The Noble Army of Martyrs has included me in its ranks for many years, ever since
my marriage in fact. Membership almost went with the job description of a Colonial
Service wife. It was taken for granted that one would be a splendid little woman, bravely
coping with hardship and isolation, always ready with hospitality for all-comers and
bearing and raising children with the minimum of fuss and inconvenience to one's
By the time I was into my third pregnancy, in 1958, I found that my martyrdom was
taken for granted and I began to gild the lily with a few little extra sufferings. I let it be known that I had toothache, though I may not have mentioned that it was very mild. We
were stationed at Loliondo, on the Serengeti, at the time two hundred miles across the
grassy roadless plain to the nearest hospital or dentist, so I did not expect my bluff to be
called. I just hoped for another credit for being cheerful in adversity. I had reckoned
without my husband's strength in problem solving, however, and I paid dearly for my
bid for admiration.
One morning in the rainy reason my husband appeared in the house mid-morning
saying "Get your stuff together, Baghwan Singh is going to Arusha and will take you to
The Indian shopkeeper took a monthly trip to the nearest town for supplies, and he
was at the door with his five-ton-lorry, ready for the journey. At that point I should
have admitted that my toothache was very slight and not worth a ghastly bumpy ride in
the rainy season. I did not argue with my husband in those days, as I do now, I was much
too intent on being the perfect wife, so in ten minutes I found myself climbing up
into the lorry, parting with two tearful little girls and wondering why on earth I was
Baghwan Singh and I could only communicate in Swahili, our only common
language, so conversation did not flow too freely. Something else did, however, and that
was the contents of his lunch tin which was beside me. After a few miles I felt a puddle
seeping through my skirt and found that I was sitting in curry. Turmeric is a strong dye,
and mixed with the blue of my skiit it left a khaki stain on my rear which could be open
to a very unkind interpretation. We moved the tin down onto the floor and thumped
along for several more hours.
By late afternoon we came off the Serengeti and began the ascent to Ngorongoro.
There is a notorious sticky patch of black cotton soil on that hill and it was raining again.
We were soon bogged down to our axles. I was not much use to Baghwan although I did
my best to dig while he jacked up the lorry. Soon it was getting dark and desperate. Not
only would we not reach Arusha that night, we would probably have to sleep in the lorry.
Then the first of two miracles happened (the second came at the end of the trip). The
light of a vehicle appeared behind us, the first we had seen since we left. Lather James, a
Roman Catholic priest whom we both knew, came out of his Landrover and offered help.
It was so totally unexpected and such an answer to prayer that I would have put Lather
James forward for sainthood. He took me up to the District Office at Ngorongoro while
the rest of his passengers helped Baghwan on his way. I had a meal and a bed for the
night from the District Officer's wife and next day I rode on to Arusha with Lather
James. I had always rather fancied Lather James but I doubt whether my tubby shape and
stained skirt posed much of a threat to his vows.
My poor appearance was brought home to me at the hospital where the nurse at the
desk, after hearing of my need of a dentist, phoned through, "there's a woman here who
wants to see Mr Martin", as if I should really have used the tradesman's entrance. I
didn't like her any better when she put down the receiver and said "I'm sorry, Mr Martin
is on two weeks local leave!"
You may well wonder why we had not phoned ahead to make an appointment,
regardless of my hasty departure. The only communication between our home and the
outside world was a daily radio session with Monduli, the head office of the whole
District. This took place very early each morning. I did have help from that contact from now on, however, because someone from Monduli who had to be at the hospital looked
out for me and took me back there in the evening. Meanwhile I booked in for my
confinement in four months time, though I could have done that by letter of course.
It hardly made me feel that my journey had been worthwhile.
The Townsends at Monduli made me very welcome. I was starving hungry but I had
to wait as they were going out to dinner at a nearby tea plantation and I was also invited.
My journey back was also arranged. A Veterinary Officer was going to Loliondo the
next day and would take me, but he was leaving at 4 am so as to go the long way round
and avoid Ngorongoro. I decided to enjoy the evening as the next day promised to be
The dinner party was wonderful. The house was an elegant old German colonial
building with large high ceilinged rooms filled with vases of long stemmed Persian
roses. I had been lent a very becoming dress by Helen Townsend and felt very happy.
We came back to their house at midnight and my alarm seemed to ring almost as soon as
I fell asleep. The rain was lashing down and it was pitch dark as we drove off.
The Veterinary Officer was a South African called Peter Anderson and he liked to smoke
a rather heavily scented tobacco. After a few miles I had to ask to stop so that
I could lose the previous night's meal. For the rest of the journey I was hollow with
We promised ourselves that we would stop in Nairobi for some food but by the time
we passed through it was after lunch and the friends we called on gave us a dainty
afternoon tea! The few miles of tarmac around Nairobi soon ended and we went back to
muddy earth roads again, on into the Rift Valley and into Masai country again at Narok.
There were still many miles to go and it was still raining as darkness fell. We had the
Mara river to cross before we entered Loliondo district, and it would be swollen. The
ford where the track crossed would be well under water. We were both rather quiet by
now, weary and worried.
About midnight we approached the river, and here the second miracle happened.
Lights shone across the water. We climbed out of the car and heard my husband's voice
calling us. He had guessed that the river would be swollen and had come to meet us. He
had been waiting for hours as we had taken much much longer than any of us expected
because of the mud.
Peter and I had no idea of the depth of the water or the strength of the current but we
held on to each other and headed for the headlamps opposite. I think we were too tired to
be frightened so we just went on and reached the bank, wet to our waists but safe. The
whole journey back had taken on a nightmare quality, but it wasn't over yet.
About ten miles from home we came upon an upturned car, with its wheels in the air
in the road before us. We walked towards it in silence, expecting to find bodies either in
it or under it. There were none, they had escaped through one of the windows, whoever
they were, and had walked away.
I remember leaning wearily against a wall when we finally reached home at 2 am and
my husband saying, "whatever is the matter with you?'' I'm afraid the splendid little
woman image had slipped for a moment. But I suffered no ill effects and the baby boy
who was born later that year is now a Colonel in the Royal Marines so perhaps this was
the first part of his training.