Colonial life as it was in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s will never be experienced again, so I have been persuaded to at least write down my early record of life in Nairobi, so that in 100 years time or so, my great-grandchildren will read how different life was then to what they now live.
I was born at "Dunlaw" Nairobi on the 21st March, 1925, barely weighing 5 lbs. and was nicknamed "Snookie" because I was such an ugly baby. I can remember as far back as sitting in my high chair and eating my favourite meal of buttered mashed potatoes, peas and tomato ketchup. I would have been about one year old as I also remember being in my dropside cot and the little Christmas tree, all decorated for the first time that December. The same tree I still have and decorate each Christmas, even now, and I am 73.
The family home was bought by my Grandfather, Robert Brownlie Duncan, just after the First World War. It was called "Dunlaw" which was half Duncan and half Lawson (my grandmother's maiden name). It had been an Army headquarters set in 10 acres of land on Slater's Road. It consisted then of 4 main rooms, a bathroom, a store and 2 verandahs at the back, and had a longdrop toilet at the far end of the back garden.
The house was constructed of wood and corrugated iron, and set up on 2ft. high stone piles because the white ants would eat away the wood. The interior was of tongue and groove. Granddad built on 5 rooms to the front. The sitting room in the middle with main bedroom to one sade and withdrawing room on the other side of the sitting room. The dining room was behind the sitting room with a large bedroom on either side. One went through the back door onto a small verandah with a walk-in store on the left and the bathroom on the right. A step down on to a second varandah with a linen store room on the side. Down again on to the back landing and into a new stone kitchen with a Kuni firewood stove.
A new stone longdrop toilet was built down a garden path and closer to the house than the old one had been. My Grandmother designed the front garden, which she formed into three terraces. The top terrace consisted of formal flower beds and paths bordered by low box hedging. Tall slender cyprus trees and microcarpa hedge line the long curving drive up the slope from the main road to the front and side of the house. There were three palm trees in the front of the house, one of which produced dates, a couple of little red squirrels fed on these. Behind the house was a large lawn with high hedge round it where the house boys would do the laundry and hang it out on long lines to dry. Beyond this would be two garages for the cars and a Kuni stove where the kitchen boy would chop the wood for the stove. The house and garden were on 2 1/2 acres of land. On the other side of the drive was another 2 1/2 acres that was planted up with sweet potatoes, pineapples, maize and various crops in season with fruit trees to the back of this plot.
Once a porcupine was caught by our dog Buster, and it shot its quills into his mouth and throat. I remember the shamba boy (gardener) washing out Buster's mouth and throat under the standpipe and pulling out the quills. He saved the dog's life but Buster had a very sore neck for a long time.
We also had two Dik-dik deer living under the lucky bean tree, amongst the orchids. These little deer are the smallest in Kenya and stand about 12 inches high at the shoulder. They would love to eat the rose buds. One day our short legged terrier, Peter, cornered a Skunk under the back verandah and we had to pull up a couple of boards to get then both out. The Skunk made off at high speed when released.
We had 7 servants in all: two houseboys, a cook, a kitchen bay (who did the washing up and went to town with a member of the family each morning and took home the daily supplies), two shamba boys and an ayah to look after me. They lived in single adjoining rooms at the back of the house section and had a leanto kitchen where one of them would cook the posho meal that they had every night with meat and sauces. There was a partitioned off room that they used for "bucket bathing" and an outside longdrop.
When my two youngest uncles finished school at George Watsons, Edinburgh, we had a building with two rooms, a bathroom and a verandah put up for them on the far side of the "produce" plot. A tennis court was also built where many an afternoon of fun and games were had.
The other 5 acres to the back of these two plots were sold after I was born. Most of the furniture in the house was brought out from Scotland by my Grandparents. The bedroom suite was of black Ebony wood all put together with pegs, no screws. The double wardrobe had a long central mirror and the doors either side had "linen fold" sculptured facing. The diningroom suite was in dark oak: oval drop leaf table and 8 chairs, large sideboard heavily carved with large oval mirror. They brought out from Scotland the upright piano and an organ as Granddad was very musical and played both with skill. He liked Bach, Chopin and Mozart best according to the music sheets in the music cabinet. There was also an Escritoire that had a concealed unit that popped up when a lever was pulled that was hidden in one of the drawers. Royal Doulton dinner and tea services setting for 12, and silver cutlery, also 12 setting, in presentation case, silver tea and coffee pots, milk and sugar to mention a few.
