Although I was bom at Wallington, in Surrey, I was always a country man at
heart. Before the 1914-18 war Wallington was on the edge of the countryside and near
our house were open places which could hardly be described as fields, but at least
grass and weeds grew on them; and they were admirable areas for seeking butterflies
and watching sky-larks hovering about. Proper farming was practised within a mile
and country walks towards Boundary Wood were real fun for children.
Soon after the war all these open areas, some of which lay within a few hundred
yards of the railway station, were quickly built on and Wallington became part of Greater London. Perhaps I should be grateful for this inevitable change, for it was the
view of the bowler hats over the top of the garden fence on their way to catch the 8.23
which eventually sent me to Africa. London was not for me.
When at school I had only the vaguest ideas about what I wanted to do but of one
thing I was certain. I could not follow in my father's footsteps for, although not
unsympathetic, I tend to be very impatient with ill health, and I would have made a
very bad doctor.
I considered forestry for I liked trees - not entirely in a sentimental, aesthetic
way, but because I realised that trees must fulfil a function other than a visual one and
were a crop like wheat or clover. I can hear the conservationists complaining, but let
me assure them that in my life I have planted some dozens of trees for each one I have
felled. However, the forestry idea came to nothing, which was probably as well for me
and my friends. In Africa I later discovered that foresters, though always very
delightful people, were apt to be a little odd in their ways, such as putting marmalade
on fried bacon. People said it was the lonely life. There was one forester on the Kenya
Coast who on Sundays would fill a dug-out canoe with cushions and bid his wife
recline on them. Amidships he would install an H.M.V. portable and he himself
would take up a standing position in the stern. He would pole the canoe in the broiling
sun through the mosquito-ridden mangrove swamp to the refrain of 'I want to be
happy' and imagine himself back on the Isis. I'll bet his wife wished she were.
The forestry idea having been discarded, I turned to agriculture, for whatever I
did must be connected with the land; that is, growing things on it as opposed to
extracting mineral riches which were exhaustible and therefore depleted the land. So
my father sent me to Wye Agricultural College in Kent which was an off-shoot of
London University, where I spent three very happy years and made some excellent
friends. I always feel I was lucky to have been at Wye at the very peak of its
attainments in the field of sport. By this, I do not place too much emphasis on just one
aspect, for we both worked and played hard. One year, in the inter-college competitions
of London University, Wye won the Rugby, soccer, hockey, boxing and
cross-country cups. No mean achievement for a college of only 180 students, which
was quite tiny compared with the larger London colleges.
Wye provided a first-class course in agriculture and the balance between
practical and theory was excellent. The relationship of staff and students was of the
highest order without any of the troubles which appear to beset universities these
days. Our lecturers had a happy knack of making things stick so that the vital
knowledge came out when required at a forthcoming examination, or years later
when many of us were thousands of miles away. For example, our lecturer in
Surveying and Building Construction wished to emphasize a point on the legal aspects
of building lines and he quoted the following limerick, which I know was written
down by every student at the lecture :-
There was a young lady of Wantage
Of whom the Town Clerk took advantage.
Said the Borough Surveyor,
'You really must pay her,
'For you've altered the line of her frontage.'
On another occasion the lecturer in Veterinary Science was stressing that
improvisation and initiative were vital attributes, particularly to the many of us who
would find ourselves abroad, miles from anywhere, without the tools for the job. He
recounted the story of a young vet in India who was called out to deal with a very
constipated elephant. Obviously a horse pump would be useless, so he summoned the
manual fire engine (exactly similar to the one then in use in Wye village) and filled it
up with an appropriate brew. The result was most gratifying both to the vet and the
Not all our lecturers were so earthy. Dear old G, who instructed us in the
practical side of surveying, was most anxious that the sheets of cartridge paper on
which we drew our plans should be returned to him. He explained, 'Mrs. G likes to
line her drawers with them.'
I made a number of friends at Wye, regrettably, most of them are no longer on this earth. Dudley Symons, who later
went out to Kenya to farm, was killed in Hitler's war in the withdrawal from British
Somaliland, and Teddy K-, a very close friend of mine, died in the 1980s. An
episode in London with Teddy is of possibly historic interest. It happened in 1929
when Teddy and I, Teddy's sister and a girl friend of hers, went to a variety show in
Leicester Square. On leaving the theatre we saw a hansom cab and brougham waiting
for fares and Helen and I decided to take the hansom. Teddy and the other girl took
the brougham and we planned to meet up at the hotel where the girls were staying.
I suppose the two cabbies thought there were the makings of a race, which might
mean an extra bob or two, and our hansom entered Trafalgar Square at a spanking
pace. By the time we reached Northumberland Avenue it seemed to me that things
were getting rather out of control. The cab was all over the place on a most erratic
course and we were missing taxis and private cars by inches, frequently bouncing off
the curb into the line of traffic. Hansom cabs were not my usual mode of transportation
and I was unaware of the little trapdoor in the roof through which you could give
instructions to the cabby perched above. If I had known this, I could at least have
learnt whether we still had a cabby aboard. The reins were not slack on the horse's
back so I had to assume that there was someone at the other end and we were not
driverless. I could only be very protective to Helen, which was not unenjoyable, and
wait for the inevitable accident to take place. Our mad rush down Northumberland
Avenue ended near Charing Cross Underground Station, where our horse appeared
desirous of a midnight bathe in the Thames and took the direct route across the
Embankment towards the river. To achieve this, it crossed a refuge between two iron
bollards against which the hansom was completely smashed. Helen and I were left
sitting in the road amidst all the wreckage and the cabby, a very elderly man, was shot
forward off his perch and broke his fall on the horse's back. Helen was rather bruised
but I only suffered a cut ear, which bled like a pig. A large crowd moving eastward
along the Embankment gathered and had their thrill on seeing my bloody appearance
- 'Look at the blood, take 'im to 'orspital'. Having ascertained that the cabby was
being looked after, Helen and I decided to get out of it all quickly and walk to her
hotel. Just as we were leaving, a rather tough-looking customer came up and said, 'Is
this the lidy's 'andbag?' To experience honesty is always a good tonic, and it was then.
At the hotel we found Teddy and the other girl; they had lost sight of us early in
the 'race' and wondered what had become of us. Helen visited the cabby in hospital
the next day with some flowers and learnt that, apart from the hansom, the horse was
the only permanent casualty. It unfortunately had to be destroyed. The 'Stop Press'
news in the latest editions of the evening papers reporting the incident mentioned that
there were now only 12 hansom cabs operating in London. I hope the poor old cabby,
who must have been over eighty, had a reasonable retirement.
The three very enjoyable years at Wye passed all too quickly and towards the end
of the course I had to make up my mind what to do with my training. A friend of my
father's, who had always assumed the role of a generous uncle, although we were not
related, had made a tentative offer to establish me on a farm, he putting up the
capital. I declined this very kind offer and hope I caused no offence by doing so.
