British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Gerald Moores
Things That Go Bump.
Fort Victoria
"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.

Things That Go Bump.
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.

Things That Go Bump.
Zaka Police Camp
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 nature.

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 convinced.

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!

Things That Go Bump.
Chiredzi River
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....''

British Colony Map
South East Rhodesia Map
Colony Profile
Southern Rhodesia
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 63: April 1992


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