In 1876 Chief Kgame III of the Bamangwato asked that his country be taken under British protection. Chief Gaseitsiwe of the Bangwaketsi and Chief Sechele 1 of the Bakwena were initially wary but eventually agreed. The High Commissioner proposed that British involvement be confined to protecting the country from external aggression and that the chiefs be left to govern their tribes in their own fashion. This was accepted and the Bechuanaland Border Police, a substantial semi-military mounted police force was set up to implement it. Sir Sydney Shippard, the Administrator of British Bechuanaland (the area south of the Molopo River occupied by some Bechuana tribes) was appointed as Deputy Commissioner for the protectorate. His HQ was at Vryburg. The only Admin Officer he had in the BP was an Assistant Commissioner at Gaberone.
The Batswana and the British have a similar sense of humour. Both laugh easily and frequently at each other’s jokes and themselves. In spite of, or perhaps because of, the hardships of their lives due to droughts and other causes, the Batswana have a unique capacity for happiness which rubs off on all who come in contact with them.
One very hot summer afternoon I was sent to Ramoutsa Catholic Mission to get six new nuns from Ireland to complete immigration forms to obtain residence permits.
On arrival at Ramoutsa I asked the Sister in charge to let me see the new nuns and was given an empty office to use. The nuns came and completed their forms. I realised that they obviously didn’t like Englishmen. I had noticed that they were all drinking tea and didn’t offer ‘the Englishman’ any, so when I had the 6th nun in I asked her, ‘and what part of the ould country are you after coming from Sister?’ She immediately left the room and called a maid to bring me a cup of tea! I gratefully accepted it and we got on well after that. So well, in fact, that the Priest himself appeared and said, ‘Before ye go me boy, we’ll have a drop of the real stuff (meaning whisky)!
The Colonial Hierarchy
This was still current during our time in Bechuanaland Protectorate. One did not approach a District Commissioner and certainly not a Senior Divisional Commissioner unless summoned to approach. One only spoke to them when they asked what you wanted. On one occasion a Police Officer took an urgent message to the DC at Kanye, 35 miles away. He had no transport and was mounted on a police horse. This was mid-summer and on arrival at the Residency he noticed that the DC was having tea with his family on the front lawn. He dismounted and approached the DC with the message, halted and saluted, only to be told by the DC to go round to the rear of the house and use the servants’ entrance! Some gratitude!
Even in my early days another young Police Officer and I were invited to have Christmas dinner with the DC, who was the son of a retired High Commissioner. We were warned not to flirt with the DC’s daughters as we were not of a high enough social class. We were allowed to eat and play tennis only.
We had several former Indian Civil Service DCs working in Bechuanaland and they were formidable gentlemen. My father, at the time a Captain in the Indian Army, was posted to a new regiment. The day he arrived there was a fancy-dress ball which he had to attend. One lady was in a long white dress with a golden cage around her head. She was dancing with my father and asked him what he thought she represented. He replied immediately that he thought she was a rat trap. (She was actually supposed to be a filter-tip cigarette.) She was furious and told her husband, who happened to be the Colonel of the Regiment. The result was that my father was transferred to the Khyber Pass area for a year. He left at 04h00 the next morning. Such was the attitude to levity!
Most of the younger DCs were quite reasonable and friendly, but you had to be careful of the older men, who seemed to be convinced that they were superior to all others.
Wives had to be deferential to the wives of Senior Officers. One in particular was said to ‘wear the crown on her head’, whilst her husband ‘wore it on his shoulders’.
In tribal meetings (known as Kgotlas) only the DC and the Tribal Chief were allowed to be seated. All ordinary tribesmen attending the Kgotla had to squat in front of the Chief, with no exceptions!
We were married on the 1st November 1958 in Johannesburg and proceeded to Ramatlabama in Bechuanaland after meeting with the Police Commissioner in Mafeking. From Ramatlabama, the nearest evidence of civilisation was Mafeking over the border in South Africa to which one could travel to shop once a week. Fortunately, in Ramatlabama, we had a good borehole so there was water in our taps (not something to be
taken for granted, I later found). As we only had three books, we missed having a library of books hugely. Des was still studying Tswana (the country’s language) at night and needed the only lamp we possessed at that stage, I resorted to knitting. This period of our lives we had
the tidiest of cupboards. We did not have many distractions to occupy ourselves during
the day. There was no phone, no neighbours, no books apart from the three we had brought, and a radio with not much broadcast to listen to. Little did I realise it though but Ramatlabama would be relatively cosmopolitan compared to our next posting.
Even so, I still had so much to learn - wood stoves and their temperaments, irons with
no electric cords dangling from them, remembering to order everything
necessary for the groceries - the next opportunity to correct this could be anywhere from a week (in Ramatlabama) to up to two months away (in Tshabong).
I found it a difficult time - housebound with only deep sand and game for miles around -
so no wandering about, apart from walking over to a small building where the
police radio generator room was housed. The only contact with the outside world was through morse code. There were no neighbours, no
telephone, no shop (apart from a very small trading store selling paraffin,
mealie meal, matches and candles). Our own small radio (with a large G.V. battery - the size of two bricks and rather
costly to replace) could only be used for two hours per day. When the borehole produced very little water then a trip
down the garden path was required to the bucket loo. Night visits meant carrying a .303 rifle and a torch - as there were leopards and hyenas who lived on the other side of the dune and liked to visit at night times. Later, when pregnant, frequent visits at night became a necessity. It did not help that Des was away for three weeks out of four
on poaching patrols.
It was not easy being a colonial wife. The ‘roads’ or 'rough tracks' were a better
description, especially when driving in a truck long past its sell-by date.
In later years I have been asked many times did I ride a camel. No, I did not - even though I did live at a camel station.
It was a very, very difficult world - very challenging but it was never boring! Food might
be boring though as there was no fresh fruit or vegetables. Additionally, ordering food by Morse Code could result in errors and confusion (either in sending or
receiving). For example one small tin of baked beans and one small tin of processed peas
might arrive instead of the large tins of dehydrated vegetables ordered. There was no way of correcting this and butter beans and pumpkins could turn up most unexpectedly.
Ordering groceries by Morse Code or over the police radio had its drawbacks
when you required Feminine Articles. On one occasion I asked my husband to buy some when he, along with six delightful police drivers, had to go to Port Elizabeth to
fetch much needed new police vehicles. I asked him to buy me new bras and
gave him the label and my requirements. His police drivers had never been in
South Africa before and accompanied him everywhere. Six of them, all very
smartly dressed in heavily starched bush jackets and shorts, hats with a red
pugaree around the crown, marched into the large department store with him
and came to attention at his side in the lingerie department. The elderly lady
was highly embarrassed, found his requirements quickly and he departed with
his escort. For any future requirements I wrote to my mother, who was a wonderful
help - everything from lingerie to size eight shoes (at times I had to wear high
heels) and dresses etc for special occasions. Living in the desert and plunging
straight into government parties definitely needed a larger than expected wardrobe.
Des was sometimes away for months on end either due to work or on a
condensed language course in Mafeking (Normally A one year Wits University course
run by Professor Cole). My only company was often just a young
baby and our two dogs. I have to say that I lost hair through stress.
On one occasion I had to call Des out of Professor Coles’ class using the police radio to tell
him the septic tank had overflowed and then having to receive his instructions in how
to build or where to find another one. Then came my urgent plea of ‘where do I find rocks
and stones’ for the septic tank construction as there was only sand as far as the eye could see. Unfortunately, this request of mine was accidentally
broadcast all over the country so it took me a while to live this one down amongst the other colonial servants! At last, Des passed his course with Honours, which meant a double salary cheque and we could
go on holiday to the coast and at last spend some time together.
Insects were a constant battle; especially the big beetles that were quite
happy to munch on human flesh as well as each other! We called them Stututjane or Corn Crickets. There were also snakes to contend with. On one occasion when I was having a bath one night I saw an Adder slither under my bath. He felt quite at home with the warmth and dampness of the bathroom.
Much of the time I was pretty housebound - thick sand, isolation and game just outside the front door like lion, leopard, wild dog, not the sort of animals that you want to meet when on foot and are alone.
We stored a good supply of tea chests, wooden crates etc together with old
newspapers (newspapers were a rare but valuable commodity) for household moves to
any new station - often at short notice. The ability to protect one’s china plates, cups and
saucers was crucial (only enamel mugs and plates were available locally). These boxes were also important for moving cats - dogs were easy. We once lost two cats who escaped when the truck door was opened somewhere in the middle of the
Kalahari desert. However this wasn't as bad as our neighbours who asked the vet for ‘a pill to put their favourite pussy to sleep’ meaning for the journey. They were devastated when later told ‘don’t worry. I’ll bury him for you’ by the local vet.
Oh and of course we needed a tin trunk for storing our ‘better clothes’ including hat,
gloves and bags. It had to be roomy enough to store your husband’s helmet (in its
drawstring bag). These things were not usually needed on bush stations -
(high heels in sand just did not work!) - but they were of course required on the busier and larger stations so needed to be on hand.
The new border station had been open for about three months - all was going well except for one trader who, unused to signals and road signs, didn’t slow down for the boom to open. He wasn’t hurt but his car became a ‘convertible’. Otherwise it was pretty peaceful and all was going well.
One afternoon Des came home and informed me the Government Secretary would be arriving to see the new station and his wife would like to meet me for tea. I had no idea who the Govt. Secretary was, or his rank and being very shy I would find this overwhelming. (Fortunately I thought the Govt. Secretary to be a minor position or I would have been tongue-tied and very awkward).
Our stove was a new one with white enamel sides and a black shiny top; wood-burning of course. The temperature gauge puzzled me until, on a trip to Mafeking, I bought a new gauge. Not being much use at baking, I now found out why I had little success. The oven thermometer LIED - it probably was giving the temperature of the kitchen, being summer and very hot outside.
There was a small old prefab house 200m down the road, uninhabited, with a black Dover stove. I asked George, Des’ major-domo, to light the stove there. We then headed down there with a wheelbarrow load of wood, paper and matches and with a camp chair balanced on top holding baking trays of scones and biscuits with me following carrying yet more. Down the dusty stony track with two baking trays clutched in my hands, the inevitable happened! I tripped. The scones and biscuits went flying into the dirt and dust. They were no longer neatly cut, but out of shape and definitely dusty. I picked them up, dusted them off and tried to re-shape them. We made it to the little house and a hot black stove with an oven that worked.
The trip back home was more successful. I was able to avoid the stones and the rocks this time. I set out the plates with the home-made offerings and the tea tray in readiness. The wood stove was hot enough to boil the kettle so I relaxed and looked forward to my visitor - the Govt. Secretary’s wife. We were pretty isolated - Des’ only visitor was usually his O.C. who came down from Lobatse. I had met Captain Lowry’s wife, when on a courtesy visit, I had introduced myself.
The hierarchy in those days took some getting used to. But it all turned out to be the last thing that I had expected. A car arrived - there weren’t so many in use due to the sandy rocky tracks. A very smart constable jumped out and opened the back car door for a lovely friendly lady with a big smile who immediately put me at ease. We chatted away over tea. I apologised for the shape of the scones and biscuits, explained how they had lost their shape, but had been very well dusted. It was a lovely afternoon, friendly, relaxed with much laughter, and she quite understood my predicament.
A phone call came in to say her husband was on the way to fetch her using the same car and driver that had delivered her to our house - but in the back seat sat a smiling man dressed in ceremonial white uniform with plumed helmet. So much for being Govt. Secretary - it was actually the Governor of Botswana himself: Sir Peter Fawcus1. Over the years we met them at Government functions and always felt at ease, which was unusual for me.
Farewell Ramatlabama, Hello Tshabong 1959
After six months of border policing and the opening of a new border post, Des was transferred to Tshabong in May 1959. Tshabong was the administrative seat of the Kgalagadi district. It was right out in the southwest of Bechuanaland. It was a real Kalahari desert outpost
covering 60,000 square miles, complete with 60 camels, a small settlement of Makgalahaadi
people and a very large variety of game. There were two small police posts manned by six policemen at each and the main station with twelve men, a District Commissioner and my husband the sub-inspector. A flying doctor visited once a month. Of course there was no electricity but even
worse, very often there was hardly any water. Sometimes there was no water at all unless it was brought in from another borehole, but more of that later. So it was goodbye to friends and the handful of shops in relatively nearby Mafeking, and time to get packing, though having not been married for long there wasn’t the largest amount to pack.
The Government provided us with heavy household furniture for the lounge and dining room,
five single beds and a kitchen table and chairs, as the average time of posting to a station
was two years. Our household goods were packed into five tea chests that we had bought
for 3/- each from a local trader near the railway sidings called Mr Roelefse, plus one or two
tin trunks we had acquired. When moving day arrived we assembled In the front garden
with our quota of mattresses to await the arrival of an empty five ton truck, which was to be
our removal van.
By evening there was still no sign of the truck and we had to move back inside, unpacking
the necessary bits for supper and a cup of tea. The kettle had been retrieved much earlier in
the day. Des’ replacement and his wife kindly welcomed us back into the house for the
night and we repeated the performance the following morning. At 4pm the following day the
truck was finally heard off in the distance and much scurrying about and final repacking was
done. Cats and dogs were rounded up, cats to go in a box and dogs in the front of the truck with
us. The truck arrived and was piled high with wooden crates which had obviously come a great
distance already, leaving a space of just about one metre wide across the back of the truck. This was totally inadequate for us, with all our household goods, cats, dogs, and our majordomo George with his
bed and belongings too!
The wooden crates turned out to contain new camel saddles which had come from India and
which we were to take with us. We were to replace the ones currently in use which had all
been adapted from horse saddles. The driver cheerfully told us that the saddles were
needed in a hurry, and that the small space that had been left on the tailgate was for Des
and I to sit. And everything that we had packed; all our clothes, household goods, bedding, George, The two month supply of groceries.... they would all be picked up by the next truck said the driver confidently - it would come through in no more than
two months time! I will leave It to you to imagine how I felt about this arrangement. There was over 500 kilometres of ‘road’ which lay ahead, none of it involving any form of tarmac. We had just one metre of tailgate
to transport myself, my husband and our entire household to our new home. This was not going to
make the grade, especially bearing in mind that I was about four months pregnant with our
first daughter at the time.
My rage was quickly translated by Des into some very hot humming phone lines between
our location and HQ, and eventually permission was granted to offload the saddles which were to be
picked up by the next truck. I had guessed correctly about the time it would have taken for that second truck it finally came through two months
later! In fact it turned out in the end that after all that effort by the authorities there had been no
need for any hurry at all as the saddles were totally useless - our camels were too fat!
Des’ replacement and his wife kindly welcomed us back in again, and we finally left the
following day, boxes piled high and mattresses tied on top. Our first stop was in Mafeking to pick up two
month’s supplies. Des drove and the dogs and I had the passenger seat. The African driver
and mate, who were both members of the Bechuanaland Protectorate Police, were happily
ensconced on the mattresses on top of our possessions. The truck may have been
mechanically sound, but passenger comfort was sorely lacking. As the day wore on and we travelled further and further West, the farms were getting further apart; the neat whitewashed
buildings with gardens gave way to bare cement homes with no surround of garden or effort
at fencing at all. Vegetation comprised of tufts of uninspired looking grass which miraculously did
wonders for cattle. Then there were the thorn bushes and flat-topped thorn trees with their huge thorns, and sand,
sand and more sand, which was loose and deep. Although it was winter it was still very hot
during the day and incredibly dry. The cab of the truck became unbearably hot, and the
rubber matting on the floor had long since disappeared leaving a bare metal floor. The
screws for the battery cover plate were also long gone and it was necessary for the
passenger, in this case me, to make sure that their feet were kept firmly on the plate to hold
it In place otherwise sparks would fly. Literally. So with my feet holding a very hot metal plate
In position, a large Alsatian puppy on my lap, a Dachshund pup sprawled across my
shoulders, and a rather bad case of bad morning sickness and brucelossis, my unborn
daughter and myself were very far from being comfortable.
Finally we stopped for a very welcome tea break under a large shady thorn tree. A fire was
made and a three legged pot was unearthed from the depths of the truck. We enjoyed our
tea out of enamel mugs under the shade of a thorn tree while the dogs stretched their legs
and Investigated the interesting smells. While we were busy, Des cut lengths of branches and laid
them on the floor of the truck to act as insulation for my feet which brought
some measure of relief. The road was fairly straight. If you can call a sandy track a road, but
the further West we travelled, the heavier the sand became. This was cattle country as we
could see from the large milk cans sitting at the Intersections of the farm roads. There
was plenty of grass and a fair few cattle gates that had to be opened and closed, but we
didn’t see many cattle. The cans would contain cream to be collected for the creamery in
Mafeking - to make Tulip Butter. Des counted 38 farm gates across the road en route to Bray that had
to be opened and closed, but it did give us an opportunity to stretch our legs.
By late afternoon we were very relieved when we came to the tiny dorp called Bray which
consisted of a shop, garage, post office, a small travellers' hotel and a hospital where my
daughter would later be born. Most of the water here was very brackish so there were no lawns
or flowers to be seen. There was also a Dutch Reformed Church, and they kindly visited me
when I was in hospital after Sally was born, even bringing me flowers, though I have no Idea
where they found them. The hotel was a very welcome stop for us weary travellers. George
and our two policemen who had so far been perched on top of all the furniture hanging onto
whatever was available to them, climbed down. They were covered with dust and twigs. They were glad to stretch their legs and
accommodation was found for everybody. After a long, hot bath we went to the little dining
room, where the menu was the same for breakfast, lunch and supper. Then we all fell Into our
respective beds for a most welcome sleep, with the dogs curled up in the cab of the truck.
The menu at the hotel was the same for every meal - goat stew. That may be fine for supper,
but I couldn’t bring myself to face It for breakfast the next morning! Fortunately they had
some nice home-baked bread for me, and suitably fortified with tea and toast we left on the
final leg of our journey.
George and the two policemen climbed back on top and I got back into position in the
passenger seat with one puppy on my lap, one across my shoulders, and a foot jamming the
battery plate in place.
Throughout the day the road got even rougher and more corrugated and the farms more
scattered. As we got closer to Werda - (the farm near the track leading across the Molopo
River and up the dune where Des had a small police station and two small houses could be
seen) was called Upillo. We didn’t know then that this would later become our home for six
months when the borehole at Tshabong dried out, though at least it was only thirty miles
from the hospital!
After another very welcome stop for tea under a shady tree (small fire, three-legged pot,
enamel mugs) Des, myself and the dogs changed places with the police drivers which meant
that we were now up top on the outside, hanging onto the ropes tying the mattresses down with
one hand and a dog each with the other. We bounced along the track in relative comfort,
ducking the overhanging trees, but needless to say we weren’t always successful in missing the long strong thorns, and we pondered our seating arrangements. On the one hand we
now had considerably better padding and I suppose you could say the view was better, you
could see even more sand and thorn trees, but on the other hand we were rather scratched
and torn! There was also, of course, the added ‘bonus’ that every tree we went under
showered us with spiders and other Insects, and we were now on the lookout for snakes and
leopards on every branch.
There was very little habitation to be seen now as we carried on West, but at last we saw in
the distance the ‘road’ swinging to the right, and a farm on the left. This was the last gate
to be opened and then closed behind us, and we now faced 40 miles of desert with no farms or
human habitation before we finally reached the small settlement of Tshabong and our new
This district had a District Commissioner in charge and in addition to his other duties he was responsible for supervising the Policemen stationed there. In the mid-1950s a Police Inspector was posted there as Officer in Charge. The first one was Inspector Woodman and he was succeeded by Inspector Spencer, who in turn was followed by me. I handed over to Assistant Superintendent Frank Wood.