Although I was passionately fond of the English countryside I really wanted to get
abroad. Perhaps those bowler hats were really working on me, though I was aware
that I was unlikely to see them on an English farm. The men from the Ministry didn't really wear bowler hats, at least in the country. The image still persists, however, as is
instanced by the current delightful description of the Government A.I. service as 'the
It came to my notice during my final Summer Term in 1930 that the Colonial
Office was embarking on its annual recruiting drive to obtain twenty or so agriculturists
for the colonial territories, and applications were invited. This seemed the
opportunity I had been seeking and I sent my name forward. Successful candidates
were to be granted a two-year scholarship to cover a post-graduate year at Oxford or
Cambridge and a further year at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture,
Trinidad. I was called for an interview at the Colonial Office along with a hundred or
so other applicants, and realised how much depended on this ordeal. When my time
came I was ushered into a room which appeared to be crammed full of the most
terrifying old men. I had just sat down and accepted a cigarette when the telephone
rang and I blessed the caller. It gave me a minute or two to settle down and study the
ring of faces. By the time the telephone call was over I had come to the conclusion
that the 'terrifying old men' were probably a very decent lot and so they proved to be.
Some weeks later I was informed that, subject to passing my final exams, which I was
just about to sit, I had been selected for one of the scholarships. The fact that the job
to which these scholarships led was a pensionable one and the salary was about
double that of an equivalent Government post in England was to me quite irrelevant.
In all probability unless I made a nonsense, I would end up somewhere in Africa, and
the prospect was an intriguing one.
I went up to Cambridge for the post-graduate year in October, 1930. My
brother, Tony, also went up the same term to start his medical training. The
post-graduate course placed very great emphasis on field experimentation and the
statistical interpretation of agricultural experiments. What it did not tell us was, what
the wretched agricultural officer was to do when elephant or wild pig took a fancy to
your experiment, or your own labour forced filled its bellies with green corn on the
cob from the inner hidden portions of your experimental plots. Many of us on arrival
in Africa were thrown in at the deep end on agricultural expansion work and had little
or no opportunity to employ our newly-won knowledge of the mysteries of statistical
On September 21st, 1931, our young party of trainee tropical agriculturists sailed
from Avonmouth for Trinidad in an Elder & Fyffes banana boat. I remember the date
clearly, for two things happened that day: Britain went off the gold standard and my
grandfather died. We passed inside Lundy Island just before dark and my last view of
England was the west coast of Hartland Point. By the time we were off Welcombe
(where as a family we had spent many holidays) we were well out to sea and the light
had failed. After the Azores the ocean took on that wonderful dark blue colour which
one learnt to associate with deep tropical seas, and flying fish sported on the surface.
Towards the end of the voyage there was a bit of a party on board and I can still
remember how painful the white coral sand of the Barbados beaches was the next
day. I can imagine no more horrible cure for a hangover than a Barbados beach at
midday without dark glasses.
At the party, after midnight, some of our students decided that their surplus
energy might be usefully employed by stoking the boilers of our coal-burning ship.
Still wearing dinner-jackets or, in some cases, white mess jackets, they descended to
the stoke-hold where the engineer on watch entered into the spirit of the evening and permitted them to proceed. The regular firemen were only too pleased to hand over
their shovels and sit back, have a good laugh and offer useful advice. After a bit the
amateur stokers thought coal was pretty poor stuff for steam-raising and foraging
parties were sent off to all the lavatories, the 'Ladies' included, to collect toilet rolls.
In one of the ladies' lavatories one of the students unfortunately came face to face
with the wife of a senior man from the Colonial Office travelling with her husband.
The toilet rolls were most effective and in no time we were blowing off surplus steam,
and so did the C.O. man the next morning. After some investigation he found the
ring-leader of the whole escapade and said he would be reported to the appropriate
branch of the C.O. Like so many things in that building, the report must have gone
astray, and the culprit subsequently had a particularly brilliant career in the Colonial
The world depression, which started with the Wall Street crash in 1929 hit the
colonial territories somewhat later. We had been in Trinidad only a very short time
when it became only too apparent that competition for the very few vacancies in the
Service was likely to be severe. As a consequence, our year soon got the reputation
for working a great deal harder than any previous batch of students as a lot would
depend on our performance in the final examinations. This did not mean that we did
not find time to enjoy ourselves. We soon acquired the art of consuming rum
punches, which was an essential part of our agricultural training, for the generosity of
the Trinidad planters was quite exceptional. To study some particular aspect of
tropical agriculture, visits to progressive estates were arranged and at some stage
refreshment, which was always in the form of rum punch, was served.
The word 'punch' conjures up visions of a minor pyrotechnical display in an
appropriate bowl on a cold winter's night. Not so in Trinidad. Trinidad rum punch is
cold and refreshing; all its ingredients are produced locally and we had to master the
ability to consume several of them after hours in the sun had given us a tropical thirst
and still to absorb the pearls of wisdom which fell from our lecturer's mouth. We also
had to drive back to the College and some of our lads were not particularly
experienced. One, ruminating on whether there was room to drive between two
donkey carts, proved the point by hitting both simultaneously and crushing all four
wings of the car.
Which reminds me of a very unkind trick which some thought funny. Driving
back late to the College from Port-of-Spain one always met a string of donkey carts,
lit by a single hurricane lamp hanging on an upright pole and laden with bags of
charcoal, with the driver fast asleep. Quietly stopping the car, the occupant would
take the head of one of the donkeys and turn the cart round in the opposite direction,
give the donkey a quiet slap and send him on his way. Unless someone else came to his
rescue, the astonished driver would wake at dawn - not in the town market but home
in his village, 15 miles from Port-of-Spain.
Despite the heat we played all the games which the British take round the world
with them like their toothbrush and a bottle of Eno's. Rugger was, of course,
included and the replacement of the body liquid lost on the field was as enjoyable as
the game. In the tropical heat one perspired for hours afterwards and mild drinking
was a better proposition than dancing, much to the annoyance of the Trinidad girls,
who probably had built-in B.O. resistance. I can remember one match played on the
ground of the Trinidad Leaseholds Oil Company at San Fernando. Not only did we
have to suffer the perpetual reek of an oil refinery but the pitch was flooded by heavy
rains to a depth of several inches. Fortunately no member of either team was actually
drowned when a scrum collapsed, but we were permanently soaked. It was the only
reasonably cool game I can recollect in Trinidad; and never before have I seen the ball
actually float out of the back of the scrum.
During 1931 one of us, an entomologist/zoologist, was lucky enough to win
140 Trinidad dollars in a local lottery. Very generously, he offered to stand three of us
a fishing trip to the Venezuela coast and the four of us got down to making plans.
Firstly, we had to visit the Venezuelan Consulate in Port-of-Spain to obtain permission
to fish in their waters; we were rewarded with a most important-looking
document in which our host was shown as 'el Capitan', I was the 'sobrecargo' and our
two boatmen were entered as '2 marineros'. I forget the designations of the
other two members of our party. The boat we hired was an ordinary locally-built open
craft with an engine - more of which anon.
