British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by J. E. Gale
Uganda Safari by H.R.H. Prince of Wales
HRH Edward on Safari
In 1930 the Prince of Wales came to Uganda on safari, by rail from Kenya, a line which was only completed later. He travelled by road from the first railway station in Uganda, in the South East, via Entebbe, to Lake Albert and then the Nile on his way home. I was responsible for the cars and lorries taking himself, his suite and their kit on this road journey across Uganda. The visit of the Prince was absolutely unofficial. There was no speechmaking, no blowing of trumpets and sounding of drums. Nobody met him officially when he arrived or at any other time and nobody unconnected with the affair knew, except by rumour, what his movements were to be. He was just on holiday but nevertheless the arrangements made for his comfort and, so far as I was concerned, his road transport, had to be carried through without a hitch. Then, thirdly, my job of work in the affair was completely in the background, without kudos, unhonoured and unsung.

Uganda Safari by H.R.H. Prince of Wales
Albion Lorry, 1930
The vehicles supplied by the Transport Dept, were: three Albion lorries for the heavy baggage, with native drivers; one Morris and one Rugby touring car with native drivers; one Armstrong Siddeley saloon with a European driver. These were my special care. There were also: one touring car from Government House with George, the Governor's chauffeur; two one-ton Austin trucks for the light baggage, also from Government House; and two hired cars from a private firm, all of which I should have had to look after if necessary. I, myself, drove a boxbody Crossley with tools and spares and was necessarily always the last car of the convoy.

I will draw a very rough sketch of the road to try to make things a little clearer. The plan of campaign was more or less as follows. The Prince's train was due to arrive at Tororo at 9.45 on the Monday morning. All my crowd left Kampala on Sunday morning, the cars and myself to go on to Tororo and the lorries to stop at Jinja as all the heavy baggage was to remain on the train until it got to Jinja. On the arrival of the train at Tororo, the Prince, his suite and light luggage were to go right through to Entebbe and the lorries were to pick up the heavy baggage at Jinja and take it through to Entebbe as quickly as they could. You may wonder why the Prince did not go right through to Jinja by train. The reason is simply that it normally takes 3 hours to do the journey in a car, while the train takes 7 hours.

Uganda Safari by H.R.H. Prince of Wales
The Prince was due to go from Entebbe to Masindi on Wednesday and from there to Butiaba on Thursday morning. At Butiaba he was to embark on a special Lake Albert steamer to take him so far down the Nile and then having finished his shooting trip he was to go on through the Sudan and Egypt and so home. That was the programme.

Well, we all pushed off on the Sunday morning, with me bringing up the rear and supposed to be prepared for anything that might happen. There had been a dance the night before which I had foolishly attended and I was not feeling too bright. Also it had rained very heavily during the night and as the breakdown car I was driving was a perfectly wretched thing, I had all I could do, with its over load, to keep it on the road. While waiting for the ferry to take us across to Jinja, I consumed some sandwiches which I had brought with me and repeated the instructions to the lorry drivers who had just arrived, having had about an hour's start. Then we got the cars on the ferry, crossed over to Jinja and started for Tororo, a distance of 100 miles and a road which was quite new to me. It was a rotten road too, for most of the way, and my wretched Crossley felt every bump. However, we arrived at Tororo about 5 o'clock and "Smith" and myself booked a room at the hotel. "Smith" was the man who was driving the Armstrong-Siddeley saloon. The hotel was a very rough sort of place and only came into being after the railway came to Tororo and from what I saw of it, I didn't think it would last very long, but it provided food of a sort and shelter which was all that mattered so far as I was concerned.

Uganda Safari by H.R.H. Prince of Wales
Armstrong-Siddeley Saloon
Having arrived, my day's work was by no means finished. First of all I had had to scout round and find the District Commissioner to arrange for shelter for my cars and when I had seen them safely parked for the night, "Smith" and I turned our attention to the Armstrong Siddeley which was not running too well. By the time we had finished with this it was about 8.30, so we had dinner and I went to bed immediately afterwards. In the meanwhile there had been some more arrivals at Tororo, namely, George, the Governor's chauffeur with the Crossley; a European with two hired cars and the chief of the Uganda C.I.D.

What caused me quite a lot of amusement at this time was this; "Smith", who was rather a nasty piece of work, was quite under the impression when he left Kampala, that he was to drive the Prince of Wales. When he saw George turn up at Tororo with the Governor's car he had rather a shock and didn't quite know what to make of things while the arrival of the two hired cars complicated matters still further. There were no definite instructions; we simply had to meet the Prince and that was all there was to it. There was no question at all of my driving the Prince; my job was to see that everything on wheels connected with the affair, reached its destination.