I was the first married Inspector and so Jill was the first Police wife stationed there. Our daughter, Sally, was the first ‘police baby’.
The year before Jill and I went to Tshabong there was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease and the border was declared to be a quarantine fence. We had our main camp with its Vets, Stock Inspector and Police on Douw Jacobs’ farm, and a tent with 4 special constables appointed to patrol the fence, set up every mile.
Douw Jacobs was on his horse checking on some of his cattle when a pack of wild dogs started to chase him. He was fortunately able to get away.
Tshabong had a very small population and had no resident minister. Instead we had quarterly visits from a Catholic Priest or an Anglican Priest from Vryburg. They were very charming. They were very charming and held services at which all faiths were welcome.
There was always the fear that we’d come across a rabid dog in one of the settlements. We kept special jars in which we’d send the head of any suspected rabid dog. On one occasion I had to shoot a rabid dog at the back door of the Tshabong police house. It was foaming at the mouth so we sent its head to Onderstepoort Government Veterinary laboratories for examination. People died from rabies, including the wife of a colleague up at Maun.
We were posted to Tshabong in 1959 and probably were the 2nd or 3rd Bechuanaland Police to be posted there, as when Dr Merriweather visited there in 1954, there was an Afrikaans Policeman with 10 camels and 5 constables to patrol the area. This is confirmed in Dr Merriweather’s book ‘Desert Doctor remembers’ .
The District Commissioner at Tshabong was Mike Williams - who co-incidentally attended the Westminster Abbey Commemoration Service on 25 May 1999.
As South Africa was a member of the British Empire till 1960 the South African Police were assisting the understaffed B.P. Police by patrolling the Kgalagadi district.
In 1954 Dr. Alfred Merriweather conducted his inoculation against ‘childhood syphilis’ using a penicillin injection known as ‘PAM’. He worked in the Kgalagadi round Tshabong where the District Commissioner was Mike Williams. Whilst he was there he learnt to ride a camel (police, of course). He arrived in Tshane after a long drive in second gear.
As we travelled from Ramatlabama the sand was becoming heavier and heavier and the colours on the undulating dunes kept
changing from yellow ochre to a dark shade of orange. There were sparse clumps of grass
and thorn trees, ranging in size from fairly small to very large, giving us welcome shade in
the middle of the day. Instead of the odd one or two springbok that we had previously
sighted, here we came across large herds, running and prancing, a most beautiful sight;
grace In action. In the distance we also sighted a herd of grey wildebeest, exciting to see,
but lacking the grace and beauty of the springbok; the occasional hartebeest, gemsbok and
even hyenas and cheetahs. The top of the truck made for a wonderful viewing platform,
when we weren’t dodging the wicked two inch thorns and possible beasties in the trees.
Eventually we reached a large, flat salt pan and a long white, flat-roofed building could be
seen on the far side of the pan. There was also a small white painted building nearby and
two clumps of trees without leaves, through which could be seen the roofs of houses.
Tshabong at last!
Finally, the truck pulled up at the smaller of the two buildings which was surrounded by
dormant, leafless, Syringa trees. There was a warm welcoming shout from Charlie, the
police officer that Des was going to be relieving. The District Commissioner’s wife,
immaculately dressed, had laid out a welcoming tea for us. I have never felt so dirty and
disreputable In my life. Sweaty and covered in dust, bloodstained and torn from the thorns
and in desperate need of about two bottles of shampoo and gallons of water, to say nothing
of clean clothes! I now knew what it felt like to be “something the cat dragged in’’. During tea we
discovered that the District Commissioner was away some miles to the North, and wasn’t
expected back for several days. Charlie, who occupied the house, said he would be very
pleased if I would do his packing for him - an offer I politely declined.
I learned that there was a whole springbok in the freezer, the next week’s meat supply. And
in the kitchen was a gleaming new gas stove, which had seldom been used as it was too
expensive to run - it seemed a strange thing to have been brought at great expense from
Mafeking 300 miles away when camel thorn wood was freely available on site and was
wonderful to cook with. But in the corner was an old black three legged wood stove, the
fourth leg being a block of concrete, and this stove worked very well despite the fact that the
grate had long since disintegrated and as the oven got so hot it was best to bake with the
door open. All this over the first cup of tea !
All I longed to do was soak in a bath and go to bed, so as soon as I was politely able to I
retreated to the bathroom, armed with a Reader’s Digest, soap, towel and a face cloth. I left
Des to point out the difficulties arising from there only being one bedroom in the house,
Especially with us moving in and Charlie still being in residence with not a packing case in sight!
The hot water system was very efficient, providing one had water and wood. The latter was
in good supply, the former wasn’t, and the system consisted of a fire being made under a 44 gallon drum of water and piped to the house. I used that whole 44 gallon drum of hot water
over the next two hours. Eventually I emerged clean, more rested and with the dreaded
nausea in abeyance. In the meantime, Des had piled Charlie’s bed and possessions onto
the enclosed stoep, Charlie having disappeared. Des then moved our bed and cases into the
room. Fortunately for Des, Charlie’s maid cooked supper that night as I hadn’t even considered unpacking the pots and pans and we couldn’t really start to move in until Charlie
had vacated. It was marvellous to sink into bed that night - it was soft, it was still, and there
was no noise. The dogs were so tired that they just settled down close by and slept with the cats!
We woke to a beautiful breaking dawn, birdcalls, and a chewing noise very close by. The
dogs, still only puppies, had found a pair of Charlie’s shoes which had been left behind in
Des’s hasty evacuation of the room. Small chewed pieces of leather added to the chaos of
tea chests and suitcases piled high in the corners. Gradually we became aware of more
distant sounds, voices and the clatter of buckets being filled at the communal taps, the
sounds of cattle and goats, and a strange roaring noise which was coming closer. By this
time Des had gone to shave and I was convinced that this roar could only be lions and
debated with myself whether it was best to dive back under the blankets or hide in the empty
Before I could make my decision Des came running through to the bedroom to call me to
come and look at a camel training session. The young camels were being led at the side of
an older camel, which was ridden by a member of the Bechuanaland Protectorate Police and the
roaring noise was the protesting of a young camel.
I later learned that lions were regular visitors to the area, and that there was a leopard
whose path took it between our house and the outside loo at night. This was a steep learning
curve for me, and I also found hyena paw prints out there.
Soon, Des had to go to Mafeking to take a Tswana exam and the truck needed repairing also. So we
were off to civilisation - a few shops, a hairdresser, tarred roads, and people! The trip was a
long one, all day in our battered vehicle, and even longer In summer when the sand was so
hot and loose that the truck frequently got bogged down and had to be dug out. This was
one trip when we had to leave our much loved dogs behind in George’s care.
Whilst Des was busy with his exam, visiting HQ and his OC and seeing to the repairs that
were essential for the truck, I was having a wonderful time - off to the shops armed with a
long shopping list of much needed groceries, not forgetting tins and tins of dehydrated
vegetables. I visited the hardware store for all the bits and pieces that are always needed. I was drooling at the window of the electrical store full of lamps that simply turn on with the flick of
a switch and the gleaming white enamel stove that with just the turn of a knob gives you
wonderful instant, regulated electrical heat! I went to the clothing shop where I bought Des his first
winter dressing gown, surprisingly useful for cold desert nights for a house with an outhouse. I had to go to the
gun shop for extra ammunition as well as visiting the pharmacy and lastly the haberdashers for wool, dress
material and patterns. Finally the highlight of the day was a tea party given by a friend. Having
spent so much time alone and certainly starved of the company of other young women, this
was going to be a memory to savour.
The necessary repairs to the truck were completed, necessary being the operative word -
nothing not vital to the running of it was taken into account, and this included any
consideration for comfort. Purchases were loaded, water and petrol drums were refilled. We left before
first light to try and beat the worst of the day’s heat on the journey home. My mind was full of
everything I had seen and done, and savouring my precious purchases. Just thinking about baking
bread, eating fresh vegetables and even cooking a pound of sausages made me salivate... as long as they would still be edible at
As the day dawned the roads became sandier, farms sparser. As the day progressed we left
the farms behind and were truly in the wild with sightings of various species of game, sand,
the odd clump of grass, thorn trees and yet more sand. The road shimmered and we sweated in the
heat and the truck laboured on. Our water container, a canvas bag hung on the front bumper,
kept cool but very dusty.
We were expecting two senior officers for supper that night - visitors were usually a rarity
and now we were having a surfeit of people! I knew that I had left a leg of Springbok in the
freezer, which shouldn’t take long to defrost in the heat, and we had the rest of the
ingredients that we needed for supper with us in the truck so I had plenty of time to work out
the menu for the evening. We arrived home at 4pm in good time to make all the necessary preparations. While the policemen and prisoners (The prisoners at the time were local poachers that were occupying “Kings George” hotel
with blankets and two meals a day) offloaded the truck, I went to the
deep freeze to take out the Springbok. But horror of horrors - There was no springbok!
A very worried George informed us that the District Commissioner, our only neighbour, had
run short of meat and had “borrowed” it. So Des quickly organised the best police hunter that
we had and sent him out with orders to bring a springbok home quickly. “Quickly” turned out
to be three hours later, and with the stove roaring away in readiness and our guests due to
arrive very shortly, at last we heard the sound of the truck returning In the distance.
necessities of skinning, cleaning and jointing were accomplished in record time and a leg
went into the oven just after our guests had arrived. Our only visitors for months and we
nearly couldn’t give them supper! The evening went off well and if anybody realised that the
meat was a little underdone, they were far too polite to say...
Lions were plentiful in the Kgalagadi district in the 1950s and early ‘60s as the district had a lot of buck of all kinds in those days before boreholes were drilled and cattle ranching started there.
Two Police radio officers visited Tshabong to check and service the radio, and then left to go to Tswane 160 miles north. It was a two-day journey and they camped at Mokalamobedi which was half way. They made supper and as usual made a large fire to keep the wild animals away. After supper one officer told the other that he needed to heed the call of nature and with that, walked about 50 metres to a large bush. He was rather surprised to hear a noise behind the same bush and thought that the other officer was there. On his return to the fire he discovered that the other officer was still there. They swung the light of a very strong torch across to the bush and saw a large lion there, doing the same thing as the officer.
One of my predecessors was on patrol and caught a gang of poachers. He stopped for the night and made the usual large fire. This did not deter a pride of lions, however, and they came to the campsite and the prisoners all ran to the police truck and climbed in, locking the doors so the Inspector couldn’t get in. So he dived under the truck and spent the rest of the night rolling from side to side to get away from the lions trying to claw him to get him out!
My successor had a complaint about an old lion that was killing cattle, so he went to investigate. He was unable to spot the lion in a thick bushy area so he opened the back door of the truck and climbed on the roof. The lion saw him and leapt up to try and get him, but misjudged and landed in the back of the truck which had strong wire mesh sides. The officer jumped down and shut the door, trapping the lion inside. It tried to get out and bent the mesh, but was shot through the mesh. I used this same truck for five years and often thought about the lion.
Whilst at Tshabong we had regular nightly visits from hyenas in our garden. This necessitated us making visits to the toilet with a .303 rifle in one hand and a torch in the other. This was much worse for Jill, as I was out on patrol three days out of four, looking for poachers. Fortunately she’s a very good shot!
One night I was sleeping on the ground in the Kgalagadi Frontier Park. I had a jackal kaross on my bed and woke up with a start when a hyena pulled the kaross off me. Fortunately the Police Trooper sleeping near me woke up and shot it.
Later, on patrol near Werda, I was driving off the track across the veld and had a large “cow catcher” screen on the truck’s front bumper. As I went land over sand over bushes, I was surprised to see that I had a large and very startled hyena on top of my bonnet. He was unhurt and jumped off as I stopped.
BP Police Camels at Tshabong and Tshane
The camels at Tshabong were imported from Witdraai in the Northern Cape where they belonged to the South African Police and were under the renowned camel expert, Head Constable Gagiano. All the older camels had the SAP brand mark on their rumps. The BP Police also had recruited a SA Police camel rider, Constable Tytis, to assist in training both the camels and the riders. The camels’ breeding station was at Tshabong and there were twelve camels at Tshane.
Camel patrols always took two camels per rider as they seem to have weak limbs and suffer fractures and dislocations very easily, usually having to be shot then and there. The BP camels had not been at Tshabong and Tshane for very long when we were posted there.
Loading and saddling camels must be done carefully and they must not be overloaded.
We had two camel auctions after injured camels had to be shot. The camel humps contain a large amount of fat and can be melted down over a fire and stirred for a day to make soap. We were short of meat and bought some camel meat, but our manservant refused to cook it, saying it was not good enough for us, so we gave it to our dogs, as they’d been living on brown bread, that Jill baked, and eggs as Tembo was allergic to mealie meal.
Whilst we were at Tshabong in 1959, the Medical Dept. decided to build a clinic and station a sister there. A PWD Inspector of Works duly arrived and got a gang busy digging foundations for the clinic. As I was acting as D.C., I went across to inspect the building work. I asked the foreman for the architect’s plan. It differed from what I expected as it was a plan for a store room to be built at Ghanzi! I stopped them working and notified Mafeking HQ. Someone retired early as a result.
Tsane - June 1959
Des was due to do a routine inspection of the police post at Tsane, 160 miles north of Tshabong (another camel post consisting of twenty camels), a small village with one borehole. Though only 160 miles away, it took two days’ travel in bottom gear on a very rough track. Roads were non-existent.
The day before we left was spent in baking bread and cakes and packing up our large wooden scoff box with enough food, including, of course a 5lb tin of Klim (powdered milk). No meat - that you had to shoot yourself.
We intended being away for five or six days, four of which would be spent travelling, more like bouncing along, but we still packed enough food for ten days, just in case!
Our truck was old, long past its prime and decidedly temperamental, choosing as a rule the most isolated spot. There was only game around and lots of it, ranging from a variety of buck to lions, leopards, hyenas and wild dogs. I forgot to mention a .303 rifle and a shotgun which you never travelled without, which I had to learn to use efficiently - not enthusiastically, but necessary.
We left early the next morning. The back of the truck was full (fortunately it had a strong wire canopy over it) with a 44-gallon drum of dieseline and another 44-gallon drum of water (which one never travelled without), tent, camp beds, blanket rolls, scoff box, to say nothing of two African troopers with their bedding, food etc, and George, major domo to Des, clutching on to our two dogs, his bedding and pots and pans.
Des drove and I had the dubious honour of the passenger seat to myself. There was nothing wrong with the seat in itself - it was sprung, covered and in one piece, but not held down to the base. Every bump we hit, the seat and I flew up in the air, and there were many bumps. Sometimes I managed to manoeuvre the seat with me on top, back onto the base. Regrettably I was not fortunate every time. Sadly the tools were kept in the base - hammer, jack, spanners and puncture outfit - not the comfiest thing to bounce on. I forgot to mention that I was 6 months pregnant and Des had packed sharp scissors and string - in case.
The road was originally an ox wagon trail twisting and turning round bushes and trees. The straightest stretch was no more than 30 yards, except when crossing the one pan where we would have a glorious stretch of 200 yards or more. Despite the hazard of the tools it was rather nice to be bounced in one direction, up and down, instead of up and down and side to side. Poor baby! Somehow she survived. If I didn’t go with Des, it was lonely as he was away three days out of four, and this country with all its game was so interesting. His area covered 60 000 square miles of Crown land, as there were no boreholes or water anywhere and inhabited only by game and Masarwa.
The countryside varied from grassy parkland with tufts of grass and the umbrella-shaped trees (which the camels loved, thorns and all), loose sand and scrubby-looking bushes to sand dunes. Springbok with their twisty horns, white bellies with a dark stripe separating the pale brown of their upper bodies. Brown and grey wildebeest whose hooves churned the ground when in full gallop, the small herds of gemsbok with long straight horns - eland and gemsbok classified as royal game and small duiker and steenbok who loved to shelter under small trees. Royal game were only allowed to be hunted for celebrations on the Queen’s birthday. As there were no shops for hundreds of miles we had to hunt both for us and the camp. As neither of us enjoyed hunting, this was a chore and often the troopers were given this task.
Of course, there were the predators - lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and wild dogs - that would willingly eat us. This made it difficult and somewhat risky leaving the truck when it became necessary to ‘spend a penny’.
Lunch time, sitting in the shade of a tree, making sure no leopard was resting in the branches also watching out for lion who loved to eat them, and us too, I might add. We watched out for snakes, especially mambas. George, Des’ major domo and Troopers Bimbo and Malloi gathered a few sticks to light a fire under the three-legged pot with water for tea and refilled the canvas water bottles which hung on the side mirrors of the truck. Cool, but tasted yuck, but when you are thirsty...
Later that afternoon we made camp for the night. George and our two police troopers helped Des erect our tent, then collected thorn tree branches to encircle the tent (hoping to lion-proof it), and wood for a fire, not only to cook and boil water, but for protection for the three men sleeping outside. The theory is that lions are scared of fire! Our two dogs slept in the back of the truck. The pan we camped next to was Mokalamobedi.
Camp beds erected and the canvas bath placed in position, water buckets heated on the fire, the men retreated after filling the bath and left us to try to rid ourselves of the dust, Des and I taking turns whilst the other sat on a stool holding a .303 rifle in case of a lion or similar predator hoping for supper. We were cleaner, but oh the discomfort of sitting cross-legged, especially being pregnant.
What a relief to wriggle into a makeshift sleeping bag, after making sure the thorn trees enclosing the tent were in place and the men stretched out by the fire. Being pregnant, there were several forays out to ‘spend a penny’, but being a city girl and scared to go out on my own, my poor husband had to be woken to accompany me. But by 4 am, very tired after the twisty bumpy track, he said he was sure I would be safe. On my return I heard a strange noise. Des was convinced it was gemsbok bulls, but in the morning, on going outside, there were lion paw prints all around our tent! Des has often been teased about that.
After breakfast, camp packed up and with the canvas water bottles full, we set off, bouncing along the track. No tent to put up tonight, but sleeping in a rondavel in a fenced-off area. No lions in the camp, and even a bucket loo!
We arrived at dusk and unpacked the truck. George set up our camp beds and table. He, too, was very tired and failed to erect my bed and table locking mechanisms in place. After supper, really tired and bruised, we turned in, not noticing that there were other visitors in the next hut and no vehicles in sight. In the middle of the night, with our dogs sleeping on a blanket in our hut, they were very car-sick.
The police camp had two rondavels and a very small oblong brick building, as well as a corrugated iron shanty for a bucket loo. All we really wanted to notice was where we were sleeping and how far away the loo was. The hut was clean and well-swept, but regrettably we hadn’t noticed it was very old and concave and the step was several inches higher. We were too tired to notice this and it was dark, with only a candle to light us.
The dogs - Tembo, an Alsatian and Brock, a dachshund, usually good travellers, had found two days of bouncing and swerving round trees and rocks and game, just too much. Half asleep, I could only think of using the bucket of water to try and sluice the mess out of the door. Now I really had a mess on my hands and didn’t know what to do. Not having any implements at hand, candle light didn’t help much. Des, by this time had woken up and tried to help but to no avail, so we dropped onto my bed. The legs, not being locked into place, collapsed into the table with our enamel mugs and plates and cutlery and a 5lb tin of Klim. It also gave way and everything now landed in watery mess of dog sick. This gave way to hysterical laughter. Apart from the mess we now had no powdered milk, so it was black tea and dry cornflakes for the next few days.