The expedition had to be at a weekend and we thought the Saturday morning
lectures could probably manage without our presence, although, of course, we did
advise the College what we planned. Trinidad is separated from the nearest point of
Venezuela by a string of islands belonging to Trinidad and the intervening passages
are known as bocas.
We duly picked up our boat and set off with enough food to see us through to
Sunday evening. We had a good trip and crossed the 'grand bocas' separating the last
island from Venezuela, which is about six miles wide, without trouble.
We were required to report to the small Venezuelan port of Christobal Colon to
make our number with the local authorities who, bristling with guns, received us
courteously. We had apparently chosen the right dress - khaki shirt and shorts - for
the local dignitary when he saw us remarked, 'Ah! English Boy Scouts, that is O.K.'
Formalities completed, we started fishing, trolling artificial lures, on our way to
Patos, a tiny uninhabited British island, where we were to spend the night. One of us
hooked a kingfish of 20 lbs or so, but whilst it was being brought in it was taken by
some other fish, presumably a large barracuda, and only half the kingfish came in. We
reached our island well before dark, made a fire and slung our hammocks between
palm trees. After a meal off the remains of the kingfish we chatted and retired to
'bed'. It was my first night in a hammock and my last. I suppose the knack is to string it
really tight. None of us slept much and our two local friends spent the night chatting,
a short distance away, in their own patois. At dawn we packed up our camp but the
boat engine gave a lot of trouble and it was eight o'clock before we got off.
We trolled for several hours and had a large number of kingfish and barracuda.
The boat seemed full of them. Our boatmen then said we mustn't cruise any more as
we had insufficient fuel so we resorted to bottom fishing, which was rather dull.
There were plenty of fish, mostly red mullet, but the bottom was an awful long
way down and pulling them up was a lengthy business. After a bit it became less
rewarding, for a shark had joined in the sport and, lying a few feet below the boat, it
seized our mullet at the end of their trip from the bottom. There was only one way out
of this and that was, to catch the shark.
Baiting up a large shark hook on a hand-line with a 2lb mullet, we dropped it over
the side and in a short while we had our shark well and truly hooked. It was not a
particularly fair fight, because our hand-line would have landed a submarine, but it
was hard work. When, eventually, it came up near the boat, one of the boatmen, with
a cutlass lashed to an oar, ripped the wretched beast open from head to vent and that, literally, took the stuffing out of it. More judicious strokes with the cutlass finished off
a very bloody job and shortly we had a boat overloaded with shark. As this story will
tell, we never had the opportunity of weighing our prize, but it certainly was over 500
The afternoon was progressing and also the wind was rising. Our boatmen
thought it was time to set course for Trinidad so we started the engine and moved off
to round a tricky point on the Venezuelan coast. The sea was confused and just short
of the point a breaking wave came inboard and the engine died in a cloud of steam.
Someone cranked the engine, which miraculously started - I suppose because it was
still hot. However, before we got the boat heading into the wind a truly enormous
wave hit us and nearly filled us to the gunwales. This time there was no question of
starting the engine and our two men seized an oar each; but one, in a panic, dropped
his and it floated past. The other blaspheming loudly, stretched out and just managed
to grasp the oar. I would never have believed anyone could lean so far over the side
without falling in.
Even with two oars our plight was serious. The boat, half-swamped, was sluggish
and a little bay which offered some shelter lay half a mile away. We had all seen
evidence of the monster sharks which inhabited this fishing paradise, and if the boat
sank our chances of swimming for it were negligible. I don't think any of us really
thought we would make it but we all baled with anything we could find, including our
hats - the old-fashioned solar topee. After a very long time we reached our bay but
the seas there were still very rough and the cliffs perpendicular, with deep water up to
their base. We could only anchor and try to sort things out.
The first priority was to tower the shark to the bottom on a rope because we were
too crowded with its bulky presence, and in any case its sheer weight had no doubt a
lot to do with our misfortunes and the boat's failure to rise to the seas. Our anchorage
was anything but comfortable for, as each wave hit us, we rolled one way and then the
rebound from the cliff rolled us in the opposite direction. By the time we had baled
out most of the water it was getting dark and we should have been back at the
The fact that our trip had lasted longer than we had intended was no serious
problem from the food angle. In the conditions no one was in the least bit hungry but I
am proud of the fact that I was the only one who was not actually seasick.
We decided that little could be done till the morning and, whilst our two
boatmen made themselves as comfortable as they could in the bows, the four of us
drew lots on where we were going to 'sleep'(?). Two of us would have the thwarts and
two the floorboards. I drew the latter and all night long, as the boat rolled, a mixture
of sea water, shark's blood and engine oil washed over me. I can still recollect how I
smelt the next morning.
At 4 a.m. we had all had enough of our 'bunks' and we set to to take down the
engine to dry it out. We assembled it again, but incessant cranking produced not the
slightest result. It soon became apparent that the notch on the crank was badly worn
and however much we tried, we couldn't turn the engine over fast enough to induce a
spark of life.
We persisted and rechecked the drying of the engine. At dawn our captain,
showing what an ardent zoologist he was, decided that if we could not take the whole
shark with us (that is, if we ever did start the engine) he would take its skull. We
pulled the shark to the surface and removed its head, discarding the remainder. He
then disected the head - or perhaps filleted is a better word (all the while being
violently sick over the side). We had already jettisoned all the kingfish, barracuda and
red mullet as they had distinctly gone off, but the smell of bad shark filled the air.
Meanwhile, the rest of us took turns at cranking the engine, literally for hours.
At 8 o'clock, without any warning of impending success, it started. Within a minute
we had the anchor up and had set a course for Trinidad and, as the sea had
moderated, we ate the remainder of our food. We had a good journey back and
trolled two lines. We got a very fine kingfish and that and the shark's skull were the
only evidence of our fishing weekend to reach the College on Monday afternoon
instead of Sunday evening.
We were properly ticked off by the Principal, Sir Geoffrey Evans, who told us we
had caused a lot of trouble - indeed, the Government Revenue cutter was just about
to leave to look for us. He said Venezuelan waters would be definitely out of bounds
in future and then, with a twinkle in his eye, said, 'Come round all of you for a drink
this evening and tell me all about your trip'. When we arrived at his house later I seem
to remember that we took a goodly portion of kingfish as a present. Sir Geoffrey and
Lady Evans gave us a marvellous evening and it was quite clear that we had been
completely forgiven for the worry we had brought about.
