Vacancy Tanganyika

Courtesy of OSPA

by J. Lewis-Barned
Like many others, I left the Army in 1949 with no very clear idea of what to do next. I scanned the daily newspapers, went for interviews with the Ministry of Labour and sundry agencies, and made enquiries from friends and acquaintances. There was the possibility of going to University, but perhaps foolishly, I fought shy of going back to being 'in statu pupillari' and to study for examinations after seeing something of the great world outside.

I had no trade or professional qualifications, nor a degree, and I felt that my field was accordingly limited.

I was rather attracted by an article which appeared in the 'Sunday Express' of 25th February 1951 headed 'Sanders of the River, still the best job for a British Boy' describing in romantic terms the 'key men' who carry forward the work of the Empire. 'There are still boys' said that great newspaper 'with the same idea as their fathers and grandfathers who see themselves in jungle or desert helping primitive tribesmen towards progress, keeping law and order in a district as big as Yorkshire'... Qualities demanded were 'a sense of vocation, an urge for adventure, and a response to the call of duty, initiative and almost above all, a sense of humour and an ability to return the affection of the people who you are serving'.

'Empire Builder' the article concluded 'still the best job for a British Boy!' As a matter of fact the Colonial Service had been in my mind for some time. I consulted an old standby, called 'Every Boy's Book', published in 1938 and describing itself as 'An Epitome of Information Covering all the Interests and Activities of the Modern Boy'. The careers section of this admirable compendium advised intending applicants for the Colonial Service to apply to a long since defunct address for 'Colonial Service Recruitment Pamphlet No. 1.', and this I accordingly did.

On receipt of this document, I found that recruits did not necessarily have to have a degree but should be able to show 'academic capacity equivalent to 1st or 2nd Class Honours' and this sounded hopeful. I had a fairly good Oxbridge Matriculation and thought I could cope with the interview so I applied.

I was required to produce typewritten and in original, a report from headmasters, and employers under whom I had worked since the age of nine. These were all satisfactory as far as I could see except the last which declared emphatically that the writer did not think that I was suitable for the Colonial Administrative Service. Concerned about this, I called at the Colonial Office and handed in the papers personally. They told me not to worry and in due course I attended three interviews. The first was clearly intended to separate sheep from goats, and I conclude that I must have been classified as one or other of these because a little later I was summoned to appear before a board.

As I sat in the lobby waiting to be interviewed - feeling rather groggy about the knees, the door swept open and out came a Scotsman resplendent in kilt and sporran. He was kind enough to tell me that the most tricky question that he had been asked was 'Why do you consider that you have sufficient sympathy and understanding to deal with Africans?' Accordingly I had my answer prepared to the effect that I had always assiduously looked after the welfare of my soldiers and had a genuine interest in people, which seemed to satisfy the Board.

When I went in, a number of interviewers were ranged along a table and they asked the searching sort of questions that are usually asked at interviews with Boards. I remember in particular that I was asked to comment on the merits or demerits of the fagging system then in force at Public Schools, and when the Board learned that I had begun my military career in the ranks of the Grenadier Guards, at Caterham Depot, they wanted to know how I had enjoyed it. I think I replied negatively, but I remember that they burst into laughter and looked at the Chairman, whose tie looked to me vaguely like a Guards tie.

A short while after I went for the third interview. This was with a younger man who leant back in his chair and puffed a pipe. Among other things he was keen to know what I thought of the Ground Nut Scheme. I had studied "The Times" with care every day for some months before my interviews and so was able to assure him that it was a failure. This answer seemed to please him. I did not know at the time that this was also the view of the Africans who lived in the areas concerned, who never understood (until recently perhaps) the illogical ways of the white men who were trying to grow groundnuts where it was known that ground nuts simply would not grow.

I had been told that the Colonial Office would take some time to make up its mind as to my suitability for the joh, so I took a post for the summer term at a preparatory school in Southern England which shall be nameless. Suffice to say that in spite of the modest academic achievements I offered, they saw fit to ask me to teach geography (which I had ceased to study at the age of 13), and cricket, at which I had never excelled, securing a place in my house team at school because they only had ten other members eligible to play. We successfully lost every single match of the season, and I was glad to leave the school at the end of the term.

In August I received a telegram from the Colonial Office (who presumably imagined that Maidstone was some remote bush station with a doubtful postal service) which stated "Vacancy Tanganyika. Formal Offer Follows." Next day there came a letter from someone who had been directed by Mr. Secretary Griffiths to offer me a probationary appointment in the Colonial Administrative Service preceded by a course of instruction at Oxford University.

Accordingly I found myself up at Oxford for a year commencing in October 1950 with four other people bound for the same destination; David Brokensha, Jerry Finch, John Cunningham, and Bill Tulloch.