There was nothing we could do until morning. We erected my bed again and tried to settle down, only to be woken by screams. The prison warder, returning from a party had stumbled through red hot coals of the fire lit behind our rondavel. Not much sleep for us that night!
Next morning our neighbour came over with a concerned look on her face, wondering what had occurred to cause so much hysterical laughter. She and her husband, a homeopathic doctor, and their two girls had flown in a light plane and landed on the pan in front of us. They were looking for ‘Farini’s Lost City’ as described in his book ‘Through the Kalahari Desert - 1886’ by G.A. Farini. Many people had tried to find these remains, but so far had been unable to find any trace. Sand dunes move constantly.
We left George and the prisoners that ‘occupied’ King George Hotel to clean up the mess in our room. The dogs had recovered their good spirits by now.
Sadly our neighbours left and we waved the little plane goodbye and Des left to inspect the camels and the police station. Our life was so isolated that it was good to have folks to talk to. So I wandered around closely followed by Brock and Tembo in the fenced off camp. Nearby I found a small oblong hut and peeking inside, of all things I found a narrow Victorian style bath. A bath I could lie down in! Tshabong the borehole was only giving a trickle of water. If the bath tap was left on all day we collected enough to use for cooking and a stand-up wash and of course clothes, especially Des’ uniform which had to be immaculate.
George and the available prisoners heated buckets of water on the fire, filled the bath to what I considered the correct temperature, and withdrew with an armful of clean clothes. There was no peg or stool to place them on, but the floor looked clean and well swept. And now for a bath, maybe narrow and not long enough to stretch out in. The grubby clothes were in another pile with a towel placed on top.
I hadn’t noticed a window above the bath. It really didn’t matter, except that the village tap was just under the window. When I heard much chattering and looked up to see faces peering in, I leapt up to grab my towel to use as a curtain. Totally forgetting the small legs of the bath were not well spread - the bath only rested on them - balance didn’t come into it. One was supposed to sit carefully in it, not leap up to grab a towel at the side. Fortunately the wall was strong and could take my weight but the clothes got rather wet.
I settled down in privacy until the water felt chilly. Standing up carefully, I pulled the little plug out, hoping that the villagers had finished filling their buckets Sadly I hadn’t checked the plumbing and now my clothes were really wet. Wet but clean, would have to do.
Des’ inspection went well. A corporal was in charge and making a good job of it. There were eight police stationed there, a radio operator (Morse code!), constables and troopers, camels, prison warder, their quarters, camel saddles (still old converted horse saddles). The only complaint was from the prison warder; the prisoners wanted three meals a day. When questioned they admitted that they ate only every third day when they were free. Food was very scarce, even for us who were able to order every two months from Mafeking. Keeping an eye on the budget meant that tinned food really didn’t make the list very often. Their problem was solved. The same amount of daily rations but divided into three, which proved to be satisfactory.
That night with beds and table erected correctly and dogs contented, we all slept well.
Early the next morning packing up the truck proceeded well, and we left for home, a two-day journey of soft sand, occasional rocks and twists and turns.
We camped again at Makalamobedi pan and as we all sat around the fire and Troopers Bimbo and Malloi recounted a previous trip. They had camped in the same place and whilst asleep in their blankets, Bimbo woke up and saw a hyena (who fancied dinner) standing over Malloi. But Bimbo, who had his rifle next to him, lifted it and shot the hyena. Despite all this, we still slept well.
Once home I spent two days in bed. My back was raw and I could not bear clothing touching it.
It was wonderful to see and hear all the game, the countryside, sand and more sand. A crazy trip, being pregnant, but the loneliness was immense. Three weeks out of four Des was away. No people to talk to, no shops, scarcity of water, no electricity, no fresh vegetables or fruit and a battery radio whose expensive battery had to last three months. But I had the tidiest cupboards. As Des was totally without communication, driving a vehicle that constantly broke down, I worried a great deal about him.
Hence my crazy trip, pregnant and all, to accompany him.
The borehole for the camp gave problems quite frequently and it was thought to be the pump that did not work properly and a pump mechanic would be sent out from Mafeking to get it going. This seemed to work for a time but actually what was happening was that whilst the pump was out of action the water in the surrounding ground seeped into the borehole and there was water for it to pump for a short time.
The problem was addressed in the survey done by Professor Debenham on behalf of the British Government to assess the possibility of increasing the boreholes in the B.P. where the grazing was suitable for cattle ranching.
Professor Debenham, in his book ‘Kalahari Sands’, discussed the problem where drillers had been sent out without a geologist to guide them about where to site the boreholes. There is the expensive drilling into the basement rock in the hope of finding fissure water - quite deep +/- 100m, or the cheaper method of just boring through the sand in the hope of finding sub-sand water. Unfortunately the Tshabong borehole was useless and another hole had to be drilled into the basement rock to supply sufficient water for the Government camp and the 40 camels.
Early September 1959
In addition to the “Flying Doctor” paying us a visit once a month - there was a small medical centre manned by a trained nurse - and checked up on by the Govt. Staff, for which I was very thankful since I was pregnant.
This time he flew in two weeks early to coincide with our baby. (150 miles on very rough roads and a truck that continually broke down) with only my husband to help - need I say more!
Dr van der Heever was based in a small village - Bray, about 100 metres from the Bechuanaland border with South Africa. He also flew to Ponfret, an asbestos mine, and other isolated “dorps”, as well as being the hospital doctor.
Tshabong was on a sand dune with a salt pan in front. So we had forty camels in lion-proof pens near the top of the dune, together with borehole and the landing ground in front on the pan where he landed his small plane about two miles from our house.
Just before the Doctor was due to leave, with me as his passenger, Des unhappily told me the truck would not start. (WW2 was only fourteen years earlier hence the broken-down truck) and I had the choice of walking the two miles or riding a camel - perhaps I’d better say - sense of human failure - Plan C? Camels lie down for you to mount, then rise on their back legs first, tipping the rider forward, then rise on front legs and swing you backwards. I was pregnant and wearing a dress in respect of the Queen.
Des was away further South prosecuting a poaching case in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park when our daughter was born in September of that year. He only heard of her arrival when she was two days old. As soon as his case was over he left to drive home the approximately 200 miles over rough tracks, arriving at Tshabong early the next morning - the policemen heard his truck and were running across the pan shouting “Morena you have a daughter!”
Despite a long difficult birth, our bumpy trips to visit his other stations and one to Mafeking. (When the truck complained loudly it needed urgent repairs). Ventures out at night to visit bucket loo armed with a torch and .303 rifle, (my letters to my Mother mentioned leopard and hyena prints frequently found) being able to run round corners the day the gemsbok bull objected to my use of sjambok when he chased my beloved dog.
Despite all the problems, Sally was fine, just suffered from “the three-month cries” as they called it. I might add that I spent a lot of that day sitting under a tree, baby at my side, making a fire and boiling water for tea.
After Sally and I had rested two weeks, Des came to fetch us. It was early summer and hot, Sally in a vest and nappy lying on a pillow in my arms, Des driving and his policeman in the back of the truck. We followed the road between S.A. and Bechuanaland, along the Molopo river - isolated cattle farms - milk cans full of cream waiting to be collected by the butter factory (Tulip butter) in Mafeking.
The truck broke down frequently, between overheating and punctures, leaving it to Des and his policeman while I sat under a tree, Sally on a pillow beside me while I lit a fire under a three-legged pot boiling water for tea. After five or six of these unexpected stops and much tea-making (and learning a new language from my husband) and realising there was no more glue or patches to fix the tyres, we bounced along another five miles before arriving at the next farm. Des and the farmer had met before. Des had arrested him a month earlier for poaching - Sally, bless her, started crying. That relieved the tension and the farmer knew we were in trouble, and came to offer help. Tyre repaired and spare glue and patches, vehicle cooled down (occupants too) and we set off - another five miles before we turned into the gate into Bechuanaland - forty miles to Tshebong.
It was a hot day but at last the truck started. I had asked Des what vehicle would meet us, knowing we had only one - “in what?” his reply was, “not in what, on what”! With that six camels appeared over the dune with three men riding and leading three spares. I’ll refrain from my comments!
On arriving home the borehole was dry and the rainwater tank empty. We drank water from the fridge and wiped Sally down with baby oil. Too tired to go any further that day. I know Des will solve problems in the morning, but I wish I could have a bath, and poor baby having to make do with a wipe down with baby oil.
Next morning Des sent his truck (which was working after a night’s rest) loaded with three 44-gallon drums and instructed his police driver to drive to a tiny settlement (of about six huts) with a borehole to collect water. The water came from an open tank, green and slimy, which I had to drain through a cloth, boil in buckets on a wood stove (middle of summer - 40 0 C) before it could be used. According to letters to my Mother, this village had dysentery and diphtheria.
Several days later we received a radio message. Mr Koekemoer, his wife and children would be arriving in a caboose, together with a large truck containing the machinery needed to drill a much deeper borehole, and a cow to provide fresh milk!! (I’m so sorry I was out of film.) An arrangement was made; they gave us fresh milk in exchange for Klim (powdered milk).
Des was ordered to go out on patrol (the baby was a month old) which meant taking the one and only (highly unreliable) truck providing us with water and meat. I was not well. This was really too much, so I asked Des to take the baby and me to his parents in Johannesburg. Despite the drilling going well, they still needed to drill much deeper and with the truck so unreliable...
Des was granted leave to take the baby and me to Johannesburg where we stayed until he was moved to his other police station almost immediately on his return. It had a borehole with water but it wasn’t long before I had to learn how to build a septic tank. Stone with sand all around provided another headache, when he was away for three months on a language course by Prof. Cole from Witwatersrand University.
Rio Tinto found large deposits of iron ore at Werda many years later - and I couldn’t find even smallish stones and rocks for the septic tank!
Werda October 1959
Des stayed with Sally and me at his parents in Johannesburg for a few days before returning to Tshabong to pack up for the move. Leaving so hastily and only taking absolute essentials, he had quite a lot to do. He also had to manage the station and conduct his normal duties on top of his domestic duties.
Late October, Des came back to Johannesburg by train via Mafeking to fetch Sally and me. Medical issues had been sorted out and we had a new home to look forward to - this time one with a working borehole. We even had a new Bedford truck, a working one no less.
Our new little elderly house had one bedroom, a lounge/dining room, a large stoep with fine mosquito wire, a kitchen with a black Dover stove (the kind that works), a pantry and a bathroom with an old bath on four legs (the kind that always gave me trouble of some sort). This bath even had a plug that worked and there was no-one to peer through the windows. However, it was a good place to accommodate a snake needing a resting place. The stoep had plenty of room for two single beds, one of which Sally lay on surrounded by pillows during the daytime.
The floors were concrete and painted green. They looked nice when polished and were cool for that climate in summer.
Sally was still crying a lot. I think it must have been my stress levels although the weather was very hot. All she wore during the day was a nappy. Sadly no pram rides and no camel rides due to the thick sand.
Des put up a play pen under a thick shady tree, first examining it for snakes close to the chicken run. Yes, we had bought chickens. Food was coming from Bray and now we had fresh eggs - not the powdered kind we had had to use before. Bumpy tracks and whole eggs don’t go well together. Sally loved watching the chickens and learnt to imitate them so well that, hearing one in the house, I was running around thinking one had escaped.
My mother arrived for Christmas by train to Mafeking, then by bus to Bray. The bus journey was about 180 miles on a hot day so the tea stop at a farm was most welcome. Goat’s milk straight into the cup was something she hadn’t experienced before. This life for her was very different after living in China with five servants before she and I were evacuated to Canada during WWII. The bus was really a ten-ton lorry converted to carry six passengers only. The rest of the space was taken up by milk cans, drums of petrol and cattle food. It was not built for touring and due to the height, a ladder was needed. She was an amazing woman.
Of course she came armed for Christmas. Sally still has the small white Christmas tree. There was no turkey, but Springbok made a change for her. She was able to stay until mid-January, much to my delight as Des had to leave for Mafeking just before New Year’s Day for a Junior and Senior Tswana language course, staffed by Prof. Cole and four lecturers from Witwatersrand University.
Meanwhile the farmer who lived just over the border which was the Molopo river, (which flooded once in seven years) was happy to sell us cream so we could make fresh butter. The farmers all along this river collected cream and placed it in cans along the road to be collected by the railway bus and taken to the Tulip Butter Creamery. Sadly I hadn’t learnt to speak Afrikaans, but somehow we were able to understand each other.
Mum and I, with Des away, started shaking a jar of cream, then spent hours rolling it around on the floor. When you have had to live without butter and fresh eggs, you do daft things. Eventually the jar was placed in an empty 5lb Klim tin which was clipped into an old dressing table mirror holder, and we were able to spin it around, and it worked!
Sally’s crying was lessening and she seemed much happier. She loved her time in the play pen watching the chickens and the police moving around the police station close by. Our two dogs would lie close to the play pen and only the policemen would be allowed through the rough gate. I had employed a young police wife - a delightful woman.
My mother had to leave for Johannesburg. Sally and I saw her off on the Railway bus leaving from Bray, before returning home in the police truck.
Game was migrating and we were very short of meat - no option but to buy a goat and ask him to kill it for me. Eventually the police driver found a small herd of springbok when out looking for stones, large and smallish ones, please.
Our home, being equipped for a bachelor for short periods, the septic tank was unable to cope with three adults and a baby’s nappy-washing. It overflowed one night, all around three sides of the house, leaving me an exit out of the front door. I had to go over to the police radio room and ask them to call him out of Prof. Cole’s class as I needed help please. Received my instructions: “depth and width and sizes of stones” - over - “Des there are no stones here, just miles of sand” - over. Tell driver so many miles N then L etc. The whole country could listen to my plight and I was teased over this for a long time.
Police and prisoners dug a trench as Des had instructed and eventually the stones arrived and were placed in position and all in working order. After a day’s work clearing all around outside the home, it made me very appreciative of modern plumbing.
The next SOS call to him was a couple of weeks later. (Sorry Prof. Cole to be so disruptive to your class.) The fridge handle is broken and takes me ten minutes to open the door then close it. Can you find a new one in Mafeking? In the middle of a hot summer this really was a problem.
Meanwhile Sally’s food was a problem with no fresh fruit or vegetables, but Purity baby food came to the rescue. Finely grated springbok biltong was the answer. This help came from Dr. v.d. Heever. Biltong was being sent to London Children’s Hospital. It was also good for cutting teeth. I used coarse salt bought in Bray with a good sharp knife and on a board, and lengths of wire to hang the strips - but where, with all that game around? We lost the first few batches, but police kindly came to my rescue with instructions of where to hang it.
At last Des’ three months came to an end and oh, that had been a long and lonely time. Not only was he coming home, but he had passed with distinction and awarded a double month’s salary. Now we could buy Dr. Sippel’s (local G.P. in Bray) Jeep and go on holiday and show Sally the sea!
Prof. Cole had expressed interest in obtaining the Tswana names of vegetation in the Kalahari, a copy of which can be viewed here.
Before we managed to go on holiday, Des had several patrols to do. Sally and I went with him, dogs in the back of the truck with police. Sally was lying on a pillow on my seat and I was sitting on a metal tool box at the side. This time the tool box was well padded. The local Makgalagadi (people of the desert) couldn’t get over her blonde hair and pale skin and insisted on stroking her, never having seen a white child before. (To advance a year or two, the first white child Sally saw, she ran away screaming.)
On one of our trips she wasn’t at all well. We rested all day under a shady tree, sponging her down with cool water, but nothing helped to bring her temperature down. That evening when it was cooler we hastily packed up camp and set out for home about 100 miles away on very rough tracks, reaching home at 3 a.m. and then leaving for Bray hospital. We were told that if her temperature was still 104o F, Dr. V.d. Heever would fly her to Johannesburg. Fortunately it wasn’t necessary. She was kept in hospital for two days, but we never knew what had caused this high temperature.
A week or so later we were able to leave for our holiday. The old Jeep had a home-made cover over the back half for our cases, dogs and our delightful black Tswana maid. Sally and I sat in front with Des.
Our time in the desert was over and we were being transferred to a large Tswana village with an excellent mission hospital, with people, friends and doctors right there.
There had been very interesting times in the Kalahari, but it was also very lonely.
Rio Tinto discovered a huge iron ore deposit at Werda recently. Why oh why did I not dig deeper for the septic tank?
The first fourteen years of our married life were spent in the Bechuanaland Protectorate, now Botswana, where Des was in the Colonial Police. We were stationed all over the country, sometimes with only one other white, also a civil servant. There was usually a trading store supplying the needs of the local population, but rarely much help to us. Their stores consisted mainly of mealie meal and samp, coarse salt, game traps, hunting knives, blankets, riems, tobacco etc. Life was primitive and one had to learn to be a jack of all trades and be inventive when necessary.
Shopping is such a part of our daily life and most of us don’t give a great deal of thought to buying that loaf of bread or bunch of carrots.
I was broken in gently, so I later learnt. Our first posting was to a border station sixteen miles from Mafeking and the nearest shops, apart from the trading store, with transport through once a week. Fresh bread was a problem, bakery bread that is. For me, making it was also a problem and the wood stove oven worse. Everywhere round it seemed very hot, indeed with the oven the coolest place - only one it its idiosyncrasies.
After six months of this we were transferred to a camel station in the southern Kalahari Desert, two hundred long dusty miles from Mafeking, once again our shopping centre. Supplies were sent through once every two months. Receiving fresh food was a problem with a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius in summer, and a long dusty, bumpy journey. A shopping list had to be prepared in advance, or in an emergency, a radioed list in Morse Code through to H.Q. was sufficient if your radio and the H.Q. radio were both working. To my cost I found the posted list far more reliable. If you forgot anything you might have to wait two months.
Potatoes travelled well but only kept for one month, so after that, butter beans were on the menu. Nutritional values were higher than whether it appealed to your palate in such circumstances. Fresh greens were almost unheard of, great use being made of dehydrated vegetables. Meat was a springbok every week to ten days as needed, providing they hadn’t migrated or Des hadn’t run out of ammunition. When this happened meatless dishes were on the menu. Imagine butter beans, dehydrated peas, pumpkin and maybe dried eggs or cheese. I defy even Mrs Beeton to do much with that.
When we were fortunate to have meat, the buck was cleaned and skinned and hung in a tree, for me to do the rest, armed with a sharp knife and a panga - sheer desperation.
So much for the necessity side, clothing, too, posed a problem. That was usually done on a yearly trip to Johannesburg and that, too, left room for human error.
Although this chapter of our lives is now over, it was for all its difficulties, a most interesting time and the happy memories far outshine the times when the truck drivers forgot to bring cans of baby food, or we had no meat, or the borehole dried up. Shopping is such an ordinary occurrence today that the excitement of having a full pantry and not forgetting anything greatly diminished.
Molepolele was the Head Quarters of the Bakwena Chief, (the paramount Chief of Botswana). Molepolele didn't need a flying doctor as they had 3 doctors and nurses. Dr Merriweather was also an orrdained minister. The church was run by the L.M.S. Mission and there were several government staff. There were new neighbours and several small children nearby for our daughter to play with.
The District Commissioner was Julian Tennant (an M.A. from Oxford) and there was also a District Officer, Agricultural and Livestock Officers. So several neighbours and Friends!