I don't know if Granddad brought out his Model T Ford with him when he left Scotland. in 1915, but Mum learned to drive on it. It had oil powered headlamps. Later he bought the Model A Ford.
|1 year old.||Irene, ayah Wanjiko and me.|
A shopping trip to Nairobi, three miles away, would be by rickshaw, with Granma. This was very smart and had white calico covers on the seat, and was pulled and pushed by the two shamba boys dressed in their white shirts and shorts. Feathered bands on their heads and the feathered bands on their legs would also have bells on them to warn pedestrians of their approaching. I would have my best dress on and double Terai hat to protect my head from the sun Granma would have a Tussaur silk suit on with gloves and hat.
Nairobi had two main streets - Government Road - which ran along the bottom end of town and consisted of little Indian Dukas. These sold: materials, saris of elaborate designs and colours which were most beautiful, ivory ornaments, Indian jewellery, brass-ware, foodstuffs, clothes for safaris, carpets and small furniture; in fact everything &hat was not too large.
My Grandfather had his first grocery shop in Government Road, he was the first European Grocer in Nairobi and used to send orders to the farmers up country. He also imported wines and spirits, kippers and haddock from Scotland. He later moved his shop into Elliot Street which was on the corner of Government Road and Delemare Avenue, then again into Hardinge Street.
Government Road was very long and went from Ainswerth Bridge, past the famous Norfolk Hotel, on through the Dukas, past the Law Courts and down on to the Railway Station. The old Law Courts were in a single storey, white wooden bhilding. Two canons sat in front of the main door and two Askari (police) dressed in white shorts and shirts and red fez with black tassel on their head, red cummerbund round their waist and rifles at slope arm, were in constant attendance.
Delemare Avenue ran at right angles to Government Road at the traffic island outside the Law Courts. This was a double carriageway with a long island down the centre and planted with flower beds, Jagaranda trees and Bougainvilleas. It was the town centre road and went past The Stanley Hotel on one side and Torr's Hotel on the other, and on until it reached the Post Office and the railway crossing. Beyond this was the Church of England Cathedral.
These and all side roads would be surfaced with watered and rolled Murham grass, which tended to make the sidewalks and shop fronts very dusty. It was not until the 1930s that Macadam surface was laid, and then only on main roads around town. Further out there would be two macadam strips which one would drive along and then get a nasty bump when the strips came to an end suddenly. In the rainy season the road in between these strips would get very muddy, and if one had to come off the strips to let another car pass, could very easily become stuck up to the running boards.
Most people, who were not in business, would gather at The Stanley or Torr's Hotel for morning coffee and chat till lunchtime, when everyone would go home for lunch, cooked by the Pishi (cook). Sundowners (drinks) would he at "sundown" - 6.30 - and dinner at 8 p.m.
My mother was employed by Crown Agents, London, and was the Director of Agriculture's Private Secretary. She served 7 directors in all in the 40 years she worked in the Government. When I was a baby I was looked after during the day by my Grandma, three uncles and two aunts. My youngest aunt was only six years older than I was. My mother, being employed by U.K., was entitled to "Home Leave" to England for 5 months every 5 years on full pay and travel by Cabin class on the Union Castle Steamship Company via Sues Canal. I don't know if my fare was paid for by Government, but she always took me with her. We also went to Mombasa on the coast every year for 3 weeks holiday to thin down our blood from living at 5,000 ft.
|My mother.||On board the Llandovery Castle.|
My first trip to England was in 1926 when I was 15 months old and I can just remember being on board ship and suffering from bad sunburn on my arms and back. I had large blisters and can remember having them popped and then covered in Calamine Lotion. I also recall the little puff pants and tunic tops that were called my "Cuckoo dresses".
|Winter 1927 in England.||My mother and the 1927 Morris Tourer.|
The second trip to England was when I was 5 years old and my Granddad had died that January in Scotland on a trip, It was late Autumn. We went to Kew Gardens and I can still smell the steamy air of the greenhouses, and the smell of the ferns and hothouse flowers. We went up to Scotland before returning to Kenya and it was cold, I had to wear long socks and gaiters to keep my legs warm. I remember eating kippers and baps in front of the sittingroom fire and snow falling that was the first I had ever seen.