I have rambled on and any reader of these notes will wonder why we were sent to
Trinidad at great expense to enjoy ourselves. We were young and of course we had a
good time. We also worked hard and, as I have said before, a good deal harder than
our predecessors. We had all received already a good basic training in temperate
agricultural science and the purpose of the Trinidad year was to superimpose tropical
agriculture on that knowledge. When we got out there, for most of us it was the first
time we had seen sugar cane, bananas, cacao, rice, millet, groundnuts and a host of
other crops actually growing. Trinidad was able to show us most tropical crops and,
backed up by good and interesting lectures, we felt we learned a lot. It was only later,
when we had been working in our own particular territory in Africa or elsewhere, that
we realised how much depended on local experience. Nevertheless, the Trinidad
course was a really first-class introduction to the particular problems of tropical
In June 1932 we were due to return to England to await appointment. Several of
us worked out that at a cost of 10 pounds each we could travel back on the longer route via
Panama and Jamaica on a 'clockwise' banana boat instead of by the direct route.
Whilst at Panama we planned to fly the length of the canal just to say we had seen the
Pacific. Alternatively, we could take a boat to Florida, buy a very cheap car for a few
dollars, drive to New York and abandon the car on the dock before sailing for
We decided on the Panama idea and applied to the Colonial Ofiice for permission
to travel that way, making it perfectly clear that we would meet the difference in
cost. The journey would take ten days longer than the normal route.
The negative reply from London would have led anyone to believe that every
territory in Africa was clamouring for our presence and the whole economy of the
Colonial Empire would collapse without our immediate arrival. In fact, I was the
fourth out of 25 to be appointed to a territory; and I sailed for Kenya in January 1934,
18 months after I arrived in England from Trinidad.
The depression had now hit all countries good and proper and when we landed in
England we were told to seek temporary employment but to be prepared to leave at
very short notice. I worked for no salary at the Rothamsted Experiment Station in
Hertfordshire until my money ran out and then on a poultry farm in Hampshire for
twenty six shillings a week; National Insurance being my responsibility. In August
1933, at a tennis party in Wallington, I learnt from the grapevine that I was to be
appointed to Kenya. The letter from the Colonial Office confirming this was dated
30th November. I sailed for Kenya in the S.S. 'Llangibby Castle' on the 25th January,
1934, and arrived in Mombasa on the 18th February.
My journey out by boat was interesting but not particularly eventful. It was my first
trip through the Suez Canal but there were eight others before air travel took over. I
had with me a standard book on Kiswahili and I left England with the intention of
studying it daily, but in fact at the end of the voyage my vocabulary was not very
An odd coincidence arose on this trip. I vaguely remember meeting a certain girl
and dancing with her occasionally. A few years later I learnt that my brother had met
her independently in London and was taking her round. Early in 1940 they got
After leaving Europe the ports of call on the East Africa route - Port Said, Port
Sudan and Aden - present in general a picture of sandy wastes with little vegetation
Arrival at Mombasa was a marked contrast and the green of that island never ceased
to amaze me. After we had docked I received written notification of my posting and it
appeared that I would have but a short journey, for I had been posted to the Coast
The Agricultural Officer i/c Coast was there to meet me and after lunch with the
Provincial Commissioner he drove me the 40 miles to Kilifi, where I was to share his
house until he went on leave in June. He had taken his cook to Mombasa with him but
the latter failed to turn up and we left him to make his own way out. This created a
minor problem about who was to cook dinner but T- was confident that a neighbour,
Mollie Lillywhite, would give us a meal. The Lillywhites lived at Sokoki, about seven
miles away, and of course there was no telephone. After a bath we set off and I was
introduced to the wonderful spirit of hospitality which prevailed everywhere in East
Africa. African servants never failed when asked to produce extra food at short
notice - in fact, I believe they thrived on such changes to the dull routine of their
The road up to Sokoki was little more than a bush track, with tall grass growing
between the two wheel tracks. Suddenly a small African child, who had been sleeping
in the grass on the road, jumped up in the headlights and dashed into a nearby village.
T-, without hesitation, turned the car off the road, over a rudimentary ditch and into
the clear area about the huts. He just caught sight of the fleeing child dashing into an
open hut and brought his car up tight against the doorway to block it. The village
headman was called and told to produce a stick and the child. The stick proved to be
only a maize stalk, but it was applied to the child's bottom and he cooperated in the
charade by screaming loudly, unhurt by the ineffective instrument but probably badly
frightened. Rough justice, but subsequently I don't suppose he persisted with the
dangerous habit of sleeping on motor tracks, even bush ones.
My first night in Africa seemed eventful to me but, looking back on it later, I feel
T-'s actions were more directed at me, the new boy, than to the miserable child, as it
was important that I should be educated in the correct way of dealing with such
I took on a head house-boy by the name of Athmani, a Swahili by tribe, who
naturally spoke Kiswahili very well, a language I had to learn quickly, and I insisted
that he should use it and not English. I was to experience the inadequacy of my
knowledge very early on.
The African had great faith in European medicine and it was even better medicine
if dispensed by a European! One morning Athmani came in and from a torrent of
Swahili I gathered he was in some sort of trouble, the precise nature of which escaped
me. I had, however, distinctly recognised the words for 'stomach' and 'medicine' and
I guessed the rest. I handed him an aperient pill but the next morning he came to me
and said bado (not yet), so two pills were given. The following morning it was
'bado again and I felt Athmani's confidence in his master must be waning,. Something
effective must be done quickly. I measured out a dose of Epsom salts that would have
made an elephant blink and Athmani knocked it back. About two hours later he
appeared again and - all credit to him - with a smile on his face. In slow, halting
English he explained that possibly I had misunderstood, but his trouble had been
diarrhoea. Accidentally I had, in fact, hit on a very effective but drastic cure; but my
Swahili was totally inadequate to tell him so. I even doubt whether my apologies for
the treatment were understood.
T-, quite rightly, was determined to push me in at the deep end and the language
problem had to be overcome very quickly. I spent a great deal of time getting a
reasonable vocabulary and Athmani collaborated marvellously. He was an excellent
servant, a real relic of the old days, and had knocked around a bit and seen service as
far away as Government House in Uganda. Later, when T- departed on leave, he
took over running the house and did it exceedingly well.
As part of my training T- sent me on a foot safari well up the Sabaki river in the
sub-district of Malindi, which at that time was suffering simultaneously from drought,
famine, locusts and smallpox. It was an area which obviously had received very little
attention from outside. It was clear that a new boy like myself could achieve little for
the benefit of the long-suffering people. Nevertheless, from that safari I learnt a
great deal and formed ideas on what an agricultural officer should do. In the long term
the trip was not a waste of time; but the African cultivators must have regarded the
arrival of a youngster as a bit of a bore. However, they poured out their troubles
through my Arab clerk, who acted as interpreter, and at lease they could feel that
they had got something off their chests.