A message arrived for Julian that the Governor (officially knighted in 1963) and his wife would be arriving and spending a short time staying with him. This was really very unusual, though we were all able to accommodate overnight visitors in pretty rough conditions. So I thought I’d better enquire re conditions of his second bedroom. I noticed no curtains at the window and offered to lend him a pair. The reply was, “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll push the cupboard in front of the window.” The same happened again with regard to the bedding and towels. We wouldn’t meet them again as their visit was a short one to meet Dr Merriweather2, head of the L.M.S. hospital.
The next day they appeared as we were having breakfast and they asked if they could join us as they were hungry. They had quite understood a young bachelor’s inability to cope with visitors (which were just such a rarity - any of us would have been caught out)3.
Yes, the cupboard had been pushed over the window and the edge of spare towels he deemed sufficient to dry themselves. They had a lovely supper prepared by his Tswana housekeeper, but had doubts over breakfast and said a cup of tea would be sufficient, not realising that being a healthy young man with a full day’s work ahead, a cup of tea would not be. Seeing his empty breakfast plate and having met us fairly often and knowing my incompetence with baking, bacon and eggs and toast were produced amid much laughter.
They then left to see Dr Merriweather. Only on reading Dr Merriweather’s book Desert Doctor Remembers, did we understand why his need of this visit.
One morning in Molepolole, as I was about to cycle to my office, Jill looked out of the dining room and said she thought that I’d be better off drinking another cup of tea. She pointed out of the window, so I looked out too. I agreed with her suggestion as a pride of nine lions was at our gate! No-one in the whole village came out of their houses that day, as the lions walked right through it.
On another occasion I was patrolling near Tsuane and met up with one of my camel patrol, consisting of three Policemen with six camels. They had six as you always took spare camels because if you rode them up and down too steep a slope, they tended to dislocate a front leg. We couldn’t treat this so they had to be shot, always in the back of the head as their skulls were thick enough to deflect a bullet. The Corporal in charge asked me to accompany him back to his overnight camping site where they had to cut down thorn trees to make a safe sleeping place for them and the camels. They also made a big fire to keep out lions and hyenas. One Policeman stayed awake whilst the others slept. This was called, in cavalry terms, a “stable picket”. About an hour after they went to sleep, a lion leapt over the thorn trees and attacked a camel. The stable picket shot it and the other men woke up. The lions, who like camels to eat, kept up the attack, leaping over trees until the patrol had shot nine lions, and the Corporal wanted me to see it to verify his report concerning the use of government ammunition!
In Molepolole a cattle-killing lion was shot by one of my Policemen. It was lying where it had been shot and the villagers came crowding round to see it. When a lot of people were standing closely round the body, the Policeman jumped on the lion’s tummy and it let out a tremendous roar. Needless to say, the crowd vanished.
En-route to Molepolole
The dogs, cats, our luggage (mainly cardboard boxes containing bedding and curtains and clothing we didn’t need for our few days’ journey, had to go inland as we could not obtain veterinary permits. A long dusty track.
With our jeep and trailer we left Werda en-route to Mafeking. We used the main ‘track’ (you could hardly call it a road in those days) to Molepolole via Mafeking, called in at H.Q. (the only country in the world to have its H.Q. in another country!), then spent the night with friends - so lovely to see people we could talk to and eat meat other than game, and fresh vegetables and fruit. Next day to visit the grocery shop and clothing store (didn’t cater for my big feet) and set off via Ramathlabama, our old station, Lobatse and Gaberones to Molepolole. I might add that after nearly two years we didn’t need to visit the gun shop to buy ammunition! What a relief to visit the loo at night armed with only a torch and could leave Des the 3.03 rifle.
In those days before Independence Gaberones consisted of a garage, trading store, railway station and a few old houses, before turning west on the road, crossing the Metsimotlhaba River and on to Molepolole. It consisted of a large collection of mud houses with thatched roofs and hedge or wall around, all immaculate with no rubbish lying around. Lots of people, children and animals. It felt a happy place. The Chief Kgosi residence was up on a hill before we arrived in Molepolole. His residence was on an ironstone koppie. The Bakwena tribe was the senior tribe; the chief was the Paramount Chief of Bechuanaland.
Our house was on a rocky hillside with the other Government houses and office and court.
My predecessor set convict labour to dig a large hole in the rocky garden. Des and our neighbour, a stock inspector, Mitch, plastered the hole in the ground which became our swimming pool and much enjoyed. After the plastering came the painting with Snowcem, then the filling with the garden hose (it was a week when the borehole was working) and came the great day for a ‘swim’. Sally had a knitted costume knitted by Granny, an inflatable ring (probably a Mini car tyre tube). My foot was in plaster of Paris up to the knee (thanks to dropping a .303 rifle), so undeterred, my leg was in a large plastic bag and taped closed. (Not very successfully.) This pool was greatly enjoyed by everyone. It had a high wire fence around and a wooden gate that was padlocked top and bottom - the key was kept on a high nail on the stoep wall with adult reach only.
Early December 1961 a film company arrived to make a film about the Dorsland Trekkers, with well-known actors, even to us. Patrick Mynhardt and Wynona Chaney and Mr World, Roy Hilligenn and producer/director Ernie Bisogne, his wife and family. This livened up our life no end. They moved on through out to the Kalahari but after one disaster after another (one of them being the cow which had fallen into the pit latrine and had to be rescued by the location manager and helpers in a state of inebriation). They then returned to the outskirts of Molepolole (near the NRC manned by Alan Cuzen, his wife and family) and continued filming. They were lovely and were welcom visitors, using our phone and swimming pool. Sadly the making of the film wasn’t successful as they returned to Johannesburg, a sad convoy of bakkies, kombis and pantechnicons. *See attached note.
Sally greatly enjoyed having other little girls to play with, even one her age, Ann. Celia and Joy were both eighteen months older.
When we first arrived, Alfred Merriweather had just left on his twelve-month long leave to Scotland, which involved him undertaking lecture tours and preaching around Scotland. The hospital was funded by the Scottish people and called The Scottish Livingstone Hospital (SLH). In Alfred’s absence the hospital was in the charge of Dr Thomas, assisted by John Taylor. Dr Thomas was working his last couple of years before finally retiring. He and his wife were doctors in charge of the mission hospital in Damascus.
There were 21 villages in the Kweneng district which were visited regularly by SLH staff, some of the larger villages having clinics which were visited regularly. It was the policy of helping the people and Des was frequently roped in to return patients to their homes and vice-versa, as well as delivering food and medicines.
It was a small community consisting of mission, their estate manager and government folks, and were closely-knit. Even later on when our three children were in boarding school, if they were coming up to our area, they would ask if they could bring the children up to us. This meant a double journey of +/- 140 miles on dirt roads for them. (Gaberones to Zeerust.)
On a visit to Johannesburg my Brucellosis was finally diagnosed (it was very difficult to pick up in those days), followed by a further visit to hospital in Johannesburg on a mattress in the back of a Land Rover, and a few months later the arrival of our second daughter, Kathleen.
1964. On the death of Chief Kgari II, the new Paramount Chief, Chief Bonewamang, was inducted. There was a big gathering of Chiefs and Elders from Bechuanaland and Southern African tribes. A large, rather perished, marquee was erected. I remember sitting under a large tear, probably for ventilation, and I was glad I was wearing a hat. In those days, as representatives of the Queen, we had to dress and behave respectfully. Thankfully, bare legs were acceptable, as nylon stockings in that heat would have been unbearable. No slacks or potty under the bed, even if it meant facing a leopard in the garden.
I had been asked by Julian Tennant, the D.C., to make a leopard-skin crown, a request that wasn’t received with much enthusiasm. I tried out the usual excuses, as I couldn’t imagine how to begin. A leopard skin was the equivalent of a month’s salary and if I messed up!!!
Julian arrived for supper and Scrabble and presented me with a leopard skin and a metal crown. Now I was out of excuses and had to do something. I covered the supports with strips of leopard skin and used the tail around the bottom edge. All done, but a fitting proved it was too large for his head. Strips of newspaper glued inside the head surround worked well and couldn’t be seen.
After the speeches and crowning ceremony, lunch was held, but first Des and I had to dash home to check on the children, though we had a very capable maid. Arriving for lunch late, with our friends’ table full, we sat down together at an empty table, to be joined by a Swazi delegation. The Prime Minister was in morning dress and top hat. There were three or four others in their tribal dress representing Swazi and two princesses who stayed with Dr Merriweather. We were dismayed as Des was fluent in Tswana which was very different from the Swazi tongue. To our shame they read our thoughts and kicked off the conversation by asking me to pass the cruet! That was a memorable and much enjoyed lunch. There was much laughter and we were still chatting long after the other guests had left. Apart from the Prime Minister the others were members of the Swazi royal family, having attended Eton and Oxford. A good lesson in not judging by appearances. We were totally ignorant of Swazi dress, Mayiya, skimpy red cloth.
Our son, Christopher, was born. He was desperately ill with Hyaline Membrane and not expected to survive, but thanks to wonderful nursing and skilled doctors and the prayers of the whole hospital staff, he survived. Thank you Lord. He was known by the Staff as their miracle baby.
A few months later Sally was enrolled with the Rhodesian Correspondence Course School, which she enjoyed and kept me very busy, but fortunately I had a very good maid/nanny.
What I should have mentioned earlier, Des was away quite often - poaching patrols, and with the arms amnesty of three months coming in, all arms illegally possessed had to be handed in. Thousands of firearms handed in dated back to the 18th century! Sometimes if he was doing a regular patrol (or as Des described it, showing the flag), the children and I would go with him. The policemen generally were wonderful with our little ones. I hope I can still find the slide showing one older policeman pushing the pram one early morning on the pan, puffing away at his pipe, accompanied by our dogs, Brock and Tembo.
The intelligence of these two dogs was amazing. I think Des has written so many of the stories concerning them, but one I’ll add. When he was away the servant was not allowed to bring early morning tea to me. Tembo still herded any loose goats in the camp and brought them to the gate. He could open any window or door, either round handle or long and either opened the gate or jumped it. The only place he couldn’t escape from was the back of the police truck. This truck still carried scratches on the inside from a previous incident with a lion.
Shopping was done mainly in the Gaberones police canteen, which we visited every couple of weeks with Des on police matters, and having dropped him off I could take the truck and visit all three shops, and the children could meet others.
We even had a telephone (party line) and, usually, water. We frequently had tummy upsets and seemed to live on medication, both for that and cerebral malaria, which was prevalent in the wet season. When our rain water tank, with a dead rat found in it, was tested against the borehole water, the former was found to be purer. Once again we were boiling water on the stove and then trying to cool it somehow. Winter was easy, summers were very hot. At night in these hot summers, just before the children’s bed time, we would take them for a swim with arm bands, and inflatable vests, and sometimes even in the middle of the night to cool them off.
With trading store, butchery, and Gaberones Police Canteen only 40 miles away (which we visited about twice a month), and a large truck going from door to door once a week selling fruit and vegetables, shopping for necessities became so much easier.
The Indian traders were good businessmen but prone to adding ‘gifts’ to my shopping, and being the wife of a Police Inspector, I had to be very wary of bribery. On taking purchases to the kitchen I found a bag of oranges on the table, which I hadn’t paid for. I loaded them in the car, and of course accompanied by Brock and Tembo, drove after the truck to return the oranges. Thank you, but no!
The following week I only got as far as selecting a pumpkin, when Tembo, who was my shadow, lifted his leg and peed down the man’s pant leg! That week we only had pumpkin, which I paid for hurriedly and fled.
Being in a large village with a butcher shop and no need to hunt game, we didn’t need to make biltong. Instead I learnt (with my Mother’s kind help) how to make brawn, a jellied meat, served in slices, cold, with salad. Klim stayed on the menu still, and home-made bread, but dried fruit and vegetables were replaced by the real thing.
We had quite a social life. The Doctor and Sister and Estate Manager and family from the Mission Hospital were neighbours. Mrs Bligh, the Estate Manager’s wife, now in 2018, turned out to be a cousin of our local church visitor. We attended the monthly English church service at the Mission Hospital, later attending the Tswana Sunday service, the children attending Sunday school run by the younger Mission staff, Agnes Brownlee, Fay Nimmo and Isabel Johnstone. Most of the Government staff were bachelors and popped in casually late afternoons, evenings and weekends.
The summers were hot, too hot for the children to play outside, unless in the shade of the trees, from about ten o’clock to four o’clock, with frequent visits to the pool. Early mornings the maid, a lovely young Tswana lady, would take them for a walk through the Government camp.
As we were situated on rocky ground (slasto) the very few trees we had were small as they had to grow in holes that had been excavated.
The house, too, was very hot, not designed for that climate, with a tin roof and not very high ceilings. Cooking and water heating all needed the wood fire in the kitchen. A later home we stayed in, in Ghanzi, had high ceilings and the kitchen with stove was in a separate room outside. Much better, unless it rained and food had to be carried between the kitchen and dining room.
It was only occasionally that we had fresh salad vegetables. Growing vegetables was a huge problem - heat and lack of water, with breakdowns in the borehole, so the stove as really needed for cooking and baking bread, and the heating of three or four flatirons. We had a small paraffin stove for boiling a kettle.
With a growing family, we sold the Jeep and bought a little Morris 1000, and I learnt to drive. Des had to teach me, test me and issue my licence! The test in the car went well, but he mysteriously refused to issue me a licence! By this time his police vehicle was a good (not old and battered) 11/2 ton Bedford truck.
I travelled around the area so that the children, small as they were, could get some idea of the area and where the people lived with their cattle. They got used to camping and having to be careful of the wild game. Also picnics with the hospital and government friends, especially Saturday afternoons.
Before long leave had been brought in (UK war debts) we had a couple of neighbours who were very keen on guns and firing at targets. Since we only had a wire fence we thought it wiser to have picnics and see the countryside.
We visited Kolobeng where Dr Livingstone started a Mission. Des and Sally with Clive Williams, our District Officer. They are standing in front of Livingstone’s Memorial stone.
Later in the week he arrived home as usual with the Bedford and asked me to drive on one of the roughest roads in the area with rocks and very steep inclines. (Once I had my licence I was entitled to drive the Government police vehicle.) Having managed that, I now received my licence for up to three tons. The 90-seater bus licence requiring a Heavy Duty came later in life.
The car made life a bit easier for me as I could take the children up to the hospital for tea and to visit the other two children living there - Joy and Celia, the Blight family with older children at school in Mafeking and the younger one, Celia that Sally and Kathleen played with. Eight years later our church visitor turned out to be Erica Blight’s cousin and whose great-grandfather translated the Bible into Tswana. In 2017 the Blight’s son phoned us. He is now living in Kimberley, and his daughter taught our granddaughter, Chloe, to swim, and is a teacher at her school.
George, our manservant, who was delighted to be back in his tribal area and employed, as jobs were extremely scarce, kept Des’ starched uniforms immaculate. They were so heavily starched they stood up on their own. Every morning he washed the heavy material, all by hand, and ironed in the afternoon. He was also kept very busy chopping the very hard camel-thorn logs to smaller size, suitable for the stove. The wood was incredibly hard - axe shafts and even axe heads wouldn’t las very long. A broken axe caused quite a problem and needed hasty repair.
The Tswana people are lovely with children. Sally would follow him around from the time she could walk. I was amazed one day to hear her chattering away with him, speaking in Tswana.
Des went through to Gaberones (about 40 miles east) which was an hour’s journey. In dry weather it was a dry dusty road. In wet weather it was wet and slippery and if the Metsimotlhaba river was flowing strongly, one had to turn around and try another day, or sit and wait for a few hours to see if the water level lowered. We usually went with him, a chance for our children to see other people and maybe even children.
After a couple of years, the building of the new Gaberones, the future capital of Independent Botswana (before then Mafeking in Cape Province) Administration was housed in Gaberones (which then consisted of a railway station (main line Johannesburg, Mafeking, Bulawayo), a few old houses, some dating back to the time of Rhodes, Police Depot, PWD, old prison, a couple of trading stores and a Police canteen. This was my destination and the incident that happened there. But first let me mention all the new buildings; houses, many of them, airfield, administration blocks, Government House and Parliament buildings. With all this there was an inflow of folks recruited from overseas. I forgot to mention the Primary School Thornhill and a Secondary School, all needed for the influx but this was only the beginning.
This particular day I had taken Sally and Kathleen to a friend, Rita’s house to play with her small son. I accompanied Rita to the Police Canteen to stock up on much-needed groceries, when Kay walked in. She and her husband were Irish with a very broad S. Ireland brogue, not easy for us to understand and the local Tswane, too, found it difficult. Kay was highly indignant and told us she had asked her house-manservant to ‘wash the pushchair’ and here she had found him holding the cat by the scruff of the neck, under the bathroom tap, armed with a bar of soap. With her brogue he had mistaken ‘pushchair’ for ‘pusscat ‘. With her indignation growing every minute, Rita and I were in tears of laughter and eventually managed to explain why, and what this poor man had heard.
This was only one of the many misunderstandings. We wondered how the Tswana people understood when we battled with all the accents.
Our gardener/labourer was a delightful old man, very helpful and kind to the children. On asking Des why he was a prisoner, I was told he was in jail for murder! Hard to believe anyone so gentle and polite - apparently his beer drink had been stolen. He also was wealthy. One day a big herd of cattle was driven through the village. Des said they belonged to our prisoner and his family were looking after them.
Molepolole 1960 - 1965
In September 1960 we were transferred from Werda to Molepolole, the capital village of the Bakwana Tribe.
What a difference it was, +/- 40,000 villagers plus an excellent Mission Hospital, plus six other Government families, plus an NRC Representative.
Our second and third children were born there. It was a comfort having two doctors, a Matron and four Sisters plus nurses. We had five years there, for which we were truly grateful.
Crime was much more interesting than Werda, as we had murders, ritual murders, assault GBH, assault common, stock theft, burglary, traffic accidents, and of course, poaching.
We used to attend Church services at the Scottish Livingstone Hospital. One of the villagers, a very dignified old man, had a suit made of mealie-meal bags. He was always so clean and smart.
We used to go to Livingstone’s house near Thamage. Only an engraved stone survives. There was also a nice kloof in Molepolole where we went for picnics.
The Mission Hospital had a 4X4 Ford truck. One day a staff member visited us. We know that she was a bad driver and when she was leaving we shut the children in the house and went outside to see her off. She took off, in reverse, at a speed. To our horror we saw that the children had escaped and were outside the gate. Our German Shepherd, Tembo, saved the day by holding Sally’s dress in his teeth and by pressing Kathleen and Chris back against the fence with his body! What a dog!
When the British Government realised in 1963 that the High Commission territories were ready to claim independence they abolished the post of Commissioner for the three territories and appointed Sir Peter Fawcus as Queen’s Commissioner, with the rank of Governor. He was now directly responsible to the Secretary of State for the colonies. Constitutional discussions were held with all interested parties and proposals were accepted that a Legislative Assembly should now be formed which would lead to semi-government and a ministerial form of government.
Dr Merriweather continued to be a nominated member of the Assembly. Sir Peter asked to speak to him about becoming Speaker, as he personally could no longer be President of the Assembly and that a Speaker be appointed. Dr Merriweather accepted and the following week Sir Peter and Lady Fawcus visited Molepolole where Sir Peter spent a whole day going through standing orders and Parliamentary procedures. It would have been impossible for Sir Peter to have discussed anything over the telephone as at that time we had a party line, with everyone listening in! Normally a Governor would not stay with a Junior District Commissioner, but time was short and the Prime Minister, Sir Seretse Khama had proposed that Dr Merriweather be appointed to the job.