Well, I was up betimes on the Monday morning and saw to the cleaning and fuelling of my own little lot and then soon after 9 o.c. we all went to the station. There were altogether ten cars, counting mine and the two Austin light trucks. We lined up there in the station compound and I put the three most likely cars, the Armstrong Siddeley with "Smith", the Governor's Crossley with George, and the hired Packard near the station entrance. We then just waited for the train to arrive. It was only about twenty minutes late which is jolly good for this railway.

The first man to appear was Burt. (A word here as to the personnel). The Prince was travelling only with Sir Piers Leigh, Capt. Airton, a bloke called Finch-Hatton, Burt, and a valet. Burt was a man from Scotland Yard and was the Prince's shadow. Wherever the Prince went, Burt went too, whether it was a night club in Piccadilly or Timbuctoo. He was always either within sight or within call of the Prince. I saw a fair amount of him on the trip and he was a most interesting bloke. He was on the ENTERPRISE with the Prince when the latter dashed home from Africa during the King s serious illness. Also, though it never would be noticed, he always "packed a gun".

Uganda Safari by H.R.H. Prince of Wales
Well, when Burt arrived he recognised George from the previous visit, and assumed that the Prince would go with him, so they proceeded to load the car with light suitcases, cameras, field glasses, mackintoshes, etc. Then one of the big guns arrived on the scene and thought the Prince would probably like to travel in the Armstrong Siddeley saloon so they transferred the kit from George's Crossley to the Armstrong while "Smith" stiffened up, turned very white and tried to conceal his overwhelming joy. Then the Prince himself strolled casually on the scene. I had never seen him before but I recognised him immediately from his photographs as he was exactly like them. I can best describe my first impression of him by using a feminine expression and saying that he looked a "perfect dear". I was particularly struck by his youthful appearance, his slight figure and his "don't-give-a-damn for anybody or anything" expression. He was dressed, not in a resplendent uniform and plumed helmet, but in safari shorts and stockings, a very yellow shirt with sleeves tolled up to the elbows, a nondescript pullover, no coat, a funny little sun helmet and a stubby pipe. Even seeing the man as he was there and not knowing who he was, there would have been an air of personality about him that would have been very impressive. Seeing him for the first time thus clad, and knowing who he was, it was borne upon me very strongly (who am not unduly prejudiced) that a monarchy is really worth while.

Uganda Safari by H.R.H. Prince of Wales
Government House, Entebbe
Well, the Prince strolled up and down for a while looking at the cars, and, a very democratic touch, recognised George immediately and shook hands with him. Then, remarking that the hired Packard looked a bl--y good car, decided to go in that. The kit was hurriedly transferred to this car much to "Smith's" discomfiture, and the Prince seated himself at the wheel. Then, with Sir Piers Leigh, Burt and the car's driver, the Prince drove that car the hundred miles to Ginja over a narrow tropical road new to him and in poor condition in two hours and ten minutes. The car was followed immediately by the Chief of the C.I.D. in the other hired car, then the other two of the party with George, arid the valet and some kit in one of my cars. The tension was then relaxed. "Smith", his fond hopes completely shattered, drove the Armstrong away empty. I then saw the rest of the light kit into the two Austins and then when they had left I pushed off myself. It took me four hours of hard driving to reach there. When I got to Jinja, things were considerably strung-out. Apart from my Albion lorries which had stayed there to wait for the train, the only car belonging to the safari was the Crossley with George, who was waiting while the two big bugs were being shown round Jinja. The Prince had had lunch, had crossed the ferry and was well on his way to Entebbe. "Smith", my Morris, and the two Austins and the other hired car had also crossed but nobody had seen my other car, the Rugby, but as I had not overtaken it on the road I assumed it was in front of me, so I crossed the ferry myself and reached Kampala soon after 5 p.m. Here I stopped for some tea, having had nothing at all since breakfast. Having had tea, I left for Entebbe and arrived at Government House at 6.30. There is no hotel at Entebbe but George had arranged with a friend of his to put me up, so after a bath and some food (incidentally I found that the missing Rugby had arrived alright) I was very glad to get to bed having spent a rather tiring day.