My next safari was in May, to Digo
District south of Mombasa, where cotton as a cash crop was being introduced for the
first time. I was to travel to Waa, eight miles south of Mombasa, by lorry and
thereafter to walk to the Tanganyika border some 50 miles away directly, but
considerably more by the zig-zag route I followed to cover the maximum area
May is a very wet month on the Coast but I was not prepared for the 25 inches of
rain we received in May that year. When I reached Ramisi, 40 miles from Mombasa
and the end of the motor road, I had planned to cut across direct to Vanga on the
Tanganyika border but before we left the Ramisi Sugar Estate behind it was obvious
we were going to experience trouble in crossing the rivers ahead. One bridge taking
the estate light railway line over the Ramisi river had lost all the planks laid across the
sleepers for the benefit of foot travellers. All of us, including the posters with their
head-loads, had to cross on the widely-spaced sleepers with a raging torrent a few
Further on the whole countryside was flooded and we were up to our knees in
water. The porters rather naturally fell much behind and when I reached the chosen
camp site I waited on an ant-hill for the main party to turn up. Dark came and so did
the mosquitoes. Nine days later, and fortunately at home again, I went down with my
first bout of malaria.
After an uncomfortable night I learnt that the flooding was much worse ahead and
that crocodiles had left the rivers and were everywhere. On advice, I decided we
could not get the porters through by the direct route so we should make for Shimoni
on the sea by travelling on higher land. The local chief undertook to send a note to
Vanga to summon up the Customs boat to rescue us at Shimoni; and the arrival later
of the boat at Shimoni indicated that the messenger had survived the crocodiles, at
least on the outward journey.
Shimoni had earlier been the administrative headquarters of Digo district and the
D.C.'s house, which was then the government camp, had been attacked by the
Germans in the 1914-18 war and the D.C. had been forced to take to the bush to avoid
being captured. The house was very close to the sea and overlooked the strait
between the mainland and the Wasin Island. The 'little house down the garden path'
(or choo) was a fascinating edifice and must have been designed by some practical and
original D.C. It was constructed on the very brink of a 10-foot coral cliff which had
been undercut by wave action. A hole had been made through the coral to the beach
below and the choo was built over it. This, of course, was long before the days of air
fresheners but the breezes from the Indian Ocean funnelling up the hole served just as
well. The arrangement also dispensed with the need for a 'sweeper', always an
awkward customer in Africa, for the tides did everything for you. At some stage it had
lost its roof, whether by enemy action I know not. In other respects it was sound and it
even had a door; but this last item was really superfluous, for evidence of occupancy
was provided by the appearance through the open roof of sheets of toilet paper
which, resisting the force of gravity, preferred to accept a fair breeze to the heavens.
If the occupant found this display somewhat embarrassing, he could go provided with
a supply of small pebbles with which he 'bombed' the sheets as he released them.
After a night at Shimoni we set off in the Customs boat for Vanga and had a fairly
uneventful passage - apart from running on to a sandbank. With all sails set to ease
the work, everyone except myself and including the Arab nahodha (captain), was on
the sandbank pushing us off. I had visions of the boat suddenly freeing herself and
sailing away towards India like the Marie Celeste without a crew. I was to learn later
that all African sailors are used to running aground and are very nimble at climbing
aboard at the crucial moment.
The approach to Vanga through a maze of mangrove swamps is most depressing.
After many turns in the waterway a low-lying Arab settlement appeared at the end of
the creek and we had arrived. During my stay I toured the exceedingly fertile Umba
valley which accounts for Vanga's existence. I was very interested to see a coconut
plantation which, in 1934, still showed evidence, in the form of shell holes through the
palm boles, of a fierce engagement with the Germans in the Kaiser's war.
My work completed, I returned by the same route to Ramisi and then, for a
change, by lorry back to Mombasa. At Ramisi I met Pousse, the French engineer in
charge of the sugar factory, who spent any leisure he had with a rifle after game.
Once, accompanied by five Luo tribesmen, he had shot a hippo and, turning to his
small band of Africans, he suggested they call their friends to join in the feast. They
were appalled at the idea and made it quite clear that there was only enough meat for
five. The African's craving for meat is understandable but his capacity for eating it is
unbelievable. When a beast is shot some tribes cannot resist eating the choicer bits
raw on the spot. The rest is carried home in bloody lumps and they gorge themselves
The frenzy for meat is illustrated in the following episode. A Wye friend of mine,
shortly after his arrival in Kenya, went on a big game safari. He had shot an elephant,
which his African followers rapidly disembowelled. Several of them, stark naked and
covered in blood, were inside the carcass hacking off tasty pieces of meat. In the
melee and semi-darkness one of them, perceiving a very choice piece, seized it and
was about to cut it off. it was, however, the particularly personal part of one of his
friends, who fortunately yelled just in time.
I reached Kilifi a day or so later and home was very pleasant after a tough, wet and
uncomfortable safari. I had learnt a great deal more about another part of the
Province and if I was to be of any use to the cultivators that knowledge was essential.
Even at that stage of my exuberant youth, I could see that local knowledge of farming
methods was vital. What we had all learnt at Wye and Trinidad was useful as a basis;
but you had to build on that base with the bits and pieces of local farming methods.
Many of these practices were intrinsically bad and slovenly; but others had a reason
behind them even if outwardly appearing wrong. One had to discover what it was and
whether by a simple change in the system a better result could be achieved with little
or no extra effort. At this stage in the development of the country it was useless
devising sophisticated plans which were beyond the capabilities of the cultivators.
A few days later T- went on leave to England, leaving me in possession of the
house, his car (which I had bought) and a province some 200 miles long and 120 miles
wide to keep me occupied. Before I had time to digest my responsibility, those
mosquitoes on that anthill in Digo completed their work and I went down with
The first bout of malaria is always the worst and, sure enough, in no time my
temperature was 105. The European doctor gave me one look, recommended the
accepted massive dose of 35 grains of quinine daily, and departed on one of his rare
medical safaris. Thereafter I was under William Lillywhite who, having arrived in
Kilifi in 1911 before doctors were invented, probably knew as much about treating
malaria as anyone.
Shortly afterwards I inherited a smooth-haired fox terrier who went by the odd
name of 'Faust', why, I never discovered. He was neither corpulent nor had he got a
good voice. He was an inveterate hunter and spent a lot of time in the bush after
whatever he could find. Naturally he was always exposing himself to tse-tse fly bites
and contracted chronic trypanosomiasis, which I kept under with the early drugs used
for this disease and he survived my three years at the Coast but died up-country after
my first leave. His hunting ability was fully recognised by the few African dog-owners
in Kilifi and at well chosen times they would quietly parade their bitches near my
house in the hope of a free service. They were seldom disappointed, for Faust was
very fond of the women and he must have left plenty of sons and daughters behind.
As was the custom, I had to build up a ridiculously large house staff. In addition to
Athmani I engaged a cook and a second house-boy. Believe it or not, but the cook
also had to have an assistant to prepare vegetables, mind the fire and watch the pots as
well as clean them. All this just to look after a single man. We - that is, the Europeans
- at least did much to provide jobs and there was no stigma attached to house work,
rather the reverse.
