"You wait until you've been in Fort Victoria District a few months my lad and you
will think back to this little chat and remember what I told you. You mark my words,
funny inexplicable things happen around here which you can't explain by logic".
As events turned out, these remarks by a grizzled veteran of the old British South
Africa Company Police Force living as a semi-recluse near Fort Victoria in what was
then Rhodesia, were more than prophetic.
The year was 1955 and I was a fresh-faced, impressionable, inexperienced District
Constable on my first horse patrol from Fort Victoria Rural Section. I had already
been the victim of some well intentioned leg pulling from both my colleagues and
members of the 'second generation' community in the locality, so I accepted the Old
Timer's remarks cautiously.
Our encounter had started off badly. The Veteran owned a magnificently preserved
single shot Martini-Henry rifle which he used regularly for hunting the larger antelope
on his farm; charging and loading the precious cartridges himself. In a somewhat
patronising manner he offered me the opportunity to handle a 'real man's gun' and fire
a round of his precious ammunition at a tree stump some 100 yards distant. I accepted
his offer with some reluctance, remembering my uninspiring performance on the
Cleveland rifle range some two months previously.
Needless to say my own worst fears were realised. The recoil knocked me flat on my
back, the bullet went into local orbit, and the polished rifle butt made hard contact
with the earth during my crash landing, much to the vocal consternation and ill
concealed annoyance of the Veteran who quickly rescued his pride and joy from my,
by then, limp grasp. Just to rub salt into the wounds he proceeded to give a faultless
demonstration of what handling a Martini-Henry rifle was all about, with devastating
effect upon the tree stump.
The bruising eventually faded and with it the memory of my mortification over the
rifle shooting incident but I never forgot his remarks about the apparently
supernatural 'goings-on' in the District. The Veteran, however, had not been very
specific about the said 'happenings' and had merely alluded to witchcraft "and the
like" and "ghosties", accompanied by much head shaking and ruminative puffs on his
stub briar pipe. After my encounter with his beloved rifle I had deemed it imprudent to
try and sustain small talk about "ghosties" in case it gave him any ideas.
I would dearly have loved to learn what his own experiences had been but he was
absolutely right in his belief that there was something 'different' about the Fort
Victoria District and the influence it exerted over its inhabitants. There are many
instances, some recorded and some not, of 'happenings' involving members of the
Police Force which simply cannot be explained away by heightened imaginative
processes induced by loneliness and alcohol on isolated bush Stations.
Paddy Molloy and I were transferred from Fort Victoria Rural Section to Zaka at
the beginning of 1956. Zaka was a small village in the middle of the Ndanga Tribal
Trust Land distinguished by a Police Camp, District Commissioner's Office, a couple
of African Stores and sundry dwelling houses occupied by local European civil
servants and Police, together with their families. Paddy and I were both unmarried at
that time and occupied the Single Quarters in the Police Camp, which although
extremely picturesque, were notoriously inconvenient in lay-out. The main accommodation
block comprised three bedrooms and a lounge surrounded by a large gauzed-in verandah on all sides, to which access was gained from outside by way of
two diametrically opposed swing-close doors with strong return springs which
announced every arrival and departure with a loud 'thump'. The dining room, kitchen,
bathroom and toilet were housed in separate buildings set some distance apart,
ensuring that even the most slothful Constable had to perform a minimum of healthy
perambulations if he wanted to eat, stay nice to be near and answer the varied calls of
At breakfast the first morning after our arrival at the Station, Paddy, with some
heat, accused me of being a somnabulist, which I hotly denied, thinking that it was a
form of nasty deviationism. "What do you mean by walking around the stoep half the
night in your best hob-nailed boots", he ranted. "How in the name of all that's holy can
a fellah get some kip".
"What do you mean", I countered, "1 thought it was you communicating with the
little folk.... "
After some little time we managed to convince each other that we were both
innocent of the charge, which left only one other possibility. The culprit had to be Ray
Downs, another single man, who was acting Sergeant in Charge of the Station and
who was temporarily occupying the third bedroom. The object of our suspicions, who
was a man of few words, then entered the dining room and sank slowly onto a chair
whilst fixing each of us in turn with a contemplative but purposeful stare. "If I catch
either of you silly so-and-so's marching round the stoep half the night again I'm going
to personally kick his nether regions all the way back to Fort Victoria", he said, as he
viewed his dish of lumpy maize porridge with ill concealed distaste.... !
Fortunately for our 'nether regions', the invisible 'George' as we dubbed hirn, did
not parade around the stoep again for the remainder of Ray Down's sojourn in the
Single Mess, but his visitations resumed after about a month and continued at odd
intervals thereafter. We never discovered a logical explanation for the footsteps,
despite discreet enquiries amongst the African staff and camp followers and neither of
us had sufficient courage to go out and meet 'George' face to face - if indeed he
possessed one...! We believed, quite wrongly, that if ignored he would go away.
In a peculiar way I suppose that 'George' became an ex-officio member of the Mess
and when we accommodated Robin Hedges from the C.I.D. in Fort Victoria for a few
days whilst he was investigating a local fraud case, we said nothing when we were
politely accused of being sleep walkers.
'George' did give Paddy quite a fright one night though. I had left the Police Camp
at 8 p.m. on a routine road patrol, leaving Paddy in the lounge writing a letter home by
the light of a couple of hissing Tilley lamps. Returning at 11 p.m. all was in darkness,
or so it appeared, and I assumed that Paddy had gone to bed, until I checked his room
and found it empty. Off I went to the lounge in search of him, my iron shod boots
ringing on the polished cement surface of the stoep....! The lounge door was tightly
closed, which was unusual on a hot night, and on pushing it open I found Paddy sitting
rigidly in a Windsor chair staring at me with ashen face and big eyes, as if he had been
expecting someone, or something else, to come through the doorway.