In Molepolole, in addition to the Bakwena people, there were several families who were descendants of the ‘Dorstland Trek’ early in the 20th century. A large group of Boers from the Transvaal were unhappy with British rule and decided to trek, with their animals, across Bechuanaland to Angola, where they thought that they’d get farmland from the Portuguese. Unfortunately they only got as far as Molepolole, and stayed there waiting for the rains before going further. After the bulk of them had gone on, half a dozen families asked the Chief Sechele for permission to remain there.
When we got to Molepolole in 1960 we still had their descendants living in the kloof. They had divided into two clans, the Brills and the Jansens. They’d had a fall out about 50 years previously when one clan sold a defective donkey harness to the other, and it fell apart! Both sides were still sore about it and occasionally they’d be drunk on some home-brew and take pot-shots at each other. I’d duly lock the accused up till sober and take them to court for Breach of the Peace. On one occasion the Brills were in court and the Jansens gave evidence against them. The Brills were found guilty and fined 10/- (R1.00) by the District Commissioner, who knew that they had very little money. The Brills passed a hat round to collect the 10/- but came up short so they passed the hat round the Jansens who were the complainants. There was no ill-feeling about that. They were real hill-billies, with patched clothing and funny hats.
The Jansens had a red painted Model T Ford, which still went. One day I was going out to Letlakong on the one-way desert track when I notice the Ford coming towards me, about 50 metres away, so I swerved out of the road to let it go past. There was no driver or any passengers in it, but its wheels kept going in the deep sand track. I resumed my journey and saw some of the Jansens running along the track towards me. I stopped and they asked me if I’d seen their Ford. I told them where I’d seen it and asked what had happened. They explained that the car was having trouble getting up a hill about 5 miles back so they set the hand throttle and got out and pushed. The car got up the hill and kept on going. In fact it went on a few miles past where I’d seen it and then hit a flat hard stretch of track where it left the track and ran into a tree where it stalled. It wasn’t damaged, but the Jansens had a long walk!
On one occasion I was out on patrol right in the Kalahari, 200 miles west of Molepolole. Late in the afternoon we stopped for the night about one mile from a small settlement. I was accompanied by Tpr. Mpe, a most reliable old WW2 soldier.
We cooked our supper and had made up our camp beds. We were sitting talking when at 9 pm the headman from the local settlement came over and greeted us. He was speaking Tswana, which I understood. He stated that a lady had been shot in her kitchen and had died instantly. I spoke in English to Tpr. Mpe and told him to ask when this happened. He said it was at sunset - 6.30 pm. I said to the Tpr, how does he know - there is no telephone or radio! The headman just said, ‘We know these things!’ I had him repeat the details. I felt sure he was telling the truth so we packed our belongings back in the police truck and set off for Molepolole as fast as we could go on those tracks. We arrived at midnight and drove to my house where the lights were on. Jill came running out to meet me and told me what had happened. It was exactly what the headman had told me! How he knew, I do not know.
Molepolole village is surrounded by ironstone ‘koppies’ which attract lightning strikes every time there is a thunderstorm. It was so common that I made it a standing instruction to the police on duty that they should post a constable on the police station veranda to watch out for strikes and send a patrol van to render assistance and take the victims to hospital, or the mortuary, as death was very common.
On one occasion a hut in the Chief’s kraal, belonging to his senior wife, was struck and the thatched roof caught fire. I went up there with a couple of constables and on our arrival found that the Chief’s wives had put the fire out - with the traditional beer which was standing there in a 44-gallon drum. They may have saved the hut, but the Chief was very cross about the use of his beer!
Various traders tried from time to time to offer ‘bribes’ to the police to get a ‘blind eye turned’ to their various activities. It never worked, but they kept trying. Once they tied a goat to the back gate, so I checked the ‘brand’ and charged the owner with contravening the ‘pounds’ act.
The next time it was the fruit and vegetable man who came weekly to Molepolole with a various assortment of fruit and vegetables. He stopped outside the houses in the Government camp and Jill used to buy from him. She went into the house and discovered a pocket of oranges that she had not bought. She took it in the car, along with our German Shepherd, Tembo, and followed the trader’s truck. She told him that we didn’t take things that we hadn’t paid for! She was very cross and Tembo noticed that. The next week when he returned to trade, Jill had only selected a pumpkin, when Tembo came out and cocked his leg on the trader’s pants. Jill paid for the pumpkin and fled. Such was life in the Crown Service! You couldn’t let Her Majesty down!
Our manservant, George, had problems with axes for chopping the firewood for our stove, so I bought him a felling axe with a long handle. He tried it out and came to me to show me that the handle had broken. So I then bought a bigger axe that took a pick handle that was too strong to break. I was correct about that but he returned to show me a chip broken out of the axe blade!
Firewood was delivered to us, sometimes by ox wagon and sometimes on a sledge drawn by oxen. We’d buy the whole load and stack it behind the house where George used to cut it up. It was very hard wood that burned beautifully and was very hot with very little ash. When out on patrol we usually camped overnight and wood was plentiful. There were always dead trees to break branches off and we usually made a large fire, not just for warmth and cooking, but to keep wild animals away, as lions and hyenas like to visit us. We often built a ‘skerm’ consisting of thorn bushes round our camp site. We often saw lion spoor round the outside of the ‘skerm’ (Afrikaans for shelter).
We didn’t have electricity in Molepolole or any other station apart from Gaberones, so we used candles or paraffin lamps and also had a paraffin refrigerator. Paraffin could be bought in 44-gallon drums or 5-gallon tins.
In 1965 we left Molepolole to go to the UK for a 3-month holiday. At the time we owned two dogs, a German Shepherd and a Dachshund. We used to take them to the landing strip (a rough airfield for light planes). At the landing strip we used to hit a hard rubber ball with a hockey stick, and Tembo fetched it. He was very quick and loved the game.
When we went on leave we left the dogs with a friend, Ben Prinsloo, in Gaberones. Ben used to walk the dogs daily and decided to take them whilst he played golf. He was playing with my Divisional Commissioner, who was irascible anyway, so you can imagine his joy, after driving off with a beautiful shot, when Tembo shot off after it and retrieved it, dropping it at his feet. Fortunately he never found out who owned the dog!
Jill’s Mom used to come to Molepolole for holidays, by train from Johannesburg, arriving at about 11h30 pm. On one occasion the train was delayed by flooding near Lobatsi and only arrived in Gaberones at 4 am. Meanwhile I arrived to collect her at 11 pm so I had to wait in the station with the foreman who brewed strong coffee and served it in a large enamel mug - together with half a tin of condensed milk. You can forget about sleeping after that concoction!
We had, as one of District Commissioners, a likeable young man called Julian Tennant. He was an Oxford graduate with an MA degree. We got on very well with him, but we had to laugh at him on a couple of occasions. There was a certain local businessman who fancied himself as a bigshot who would only deal with the D.C. in person, which naturally irritated Julian, who tried to escape from the office when he saw the man’s LDV stop outside the office. On one occasion Julian ran down the stoep into my office and without a word climbed through my window and ran to the Residency which was about 30 yards away. Needless to say, the businessman came looking for him, but in vain.
On another occasion we were at home after work, having tea, when Julian came running in down the hall, bent double, to avoid being seen by the businessman who was looking for him.
One afternoon a local trader’s wife came to my office to complain that her husband neglected her and when she complained, he hit her. She then proceeded to try to show me where she’d been assaulted. I immediately called in Julian and told him the story. He was shocked and told her to get dressed and to speak to the head of the trader’s family to sort the matter out!
It was reported to me by Dr Alfred Merriweather, that there had been a man peering into the windows of the nurses’ home at the Scottish Livingstone Hospital the previous night. I called one of my troopers and asked him to investigate whilst I offered the Doctor a cup of coffee. Within 15 minutes my trooper returned and told me the name of the offender and where he was to be found. I told the Doctor of our findings and he was amazed that we had a result so quickly. He said, “You Police are amazing! I bet you know what I had for breakfast!’ The Trooper was listening and nodded to me. He left my office and I continued talking to the Doctor for a few minutes. As I saw him to his truck the trooper handed me a piece of paper. I looked at it and told the Doctor he’d had eggs and bacon with two slices of toast together with two cups of coffee for breakfast. He was amazed at our ability to find out facts about what was going on in Molepolole. We had very good policemen there.
In Molepolole we bought some hens, hoping that we’d get eggs from them. Alas, apart from the odd egg, we got nothing, so we bought eggs from our neighbour (a villager) who had a good supply always.
We realised that we had been buying our own eggs, as the neighbour slipped over the fence into the fowl run and collected our eggs! We put chicken wire across the top of the run and a padlock on the gate. After that we had eggs aplenty!
On one occasion I had to investigate a medicine murder case involving a child. I was away from home from 3 - 4 days searching all the possible huts and other places where the murderer could have hidden pieces of the child, eg. bones, pieces of flesh, heart, kidneys, eyes, etc.
I duly returned home and had the task of sorting it all out and labelling it to send to the Government Health Laboratories in Johannesburg. Jill was horrified to see the +/- 35 jars and bits and pieces spread over her kitchen table! They were taken to Johannesburg and returned later with a full lab report explaining what was what and which items were possibly human.
I called the witchdoctor (murderer) into my office where I had displayed all the exhibits and explained how the lab had identified everything. I then picked up the items one by one and told him what they were. I started with the ordinary items and then picked up the possible human items which I put down and said that I’d tell him later what they contained. After I’d done that three times, the witchdoctor yelled, ‘Stop! I’ll tell you all about it!’ He confessed and was convicted of murder.
Whilst at Molepolole allegations were made that someone in the tribal treasury was embezzling funds. I checked the books but was not satisfied so I got permission to call in a forensic auditor from Lobatsi. He was able to sort out the case and the accused duly went to prison.
Meanwhile the Government auditors came to check the Revenue Office at the District Administration. They came to me and asked me to check the books as they appeared to be correct but that they felt something was wrong. I went over the books and agreed that the figures were correct but the date was wrong. The forms for casual labour had been dated the 31st of the month and already ‘paid out’ but it was only the 26th of the month. When asked by me about this discrepancy the clerk concerned first denied it and then changed his mind and admitted to paying fictitious labour gangs for the past six months!
Sir Peter was actually in Molepolole to ask Dr Alfred Merriweather, the head of the Scottish Livingstone Hospital, to accept the post of Speaker. He initially demurred, saying how little he knew of parliamentary procedure, but when told that it was Seretsi Khama who’d suggested him for the job, he accepted. Sir Peter spent the day going through ‘standing orders’ and points of procedure. Poor Alfred had to study Erskine May’s ‘Parliamentary Procedure’. He became Speaker of the Legislative Council and later in March 1965 became * Speaker of the ‘National Assembly’.
(From: ‘ Desert Doctor’ by Alfred Merriweather. Page 90.)
Driving in Bechuanaland was often an adventure as we often had to be land-over-sand as at that time there were few roads.
One day about 200 miles from the nearest track I drove the Police Bedford 11/2 ton truck over an animal’s underground burrow and crashed down with the left side rear wheel in the burrow and the main leaf of the spring was snapped. I was accompanied by Trooper Mpe, a very experienced policeman. We had no radio to call for help but we had 44 gallons of water and sufficient food for a few days, but we had no meat. I had a ‘pot licence’ to shoot either a springbok or a wildebeest per week as there were no shops or butchers in the desert. Fortunately there was a small herd of wildebeest about 400 metres away, so I shot one and we dragged it across to the truck. We hoisted it up on a branch of a big thorn tree. I then asked Tpr. Mpe to skin the wildebeest in a long strip which we could use to bind the main blade together. I meantime took a shovel and started to dig the truck out, jacking it up and filling the burrow. I then took the rear wheel off and we bound the spring together with the skin. We made camp and stayed there for two days, giving the skin time to dry and strengthen. We then started for home, driving slowly and carefully.
One winter day I was driving in the Kalahari, land over sand, in the same police Bedford. It was bitterly cold and I was wearing battledress and an army greatcoat. I noticed that I was suddenly feeling hot and realised that grass had collected under the vehicle and caught fire from the exhaust pipe. I stopped and the trooper who was accompanying me assisted me in putting the fire out by throwing sand on it. Once it had cooled down we examined the damage and saw that the distributor and wires leading to it were damaged. Fortunately we had some tools, thick electric cables, a jar of grease and a big roll of cobblers’ twine. We bound the cracked distributor together, and made up new plug cables from the wire that we had. We put it all together and covered the distributor with electricians’ tape and lots of grease. The truck started and hiccupped a bit, but we managed to get back to Molepolole.
We had a ‘night soil’ (contents of bucket latrines) ox-drawn cart which picked up the contents of the buckets twice per week. It was drawn by six very large oxen. One day they came to the attention of the local chief and he approached the District Commissioner and offered him twelve young oxen in exchange for the six big ones. This was duly arranged and all went well till the Government auditors came on their annual inspection. They noted the change in numbers and asked the D.C. about why there were now double the oxen. The D.C. replied that it was ‘natural increase’! To our amusement the auditors accepted his explanation.
This was not the end of trouble with the young oxen, as on one occasion they bolted at full gallop, spilling the contents around the village.
I was transferred from being Police Station Commander, as a Police Inspector at Molepolole to Gaberones as a Platoon Commander with the rank of Assistant Superintendent (Lieutenant) in the General Service Unit. This unit was basically a military unit, organised in 3 platoons of 30 NCOs and men, each under a Platoon Commander and under the overall command of a Company Commander (Major). The military instructors were seconded from the British Army and mainly Guards Warrant Officers and senior NCOs from the Irish guards.
The GSU spent most of their time on training - drill, PT, weapon training or on live fire exercises in the Kalahari, as well as routine security and guard duties. The guard was changed daily at 18h00 with the ‘colours’ ceremony being performed. We also had to change guards at Government House (the Governor’s residence). We did ceremonial guards.
Members of the guard were also trained in riot control, and also assisted the Police when extra men were required. Sometimes special operations were necessary. There was also the Police Bugle Band.
After Independence most members of the GSU were absorbed in the Botswana Defence Force.
Social life was different in Gaberones as there were so many more Colonial Officers and their families. We had the Gaberones sports club where we could play tennis, swim, or watch films.
We lived in a large square fenced camp. The Commissioned Officers lived in houses at the south end of the camp and the NCOs and men at the north end. The houses were nice but tended to crack badly as they were built on black clay which cracked one way in winter and another way in summer. Our house was struck by lightning one night and caught fire in the garage. We heard the noise and ran to check if the children were okay. They were, but we smelt smoke and ran to the garage where my brand new Valiant Station Wagon was. We got it out and then had to get the duty electrician to cut the electric connection to the house so that the fire could be extinguished.
Quite close to the GSU camp was the new Gaberones prison. This was where the executions were carried out, as they still had the death sentence.
Gaberones was only built as a Government HQ town during the early 1960s. First they built the large Notwane dam, which filled up quite quickly. Before that there was only borehole water. To get sufficient water pressure they built a tall tower, nicknamed ‘The Onion’.
They laid out a good network of roads and did not cut down all the trees, but left enough big ones to ensure that most government houses had a shade tree in their garden.
Jill used to play badminton some evenings in a church hall. Some of the players were British High Commission Staff.
There was a ‘’Border Pass’ system initiated to save using passports at the SA border, it was for regular travellers and was quite convenient.
The B.P. Police was actually a part of the British Army and as such was under the command of the General Officer Commanding ‘Middle East Command’. This post was shared between the Royal Navy, the Royal Airforce and the British Army, with command rotating. One year the GoC would be a General, next year an Admiral, and the following year a Marshal of the RAF.
At the GSU we had to hold a ceremonial parade, followed by a visit to the Governor, followed by a drink at the Officers’ mess. One year the GoC was an Admiral and when speaking to him in the Mess, he told me he felt strange, as an Admiral, to be inspecting the Camel Corps!
We always had, in addition to our Commissioner of Police, a British Army Colonel or two, mostly involved with Intelligence, besides the instructors seconded from the Guards.
A New Capital of Gaberones
In 1963 the Queen’s Commissioner ordered the construction of the Notwane Dam, despite hesitation on the part of the UK Treasury to fund it. It was the first step necessary for the new town. It was to be built in just a year. The farmer on whose land the dam was to be built was sceptical that the Notwane River would fill it, but it did, to overflowing and on time. The town was built, the Govt offices, the Legislative Assembly, the power station and water laid on as hoped.
All large suitable acacias and bush willows were marked with white rings (in paint) to prevent their destruction by the builders, thus providing shade for residents and in public areas.
In 1965 the Selebi-Phikwe copper/nickel mine had been identified, but not yet evaluated. The existence of diamond pipes at Orapa was known and large sources of coal at Serule had been proved by the geological survey. There was also known to be salt and soda ash in payable quantities in the Makgadigadi pans.
In 1965 it was realised that there was a need for a civil defence structure in the Protectorate as there was not even ambulance or fire service in the country. Accordingly it was decided that the best way to implement such a service was to add it on to Police duties.
I was notified that I was to be a civil defence officer and given a manual about the duties required. I was at that time in the Police Mobile Unit. In addition a fire engine was purchased and based at the PMU. I was also put in charge of it and commenced training PMU members in fire-fighting techniques.
This was the first local fire service in Bechuanaland. The other fire engine was based at Gaberones Airport, under the control of the Airport Manager. Princess Marina Hospital, a lovely new hospital in Gaberones, had its own ambulances, which were under their control.
Before Independence the local population used to call on the local police station to assist when an ambulance or transport to a clinic was required.
Preparations for Independence
In February 1965 the Headquarters of the Bechuanaland Protectorate was transferred from Mafeking in South Africa to Gaberones village. In March 1965 a general election was held inaugurating self-government. The result was an overwhelming victory for the Bechuanaland Democratic Party led by Mr Seretse Khama, who became the country’s first Prime Minister.
In February 1966 an Independence Constitutional Conference was held in London. It was agreed that Bechuanaland would become The Independent Republic of Botswana. Knighted by the Queen, Sir Seretse Khama was installed as the country’s first President. It was announced that H.R.H Princess Marina, the Duchess of Kent, would represent Her Majesty the Queen at the Independence Ceremony.
The need to arrange an appropriate ceremony was realised in 1965 and the Police was enlarged mainly in what was called the ‘General Service Unit’ (which was later change to ‘Police Mobile Unit’). This consisted of a military company comprising 3 platoons of 30 men each, plus all the necessary support staff, besides the Police Band. This was a bugle and drum band, which was well trained and used on all ceremonial occasions. The buglers were used to make the daily calls in the GSU camp, starting with reveille (to wake them up, going on with ‘come to the cookhouse door, the fall in, lunchtime call and an after lunch ‘fall in’. Any ‘alarm’ or ‘fire’ calls were sounded as needed and the bugler was present at the daily colours when the flag was lowered at sunset under the command of the Officer of the Day. ‘Last Post’ was sounded at 22h00 (10 pm), meaning ‘lights out’. The duty bugler was part of the daily guard stationed at the main gate of the camp.
We had, attached to the ‘GSU’, several British Army warrant officers and senior non-commissioned officers to assist in training ‘GSU’ members and turning them into competent soldiers. This they did very successfully.
With the Independence Day approaching it became necessary for the guard of honour to be extremely smartly turned out and for the foot drill to be immaculate. It was, courtesy of the guardsmen! We spent about 4 hours per day rehearsing this procedure, in slow time and quick time, with ongoing comments from the Guards like ‘Keep your sword up sir!’
