British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Eric Cunningham
Ford Zephyr in Africa
It was late 1953. The Gold Coast, in the second year of internal self-government, was ablaze with political activity and endeavour. Education, my own concern, was a top priority, and the Cambridge School Certificate was the magic open sesame to higher education for its many aspirants. Examination scripts completed on Friday were due to go by air from Kumasi to Accra on Saturday morning, for onward transmission to the UK. Alas, the plane did not arrive.

The next plane would be on Monday, but my superordinate responsible for the scripts despatch, a New Zealander keen to impress with his efficiency everyone above him and below him in the hierarchy which seemed to dominate his life, directed me to take the papers to Accra by road. I welcomed this: it would give me a weekend in Accra, the opportunity to meet convivially with friends and an interesting drive in the car that was still something of a novelty.

The first twenty miles of road from Kumasi had been newly re-aligned and resurfaced, and one could drive on it at 60 mph, a welcome change from the norm on Ashanti roads. I did so, and saw ahead something on the road. It did not move, and slowing down I passed it, noting as I did so that it was a body. I stopped. With hindsight this was unwise, but I was in only the second year of service, and still had much to learn.

I walked back to look at the body. It was not a pretty sight; the skull was cracked, any blood and grey matter had oozed onto the hot tarmac and were congealing there. I returned to my car knowing I needed to report the matter to the police.

Ford Zephyr Mark 1
As I started to drive away I realised the front tyre was punctured. I jacked up the car, put on the spare wheel, hoping I would not have another puncture, and went to jack the car down. The jack would not move; the ratchet on it had jammed. So there was I, on a blazingly hot afternoon, with the car marooned on a broken jack, and a body not far away. A challenging situation, to put it mildly.

Thinking it over, I realised that my car, a Ford Zephyr Mark 1, had on each side two jacking points, one for the front wheel and one for the rear. What I needed was a second jack to raise the rear of the car higher than the front, so that the broken jack could be freed. Several cars passed by but none would stop to my very frantic signalling. Eventually one did, and incredibly it was another Zephyr with a jack that would fit the rear socket. The driver, an African civil servant, helped me release the broken jack and before long my own car was ready to drive away.

Accra in 1950s
Parting, I thanked him and asked him to report the body to the police in Kumasi when he got there. He looked somewhat surprised and asked “What do you want me to tell them?” It suddenly occurred to me that my own account of finding the body in the road was uncorroborated, and there was the possibility that I might be thought to have struck the man and killed him. The grim prospect of endless palaver with the police arose. I responded “Just tell them the body was in the road”. We parted, and as I drove away I saw a milestone. On it was the number 13. Truly.

I arrived in Accra somewhat later than intended, handed over the examination scripts, and enjoyed the weekend. It was good to see my friends and after the exertions of the afternoon I had a thirst to assuage.

On return to Kumasi, I went on Monday morning to the police to report the incident. “Oh, yes”, the expatriate officer said, “we know about it. He’d fallen off the back of a mammy wagon. The body was left, waiting for the photographers.”

If only I had known ...

Gold Coast Map
1946 Map of Gold Coast
Colony Profile
Gold Coast Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 97: April 2009


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