Vacancy Tanganyika
SS Llanstephan Castle
Although the Colonial Office decreed that the Oxford terms were to be extended at both ends to make them longer than the normal undergraduate term, it was a pleasant year. We studied Field Engineering in the parks with Mr. Longland whose book on the subject Field Engineering - A Handbook on Simple Construction is still a bible to me, and attended courses in Colonial History with Professor Harlow, Geography, Tropical Agriculture (Geoffrey Masefield), Colonial Accounts, Anthropology (Professor Evans Pritchard), Law (Professor Cross), and Swahili. The latter was particularly well taught by Bobby Macguire, Ali Yahatni, an Arab from Zanzibar and a Dictaphone. If only languages had been taught like that at school!

Anyway we satisfied our examiners and embarked on 2nd August 1951 on the 'Llanstephan Castle' to travel round the Cape to Dar-es-Salaam on the East Coast. Apparently the Colonial Office had left the booking too late and all the vessels of the Union Castle Steamship Navigation Co. going via Suez were full. The trip was to take 6 weeks. In my pocket I had a telegram from an Aunt which read 'Best hopes that budding Governor will bloom'. We were on half-pay with comfortable 1st class accommodation and a six week cruise ahead of us. I fell in love with a South African girl (to whom I unsuccessfully proposed). The others of our number were, I think equally affected - to a greater or lesser degree - by the sea breezes, the tropical sunshine, and charming company, as we sailed southwards via St. Helena, and Ascension Island to Cape Town.

District Officer (Cadet)

Vacancy Tanganyika
Dar Es Salaam Harbour
I remember we were in the harbour when I woke up that morning with the palm trees, bright sunshine and busy movement of the town around us. Provided you do not mind the climate, Dar es Salaam (which means Haven of Peace) has great beauty with a languid tropical calm about it all.

We were met by a charming girl called Maudie Lee who turned out to be a W.A.A. (Woman Administrative Assistant) with whom we later explored the night life. I was at once impressed by the relaxed and friendly feelings of everyone. Strangers in the street greeting one with a cheerful 'hello' in Swahili.

'When will the laundry be done?' I asked the boy in the hotel. Two o'clock' said he. But you must add or subtract six in the Swahili language as the first hour of the day is 7 p.m. - sunrise being 6 a.m. in Tanganyika all year round, give or take fifteen minutes.

Vacancy Tanganyika
Sir Rex Surridge
In the absence of His Excellency, we were entertained by Sir Rex Surridge the Chief Secretary to drinks and we went to all the right places and signed the right books and papers in the Secretariat. Our W.A.A. had 'witchcraft' on her work schedule, and there were gekkos on the bathroom ceiling. I knew from the start that I was going to enjoy Tanganyika - clearly, it seemed to me, one of our happiest dependencies. Not long afterwards, I found myself sitting in a compartment of the Central Line Train. This is not at all the same as its namesake in London. It is called the Central Line because it runs almost straight for 600 miles across the centre of the country - a single metre gauge track - over miles and miles of uninhabited bushland. It was built in 1910 by the Germans, and virtually no more railway lines had been laid in the country since they left. Recently, very luxurious first class sleepers had been put in service, but on this trip I cannot recall any very special comfort.

Vacancy Tanganyika
We alighted at Itigi where, in the absence of an hotel, we stayed at a rest house and later boarded a bus in which we spent an entire day travelling over some of the most beautiful country I had ever seen, climbing up into the Southern Highlands over the dusty murram and earth road to 6,000 feet and down to 5,000, to where lies the attractive township of Mbeya 360 miles from the railhead, and administrative centre and capital of the Southern Highlands Province.

I had been told in Dar that I would work with an Administrative Officer called G. N. Clark. He was Secretary for a Land Utilization Committee concerned with allocation of land for European and African Development Schemes. The Southern Highlands were considered ideal for settlement as the climate is good in most parts from the point of view of health and agricultural development. The late Lord Chesham and his American wife had an estate in the Province which was reminiscent more of Sussex than Africa, and it was still the policy of the Government at this time to encourage settlement by experienced European farmers for the further economic development of the country. At no time, however, since Tanganyika became a League of Nations mandate in 1920, after being a German possession, had any freehold land been alienated and the most a settler could hope for was a 99 year lease.

I was put into an hotel after the usual sort of friendly welcome from my District Commissioner, Alan Scott. It turned out that I was not to work in the Land Utilization job after all. They were short in the District Office.