The next day , Tuesday, I was up early as there was much to be done and having had breakfast, went to Government House to inspect my fleet and sort things out. Fortunately everything was there, the three Albion lorries with the heavy kit having arrived during the early hours of the morning. I was particularly anxious to send these off again as soon as possible because it was essential that they should reach Butiaba and get their loads transferred to the Lake Albert steamer before the arrival of the Prince and in view of the fact that they have a maximum speed of about 15 m.p.h. on the level, it was desirable to give them as big a start as possible. I therefore had a talk with the Governor's Aide de Camp, with the result that some of the loads that the Prince and his suite might possibly need were taken off the lorries, other loads were added and they were then free to set off. I filled their tanks and gave them enough extra fuel for the journey and they left just before noon with instructions from me to drive straight through to Butiaba. Before they had been gone an hour it was discovered that some fool in the suite wanted a rifle which was on one of the lorries so I grabbed the fastest car of my crowd and chased off after them. I overtook two fairly near to Entebbe as they had stopped to buy food but of course the rifle was on the third which was far ahead. Driving at forty miles an hour all the way, I got nearly into Kampala before I overtook the lorry with the required rifle. I returned to Entebbe with the blessed thing, having of course, missed my lunch. I would like to say here that the performance of those three Albion lorries, or rather of their drivers, is the part of the safari of which I am proudest. They were not noticed at all as they were never with the light cars but with their extremely slow speed they took the heavy baggage from Jinja via Entebbe to Butiaba, a distance of over three hundred miles without a hitch, well ahead of schedule and with scarcely any rest.

To get back to Entebbe. Having got the lorries away I had to get the other cars ready for the next day's journey. This was made all the more difficult as they were constantly being required to take various people connected with the outfit hither and thither. In addition to this my own car had been giving trouble the previous day and I had to send through to Kampala for a new rear spring. This did not arrive till alter dark when it was impossible to fit it. However, one cannot do more than a day's work so I went to bed. Wednesday was the day for the run to Masindi and much to my disgust I learnt on arrival at Government House that they were not going to start until 12.00. It did give me time, though, to change my rear spring and so have one less worry on the journey. During the morning my cars were still required for odd jobs which made things very trying as it was necessary for them to start with absolutely full tanks as we only had one petrol dump (at Hoima) on the road.

Uganda Safari by H.R.H. Prince of Wales
Sir William Gowers
Mrs. George gave us sandwiches and tea at 11 o.c. and then we lined up the cars in front of Government House. At this time, the Governor (Sir William Gowers) was a very sick man. He had been in bed for some time with phlebitis or some such trouble but he was determined to make this journey to Butiaba and down the Nile with the Prince.

Well, it was 12.45 when we left Entebbe, the Prince again driving the Packard and taking the Governor and Burt with him. He was dressed much the same as on his arrival at Tororo except that this time he was wearing a coat and a rather more respectable hat.

Uganda Safari by H.R.H. Prince of Wales
I would very much like to have been in the forefront of that run to Masindi. It is probable that the Governor never had wind up so much in all his life. The Packard's driver, who was in the car and who is used to racing cars was rather shaken and George, who driving the Governor's Crossley immediately behind, boiled all his water away trying to keep up the pace.

I jogged along in the rear making the best time I could. I had one advantage in that 1 simply kept going while the others stopped on the road for tea having taken tea baskets with them, but even so, I saw nothing of them. This road too, was new to me after the first seventy miles. Soon after leaving Hoima and just after darkness fell I got a puncture and had to change a wheel. I finally reached Masindi at 8.30 and found my way to the hotel. There was a very good hotel at Masindi being run by the railway. There was no railway within hundreds of miles of the place but it was the nearest administrative station to Lake Albert and was the headquarters of the Northern Province of Uganda and all the lake steamers came under the railway administration. Masindi was also the last stopping place in Uganda for people taking this route to the Congo Beige as this territory lies on the other side of Lake Albert.

Uganda Safari by H.R.H. Prince of Wales
Masindi Hotel
Having reached the hotel I looked in the crowded dining room and saw George, "Smith", and the Packard's driver sitting at a table, half way through their dinner, so I joined them just as I was - travel-stained and dirty, and there, after seeing off three beers in quick succession, had a jolly good meal - the first, except for Mrs. George's sandwiches, since breakfast. I went to bed almost immediately afterwards as I was absolutely tired out. A very nice two-bed room, which I shared with "Smith", had been reserved for me. The Prince, the Governor, Burt and the valet, spent the night with the Provincial Commissioner Northern Province, and the rest of the party stayed at the hotel.

The next day, Thursday, was the last lap so far as I was concerned but I had to be up and doing very early as they were due to start for Butiaba at 9 o.c. Before breakast I went to the P.C.'s house and inspected my fleet and saw that everything was O.K. There, having had breakfast, we got all the cars lined up again at the P.C.C.'s house, ready for the 45 miles run to Butiaba. This time we left very nearly at the appointed hour, the Prince again driving the Packard himself.