Athmani produced one Mfulo as a second boy. He was a Giriama but a bright lad
and, although he had never worked in a house before, Athmani soon trained him
well. Both Athmani and Mfulo came with me to Meru when I returned from leave in
1938; but Athmani, on account of sickness, returned to the Coast shortly after.
Here I shoot ahead some 37 years to 1971, when my wife and I visited Malindi from
England. I had heard that Mfulo had bought a small farm near Malindi and I was
anxious to see him again, to recall my early years in Kilifi. I described him to our Arab
taxi-driver, and with the aid of the local chief, we learnt where his farm lay. When
Marjorie and I arrived, a smart young English-speaking African came out and I told
him my name. He knew exactly who I was and said his father would be very pleased to
hear I had turned up.
We walked into the village compound and there was Mfulo, rather grizzled. The
last time I had seen him had been on the ship in Mombasa in February 1939, when I
went home on sick-leave with polio. I was strapped up in an aeroplane splint and he
had come into my cabin and unpacked my clothes for the voyage before I sailed. We must have been about the same age but we both agreed we had not changed much,
such is the conceit of approaching old age. Mfulo seemed to have the appearance of a
reasonably prosperous farmer and he was enjoying the latter half of his life in
traditional manner, with plenty of leisure, which is not a bad thing in that climate. We
recalled the old times and Marjorie asked him what sort of a master I had been. He
replied (predictably) with all the politeness of the African, that I was beyond
I might enlarge on the general politeness and good manners of the African. Of
course, as in any group, there are exceptions; but most Africans have excellent
manners, which are encouraged by some very sound tribal customs and codes of
behaviour towards their elders. The early Europeans rather traded on this, in my
opinion, and let it be known that Africans should raise their hats to Europeans, even
to strangers. Though admittedly flattering to a youngster, I personally found this
custom embarrassing and tried to be most punctilious in acknowledging the raising of
This reminds me of an amusing happening. For some reason, quite beyond my
ken, some organization decided that a free gift of tin jerries should be made to
the villagers in a certain area. Surprisingly, this gesture was received with great joy by
the menfolk, who were to be seen parading and wearing this new line of headgear.
After all, the handle could be for one purpose only: it made doffing your hat so much
The coast of Kenya and, for that matter, any tropical coast, is always associated
with the romantic coconut palm. It is said that this remarkable tree never thrives away
from the sound of the human voice. This may be so; but I believe the connection is
entirely incidental. I did no deep agricultural research on the subject but I have my
own ideas. The general well-being of a coconut palm is undoubtedly closely connected
with the humus and mineral status of the soil, but it is the organs responsible for the
elimination of body wastes, not the vocal organs, which are responsible for that
healthy state. There is no street lighting in an African village and the nearest tree is as
good as any other, particularly when locomotion is impeded by an all-night beer
The coconut palm is, as I have said, a truly remarkable tree. The cruise tourist
may say 'How romantic! What a glorious rustle the leaves make!' etc.; but the owner
is much more materialistic. He knows that almost all parts of the palm can be put to
use: the ripe nuts provide copra for oil extraction, very high-grade charcoal from the
shells and fibre for mats. The green nuts provide a cool refreshing, unpolluted drink,
and for non-abstainers the palms can be tapped for palm toddy which, incidentally,
is a good yeast substitute if you have to make your own bread; and the leaves make
an excellent roofing thatch. Unfortunately, the Medical Department in Kenya, in one
of their campaigns, picked on the one suspect part of the palm. (Those of us who
have had to use road bridges made of coconut palms know exactly what I mean.)
Whilst a palm bole will remain sound and strong for so long, it has a nasty habit of
becoming rotten quite suddenly. The Medical Department, in a pit latrine campaign,
used palm boles to roof over the pits. Need I say much more? When, some time later,
a number of villagers were precipitated into the bowels of the earth - and not very
clean earth - pit-latrines rather lost their charm and any popularity they may have
I know exactly how those villagers felt, for it happened to me many years later on
the Uganda border, though I saved myself from completing the free fall. When the
floor started to collapse, I threw myself sideways with my two feet dangling in space.
This brought on an intense spasm of cramp and to add insult to injury, I was then
dive-bombed by hornets in the roof.
That pit-latrine campaign is just one example of a failure which had a long-lasting
effect: for the African, like the elephant, has a good memory. My own Department
had been responsible for a serious nonsense some years before. Head Office in
Nairobi had decided that a certain area on the Coast should be provided with a new
type of maize from up-country and the African cultivators were told to prepare their
land early but under no circumstances were they to plant their own seed. Government
would supply free new seed which was far superior.
The rains came but not the new seed and the cultivators, though very worried,
obeyed instructions. There had been one of those delays, so common in Africa, in
despatching the seed by rail and when it did reach Mombasa the earth roads became
impassable with the rains and the new seed could not be moved. The field men of the
Agricultural Department knew as well as the farmers that early planting was quite
essential to the success of the maize and their worst fears were confirmed when the
new seed, planted very late, failed miserably. The result was a serious food shortage
and a lot of ill-feeling and distrust, which lasted for years. It showed the very great
importance of accepting local opinion and, in any campaign, getting your logistics
The fact that a new boy like myself was in sole charge of a province stretching from
Tanganyika to the Italian Somaliland border, and running more than 100 miles
inland, shows how thin on the ground we agricultural officers were. However, the
general staff position improved and some months after T- left another officer was
posted back to the Coast to take charge. He suffered from very poor eyesight, which
made things very difficult for him, particularly on safari when it was important to
know what was happening in the remoter areas. For this reason I was lucky to be sent
on some provincial safaris which would not otherwise have come my way.
I did two or three trips to Lamu and the Tana River in the north and in those days
such safaris were very primitive and quite memorable. On at least two occasions I
travelled one way by sea by the B.I. coastal steamer, the M.V. Dumra, to save time and
to avoid covering the same ground twice. Lamu is a sizeable and attractive Arab town
and the sea outlet for a large part of the Northern Province. The main reason for the
Dumra calling at Lamu was to ship large quantities of cattle and goats to Zanzibar,
which island also imported empty mat bags from Lamu for their clove crop. Apart
from coconuts and a certain amount of fruit, Lamu did not rely much on agricultural
exports, but we were trying to build up the small cotton industry. Fishing occupied a
large proportion of the coastal dwellers and the cutting of mangrove poles for export
by dhow to the Persian Gulf provided employment for a number of people.
Either at the beginning or end of the Lamu safari, depending on which direction I
travelled by sea, I would visit the Tana River district, populated mainly by the
Pokomo tribe. The Pokomo live a totally riparian existence in defined villages over a
long stretch of the river. Provided there is sufficient depth, all villages can be visited by
water and the District Commissioner was provided with a steam launch, the S.S.
Tana, to tour his district. This launch had been on the river for a number of years and,
whilst most D.C.s had looked after her well, others had not been so inclined and the
hull had nearly rusted through when I knew her.