It transpired that I had been gone for about an hour when Paddy heard the
distinctive 'thump' of the stoep door, followed by the equally distinctive sound of
metal studded boots marching up to the open lounge door, where they stopped.
Thinking that it was the telephone orderly with a message Paddy glanced up from his
letter writing to find - you've guessed it - nobody there! He confessed that he'd got
such a shock that he rushed to the lounge door and slammed it, following which he had
sat in the lounge with the curtains tightly drawn awaiting my return, in preference to
taking a chance on meeting 'George' en-route to his bedroom. I realised then why
Paddy had viewed my own appearance (preceded by the thump of the stoep door and
marching footsteps) with some apprehension.
Shortly after this Paddy was posted to another Station and the new Junior
Constable was one Ian Morris-Eyton, a very practical, down to earth sort of chap, very
keen on shooting, fishing and the like. To my relief 'George' behaved himself, but after
he had been at Zaka for about a month Ian asked me if I had ever heard a horse
galloping around the Camp at night. I said that I hadn't, except when 'Riding Horse'
JOKER managed to escape from his stable on the odd occasion to join the pack
donkeys enjoying the succulent offerings in our inadequately-fenced kitchen garden.
Ian pondered a bit then told me his story.
The moon had been full the previous night and he had been awakened at about 1
a.m. by the sound of galloping hooves in the distance, which gradually came closer.
R.H.JOKER was the only horse in the locality and Ian naturally assumed that he had
managed to escape his stall and was running fast and loose through the Camp. He had
gone out onto the stoep and heard the sound of drumming hooves coming closer and
closer until the 'sound' but definitely no substance, had passed right in front of the
Single Quarters without a grain being disturbed on the wide expanse of bare sand so
clearly illuminated by the moonlight. He had immediately gone to check JOKER in
his stable and the donkeys in their enclosure, finding all present and correct which, no
doubt, explained his air of puzzlement.
I hadn't told Ian about 'George'. In the first place I hadn't wanted to put any ideas in
his head to feed his imagination and in the second place I didn't want to cast any
doubts on my own state of mind. Rather let him find out himself I thought, but this
was an unexpected development.
Needless to say I hadn't heard the galloping hooves myself, but I am normally a
fairly heavy sleeper. Thinking I was acting for the best I told Ian that he must have
been imagining things or having a very realistic dream which continued in his subconscious
after awakening - all very Freudian - but I could see that Ian was not
A month later, again at the time of the full moon, Ian had an almost identical
experience but this time said that the sound of galloping hooves had been
accompanied by a sound which could have been caused by several tin cans being
dragged along the ground at the end of a piece of string. Again the moonlight had been
bright and again the sound, but nothing more substantial, had passed in front of the
quarters and then receded in the general direction of Zaka village. Ian was adamant
that what he had so graphically described had really happened and although again I
had heard nothing myself I had memories of 'George' so I was not very convincing in
my efforts to pooh-pooh his story. To be honest we both made discreet enquiries
amongst the other residents in the village and the African Police members living in the
Camp but no-one else had heard the invisible horse so we thought it best to let the
matter drop as we didn't want to give anyone the impression that we were two up and
coming candidates for the funny farm.
Yet another month passed and at 1.00 a.m. precisely one bright moonlit night I was
unceremoniously wrenched from the arms of Morpheus and literally dragged from my
bed and out onto the stoep by an excited Ian who, in addition to myself, was clutching
his prized Wesley-Richard rifle....! "So you think I'm nuts do you" he hissed into my
ear. "Well listen to that....". I duly listened and, sure enough, there was the
unmistakable sound of approaching hoof beats, getting louder and louder and louder
until, accompanied by the sound of rattling tin cans, the invisible horse galloped right
in front of the Single Quarters without raising a puff of dust on the moonlight bathed
sand. We must have formed a strange tableau as we stood listening to the sound fading
in the direction of the village, then the spell was broken and we both ran to the stable to
find old JOKER safely asleep on his feet and the donkeys lying down in their
enclosure. We never heard the invisible horse again ourselves but under the
circumstances I thought it only fair to fill Ian in with details of 'George's' escapades!
I moved up to Salisbury (now Harare) at the beginning of 1957 to commence a year's
probation in the Criminal Investigation Department and it wasn't until a couple of
years later that I again met up with Paddy Molloy and we took our respective wives on
a nostalgic visit to Zaka where, in addition to a visit to admire the family of hippo in
the Chiredzi river below Jock Ferrie's Store, we paid a brief visit to the Police Camp.
Things had changed considerably and all the amenities for the single men were now
under one roof. We got chatting to the sole occupant of the Single Quarters at that
time, a pleasant young man who seemed quite happy with his lot but who gave us wary
glances when we casually asked him if he'd had any 'funny experiences' since being at
the station. He became evasive so we persisted until, at last, with a sigh and a shrug of
resignation he said - "Well since you mention it I haven't been sleeping too well lately.
Something with heavy boots keeps marching around the stoep at night and a b....
horse I can't even see gallops through the Camp at the full moon dragging invisible tin
cans behind it. To be honest I've been thinking of going to see the Doc to see if he'll give
me something for my nerves....''