Back in London, before leaving, the streets were all lit up and decorated for Christmas. The Neon Lights were quite wonderful. I was frightened by Santa Claus in Whitley's store as he was cuddling children in a fairy grotto and I did not like him one bit. I am still, at 73, uneasy if approached by Santa, and his "Ho-Ho-Ho" will send me scuttling across the street so as to avoid him. That Christmas, on return to Nairobi, I was given a wonderful model farmyard with all the animals, cottage and garden to play with that had been bought from Hamley's famous toy store in London.
My dancing lessons had started when I was 3, now nearly 5 I was to start my piano lessons with Grace Penny. Grace was a teacher who demanded perfection. If you insisted on playing a wrong note her temper would flare and your head would be pushed or your fingers banged down on the on Piano. Practice was to be an hour a day and the lesson each week was 1/2 hour period. She was, in spite of all, a wonderful teacher.
At the age of 6 1/2 I had to play at my first concert. It was at night and at the Theatre Royal in Nairobi. I remember the stage lights being very bright and I must have been still small for my age as the music stool was too low for me even at its full height, a cushion was called for and I was lifted up on to it. I played my piece: The Sailor's Dance, without music and was note perfect but the ovation was so loud that I took fright and slid off the stool and rushed off stage without taking a bow. Miss Penny grabbed me, shoved a large bunch of roses into my arms and took me back on stage to do my courtesy. I was terrified,
By the age of 9 years there wasn't a scale or appageo that she hadn't drummed into me. Major, Minor, Harmonic, Melodic, up the scale one way, down another, in threes, inwards and outwards. They seemed to be more important than playing pieces, and never daring to get a note wrong. Miss Penny was very upset with mummy when she was told that I was off to boarding school and would no longer be her pupil. Apparently, ahe maintained that given the time, she would have made an above average piano player out of me. Unfortunately, the school piano mistress, Miss Chapman, was not the driving force that Miss Penny was and that I needed, and so I became bored and didn't put any achievement into it which to this day I regret.
From the age of 4 to 9 years, Joy, Jeanne and I attended St. Matthews Childrens' Church every Sundey which was just up the road. This was a tiny Church about 25ft long and sverything in it was of miniature size. There were 12 little hand made pews: five on the left side and seven on the right, with a tiny font at the back. It was here at the age of five that I was Christened, the Holy Water being flicked on to my forehead and the sign of the cross made. Joy's father always took us to the church as he played the organ, also small. The windows had leaded coloured glass and the porch and traditional lynch gate were only 5ft in height so adults had to duck to enter. Each child was given a stamp picture book and after the service a Bible story picture was given to be stuck in where the short version of the story could be read. These were beautiful small copies of the life of Jesus: such as The Sermon on the Mount and Christ Walking on the Water, all famous paintings. I understand that the Church is still standing although it was a wooden building.
School started after that Christmas when I was 6, and my ayah would take me on the back of her bicycle to Westlands School, about a mile down the road from home. This day school was run by the Miss Sheltons who were sisters: one tall and thin, the other short and round. I was there for a year before going on to Parklands school that was a further mile down the road. The only teacher I remember there was a large, kindly lady by the name of Mrs. Coleman whose son was a very troublesome lad. He once threw a bullet into the bonfire and got shot through his hand. It could have been a lot worse!
The next trip to England was when I was 10 years old and it was the Spring of 1935, All I recall of this trip was staying in a thatched cottage in Devon and going for a coach trip on Primrose Day and picking a little basket of primroses in a little wood that we had come to. I can still smell the scent of primroses today. We visited friends in Ripon and listened to the Town Crier giving out the news of the day in the town square, an old tradition.