Our uniforms were standard British Army tunics and shorts, so stiffly starched that you stepped into them as they stood up on their own. To complete the outfit we had a service cap, a Sam Browne belt and a sword in its scabbard. We wore long putties with white gaiters and brown boots. Everything turned out well on the day, so it was worth the effort.
After Independence we still had ceremonial guards of honour when the President left the country, as well as for visiting heads of state.
After two years in the ‘GSU’, now the ‘PMU’, I was sent as a relief Officer Commanding to No. 6 Police District at Ghanzi. We were there for 4 months, after which I returned to Gaberone (the new spelling) to take command of the ‘PMU’ as Company Commander. I remained with the ‘PMU’ till September 1968 and left on transfer to Serowe as Officer Commanding No.2 Police District, which included most of the country’s diamond and copper mines.
Gaberones September 1965
After our 3-month ‘home leave’ we were transferred to Gaberones, with Des’ duties changed over to military duties, in the Police Mobile Unit, bringing changes to our whole lifestyle - life in a military camp controlled by bugle calls, exercises, bands and parades, in readiness for Independence Day.
For the children it meant other children to play with, school, a few shops, electricity and a lifestyle we took for granted before Bechuanaland. Sally, our eldest daughter, found it difficult at first adapting to a roomful of children being taught by one teacher (after being home-schooled) and surrounded by so many children. She started at Thornhill Primary School and Kathleen at the nursery school held there run by two of our friends, Pat Strong and Fev Dawson. I was busy organising play dates, ballet lessons, semi-precious stones (that were found in Botswana) lessons and ‘Sunbeams’ (Brownies), and whatever was going to help them adapt to our new lifestyle.
Christopher was only about 18 months old at the time of our move and still very frail and recovering from his critical illness at birth, and was happy watching all the activities on the parade ground in front of our house, and riding on his new tricycle, a large heavy one to strengthen and straighten his legs.
The PMU was a very new unit formed with Independence in mind, with houses for constables and sergeants, then a large parade ground, officers’ houses, surrounded by a high fence and entrance gate manned by sentries and surrounded by thick bush.
We had a nice brand new home and fenced off a piece of ground, which with the aid of prisoners from the nearby jail, we turned into a pretty garden. ‘Heavy furniture’ was always supplied, so that was brand new too - and even the ‘electric’ stove, and of course, lights that could be easily be switched on and off.
Before 1964 Gaberones had been a little ‘dorp’ but with Independence looming, all the HQ staff that had been stationed in Mafeking (the only country in the world that had its government seat in a foreign country) were moved up to Gaberones. We had watched the building of many houses - the President’s house, the Houses of Parliament, tarred roads, large dam (Notwani on the Notwani River), shops and a hotel, to say nothing of a tarred airstrip and small airways building. Schools, both Primary and then the High School. Apart from the Government folk, moved up from Mafeking, many staff sent from the UK made up the growing population.
My life changed a great deal too, dinner parties, tea parties - my wardrobe had to change too. Granny (my Mother) was a wonderful seamstress and kept me supplied with the necessary dresses. I also needed high heels now, totally impractical in loose sand. With Des becoming ADC to the Queen’s Commissioner (Governor) there were many functions to attend at Government House, and life changed considerably, from isolation to formal parties!
Our house was built on clay ground, so depending on whether it was wet or dry season, the solid concrete foundation it stood on, cracked walls were the order of the day.
Moving into a brand new house meant starting a garden from scratch. We ordered two sacks of grass roots to be sent down from Johannesburg. Des sent a gang of prisoners from the local jail to plant the roots, with our faithful Tembo and Brock watching over this procedure. As the men had never seen anyone doing such a strange thing, this was totally foreign to them - planting corn and sorghum seeds was normally women’s work. After dashing out six times to rescue clumps of roots planted upside down, just before I went out again I heard a shout from one of the prisoners - Tembo had nipped him on his bottom. Grass planting proceeded correctly in neat lines, right way up and one piece at a time.
As well as new friends we had old friends there too; relaxed suppers; Des played tennis on Saturday afternoons at the old Gabs Club whilst the children and I would enjoy a much bigger swimming pool than we had in Molepolole.
We had a library, occasional supper at the Hotel, film evening at the Club - all things for the first time in our married life, to say nothing of a bakery, butchery, shops and water in the taps and of course electricity! And a dial telephone - Molepolole phone was a ‘nommer asseblief’.
Des was very busy indeed with Independence Day (30 September 1966) looming, and a Royal visitor - Princess Marina - for the handover. Two Irish Guard Warrant Officers had arrived and drilling and marching to obtain excellence, much of which took place on the parade ground in front of our house, together with the Police Band. Looking back, our life seemed to be a confusion of events, parades, dinner parties, cocktail parties. Des, being ADC to the governor, meant we attended them all. Having lived in the Kalahari for several years and no people, I found this a trial!
Being a brand new town there was still building going on, including the building of the new church (Anglican, Methodist and Congregational) and of course, fund raising. There was a shortage of barber shops, the nearest one being in Mafeking, and as I had been cutting Des’ hair since Tshabong days, I started men’s haircuts (only short back and sides) on Saturday mornings, 50 cents for men and 20 cents for children, which paid for bricks. Some even had our names on in chalk.
Kathleen and Sally started at Thornhill Primary School, newly opened with the building of the town of Gaberones. In January 1966 Dr and Mrs Merriweather asked if their daughter could stay with us whilst attending school from Monday to Friday. Molepolole was a good hour’s journey away with bad roads and sometimes after heavy rain, swollen rivers to cross. The other children (Mission station, government village and NRC had all left and poor Joy was very lonely on her own and was too young to be sent to Pretoria, where she later was sent to boarding school). This must have been quite a shock for her - being the oldest of four after being an only child, but she settled down well. She was 18 months older and shared a room with Sally, our eldest, and our two younger ones shared, leaving a spare bed on the sunroom for visitors.
Amongst her classmates was Seretse Khama’s eldest son. Birthday parties were quite hectic with children of all ages attending, as we were covering Grade 1 to Std 4. Christopher’s parties were for the very young. Todd played his part with giving pony rides.
Then there was so much for the children to watch as the parade ground was constantly busy with the band playing, the PMU unit always being trained - slow march, quick march, firefighting training, and of course, bugles played at 6 am, 7 am, 9 am, 1 pm, 2 pm, 6 pm and 10 pm (last post - lights out), the latter at least the children slept through. All this with Independence Day drawing near - 1st October 1966 and Princess Marina’s visit. Delightful for children and visitors to watch, but tiring for Des.
I was running out of different dresses for all the parties but learnt to swap and borrow from friends. Just my big feet were a problem. One evening cocktail party I remember, the lights went out for about an hour, and when they came on the ladies had to scramble around to find their discarded shoes.
Great excitement over Sir Seretse Khama’s election results and his move into Government House with his family (wife, daughter away at boarding school in Swaziland, and three sons.) Many cocktail parties with visiting VIPs. The dress situation was getting desperate - please Mum, can you help me! Seretse was a delightful man with a great sense of humour.
A trader, who later became an M.P., always referred to him as the n..... in the woodpile. One day he phoned Seretse and asked him what he was going to call his home. Seretse immediately replied ‘Woodpile’! We got to know him quite well - his own private small home was in Serowe, the village of his tribe where his family had lived and when we were stationed later in Serowe, we saw him every month.
We had visited Zeerust several times, shopping, hairdresser, an excellent dentist, and had spent time looking at the convent boarding school, realising it would be needed one day (maybe). The dentist, Dr Blignaut, picked up Kathleen’s problem that two Johannesburg dentists had missed, and for many months he was visited every six weeks for treatment. Some of her second teeth were missing totally, due to my illness during pregnancy. Over the years all the family were his patients. We learnt that his previous qualification was as a mining engineer, and held the world record for shaft sinking. When he moved to Pretoria in later years, we followed him there too, much to friends’ amusement, but our children today can be very thankful to him and his skill.
The school in Zeerust was small and unsophisticated, suitable for young children still adapting to roads, cars, electricity and crowds of people. High Schools were meanwhile booked in Johannesburg and Pretoria - for several years ahead. As we were being transferred every few years, this school look-ahead was for if and when needed.
After my spell of very minor car repairs, I started making batiks and a few drawings. The Deputy Police Commissioner, Albert Clark, had asked me to design a new cap badge for the Botswana Police, (the previous one being the Royal Coat of Arms) with a lion’s head surrounded by a wreath, crossed spears and name badge underneath ‘Botswana Police’.
The great day arrived and we were all at the airport to see Princess Marina arrive. The Police Band and the PMU police formed a Guard of Honour. They were immaculate both in dress and action. I think Des would make a better job describing it. I did take photos amongst the many official ones. Joy and our children were seated on the stands which were lining the airfield.
Lady Reese was the wife of the Governor of Somalia. Julian Tennant, our previous D.C. in Molepolole, was now D.C. in Serowe and Lady Reese was now his mother-in-law. As Julian was unable to come down to Gaberones he asked if she could stay with us for a few days. What a delightful person - just sorry we couldn’t see more of her. She wrote a book of her experiences in Somalia called ‘To My Wife 50 Camels’. She was quite happy with a bed on the breezeway, as the bedrooms were full. We had her book, but sadly no longer; it was delightful.
Between riding Todd every day and running after four children, all coming out of school at different times, parties (as Des and I both had fathers who had a problem with drink after World War 1 and their dreadful experiences so it was water, tomato juice, orange juice etc, but no headaches), and of course seeing friends. I forgot to add checking homework, and one child always forgot to bring school books home.
Just after the elections in ’66, there was the opening of Parliament - a great day! Alfred Merriweather, who was the Speaker of the House, and his wife stayed the night before the opening. Their daughter, Joy, was staying with us from Mondays to Fridays to attend school. Win would pick her up after school on Friday and return her to school on Monday morning. She was 18 months older than Sally. At this time we managed to buy a small car to facilitate the school runs, now with four children to ferry to school. Joy stayed with us until we went on long leave in 1968, and then on transfer to Serowe.
Christopher had his first taste of nursery school, or rather playschool, which one of our friends started (in the ‘new’ Gaberones) about the time of Independence. Both of us were upset at the parting for a few hours. I managed to reverse into my friend’s husband’s car, my first and only occasion of denting our car. I had only crumpled a small portion of the back of our car - no damage to the other car, but I arrived home very shocked and in tears. (That is how I started on making batiks - wall hangings and lampshades for a newly opened craft shop in Gaberones Mall, which I continued for several years. This was my penance.) Des was more worried about my tears and between trying to calm me down (a minor dent), and laughter, he returned to the parade ground - full dress uniform and all, even a sword!
1967 - Our spell of three months ‘home leave’ was due. Apart from visiting family, my Aunts had rented a cottage in a small coastal village in Cornwall. Thornhill School had provided me with the necessary workbooks to keep Sally up to date. Just before we left Des was told to go to Ghanzi on temporary transfer to relieve the Officer Commanding there, who was due for his three months leave.
On our return from holiday we packed what we needed for a three-month stay in Ghanzi. The rest was packed to leave in a locked room to allow the builders in to repair the badly cracked walls. Des was provided with a new Jeep truck, the back of which had the usual police wire cage with a door. This held a few essentials apart from a 44-gallon drum of petrol and another 44-gallon drum of water, lashed so that they wouldn’t move. The rest of the back was packed with a mattress and pillows, where the children would be comfortable and safe, together with the driver, our dogs and cats and our faithful maid who would keep an eye on the children on the rough roads.
We left Gaberones, spent one night en-route with the Station Commander and his family in Kanye before setting off early the next day for a long hot drive to Ghanzi, about 300 miles north-west on the cattle trek road, right across the Kalahari. On our arrival we were greeted by the District Commissioner and his wife (Simon and Alice Gillet) and their two little girls, who provided much appreciated refreshments, followed by supper later on.
The house was an old one with a large mosquito-proof veranda, surrounded by a lawn and shady trees. There was a young bullock (tolly) grazing on the lawn, who was an exhibit in a pending court case. Fortunately Bully, as we called him, wasn’t intimidated by our two dogs, who accepted him quite happily. Bully was introduced as our grass-cutter, and very welcome as our lawn mower had been left behind in Gaberones.
There was a large dining room, two bedrooms and spare beds on the stoep, pantry and bathroom. The donkey boiler was a separate construction of a 44-gallon drum on its side with fire underneath, and the kitchen was outside. The house was much different - much cooler in summer, with water and wood stove heated outside - as we were only there on a 3-month assignment in the middle of summer, but it probably had a fireplace in the lounge for colder days.
The Government camp consisted of office block, radio room, courtroom, District Commissioner’s office, police station, vet and stock inspector’s office. Outside the camp there was a Hotel, with a busy pub (run by Jan Dry), a big trading store which was well-stocked and served the Government folks and the large farming community. Included in the Government camp were houses. On the outskirts of the Southern end of the camp there was a small bushman settlement. On the western side there was a borehole with a windmill pump and a tap for buckets, a trough for goats and a large clump of cactus where the feral cats lived. We later lost a cat to this community. She preferred the ‘wild’ life to domesticity. Though we tried hard to persuade her to come home (the cactus was impenetrable to humans), we sadly left her there.
Alice and Simon were good neighbours. Their two girls, Louisa and Lanta were good friends with our children. Alice loved horses (I hadn’t ridden for years) so we rode together. We bought Todd from her - quite amazing - he had been used to rounding up cattle - and he settled down at my quieter pace and domesticity, joining Bully and Sheppy in the job of lawn-cutting and fertilising. Both joined in afternoon teas and lunches in the garden. Gone were the niceties of sugar bowl and plate of biscuits, to tins with lids and the evening tankards of beer. We spent a lot of time in the garden with its shady trees, dogs and cats, and Bully and Todd. Alice and I rode most mornings before the heat of the day. Late afternoon the children rode Todd bareback around the garden. When he had had enough he walked under a convenient low branch, enough to scrape the child off and leave hanging in a tree and shouting to be rescued.
Sheppy, a local-bred farm sheep, owned by both the Gilletts and us, was grazing on our lawn to fatten up. Needless to say he became a great pet. He loved Des’ home-brewed beer and having drunk most of Des’, joined in a ‘follow-my-leader’ game the children were playing - Sheppy on his back legs, dancing round the lawn.
School holidays - great excitement - Granny (my Mother) was arriving for the school holidays, BNA Dakota to Gaberones, changing to a small Beechcraft Baron to Ghanzi - the latter a weekly flight with a bank official and sometimes a businessman and, of course, post. My mother was an incredible lady - very adventurous. I think she found a small plane trip far more challenging than a post bus along Kalahari roads from Mafeking to Bray. Fortunately there were only two passengers, so there was room for all the presents she had brought with her. Of course there were new dresses for the girls and shorts and shirts for Christopher, to say nothing of books, toys, and fresh fruit and vegetables. She of course was used to our dogs and cats, but soon was feeding the other animals their favourite titbits.
Just before Christmas our friends, Fev and Frank Dawson, arrived with their two girls by landrover. Frank was a teacher at the new Gaberones High School and Fev busied herself at the Nursery School attached to the Thornhill Primary School.
The large mosquito-proofed stoep came in very handy, accommodating everyone, and Mary, our long-time maid coped wonderfully with us all. Alice lent her horse to Frank and he and Des would go out riding in the surrounding country. There were also social visits to a farmer and his family (the only English speaker) who we had become friendly with.
Sheppy disapproved of Fev having and afternoon nap in the shady garden, where she would erect her camp bed, complete with colourful floral cushion. First he grabbed her cushion and ran away with it - when that undeterred Fev, he ran and put his head under the camp bed and tipped her off, causing those sitting on the veranda much mirth (which Fev joined in).
Sheppy and Todd became very much part of the family, Todd poking his head through the wide kitchen window, hoping to catch freshly baked bread cooling. Sheppy, if the screen door was slightly opened, would come in and walk round the house. Late evening on Christmas Day, Mom and I and Fev were sitting on the steep steps whilst the men made the tea. Sheppy came along and Fev decided to run around the garden to stretch her legs, followed by Sheppy at a run, two or three times round a large house and garden, until at last Fev joined Mom and me on the steps, all helpless with laughter.
One of the local farmers, Dick Eaton, was planning to trek a herd of cattle through the Kalahari to Lobatsi abattoir. Alice asked me if I would join in - it would take about two weeks or so. Des agreed nobly to take on the children. What an adventure. I was very excited about the thought and could always hitch a ride on the tractor/trailer when I was too tired to ride. Sadly, foot and mouth broke out so there was no movement of cloven-hoofed animals allowed. We had planned to take Sheppy with us on the 5-ton truck with our luggage. He had become such a pet. Sadly that didn’t happen either.
Our time in Ghanzi was coming to an end. Our 5-ton truck arrived, empty apart from fuel and water, and as we were busy loading, or rather supervising it, Des heard over the radio that he had to stay on another ten days. His replacement had been delayed. As it was it meant Kathleen, who was starting school for the first time, and Sally to return in time. The truck had to return to Gaberones, with our clothes, pots and pans and our faithful maid who had followed us around for years, dogs and cats, and of course all the necessary household stuff we had taken. If we had stayed on in the hotel with just enough clothing, the girls missing starting a new year at school caused a bit of a problem. (But after all this time were getting used to that.)
Problem solved! My Mother was due to fly back to Johannesburg via Gaberones, and would be leaving on the small fortnightly small plane bringing bank officials and any odd passengers. Des radioed his CO in Gaberones for permission for Sally, Kathleen, Christopher and myself to fly back to Gaberones.
As we had only been stationed in Ghanzi for three months whilst the previous incumbent was on long leave we had only packed the necessary into tea chests - no suitcases. Our house was to have major repair works on the cracked walls, so everything in the cracked rooms had been piled up in unaffected rooms.
Permission granted. The truck piled high, had left for the two-day trip back. With a borrowed suitcase holding a change of clothes, we said a sad farewell to Ghanzi and Sheppy. (Todd was to follow later in one of Dick Eaton’s vehicles) and set off for the landing strip. The little plane, a Beechcraft Baron, had three passenger seats. The pilot agreed to take us - my Mother, three children and myself, plus two bank clerks. I had to part company with a small suitcase borrowed from Alice with a few (very few) necessities, so removed our toothbrushes which I clutched like a bunch of flowers. The children climbed up on a wing and through a small opening - luggage space squeezed in. No seats. Oh dear, what a long journey. It felt much longer than two hours. Mum and I shared two seats with the bank clerk, taking turns to sit upright or sit normally with backs resting against a seat. The pilot and one bank clerk were in the front. Very relieved the children weren’t carrying full water bottles!
On arrival in Gaberones I think my Mother must have been pleased to see Botswana Airways Dakota ready to leave for Johannesburg. It must have been a very quiet restful trip after the previous two hours. (So much peace and quiet after Ghanzi, but missed the family greatly.)
Prior to Independence in 1966 there was a drought for several years that was so bad that Oxfam were called upon to assist with feeding the local population. Oxfam officials duly arrived to assess the situation, but Nature, being contrary had changed the weather to heavy rain and extensive flooding. Well, the result was the same; people needed food which was duly supplied. My policemen were tasked with distributing the food to outlying villages. The food supply consisted of yellow maize meal, 5-gallon tins of dried milk (Swiss) and 1lb packets of sweet cheese (also Swiss). This was distributed for the first week and we agreed to resupply the villages during the next week. Upon our arrival the villagers were very truculent and insisted on returning the food from the previous week, with the following explanation:
a) This is yellow maize meal - we don’t eat it as we are not cattle and this is cattle food!
b) The soap powder is useless and doesn’t lather! (This was the 5-gallon tin of dried milk.)
c) The cakes of toilet soap are also useless! (These were the packets of Swiss cheese.)