Here I was introduced to the office side of the job. I found that I was secretary of the Board of Film Censors, Passport Officer, Executive Officer for the Housing Committee and a Class III Magistrate. A steady stream of visitors came through my ever-open door in the course of the day - some seeking employment, some tax exemption, the latter given for old age or infirmity, others with very intricate and complicated legal, domestic or matrimonial problems which I found at first very hard to untangle. Kyanda, the office messenger with 28 years service was a friend indeed at this time, patiently repeating the Swahili slowly and methodically as I scampered through my dictionary. I shall never forget Kyanda carrying a stone on his head on foot safari. 'Whyever,' said I 'do you carry a stone on your head?' 'Because' said he 'I am used to carrying my baggage that way and I don't feel right without it'.

I found my magisterial powers interesting. My first case was a plea of 'guilty' in writing for driving without a Road Fund Licence or rear-view mirror. I awarded the offender a fine of 1 pound for the first and 10/- for the second offence. He probably got away lightly, but then people were not very well off there.

I ought perhaps to mention the domestic side of life. It certainly occupied my mind to some extent for I had never hitherto had to manage for myself on my own. Unfortunately even the District Commissioner wielded no substantial power with the local government housing committee, so it was a little time before I was able to move out of the hotel into my own house. This turned out to be an old German-built bungalow with a corrugated iron roof and mud brick walls technically still vested in the Custodian of Enemy Property. It had one bedroom, and reasonable ancillary services and the usual allocation of Public Works Dept, furniture, but no electricity. They put the electricity in the same day that the candlesticks arrived as a gift from my grandmother.

A bare house with a cement floor can be depressing, so my first purchase was two rush mats. I bought a spear to hang in the lobby and wrote home about curtains. The biscuit-type chair cushions had no covers but I had made a start. I had a few pictures from home to hang on the walls, a traditional wind-up gramophone and 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen' among other 78's.

Vacancy Tanganyika
On Safari
Safari was a new adventure. Alan Scott took me on several in his truck, trips which sometimes ended up with enormous curry parties with his friends the Baluchis, an Indian tribe, washed down with I.P.A. beer, a sub-product of Worthingtons, I believe. At that time many African notables had acquired their dress from the cast-away wardrobe of the late war. Some dressed in khaki and some in air-force blue, of differing rank. There was said to be a full-blown Admiral of the Fleet, wandering around somewhere, but the best I ever came across was a Group Captain.

On one occasion we had to attend the installation of a Chief. Chairs were produced and many ponderous speeches made. The crowd to me, as a newcomer, was like a Hollywood set 'hollering' cheering and singing. I had my first (and my last) taste of African millet beer. I thought it tasted like milk of magnesia, but proclaimed how delicious it was, of course, and consequently the Chief made me drink 3 glasses. I am told it can be very potent dependent on the fermentation period.

I doubt if there are many characters left like Paddy O'Neill whom I met there, a planter for 35 years from the days when life really was life (so they say). He married a black girl by native law and custom - aged 12, which was most illegal of course, but he had not yet been prosecuted.

Finally Alan sent me on foot safari for a week on my own. This was the custom with a new cadet so that he learned the language. No one was there who could speak English. After it had all been arranged it occurred to me that he had not told me what to do. I sent him a note on Sunday evening and the reply came saying I was just to see that the contour ridging was going ahead and check the books and cash at the Courthouses. I took 18 porters up the hills and walked for miles. I had not yet learned that in spite of being in the Highlands, where it is cool, the sun can do damage, and I suffered accordingly, until I bought a hat about which I have been teased ever since. I chucked it into the Atlantic Ocean at the Equator on the last journey home like the British Army used to do with their topees years ago, when a regiment came home from India.

I was enthusiastic about safari from the start. There seemed to me to be something romantic about the wide open spaces and the days of travelling in a way almost extinct in western Europe. I lay in bed half asleep and wondered what the reaction would be if I eschewed British Rail and turned up at my Grandmother's place in London on foot one day from our home in Kent.

Time was immaterial. The first cock had the consideration to crow later than I expected and I rose at 5.20 a.m. dressed, shaved in the dark, had breakfast and started up-hill with Sub-Chief Mpenzu, the Headman, Agricultural Instructor, and Mambo Leo (the messenger). As we walked the sun rose. It is an enthralling sight in Africa and a never-to-be-forgotten moment. All the dawn proclaims that it must be coming now - now and just as the strain of watching is tense, one jump and up it comes. The sun has risen and is quickly climbing into the heavens, and as the onomatopoeic Swahili language proclaims 'kumekuchwa' - plop.