We went up to Edinburgh to see my Grandma who was then living in a nursing home. She had gone to pieces when Grandpa died and wanted to go "home" to Scotland. We looked over Edinburgh Castle and were taken down into the pitch dark dungeons that are now closed to the public. We visited Holyrood Palace and saw the dark bloodstain on the floor where David Ritzio had been stabbed to death, and the secret spiral staircase behind Queen Elizabeth's bed that her lovers used to visit her. Mummy and I loved walking along Princes Street and visiting the shops. I was measured and had made, my kilt, of Royal Stuart tartan, wearing it with a silk shirt, tartan tie and red buckled shoes.
|Limuru school brocure.||Off to school.|
On return from this 3 months trip I started boarding school at Limuru Girls School, 25 miles out of Nairobi. This school sat on top of a rise at 7,000 ft. and looked down on Nairobi. On a clear day we could see Mt. Kilimanjaro and in the setting sun it would look all pink and white like a great Blancmange. Mt. Kenya was to the left side of the school but we rarely saw the tip of it. It was cold enough in the "long rains" for there to be a light frost in the mornings and we would have fires in the classrooms during the day. For the first week of every term we did not play games but went for long walks so as to get acclimatised from rising fron 5,000 to 7,000 ft. One could feel quite breathless and it was for this reason that all interschool sports were played down in Nairobi because the Nairobi school girls could not tolerate the sudden 2,000ft rise. It was certainly very healthy air!
Oh, how I hated boarding school, how I missed my family and friends. How I cried myself to sleep and all the next day at each beginning of term.
It was a Church of England School and the Bishop of Mombasa was its Governor. It was first run by the Miss Lister and Miss Rosevere in the early 1920s. When I started school there it was run by Miss Waller, and in my second year Miss Williams was the Headmistress. There were two houses: Lister (red) and Rosevere (green). I was in Lister. There were six forms: 3B, 3A, 4B, 4A, 5B and 5A. We did have a 6th form in my last year. Each class had about 8 or 9 pupils, making up to 50 in the school. One could sit Junior Cambridge papers in form 4A which were set and marked in U.K. This would be the entrance exam for English Schools. Senior Cambridge papers were sat in 5A form and was the entrance exam for English University or School Leaving Certificate. Piano, violin and organ lessons were taken by Miss Chapman who would, I believe, even teach the tin whistle if wanted. There were 4 dormatories: Lomgonot, Donyo-Sabuk, Kilimanjaro and Kenya. The head girl and head prefect shared a room together. All the floors in the school were of 3 inch thick parquet blocks, placed in herringbone design and polished, they looked beautiful.
The classes consisted of French, Latin, English Grammar, Literature and Composition, Arithnetic, Algebra, Geomatory, History, Geography and Scripture for the morning classes. Drawing, Painting, Sewing, Handwork, Drill, Gym and Musical Appreciation (we studied the entire "Messiah" one year) were held in the afternoon. Prep was after games and showers, before supper at 7.p.m. Lights out at 8.30 after story reading in the Headmistress's sittinhroom.
The desks and chairs in the form rooms were made of solid Mavouli (African Mahogany) wood. The 5 long dining tables and the chairs were in the same wood and the chairs had L.G.S. monogrammed on their backs. The food was excellent. Porridge with cream was served every other morning alternated with fresh fruit the other mornings, followed by sausages, or some form of eggs or fish kedgeree, bread and marmalade and tea. Lunch would be of two courses and supper would be a pasta dish, fish or rice dish, followed by bread and cheese, tea or milk. Morning break would be bread and jam or scone, coffee or fresh fruit juice. Afternoon tea was bread and jam and tea.
The day would start at 6.45 a.m. bell, for silent time and quiet personel prayer. Rising bell at 7 a.m. Breakfast 7.50. Bed making, toilet time and run round the school bounds before morning prayers in the school chapel at 8.50. Lessons began at 9 a.m., morning break 10.50, Lunch 1 p.m. Rest time in the dormitory 1.50 to 2.15 when foot exercises would be taken by Matron. Afternoon class untill tea and change into games uniform by 4.p.m. We would play tennis, hockey, netball or lacrosse, according to the season. From 4.50 to 6 p.m, when baths or showers and change into mufti for evening prep and supper. Story reading and lights out 8.50.