We had to take it all back and the BP Government sold the yellow maize meal to farmers in the Transvaal and bought white maize which was accepted by the villagers. They’d rather starve than eat anything else!
As a result of the flooding, roads, bridges and the railway lines were unusable.
Unfortunately Seretse Khama, who was in Serowe at the time, had to go to London for important talks about Independence at that time. He had to get from Gaberones from Serowe and from there by car to Johannesburg and by air to London. It was a crazy journey, by stages car, train, dinghy, railway gangers’ truck (hand-pumped trolley along railway line) from Mochudi to Gaberones, and car to Johannesburg airport. Hardly a trip for a future President to undertake, but he was always unassuming and approachable.
On one occasion, somebody looking for Dave Black, the controller of stores, dialled 1204 instead of 1402 and got Seretse on the line instead. He said to Seretse, ‘Are you black?’ to which Seretse replied, ‘well, the face is, but the name isn’t.’ He saw the humour in it and didn’t get cross.
Whilst Des was in Gaberones in 1958 his police truck was in the workshop for service so they lent him and old Ford 11/2 ton truck. It was mechanically sound but had no floor mats, exposing all sorts of gaps in the floor plates.
Hugh came across to the Police Station one afternoon and told Des that his truck too was in for repair but that he needed to get to Notwane urgently to arrest somebody. He asked Des to take him and they set off down the road to Notwane. As they came round a fairly sharp bend they saw a very large cobra rearing up, hood spread, in the road in front of them. They went over the cobra and a few minutes later noticed, to their dismay, that the cobra was crawling into the car beneath their feet. Des stopped immediately and they then had to remove it, which took some time!
Des had previously been stationed in Gaberones back in 1957/58. He had shared a house with Hugh Southwood, a detective stationed in the Criminal Record Bureau in Gaberones. The house was old and in need of repair but good enough for two single men. It was a ‘halfway house’, reputedly used by Cecil John Rhodes when visiting Rhodesia.
In 1967 Des returned to Gaberones as Acting Quartermaster. He was approached by the PWD roads dept., who were making a new road near the old house Rhodes used and they had struck a problem. The bulldozer had struck something substantial and the engineers had examined it and excavated a square armoury/magazine of obviously Boer War vintage. It was in perfect condition and had a very solid door with a large brass padlock. Des cut the padlock off and entered the armoury to find, in perfect condition and bone dry - 10,000 rounds of ‘45’ calibre revolver ammunition plus six .45 revolvers and six beautiful Verey pistols to fire flares. Des reported the find to Police HQ and was told to take the revolvers on charge, the Verey pistols to go to the museum and the ammunition to be destroyed. It was in very good condition, packed in wooden crates. It was eventually destroyed by using it for target practice.
Also in 1967 Des and another officer, Inspector Tony Caldwell, were on motor cycle patrol at Gaberones railway station. It was about midday so they stopped and sat under a large shady tree and watched what was going on. They looked across the railway tracks and saw a young Tswana man digging out an old palm tree. As they watched he took a skin bag out from under the tree roots and then crossed the tracks and went into the station general dealer’s shop. He came out of the shop very upset and went over and told Des that the Greek (the owner of the store) had told him that he didn’t accept the old pennies (the currency had changed to rands and cents in 1960). He said that he was hungry and asked Des for 20 cents which Des gave him. The young man then handed over the skin bag to Des - the bag containing the pennies, as the Greek thought it was. Des checked the contents and found to his amazement that it was not pennies, but contained a total of 300 gold Kruger sovereigns and 50 half sovereigns! Worth a fortune today. Des took the young man’s particulars and he was subsequently rewarded by the Government. The sovereigns were handed into the Treasury. The actual bag was the Rhodesia Railways Station Master’s cash. The station was attacked by the Boers and the Station Master buried the cash under a (then) small palm tree. He was killed and the cash was never discovered until that year of 1967.
January 1968 to September 1968
With two girls in school, our luggage arrived on the big truck, and ten days later Des arrived back home. Christopher started at a play school, and our Chrysler Valiant car arrived - which we needed desperately as we were five miles from school and town in the PMU. *See schools notes. Joy, too, stayed with us until we went on long leave before our transfer to Serowe.
It was a very busy time for me. We couldn’t really start unpacking until the house repairs had been finished - lounge, dining room and kitchen - but at least we had more clothes now that the luggage had arrived from Ghanzi. There was a wooden structure made of poles to accommodate Todd who would arrive by truck, thanks to our farmer friend, Dick Eaton. Alas, it had been this way - Alice Gillet and I had planned to ride from Ghanzi on the cattle drive, but thanks to foot-and-mouth breaking out, we were unable to do the ride of about two weeks. During the day Todd could graze in the PMU camp, being brought in the late afternoon to his small kraal. I rode every morning after taking the children to school.
Todd was used to herding cattle and loved nothing better than a gallop. He was quite a handful. Friends were welcome to borrow him but he usually arrived home in a lather and riderless. (They were usually only bruised but one we had to take to hospital for a fractured arm). The gate guards knew if they heard a galloping horse drawing near, to open the boom gate. Once it nearly happened to me after a young stallion with sharp teeth, and ready to use them, confronted us. I think I must have had the fastest time through Gaberones village - I discovered his jumping abilities. Fortunately I managed to rein him in before the boom gate hove in sight.
Fortunately our two lovely women who had worked for us in Molepolole followed us. We had one at a time, in between having their babies, but both went with us to Serowe, babies too, for their first two years and fully vaccinated for measles. Measles was a big killer then for young babies and children.
The children were happy and busy at school, Christopher moving up to a nursery school from play school. Friends in afternoons were much encouraged after the earlier days of few children around. Christmas holidays were spent mainly in the Drakensberg, with my Mother joining us. She was a wonderful seamstress and spoilt us - my sewing was basic, though I did make school uniforms for Thornhill School, before shops in the earlier days. I made dresses and knickers, (the latter only made after watching them doing handstands) using newspapers as patterns.
Todd loved the police band (so did we all) and followed them around. One day we saw him ‘marching’ behind them, head held high, tail up, thoroughly enjoying himself, until the band countermarched and he came face to face with the drum major. Todd was obviously embarrassed and he hastily found a nearby small tree to ‘investigate’.
We had friends living seven miles away and we rode out to visit them. The house was isolated and it meant crossing the main (and only) rail line, and around the base of a rocky koppie about 100 metres high. At one stage Todd was uneasy and not satisfied with my pace of trot or canter. I had previously confirmed the train times. On our return journey, once again he played up and wanted to gallop as we passed the koppie. Only on my return was I told that a leopard had killed a small buck about half way up the koppie, not far from the track and Todd had obviously smelt and sensed this. If I had known beforehand, I probably would have agreed with him and galloped.
Police Vehicles Tested
A 12-cylinder Land Rover, with the engine used in the British Police Highway cars, was given to me to test and proved to be completely over-powered for use in sandy conditions as it dug itself in if you accelerated as you would in a normal Land Rover.
I was given a Jeep Wagoneer to take to Ghanzi to test in desert conditions. It was comfortable and handled well and I recommended it for police use.
I was also given a 4wd Ford LDV and drove it up to Gaberones from Port Elizabeth. It seemed to be fine but started leaking oil from the front hubs. Upon checking, it was found to be lacking the 4wd components!
When I collected 2 Bedford 5-ton prison vans from Port Elizabeth, I drove one up to Mount Road SAP Police station to collect my drivers. On arrival at Mount Road the engine was very hot so I let it cool down and was able to free-wheel downhill to the dealers. I told them to check it, so they did, and found that the bottom hole on the radiator had been taped shut. After removing the tape the truck was fine, so I told the dealer to check the other one in case it was the same. At first he refused and said it was highly unlikely. I told him to sign the delivery note stating that he was not willing to check it. He then agreed to check and found that the second truck was the same.
The same dealers had fitted a bumper on a 11/2 ton Bedford in such a poor way that it fell off. Another Bedford driver’s door had no hinges. They don’t check anything at all, especially if it’s a government order!
Fetching Police Vehicles
I used to be sent down from Gaberones to fetch convoys of Police vehicles ordered from the factories at cost price. The factories for Fords and Bedfords were in Port Elizabeth. We drove down in a Police vehicle but on one occasion I had to take the train to Port Elizabeth, with 2 drivers, and we duly caught the Rhodesia Mail at Gaberones. I had to share a compartment with a charming man who told me that he was a Railways Engineer. It was midnight when we got on the train. About two hours later we were woken by the sudden braking of the train, plus shunting and a lot of shouting and people running down the passage. I opened the door and saw a man in long pants and a vest passing our compartment. I asked him what was wrong, so he told me that he was the chief steward and that the dining saloon was on fire just ahead of our coach. They were uncoupling it to save the rest of the train. They let it burn out. We were taken by Railway Bus to join a train at Kimberly, and we completed our journey safely.
On the 14th August 1968 a light plane with three passengers and a pilot departed from Potchefstroom in the Transvaal en-route to go hunting in Ghanzi. They left Mafeking after they had filed a flight plan stating their intention to fly to Ghanzi where they were to meet another man, who had a truck with enough supplies for the party for a month,
They never arrived at Ghanzi and after giving up hope, the alarm was raised on Sunday 18th. Police Headquarters in Gaborone was notified and South African Airforce Dakotas were despatched to overfly the area.
At 4 am on the Monday morning I was awakened by a telephone call from the acting Commissioner of Police, Capt. A.D. Clark, and instructed to arrange a ground base in the area where the plane was suspected to have crashed. This included helicopter fuel and food and supplies as well as tents.
To get the helicopter fuel I had to drive to the fuel depot where the fuel (paraffin) was stored. I took a tanker with a trailer tank back to Gaborone and filled 44-gallon drums from it. We departed with two 5-ton trucks of fuel and stores and a Landrover. By midday we were out in the search area near Lone Tree Pan, and made camp there. We were joined by a S.A.A.F. helicopter flown by Lt. John Wesley and a Corporal Flight Engineer.
The helicopter refuelled and started searching for the missing men. In the end, the crew of a S.A.A.F. Dakota spotted the two live survivors and called up the helicopter to pick them up and take them to Ghanzi. A doctor was flown to Ghanzi to take care of them. He was flown up in President Khama’s personal aircraft and took them back to Gaborone where they were treated in the Princess Marina Hospital.
The other two men were only found by Bushman trackers, who have amazing skill, and insist on running ahead of the Landrover. They can read the tracks very accurately, stating where one man was limping and where another cut his hand. They read as though they were present at the time.
I ran the camp and manned the radio that was in the camp, monitoring all calls that came in from the helicopter, the S.A.A.F. Dakotas and several civilian planes that were assisting in the search. I then passed all messages to Police Headquarters in Gaborone. I also had to shoot a wildebeest to feed the Bushman trackers. The helicopter responded to all calls and returned in darkness. We switched on all vehicle lights to assist them to locate our camp.
The District Commissioner of Ghanzi and the OC Police in Ghanzi also assisted in the search, as did several farmers.
The details of the search were published in ‘Botswana Daily News’ - the government Info Dept., dated Monday 19th August 1968, 22nd August and 23rd August. It was also in the Sunday Times on August 25th as well as in the Rand Daily Mail dated 26th August 1968.
The ‘Scope’ magazine dated September 20th 1968. Vol.3 No 19, had a whole story about it on pages 6 to 22 and ending on pages 88 to 90. You can hear the Botswana Broadcasting Corporation discuss this event here
Serowe 1969 - 1971
We arrived back in Gaberones in time to pack up the house and move to Serowe. As time passed by and the family grew, we seemed to need more tea chests and tin trunks, the latter for boarding school.
The house in Serowe, on top of the hill opposite a koppie with a water tank on stilts, was a lovely spacious old house; old parquet floors, red cement in the kitchen, surrounded by trees and lovely gardens. Des was now a Superintendent in the Police. The tribal authority (Bamangwato) authority was Tshekedi Khama. Sir Seretse Khama and his wife had a smallish house on the outskirts of the village in the direction of Orapa Road, a small landing strip a couple of miles away, near the Palapye road.
The Government camp consisted of the usual offices and houses; District Commissioner, Police, Vet, Doctor, and a small house next to us where a Quaker missionary and his wife lived. He was studying the Tswana language in preparation for translation of the Bible into Tswana.
The children enjoyed the big garden complete with the tree house Des had built for them. A portion was fenced off for Todd, our horse, with a Lucerne patch on the other side, nibbles for the horse - alas he soon found it. Sadly the two girls, Sally and Kathleen had to leave soon after our arrival to start the new term at boarding school, St Mary’s Convent in Zeerust, about eighty miles east of Gaberones, a round trip for me, all on dirt apart from a very few miles just outside Zeerust.
Todd was kept busy as I rode whenever I was busy, but not far from the village - leopards, wild dogs and even rhinos. When it came time to leave we sold Todd back to Alice Gillett living in Palapye about 30 miles east. Des and I took turns in riding whilst the other drove our car. In the distance we saw a cloud of dust and hurried on, only to hear on our arrival at Palapye that a big herd of rhinos had just been seen - hence the cloud of dust we saw.
We were both very sad to send them away, but accepted this was part of a colonial life. Sally was nine and Kathleen was six-and-a-half. Being a small school, (the children were all housed in small houses around a playing field) they were able to have a bedroom together. Being only about four hundred and seventy miles away, it meant I could go down once a month, take them out on a Friday afternoon, stay with them in a close-by holiday resort and return them to school Sunday pm. This meant I was away for four days a month. I usually stayed with friends in Gaberones for a night either side of seeing them to avoid long night drives and cattle sleeping on the road. I was used to the idea of boarding school as I was born in China of British parents, and knew I would be sent back to England at 11 years of age, and would see my parents every second year when they were on ‘home leave’. Yes, it was very hard to leave them there. The first time I took them down to school I spent several days staying in a rest camp nearby to make sure they were settling down.
Christopher didn’t usually accompany me on these trips, but stayed with Des at home, played with neighbours’ children during the day and our two faithful Bakwena maids, who had accompanied us - two together this time. The house was spacious - lots of floors to polish and of course, no electricity - so no help from modern appliances. Washing was done by hand in our bath, irons were heated on the wood-burning stove and floors were polished by hand or foot on the polishing brush.
Des’ district, apart from the police station at Serowe now included Bobonong where copper had been discovered, and the diamond mine at Orapa. These were new mines since Independence. Bechuanaland was a Protectorate, not a colony, and the agreement with Britain was no exploration, but with Independence that all changed.
Des made regular inspections of the Police Stations. Christopher and I accompanied him when the girls were away at school. Bobonong police transport was a mule cart to inspect their area, normally well-behaved mules, except when the marula trees dropped their berries which rotted. The elephants loved them and got intoxicated. Being playful animals, they would sneak up on the mule cart and trumpet loudly. The mules broke their harness and left the policemen looking for them on foot. The men complained to Des that it had taken two days to find them!
Whilst Des was working, there were lovely stones to be found on the surface and also in the dry bed of Motloutse River. We were very watchful of elephants and never wandered far away from the Austin Champ.
Before Christopher started school we visited Orapa mine, where he was shown the hole in the ground where the geologist, Manfred Marx, discovered the first diamond. Christopher loved stones but now had been told, ‘Do not pick up anything and walk with your hands held behind your back!’
When they came to build an office and staff quarters, they found diamonds everywhere. Even trees and roots had to be burnt and checked through. Eventually they found they could tell where the diamond field was from the air by the location of certain bushes and trees.
I found Orapa and Bobonong very interesting as we were shown around and their workings were explained. Before we married, Des had worked on a diamond field in S.W. Africa, for De Beers.
Serowe itself was very interesting, with quite a few trading posts, no longer having to send away for two months’ supply of food. As well there were shops, Woodfords and a Watson and Mr Cosby, a butcher, (no more hunting for meat) and Palmers family farm where were able to get fresh vegetables, and Stonehams who made wagons and wooden wheels for carts.
Rakops was a great family favourite - a beautiful river with swimming, fishing and playing on the raft. There was a big problem - crocodiles - and it was also the centre for ‘medicine murders’.
The crocodile problem was dealt with by cutting thorn trees to make an enclosure while swimming. The ‘medicine murder’ was a different matter. On one visit with Christopher, girls at school, Des was warned by his police sergeant to put a guard on Christopher as the word around was that a young white boy was needed for muti. Mogae, a very nice young policeman accompanying us was given this job. Whether Christopher was fishing, sleeping or playing, he was to stay close with his rifle. I was used to watching them fishing and swimming, sitting armed with a .303 rifle - thankfully never needed.
Whilst at home there were other children to play with; the doctor’s two sons and a younger girl, the vet’s daughter. Regrettably the parents were all transferred and Christopher was very lonely. He joined a very small school run by a trader’s wife, mainly village children, so he was taken down to Zeerust Convent to join his sisters at six years old.
Whilst the children were at school Des and I took a short holiday to Victoria Falls in the Austin Champ. We camped next to an American man, Ron Shanin, who had been involved with the early space rockets and was now making his own films. We spent many hours chatting. He was so interesting and had just been in Zambia teaching them to fly. Take-offs were good but not the landings. (Lack of space perception - round huts?)
He came back and stayed with us in Serowe whilst making his film ‘Touch the Sky’. Des featured in it, marching his policemen and I had a small part the next day - assistant to cameraman - and feature in the credits.
In Serowe we had a car dealership run by the Blackbeard family, a general dealer run by the Palmers and another run by the Cosby family. There was also a blacksmith/wagon and wagon wheel maker who managed to keep the local wagons in good condition. Mrs Blackbeard was head of the local school and her daughter was the post-mistress.
There was also a Teacher Training College in Serowe under a Mr Jackson, a very strict principal. He was a former Senior Officer in the Royal Marines. On one occasion, shortly after his arrival, we were asked, along with other senior officials, to a formal dinner. It started off very proper and formal. This went on till the first course was served and Mrs Jackson called out, ‘Just shout out if you need anything.’ As Mr Jackson had not been served yet he took the opportunity to bellow ‘out!’ in his parade ground voice. The party relaxed and became informal and friendly after that.
There was also a High School/College in Serowe run by a former S.A. Diplomat called Mr van Rensburg, who had fallen out with the S.A. Government and had far-left ideas.
The ‘camp’ for senior government officials was on the top of a hill. The houses were old style colonial and had red polished floors. Water was heated by a donkey-boiler - a 44-gallon drum on its side built into a brick frame with a fire underneath. It worked well!
We were staying in the guest rondavel at Orapa diamond mine on the day that the US astronauts first landed on the moon. We listened on the radio and of course looked at the moon but were unable to see anything. It was a great achievement for the Americans to beat the Russians!
Holiday in Wankie, Victoria Falls and Chobe
Whilst the children were away at boarding school Jill and I took a trip up to Chobe, going via Bulawayo, Wankie and the Victoria Falls. We were driving the Champ and decided to do game viewing in the Wankie Game Reserve. We found that the deep sound of the Champ’s engine seemed to upset the elephants and after one bull, waving his ears and starting to charge us, we returned to the game camp.