Vacancy Tanganyika
Southern Highlands
We walked for three hours, seeing monkeys in the trees en route to a height where bracken grows as if on the Surrey downs and blackberries proliferate. Yellow and mauve flowers abound in profusion, together with bush-beans and bush-bulbs. We halted and I lay on my back and gazed across the measureless mountain ranges and hills stretching to the horizon, with puffy clouds reflecting the curvature of the earth's surface as they folded away to a distant grey haze - right across Chunya District mile upon mile of empty vegetation and bush. Mambo Leo thought he could see the end of the world and I attempted to explain. We talked of space travel of which they had never heard, and of man's prospects of reaching the moon - of mountains and ski-ing of which none of them had ever heard either nor are they ever likely to have the opportunity to find out.

We reached the Court of Sub-Chief Mwaliego, a rectangular stone and brick construction with a tiled roof (but with a surrounding wall only 4 feet high). Lo! The tradition of perspicacity on the part of our Inland Revenue Department pervaded even unto the corners of the Empire. See me then sitting in darkest Africa, as my first taste, examining Tax Collectors' Registers and counting cash and trying to find out why so many people had failed to pay the statutory 12/- per annum demanded by the State. On the left sat the Chiefs advisors. On the stone floor, or on a few scattered benches, sat the people. Later Chief Lyoto and I sat over beer in my tent. He reckoned himself underpaid. His money came from local revenue. The answer was easy. I think I must have been energetic too, because Sub-Chief Mpenzu pleaded sickness early on and my cook also felt that he could soldier no more and departed for home.

We climbed to about 8,000 feet with 17 porters to Igala where I was encamped under a bamboo tree of magnifictmt dimensions. A child sat motionless for half an hour while I sketched. Next day we went to Nshinshi where we spent the night in a glade of trees amid undulating green fields and scraggy zebra cattle, having been met by the local headman dressed in RAF uniform. Thence to Idebwe. Kyanda found the journey tiring (in spite of, or because of, the stone on his head perhaps). He was not so young.

Here the villages turned out to meet me and all the women yodelled, I suppose you could say, their tongues wagging from side to side. I mistook the noise for guinea fowl at first. They came in a long row some distance from the men, the noise is a greeting called "kegelele!. I was not sure of the form and sought advice from Kyanda. I was very naive in those days, but I think I did the right thing in the end.

But to business. Whilst tax-collection was better here, Sub-Chief Mpenzu and I had to discuss the mountain cultivators who had been ordered to move because the area is a forest reserve. Apparently they had not moved. The object of the Forest Reserve was, of course, apart from forest produce, to protect the slopes from erosion and destruction of the top-soil caused by heavy rain, and it had probably been so ordained by the Native Authority. The reasons given were that the villagers had not had time to build a new village and they did not like the new land allocated to them. I qualified an eviction order by promising to look at the land about which they were complaining and lectured the assembled company on contour ridging and soil preservation (shades of Oxford). I later exempted some very old folk from the poll tax. The mailed fist in the velvet glove, someone once said. Later I administered mepachrine to Kyanda. The psychological value undoubtedly helped. I was, of course, quite unqualified to diagnose why he felt so rotten, but he said he felt better in the shade after the dose.

The flies did not seem to mind the DDT sprinkled around (before the days of aerosol). The tin said "they die later' whenever that might be.

African hospitality must be second to none. This was my first taste of it. Chickens, eggs, sheep, oranges, and pawpaws were handed to a District Officer upon his first arrival at a new place. Chief Lyoto told me that it was quite in order not to eat all the gifts at one sitting which was a relief. I was firmly told, however, that payment was out of the question and it was all very embarrassing. However, I was running short of bread and fresh vegetables and anyway I had no cook by now (Kyanda did his best). One lives and learns with this sort of life that what one leaves behind one goes without and this included all normal European types of basic foodstuffs e.g. butter, cheese, etc. Incidentally this is an ideal way to give up smoking as I discovered later on. By the end of a week one is of necessity used to going without. Eventually I managed to make a composite list of all safari requirements which was regularly checked before departure.

Mbeya District is fortunate in possessing a good rainfall and rich soil in many parts and I learned much from the local people about the crops, which were doing well, mainly millet, maize and bananas. I was most particularly intrigued by the way in which the houses were constructed entirely of locally produced materials, bamboo poles tied together with pliable bark string. Gow leaves overlapped on top of grass to provide a waterproof thatching.

In the evening - somehow so peaceful and perfect - I went off with a dear old gentleman with a chain round his neck, like some sort of mayor, for an hour and a half and tramped the maize and millet fields with my gun in search of guinea fowl - and eventually shot a partridge for my supper.

As I sat at my camp table later in the evening feeling sun-tanned and slightly sore, I ate my partridge and watched the sun sink over the mountains silhouetting three Africans with debes (four gallon containers) on their heads. Stillness prevailing save for the twitter of a bird somewhere 50 yards away. The mountain assumed a bluish haze - and it was night.

British Colony Map
1949 Map of SW Tanganyika
Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journals 51 & 52:
April & October 1986


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