District headquarters were at Kipini, at the mouth of the river. There was only one
resident European officer, the D.C., in the whole district and he naturally was
generally only too pleased to share a safari with a visiting officer. I started such a safari
from Kipini with the D.C. I had been warned that after a spell of six months or so the
incombent tended to get a bit strange and I had my misgivings when, in the house the
first night, I discovered that my host appeared to have only two gramophone records -
'Ole man river' and 'In my solitude'. I felt I understood why the little cemetery at Kipini
was so fully occupied by past D.C.s who had succumbed to blackwater and malaria
(no doubt partly due to neglect) and to suicide. However, my host proved a most
congenial companion and we did an extensive tour up river.
The nights were spent on the bank in camps and after dark the mosquito tent,
though terribly stuffy, was quite essential. Even then, insect life penetrated our
defences and the snippets in our soup served as life-rafts for the myriads of beasties
Whilst travelling by day we shared a pleasant covered platform built over the
wheel-house. There was plenty to see and our shot-guns were ready in the rack should
a flight of duck be spotted. The aquatic birds and herds of buck prevented any
boredom. Going aground on mudbanks was a frequent hazard, but submerged trees,
washed out by floods, with spear-like branches, were more so. These often penetrated
the rusty hull and there was pandemonium and chaos until a large wad of cotton waste
had been plugged into the hole and a temporary plate was fixed.
Up-Stream journeys, which were that much slower, gave me ample time to see the
farming of the villages on foot and to meet the launch at a prearranged village ahead.
As far as the D.C. was concerned, he had work in every village, even if it only
amounted to collecting one Poll Tax at eight shillings a time. It always amused me
when we were about to leave; the village headman would turn to the D.C. and ask
whether he needed any wood-fuel for the launch and invariably we did. To offset the
tax collected, the D.C. might hand over, say thirty shillings for fuel; thus the cash flow
problem in a Pokomo village was solved so much easier than in big business in the
western world. Such safaris may have been uneconomic on paper; but the art of good
administration is close contact with the people; and that costs money.
I recollect another trip on the Tana river, this time partly hy canoe. We left Kipini at
7 a.m. in two canoes, one for the baggage. Unfortunately the timing was bad, for the
tide was ebbing and we had to pole upstream against the flow of the strong current. It
got extremely hot later on and the speed even slower when, without warning, we were
charged by a hippo whose open mouth, about 15 feet away, looked big enough to
accommodate most of my canoe.
The African polers were electrified into action and for the first time we produced a
bow wave - and escaped. It turned out that this hippo was well known for its apparent
aggressiveness. We had seen a large number of 15-foot crocodiles on the banks but
curiously enough, while we were in the midst of that crisis, my thoughts went to losing
all my baggage in the river, not to the loss of an arm or a leg.
Later in the morning an English voice from a motor launch coming downstream
started a conversation when we were about a hundred yards apart and continued when
it was well behind us downstream. It was 'Pioneer Percy', the only white planter on the
Tana river, with whom I had planned to stay that night. I gathered he had no objection
to my using his house but he would not be there.
At 2 p.m., when I had been sitting tightly wedged in my canoe for seven hours in the
sun, we reached Kau, only nine miles from Kipini, our starting point. At Kau I
particularly wanted to see the rice crop and to abandon my canoe for ever. I would
prefer to walk the remaining six miles to 'Pioneer Percy's' house at Belazoni.
The Kau rice area is interesting because of its own peculiar irrigation system. The
river is tidal to this point and the fresh water builds up against the tide. The local
cultivators, in their wisdom, had cleared large areas of the riparian forest for rice,
knowing that for a few days at the spring tides twice a month their crop would be
automatically irrigated. Without any further effort on their part, other than
impounding the flood water at the end of the spring tides, their rice would receive
adequate water to ensure good growth. These crops were so successful and so much
better than the hit-and-miss riverside cultivation away from the tidal area, that there
had been a tendency, as land got short, to move downstream where the water was too
saline. It was this aspect which I wished to study.
My walk to Belazoni, which I reached at dusk, was a great improvement on the
canoe, but I got soaked by rain before we arrived. My cook and the baggage canoe had
not appeared; so I had a bath and P.P.'s head boy produced a pair of his master's
pyjamas. By eight o'clock still no canoe - and I gathered that P.P. had left no food
behind. He did run a small shop for African trade, which was opened up, but all I could
find was a bit of flour. The house servant made me some unleavened bread, off which I
I went to bed and at midnight I heard my cook and baggage arriving. The next
morning I learnt the full story. Apparently they had been benighted on the river but my
loyal old cook had persuaded the canoe men to carry on, as his master must have his
food, etc. It got darker and darker and hippos, which had already left the river for a
night's grazing, were plunging back into the river at the sound of the canoe's approach. 34
It was only a matter of time before a plunging hippo landed on the canoe and swamped
it, so they finally abandoned the canoe at a village, where my cook persuaded the
headman to turn out enough porters to carry my loads.
They had a terrible time in the darkness and rain and a porter, carrying a tin trunk,
slipped and the load fell on his chest and he coughed up a lot of blood. To me, it is quite
remarkable how my cook, a stranger from a distant part, was able in these
circumstances to keep the porters at it and to bring the loads in.
I had to reach Golbanti that evening to meet up with the lorry that was to take us
back to Malindi and civilisation. Golbanti was nearly 25 miles away but it was about
11.30 a.m. before I could raise enough porters; the news about my bewitched tin trunk
had gone on ahead and willing men were not forthcoming.
The Pokomo, furthermore, are just not made for walking. They do all their travel by
canoe. Recognising that long-distance walking was universally unpopular, their elders
had devised an excellent, quick system of sending messages up or down river: at each
village the written message would be handed over to a fresh runner and in this way a lot
of ground was covered remarkably quickly.
It was this system, which applied to porters as well, that enabled me to reach
Golbanti just before dark. I have never been so hot and thirsty in my life, for we were
walking a path through ten-foot-high grass on all sides and no breeze penetrated this
oven. We were delighted when we found prior arrangements had not miscarried and
the lorry was waiting to take us to Malindi the following day. After such safaris it was
always pleasant to get back to the comfort of my own home and a sea bathe on my own
My third house at Kilifi had a most stupendous view over the upper part of Kilifi
creek. Here I was living during my sister's visit to me. She had been given a return
ticket to Kenya as a 21st birthday present.
One Sunday Rosemary and I built a pier out of chunks of coral beyond the
mangroves to the side of the beach. The pier was reached at high tide by a catwalk
through the mangroves and was a pleasant place from which to fish or swim.
Sometimes the D.O., who had a sailing boat, used to pick us up there for a sail on the
extensive inner waters of Kilifi creek. The pier was well protected from the force of the
sea and I wonder whether any portion of it remains; I forgot to look when my wife and
I called at the house a few years back.
