you insist on vehicles keeping to only one side of the road? We would allow them to use as much of the road as they wanted".

When I pointed out the folly of such a move he retorted that it was only an example and stalked out of the office. No doubt he would not have risen very far up the political ladder, but I could not help feeling that it was to intelligence levels such as his that we were leaving the fortunes of the peoples of Kenya. Not by our wish, but by political - and no doubt economic - pressures from Europe and the United States.

Most of the local people were apprehensive about the prospect of a Government to be dominated (probably) by the tribe which had organised Mau Mau, and many feared a complete breakdown of law and order. Immigrant communities were leaving and businesses were contracting or closing down, thereby creating an increasingly serious unemployment situation. It was a depressing time, a time of winding down, and I really felt for these people. But there was nothing more we could do, for the Service was coming to an end.

In talking of Independence most of us had looked forward to our own Uhuru and the compensation for loss of career which we hoped to receive. When the time for our final departure came, however, I felt only sadness....

Author's Note
In this account I have recorded those events which I thought to be the most interesting, only passing reference being made to the day-to-day work of an administrative officer. In every District there would often be people waiting at the office to see you with a shauri (Can I be allowed to sell vegetables in such and such a market? My wife has run away, and I don't know who with - what can I do? How do I join the Army? X has started to cultivate my brother's shamba while he is in prison, and the Headman says he cannot do anything about it. Can I get a loan to start a business?, etc. etc.). We were always responsible for appointment, direction and payment of Chiefs, Sub-Chiefs, Headmen, Tribal Police, African Court elders and clerks, office staff and drivers, and for the upkeep of motor vehicles. We were always involved in court work and, being ex officio magistrates, were responsible both for the running of African Courts and for hearing appeals from them, and we usually administered the local prison (most Africans did not mind being sent to prison, which they called Hoteli ya Kingi George (King George's Hotel!): they were usefully employed during the day, they got well fed, and warders would sometimes let them out at night to see their wives so long as they were back in time for morning inspection!) We were in charge of the African District Council, its policy, its revenue and expenditure. We were responsible for the preparation of estimates of revenue and expenditure for the District, and nearly always for the collection of government taxes. Proper accounts had also to be kept of all monies received and spent, these being subject to annual government audit. And, of course, there was always plenty of mail, official and otherwise, to be dealt with.

Finally, since we were charged with the development and smooth running of the District as a whole we would have to be actively aware of what other government departments were doing, often co-ordinating their activities and acting as a bridge between them and the people; ourselves filling in, as best we could, for those which were not represented. It was for this reason that our pre-appointment course at university had been made up of such a diverse range of subjects.

It had been a marvellous life for a young man. Above all, it taught me a great deal about my fellow man, at all levels and in many different circumstances. It taught me how to shoulder responsibility, to make decisions and act upon them; also perseverance, self-reliance and many practical skills.

Epilogue
My wife and I decided that we would not rush back to England immediately upon leaving Kenya but would make the most of our six months on full pay. We went to the Seychelles for two months, at a time when one could only go by sea and there was only one boat a month in either direction. We finally left Mombasa in September 1962 on the "Braemar Castle" taking our car with us, and disembarked at Marseille. From there we motored up to Switzerland and took a chalet for a month on the Lake of Thun. When we left, the snows were beginning to fall and they stayed with us until we dropped down to the plains of northern France, and so finally to Boulogne and the Channel.

I remember the approach to England: the sea was grey, the sky was grey and through the overcast there appeared the grey, dripping houses and docks of Dover seafront. There were some youths standing near me and one of them said: "Well, there it is, lads - the land of hope and glory!" It was the second of November, the start of the gloomiest month in the English calendar, and its gloom was not lessened by our reception at Immigration.

Gloomy Officer: "How long do you intend staying in this country?"

Me: "I'm not sure, perhaps indefinitely."

G.O: "Oh well, you're not a visitor then."

Me: "No."

G.O: "In that case you will have to register at the local office and start contributing towards health insurance and old age pension."

Me: "But I'm unemployed. Can I get unemployment benefit?"

G.O: "Not till you've been here two years."

Me: "I have two young children. Can I claim child allowances?

G.O: "Not till you've been here six months."

Such was our welcome back to the land of our birth.

The gloomy start to our return to England was further worsened by our having come back to the coldest winter in years (1962/3), with much of the country under snow and ice from December to March. It made the search for a new career even more difficult than it would otherwise have been, but I have to say that the Overseas Services Resettlement Bureau which had been set up to help us in this task served me well. As a result of its information and advice I got invited to several interviews, but whatever the circumstances I always came away with the impression that they were not really interested: "Now, Mr. Nicoll-Griffith, what about this so-called administrative experience of yours?" was not phrased in such a way as to encourage me to say anything, particularly since it came from a row of pallid, pot-bellied men sitting in a stuffy office in a dreary city. And why would they want to employ someone used to a lot of responsibility and making his own decisions? Nobody wants an underling telling him how to run the business. Added to this was the fact that my Kenya experience had no direct relevance - there being, of course, no career experience even remotely similar in Britain or even in Europe. But above all, I cannot have failed to convey the impression that I was less than enthusiastic myself at the prospect of a lifetime of commuter trains, polluted air, and an office job in a crowded city.

Eventually my wife said to me: "I don't care what sort of a job you get, but let's get it somewhere out of this country. I don't like the way you're getting all pink and white."

I had received from the Commonwealth Relations Office offers of appointment in the Gambia or in Hong Kong, but they were not suitable places for young children and in any case would be likely merely to postpone the problem of resettlement.

In those days one could obtain a teaching post if one possessed a recognised university degree, so it made it worthwhile looking through The Times Educational Supplement for overseas appointments. Moreover, our work in Africa had been in a real and comprehensive way one of education, so I thought I might make a go of it.

Bermuda made me an offer and we accepted it. It had the advantages of being a multi-(or at least bi-)racial society, one which I had been used to and enjoyed. It was still technically a Colony but had been self-governing for centuries and had a good chance of political stability. It had a good standard of living, clean air and an enviable sub-tropical climate. It had the sea.

If the standard of living was high so were the prices. With a third of our salary going on rent we decided to spend our Kenya compensation on buying a house, which we did a year after arrival. The children went to school and made friends. One by one the anchors went down, and we stayed on. After five years we obtained Bermuda Status, which gave us similar rights to those born there.

I taught French for five years, German for five years, then became a full-time guidance counsellor. In 1979 I became Registrar of Bermuda College, remaining there until my retirement in 1994.

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