We went on to the Falls and stayed in a camp where the elephants walked past the hut a couple of feet away, but totally silent. Marvellous for such huge beasts.
When we got to Chobe we camped next to American film-maker, Ron Shanin, and got to know him quite well, as he came to stay with us in Serowe.
We decided to go on the official tour Landrover as we felt we’d see more game without upsetting them. We got more than we expected as our foolish driver/guide tried rushing up on a herd of elephants. This caused the bull to charge us! The driver reversed too quickly and the Landrover collided with some large rocks, rendering it incapable of operating. Fortunately the bull went away, leaving about twelve game viewers under the seats. But not us! We were taking pictures. It was getting dark and the visitors were nervous. I walked about two kms to a road where a PWD 5-ton truck was passing, and asked the driver to go to the hotel to ask them to send out a relief bus to collect us. The bus came at about 9 pm and we got to the hotel at 10 pm and went in for supper as we were all starving!
Visit to Maun From Serowe
We had occasion in 1970 to visit Maun on official business. When we arrived we booked into Riley’s Hotel. The next day I went to the Police Station to transact my business and told Jill to go ahead and have breakfast and that I’d join her later.
Jill went into the dining room alone and sat down. A young man came across and engaged her in conversation, bragging about what a good shoot he’d had and how much he’d poached and had loaded his plane and was taking all back to Johannesburg. He was very animated and excited.
This changed, however, when I walked in to join Jill, still being in police uniform. He immediately bolted out, so I asked Jill what had happened. As soon as she told me about the poaching I went after him, but he was already taking off in his plane, so I returned to the Police Station and contacted Jan Smuts Airport (JHB) and notified them about the game poaching. I subsequently heard that the police caught him and charged him.
When Des was posted to Serowe as OC No.2 Police District, he was also told by the Commissioner of Police, Col. J.T.A. Bailey, that he was to act as liaison officer to the new mines, the diamond mines at Orapa and Letlhakane and the copper mines at Selebi Phikwe.
When he arrived at Orapa he went to the site office, a couple of pre-fab rondavels, and told the receptionist he’d like to see the manager. When he went into the manager’s office the manager recognised him immediately as he had worked with Des in Oranjemund, the De Beers mine in SW Africa. He also met the geologist, Manfred Marx, who actually saw the first diamond.
Des also made contact with the Selebi Phikwe mine manager. Des and Jill spent a night in the mine guest-house, a cottage with a big fire-place in the middle. As it was midwinter there was a big fire blazing that kept them warm.
Near Selebi Phikwe was a very old Police Post from the 1890s with graves, or rather, stark military crosses with the names of dead troopers engraved on them. The guest-house was a big rondavel that Rhodes used to stay in. It also was the original telegraph office and had the sign on the door.
Serowe hospital was built and officially opened by the High Commissioner of the High Commission Territories. All the BP senior staff were in attendance, including the resident Commissioner, Government Secretary, Head of the Public Works Department, the senior Architect, the Inspector of Works i/c the building of the hospital, and the Building Foreman.
The High Commissioner went through the ceremonial opening and all was well until he cut the tape. He then asked the RC a question, which in turn was passed down the line until it reached the Building Foreman, whose reply was duly passed back up the line to the High Commissioner. The question was, ‘How do you get into the hospital?’ The answer was equally simple. ‘Through the window!’ They’d neglected to put a door in. There was a fuss and it is understood that several senior people retired unexpectedly!
Whilst stationed at Serowe as OC I regularly had to inspect all the outlying Police Stations at Palapye, Bobonong, Selebi Phikwe, Rakops and Orapa.
Rakops was the nicest as the family enjoyed staying in the hut on the banks of the Botletle River. We had the Veterinary Officer, Gerry Retief, and his family with us and we went fishing. We also used to swim there but had to cut thorn bushes and make a ring round us to keep the crocodiles away. At night we used to stand guard with a rifle and a strong torch, looking for red eyes!
We also went up to the Moremi Game Reserve with the Vet and his family for a holiday. It was beautiful there, but unfortunately Kathleen developed an abscess on her two front teeth that she’d broken a year before. She was in agony but we only had Disprin tablets for pain. The Vet had Panado, so we dosed her every two hours and headed back to Serowe in the Champ straight across the Makarikari Pans. It was a terribly long trip for her and we got there at the hospital at 8 am and asked the doctor to remove the teeth. He suggested a dentist but we said she’d suffered enough and couldn’t stand another two-day trip. We sorted out the teeth later.
Another thing at Rakops was the fish traps used by the people on the Botletle River. The pelicans also used to fish the river in squads. One lot would fly along the river, followed by another.
President Khama had a private home in Serowe which he visited when he had time, usually once a month. He used to phone me personally, usually on a Thursday to ask me to meet him at the Serowe airstrip on Friday afternoon. He also asked me to see that his domestic staff were present and had the house ready for him.
He usually arrived at 4 pm and I took him, along with Lady Khama, to his house in my Valiant Station Wagon which he preferred to his official limousine. He was always very friendly and polite and always asked Jill and me to come to his house for a drink at about 6 pm. I always flew the Presidential standard (small flag) on the car’s aerial when he was in the car.
Many medicine murders occurred in the Serowe district (Bamangwato tribal area) and the preliminary examinations were held in court in Serowe before a senior Judicial Officer. This was to test the evidence before sending the case to the High Court in Lobatsi. One accused, asked by me, as the Public Prosecutor, whether he wished to plead guilty or not, replied saying, ‘What is all the fuss about this one? You didn’t say anything about the last nine that I killed!’ There was a shocked silence in the court.
As mentioned in my Ghanzi notes I had become quite an accomplished home brewer and continued with this on transfer to Serowe. We got a new Veterinary Officer, Gerry Retief, along with his wife and three daughters. They were very pleasant people, and as was customary in Government camps of the day, we invited them and the rest of the senior officials around for supper to introduce them informally.
When people arrived one normally offered them a drink according to their taste. When Gerry arrived I offered him a choice including ‘Lion’, ‘Castle’ or ‘home brew’. Gerry chose the ‘home brew’, which I bottled in quart bottles.
He enjoyed it very much and stated that it was good but lacked the strength of ordinary beer. During the evening he consumed two more quarts of my ‘light brew’ quite happily. We had to carry him home. Fortunately he just lived across the road! I told him later that that was the only time he’d got drunk for six cents. A quart only cost me two cents to brew!
In Serowe we had a postmistress who was the daughter of a local trader. She was very interested in other people’s business and made sure she repeated any unusual goings on. I had a report from one of my C.I.D. men that a German girl had arrived in Serowe and was staying in a hut in the village.
I, in my capacity as Immigration Officer, decided to check on her. I drove into the village and found the girl. On checking, I discovered that she was in the country illegally, so I told her to return with me to my office, where I would arrange for her departure.
I drove her back and my route passed the post office, where the postmistress noted that I had in my car a very attractive blonde young lady. This information was passed to my wife with great glee, only to be informed that she knew all about it and that the young lady was a prisoner in custody. Jill knew this because, as a Police Matron, she had the custody of non-locals in her care.
Whilst on a trip to Chobe from Serowe, Jill and I saw a memorable sight one evening. We saw a woman from a small settlement going across the river in a mekoro (dug-out canoe) with a treadle sewing machine balanced on her head. How she managed it we do not know!
There was a man called Going who worked for the Government in the Serowe district. One on occasion there was a bit of a party in the hotel in Palapye. It was attended by another gentleman, who was not a local resident or known to anyone at the party. After a few drinks, the stranger, who had been talking to Mr Going, decided to introduce himself. He said ‘Cumming’ and Mr Going said, ‘Going’. The fight was on and both landed in the cells. Talk about coincidence!
Des took over the command of No.2 District at Serowe in 1968. The Police Headquarters was in Serowe itself. The other stations were Palapye, Rakops, Bobonong, and two new stations were needed for the diamond mines at Orapa and for the copper mines at Selebi Phikwe.
Des’ duties comprised the supervision of the work performed on these stations. He had to perform three-monthly inspections of the stations, including all the registers, stores, buildings, vehicles and where applicable, police mules and mule cart. All criminal cases, when completed, were handed over by the Station Commanders to the O.C. for closing. Police quarters were also inspected for cleanliness.
Police training was ongoing and during inspections it was noted when staff were due for promotion and what courses were needed. All staff were interviewed and problems and career prospects were discussed. It took a lot of time but was worthwhile and satisfying for the staff, as they knew where they were career wise.
Apart from that the Police policies and strategies were discussed where applicable. We had weekly meetings with Station Commanders, CID Officers and Special Branch Officers, so we kept abreast of local potential problems.
Ron Shanin, after leaving Botswana and after we had returned from the Channel Islands to return to Johannesburg, contacted us. He was showing his film in Sandown Hall, August 10 - Sat 1st. He stayed with us but sadly now we have lost touch. His previous film, ‘Rivers of Fire and Ice’ was never shown at commercial cinemas, only civic centres etc.
In 1971 it was with great sadness we packed up to leave Botswana, a country and people we had got to love.
During August 1933 a European male called McIntosh, living in Serowe with a Mongwato girl, struck a Mongwato male. During a quarrel over the girl, the Regent, Tshekedi Khama, had complained to the Magistrate before, but nothing had been done. So Tshekedi decided to call McIntosh to appear before the Kgotla (African Court), and sentenced him to a flogging.
The Resident Commissioner at that time disliked Tshekedi and seized the opportunity to have him removed, as one of the rules in the British Empire was that ‘Native Authorities’ had legal jurisdiction over their own people, but not over whites! The RC immediately telegraphed the acting High Commissioner, Admiral Evans, the 1/c British Fleet in Simonstown. Evans reacted like the military man he was and sent armed Marines with artillery to deal with ‘a Native rebellion’. The Marines set up a camp in Palapye and Evans set up a court of inquiry and suspended Tshekedi in an impressive ceremony on Serowe race-course. The Naval guns were there in position, assisted by the Bamangwato who asked the Marines where they wanted the guns so they could be shot with them. What a sense of humour!
Tshekedi apologised and Evans returned to Serowe to reinstate him.
On one memorable occasion the High Commissioner was visiting Bechuanaland Protectorate and of course, a formal dinner was arranged. The main course was to be roast sucking pig, with an apple in the pig’s mouth and sprigs of parsley behind its ears. The cook was instructed about how he was to serve it and bring it into the dining room. The dinner started off very formally with all the guests very stiff. When the roast pig was brought in, all that changed, as the cook had the apple in his own mouth and the parsley behind his ears. Everyone roared with laughter and the party was voted as the most successful Diplomatic party of the year!
Apparently the Anglican Bishop of East Africa was on tour, visiting outlying parishes, staying with the local clergymen. One clergyman instructed his house servant to wake the Bishop in the morning and to take in a jug of warm water for the Bishop to wash his face and hands before dressing. He was told to knock on the Bishop’s door and say, ‘The boy with the water, my lord!’ Unfortunately he got confused and said, ‘The lord with the water, my boy!’ Very unfortunate.
The High Commissioner was formally visiting the BP and a ceremonial mounted escort was provided. I was on the escort as a ‘serafile’ (behind the escort in line with the OC escort) while en route to the parade ground. The OC gave the command to ‘right wheel’ a bit too late and I wheeled beneath a large thorn tree which removed my helmet, which stuck in the tree. When we formed up on the parade ground the OC noticed my helmet was missing and enquired where it was. I replied, ‘In the thorn tree, Sir.’ A trooper was sent back to fetch it, using his lance. He returned it to me, still on his lance, and the parade carried on.
While practising for yet another mounted escort a very irascible Senior Officer, known to be a good horseman, stopped near the parade ground and took exception to how the lieutenant, who was an excellent horseman, was running the escort. He told the lieutenant to dismount and told him he’d show him how it should be done. He then went to change into riding breeches. While he was away the lieutenant broke off a small thorny branch and put it under the saddle blanket of his horse. The Senior Officer came back and promptly mounted, or tried to mount, as the lieutenant’s horse threw him off. He limped away and disappeared, leaving us to continue.
During the Independence celebrations, elaborate Police arrangements were made to ensure that the Royal cavalcade moved smoothly without hold-ups. A Police Officer was posted to every intersection along the route to block entry. Whilst en route to the celebrations I was a ‘Uniformed Escort Officer’ in the Landrover behind the Royal limousine. To our amazement a large rubbish collection truck suddenly came out of a sanitation lane (that did not have a Policeman) and swung in behind the Royal car. There was a lot of muttering on the radio and Police motorcyclists pulled the rubbish truck off the road so the cavalcade could pass.
The District Commissioner in Molepolole used six oxen to pull the ‘night soil’ cart which emptied all the bucket latrines. A gang of prisoners (convicts) under the supervision of a warder performed this ritual daily. The oxen were fine large beasts and the local chief, Kgari Sechele II, took a liking to them. He offered the DC 12 young oxen in exchange and the offer was accepted. There was one problem, namely the young oxen weren’t harness trained, and bolted with the cart attached and spread ‘poo’ all over the village before they were caught. The DC had to explain to the Government auditors why he now had twelve oxen instead of six. The auditors accepted his story of ‘natural increase’!
The three Resident Commissioners of Bechuanaland, Basutoland and Swaziland had arranged to meet in Basutoland. The Bechuanaland and Swaziland RCs arranged to travel together to Basutoland in one car. To their horror the car broke down miles from anywhere in the Orange Free State. Just imagine them stuck in their full dress white uniforms with helmets with plumes!!
1. When the British Government realised in 1963 that the High Commission Territories were ready to claim independence, they abolished the post of High Commissioner for the three territories and appointed Sir Peter Fawcus as Queen’s Commissioner, with the rank of Governor. He was now directly responsible to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Constitutional discussions were held with all interested parties and proposals were accepted that a Legislative Assembly should now be formed which would lead to self-government and a ministerial form of Government.↩
2. Dr Merriweather continued to be a nominated member of the Assembly. Sir Peter asked to speak to him about becoming Speaker, as he could personally no longer be President of the Assembly and that a Speaker be appointed. Dr Merriweather accepted and the following week Sir Peter and Lady Fawcus visited Molepolole, where Sir Peter spent a whole day going through standing orders and parliamentary procedure. It would have been impossible for Sir Peter to have discussed anything over the telephone, as at that time we had a “party line” with everyone listening in!↩
3. Normally a Governor would not stay with a Junior District Commissioner, but time was short and the Prime Minister, Sir Sereste Khama had proposed that Dr Merriweather be appointed to the job.↩
|1955 Map of SE Bechuanaland
Bechuanaland Colony Profile
|June ‘57 || Joined BPP in Gaberone as Sub-Inspector |
|July ’57 - Dec ’57 || B.S.A.P. Training Depot in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia |
|Jan ’58 - July ’58 || Stationed in Gaberone |
|Aug ’58 - Sept ’58 || Stationed in Ramatlabama - opened new border gate between Mafeking and Lobatse |
|Sept ’58 - Oct ’58 || Detached duty - in charge of 30-mile foot and mouth cordon. Quarantine fence at Bray on B.P./S.A. border |
|1 Nov 1958 || Married Jill. Returned to Ramathlabama Dec. ‘58 |
|June ’59 || Transferred to desert (60 000 square miles) station - Tshabong with two sub-stations, Werda and Tsane, also Kgalagadi game reserve at Tweerivieren. 40 camels at Tshabong and 20 at Tswane. Patrolling done by camels and a very old unreliable truck. (His wife is going to add; No people other than poachers, no electricity, water or shops. Only communication was weekly post and morse code, and a doctor flying in once a month. Truck broken and having to choose whether to walk or ride a camel to the plane, while eight and a half months pregnant, to reach the hospital at Bray. |
|Early Oct 1959 || Des fetched the baby and Jill. The truck broke down 6 times. We met the camel patrol with extra camels out looking for us, but the truck had started again. No, his wife does not ever want to ride a camel. Arrived home to no water but after two weeks when Des was told to go out on patrol. He applied for leave to take Jill to his parents in Johannesburg as there was no water for Jill, Sally, The Police Families or the Camels. On his return from this leave a new borehole, much deeper, was functional. |
|Nov ’59 || Des moved to Werda. Baby and Jill joined him |
|Sept ’60 - Sept ’65 || Transferred to Molepolole, a large African Village, where we had more normal facilities. Water, hospital, doctors, other Govt. Officers, telephone, dirt roads, not tracks etc. Very good L.M.S . Mission hospital, staff and friends. Apart from a P/O we lacked all of this before. No longer being Crown Land, Des now co-operated with the Bakwena Chief. |
|Sept ‘65 - ’67 || Moved to Gaberone as Platoon Commander in General Service Unit which later became the Police Mobile Unit. Basically they were not employed on Police duties and were trained by British Army Warrant Officers and Sergeants (released from duty in Aden). They did an excellent job and trained raw recruits into proficient soldiers in a very short time. All this was as Independence was looming, ceremonial guards of honour welcoming the Royal party, a busy time. Independence took place without a hitch. Foreign ambassadors. Des escorting Princess Marina. |
|Nov ’67 - Feb ’68 || Three months leave followed by temporary posting to Ghanzi as OC no. 2 district. This was close to the South West Africa border consisting of white farmers placed there by Queen Victoria as a barrier between Bechuanaland and South West Africa. Stock theft was the major problem and the usefulness of bushman trackers, the best of all trackers. They had a small settlement outside our fence. |
|Feb ’68 - Sept ’68 || Returned to Gaberone as our two children were of school-going age. I was delighted. |
|Sept ’68 || Serowe - the Bamangwato Tribal area (home of the Khamas). The newly discovered diamond and copper mines with stations at Palapye, Rakops, Bobonong, Selebi-Phikwe and Serowe. Our two daughters had left for boarding school in Zeerust, followed shortly by our son. Jill drove down every month to see them on awful mud or sand, depending on the time of year in British army Austin Champ. Not much to look at, but even today it ranks as best vehicle ever. Sir Seretse Khama flew up to their house in Serowe, accompanied by his wife. Des had to make sure the paraffin fridge was lit and in working order. Life was never dull.
|May ’71 || Left Botswana - not our choice, but compulsory retirement scheme. |
|Police Personnel Gaberones, 1957 |
|Divisional Superintendent || Capt. A.J. Clark, MBE (Snr Superintendent) |
|OC No 3 District || Capt. Kevin Lowry (Superintendent) |
|OC Police Training Depot || Lieut. W. Whitsitt (Asst. Superintendent) |
|O i/c Criminal Record Bureau || Senior Inspector T. Dent |
|Police Quartermaster || Inspector L. Dyer |
|O i/c General Service Unit || Sub-Inspector D. Cook |
|Station Commander, Gaberones || Sub-Inspector E.M. Ogden |
|Criminal Record Bureau || Sub-Inspector H. Southwood |
|Police Station || Sub-Inspector D.H. Somerset |
|Government Officials at Molepolole 1960 - 1965 |
|District Commissioners || Butch Reid
John van Riet Lowe
|District Officers || *Clive Williams |
|Veterinary Officers || Jens Norgard
*‘DB’ de Bruyn
|Stock Inspectors || John Rose |
|Agricultural and Livestock Officer || *John Powell/TD> |
|Police Station || Inspector D.H. Somerset |
| (* bachelors at the time) |
Botswana Broadcasting Corporation Recording
of search for Plane lost in Kalahari Desert. Includes commentary from Des Somerset, the SAAF helicopter pilot and Simon Gillett (DC)
Botswana: The Road to Independence
by Peter Fawcus
Desert Doctor Remembers
by Alfred Merriweather