Of course Rosemary had quite a good time and made lots of friends. She was asked
up country and she and I spent one of my local leaves at Meru, so she saw something of
Kenya. She also managed a number of visits to Mombasa on her own, by accepting
offers of a seat in a car; but fortunately she turned down the chance of a trip in a small
boat. The boat capsized off Mombasa and the sole occupant owed his life to the kapok
mattress on which he floated for some hours until he was rescued. It is doubtful
whether the mattress would have supported two persons.
During Rosemary's visit Athmani announced his impending marriage. (He was a
good Muslim and his faith allowed him four wives. Although he was 45 years old and a
man of substance he certainly had not reached that score.) To Rosemary's horror, we
learned that his bride-to-be was only 15 years old. This did not, however, prevent
Rosemary's suggesting a wedding present and, predictably, Athmani chose a wristwatch.
Here I must admit to being party to a smuggling act for, one day, after
Rosemary's return to England, I opened my Illustrated London News to find a cavity
had been cut out in which a wrist-watch was nestling.
A few months after Athmani's wedding he told me his wife was pregnant. Some time
later I asked when the birth was due and was told 'Not yet'. A year later I got the same
reply; and also the year after that. I expressed some surprise and Athmani told me that
Swahili girls were quite unlike European women: sometimes they took 9 months,
sometimes 18 and even 27 months. He had heard of one that took three years. I
forebore to point out that it was Swahili custom to send a pregnant wife back to her
mother to await the birth.
1 have already mentioned several choo incidents. Africa is full of them. In my first
home I was in 'the little house' down the garden path, reading the newspaper and
generally taking things easy. Without any warning, I suddenly felt a cool, smooth
object squeezing its way out of the throne and against my bare bottom. I had not the
slightest doubt what the creature was and leapt off the seat towards the roof. As I did
so the snake shot through my legs and went out through the open door.
Once, when I was on safari with the D.O. Malindi and we were enjoying an evening
drink, his cook came in to announce that the chicken which he was about to kill and
prepare for dinner had disappeared down the 'long drop'. The D.O. impatiently
replied: 'What are you waiting for? Dig it out. There are plenty of prisoners'. I was glad
of those extra whiskies which the delay permitted when the roast bird eventually came
to the table.
The same D.O. had a way with animals. (He also had a way with women,
a fact well known to his African servants.) I should explain that his house was
immediately over his office, outside which an askari (or tribal policeman) was always
on guard. The D.O. had met a young European nursing sister in Malindi who was in the hotel on holiday and he decided to ask her round for a drink. At this time he had a
female chimpanzee by the name of Katalina (incidentally, he had taught her to type her
name on a Government typewriter). When the girl arrived, he poured out the drinks
including one for the chimp. He then turned to Katalina and said she looked naked
and she had better put on her knickers. She went at once to her chest of drawers and
did as she was told. They settled down to a pleasant evening but after a bit, unnoticed
by the preoccupied humans, Katalina got bored, took off her knickers and flung them
out of the window down at the askari's feet. The askari pattered up the stairs, knocked
on the door, entered and without a smile on his face walked up to his master and said,
'Nguo za memsahib, bwana ('the lady's knickers, sir'). It always amazes me what
excellent service we got in Africa.
In due course Tom - was posted to the coast, he and his wife became very close
friends of mine, and later of my wife as well. I think Tom was rather appalled with the
lack of progress on the coast but I know both of them enjoyed their spell there. They
were both very thoughtful for others. In November 1936 I was on safari at Vitengeni,
some 25 miles from Kilifi, when a runner arrived with a note tied into a cleft stick. It
contained the news that King Edward VIII had abdicated and that George VI was our
King. Tom clearly felt that I should know this even if I was miles from anywhere. I
have always kicked myself for not preserving that note complete with the cleft stick,
and for not photographing the runner with it.
Tom was one of those people who get through a tremendous amount of work in a
day. This meant that as little time as possible should be spent in getting from A to B.
On the day H.E. the Governor was due to visit Kilifi, on his return from Malindi Tom
took a corner too fast and succeeded in knocking down a telephone pole and the line
with it. Telephonic communication with Malindi, on which the D.C. had been relying
for information on the exact time of H.E.'s arrival, was severed. The D.C., in his white
uniform, had had a slight mishap with his car and an oil pipe under the dash had
fractured and poured a lot of oil over his trousers. He raced home to change - but H.E.
arrived earlier than expected and the D.C. was literally caught with his pants down.
On another occasion Tom and another officer were doing a trip in the Giriama
country in Tom's car. They came to a steep, dry river-crossing down which a Giriama
woman, carrying an enormous headload of firewood, was descending. I must explain
that the Giriama women are 'topless' and wear a plaited knee-length skirt of many
yards of material, which swings rather like a Scottish kilt. Somehow Tom gave the old
dear a bit of a bump and she was upended and the load of firewood cascaded over the
car's bonnet. There she was, much affronted, standing on her head and propped
against the car. The picture was not improved when, with gravity still working against
her, she lost control of her urinary apparatus. Although she would never have heard of
the saying she must have felt 'It never rains but it pours'. Please do not feel that I
recount this story in callous fashion. These things happen; and I am sure Tom would
have given the woman more than she would have seen in a month.
Not long before I went on leave, the new D.O. and I were invited one Saturday
evening to dinner on a sisal estate south of Kilifi creek. We elected to have an
afternoon shooting guinea fowl so we took our dogs and a change of clothes. When we
crossed the ferry, which was manually operated by a chain, we told the ferry crew we
would be returning after dark and asked them to be ready about 9 p.m.
We enjoyed our shooting and dinner party and reached the ferry landing-place not
long after 9 o'clock. The ferry crew were nowhere to be seen and much hooting of the
horn failed to produce them. The ferry itself was anchored well out, below the low tide
mark. William and I decided to work the ferry across ourselves but first we had to
bring it in to put the car on.
We both stripped off and, with the headlights of my car to guide us, we entered the
water, followed by both dogs. We had climbed aboard the ferry and raised the anchor
and started to work the ferry landwards when we heard the crew arriving with great
hilarity. The sight of two stark-naked Europeans working the ferry was too much for
them and they split their sides and continued to do so all the way across. We sat naked
in the balmy air and, thirty yards from the far side, William, remarking how pleasant
the water had been, dived over and swam ashore. When the ferry beached I, still naked,
drove the car off and picked William up. I drove him home and returned to my house
carrying my clothes. We had both considered the possibility of running into Mrs. D.O.
with a flat tyre or some other trouble, but this fortunately did not happen.
There was a sequel to this episode. The following day the Lillywhites crossed by the
ferry to visit our host of the evening before. The ferry boys told them the story of the
previous night, with embellishments adding that the two Bwanas must have had a very
good evening because they were clearly very drunk, so much so that the D.O. fell
overboard and had to swim ashore.
In July 1937 I went on leave to England and, although I looked forward to it
immensely after a spell of 41 months, it was with very real regret that I left Kilifi