Now comes a scene which will always linger in my memory and which my inadequate pen is utterly unable fully to describe. This is my first sight of Lake Albert. Before I attempt to describe my impressions I will just give you the sordid fact that this lake is about 20 miles wide, that is, the distance between Dover and Calais and nearly 100 miles long. Well, I had no idea of what was awaiting me on this rather dreary run to Butiaba. I just drove on until I got within eight miles of Butiaba and then suddenly I simply had to stop the car and gaze in wonder at a scene of indescribable grandeur. The earth seemed to end abruptly and drop sheer down to a plain a thousand feet or more below. Beyond this was the lake and in an atmosphere so amazingly clear that distances were annihilated it looked just a strip of wonderful blue. The whole scene looked like a geographical model. The steamer at Butiaba could be seen even at that distance, like a silver dot, and I could see mountains in the Congo 150 miles away.

Uganda Safari by H.R.H. Prince of Wales
Lake Albert Bus
The distances to be seen from the top of the escarpment were simply incredible and the lake looked like a strip of glass of a most marvellous blue away in the distance. Although I could clearly see the land on the other side, the actual further shore of the lake was not clearly defined, which is not to be wondered at as it was nearly thirty miles away. It's no use, I shall never be able to describe it but it was a scene which I shall never forget so long as I live.

Uganda Safari by H.R.H. Prince of Wales
SS Coryndon
When I had drunk my fill of this perfectly amazing view I descended the tortuous road to the plain and so on to Butiaba. When I arrived the steamer carrying the Prince, his suite and the Governor, had just left and the various cars were already coming back. This was the end of the Journey. Everything then fell flat and I felt a great depression. The tumult and the shouting had died. The captains and the kings had departed. My work was done and done successfully and there was nothing left but to go back. Nothing mattered then; the tension was released. I saw the Albion vans which I had not seen since they left Entebbe on the Tuesday. I was, of course, very gratified to find that they had arrived and had transferred all their loads safely to the steamer but there was no longer any need for me to follow them up so I just left them to get back to Kampala as soon as they could. I just turned round in my tracks with the one idea of getting back to my home as quickly as possible. That day's run of well over two hundred miles was the longest, most weary and monotonous of the whole trip. The run of 128 miles from Hoima to Kampala was very tiring. There was simply no relief to the tedium. The road, for the whole distance ran up hill and down dale. There were a few native huts scattered along the road but for the greater part of the way the country was practically uninhabited. It was just a matter of keeping going and then keeping going and the monotony was terrible. You passed the 100 mile post and it seemed ages before you got to the nineties, the same again to the eighties and then longer and longer through the seventies, sixties, fifties and so on, until you reached home. I reached home finally soon after 5 o.c. that evening and right glad I was to get there. The drumming of that wretched Crossley was still in my ears and remained for days.

Well, that was the end of my job. There was no honour, no kudos, no acquisition of merit, no nothing, but the Prince, his suite, their light baggage and their heavy baggage had crossed Uganda right up to programme and without a hitch. Had anything gone wrong my name would have been known but as things happened everything was O.K. and I remained in the background.

On the whole safari the only actual repair work I had to do, except for the Armstrong Siddeley, was to my own car.

My part in the affair will never be written in the books but the fact remains that of the five days I was away I had no proper lunch or tea and on two days I went from breakfast to sunset without food of any kind. Nevertheless, taking all things into consideration, it was worth it and I am glad I was chosen for the job.

There are two things of interest which I have not recorded as they have nothing to do with my part in the affair.

The first showed the indefatigable energy of the Prince. When he arrived at Entebbe after the rush from Tororo he played golf that evening on the Entebbe course, and the next morning he got up early and went flying. There happened to be a R.A.F. flight from Cape to Cairo (or vice versa, I forget which) at the time consisting of four planes and Entebbe was one of their stopping places, so the Prince seized the opportunity for a flight.

The other incident is this. When the Prince was driving through Kampala on his way from Tororo to Entebbe, he was stopped by an askari (native policeman). The askari ticked him off severely as the road was being kept open for the son of the King of England. After a certain amount of argument the Prince was allowed to proceed but the askari was not convinced, until long afterwards, that it was the Prince of Wales himself whom he had stopped.

map of Nigeria
Map of Uganda
Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 58: October 1989
The Nile Bridge at Jinja was not opened until January 1931. Before then the crossing was made by native canoe or by a very primitive motor ferry. This operated at irregular intervals across a narrow (about 1 mile) neck of Lake Victoria leading to the Rippon Falls. The ferry could take about four cars or two lorries.

There were no tarmac roads. Roads were made of compacted earth and gravel.

There were no petrol pumps. Petrol was obtained by the ease which was a wooden box eontaining two four gallon sealed tins. The tins could also be bought separately.

The Armstrong-Siddeley was lent by the Chief Justice who had recently brought it from England. It was then the first and only saloon car in Uganda. The others were either open tourer or box body.

"George" was his surname. Elis sister, Muriel George, was at that time a fairly well known actress/entertainer in England.

Dates of the Safari: Sunday, March 9th, 1930 to Thursday, March 13th, 1930.


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