Our uniform consisted of chocolate brown Trabalco cotton dress, short sleeved with cream collar and cuffs, beige pullovers, beige socks and brown shoes. A brown blazer was worn, either with the cream Sunday dress or the brown day dress according to the occasion. Brown terrai felt hat with dark brown and cream hat band. The games uniform was dark brown gym tunic and cream shirt but this changed later to pleated shorts and top in one in the day dress material and worn with the House Colours waist girdle (red or green). The school badge (seen on the back of the school prospectus book) was worn on the blazer pocket. There were 4 quarters to the badge: right top quarter was St. Georges cross with the anchor under it, this was the Bishop of Mombasa's insignia on his ring. The Book of Knowledge (or Bible) was in the left top quarter and Mt. Kenya and the Lion in the under quarter . The school motto was "In Fide Vade", "In Faith I Go".
On Saturday mornings we had to do our mending, if any, or work on our "Sampler", learning all the different stitches, darning and sewing on buttons etc. After morning break those who had "returned work" would do it in their formroom. Brownies and Guides would gather after lunch and do their thing and work on passing their badges, and lst and 2nd grade class. I was in the Flamingo Patrol to stagt with, then took over the Kingfishers as leader. I got my 25 badges and my 1st grade class and so became a Queen's Guide.
Lady Baden-Powell visited the school one term and brought her Hyrax pet with her, he amused us with his antics and permitted the odd stroking from us, it was very tame. Those who were not im Guides spent the afternoon before tea as they wished: reading, playing games or just sunbathing.
Sunday began with morning prayers after breakfast, then everyone had to write their letter home. Sunday Service was mostly held in the School Chapel 11 to 12.50. Sometimes we had a visiting Clergy take the Service, and once a term we would put on our Sunday cream dresses and blazers and walk the mile down the road to the local Church, which we called the "Tin Tabernacle" because it was built of wood and corrugated iron, but in fact it was a dear little church with stained glass windows and a choir balcony where the school choir sat and filled the church with song. Free time after rest hour in the afternoon would see us through to Evensong, supper and bed.
Half term break would be from midday on the Friday to midday Monday and we all went home for the break. Those who could would invite the "up-country" girls to stay with them as they lived too far away to travel in that short time. We had the usual three holidays a year, with the longest break over Christmas when most families would go down to Mombasa on the coast. The new school year would start in January.
|Miss Chapman and the music pupils.|
Now that I was in boarding school, there was no need for me to have an ayah, so my school holidays were spent divided between my four friends that lived in the same road as us. There was Joy, she was a year younger than me and sadly, for her, she suffered from Petit Mal and was therefore rather delicate. Her mother, to me, was my 2nd or daytime mother. She was kind and was always "there" for me. Joy's fits were very often, but shallow, and she did need an eye kept on her so that she came to no harm. Her mother trusted me with Joy and I guarded her against any teasing from other children. We used to play "dolls" and were very thorough with the baby routine. I learned a great deal about baby care from these playouts, which helped a great deal when I did become a mother. We also played Monopoly for hours on end when tired of being "mothers".
Then there was Jeanne, a very different friend, we were "all go", tearing round on our bicycles, playing tennis, swimming or dressing up in her mother's clothes, and giggling our way through the dag. Sheila, who was Jeanne's cousin, was next up the road and lived in a very interesting house called "the Domes". It was 3 domes - the large one in the centre was the sitting room and the ones either side were double storey with 2 bedrooms on one side, and the diningroom and 3rd bedroom on the other side. A wide verandah went round these 3 domes and it was always cool and quiet there. The house sat in the middle of 10 acres and half of it was in light forest. On the edge of their land was the French Mission and Loretto Convent where a lot of Nairobi girls went to school, a large R.C. Church and the most glorious 1 1/2 miles of Jacaranda lined road. When in full bloom this would make a deep blue carpet of flowers to ride along. Sheila was a good 10 years younger than her brother and sister, so her parents always appeared to be very old to me. She and I lived in a dream world of being famous film stars and riding round in fabulous cars. We would spend our hours describing our glamorous clothes, friends , parties and food, in all a fantasy land. We developed terrific imaginations.
Then there was Dorothy, very quiet and reserved. She had had spinal meningitis when she was 2 years old which may have accounted for it, but then again she also was 10 years younger that her 2 sisters and brother. Her father had died of cancer when she was a young child and 2 years later, when she was 5, her mother died, it was said, of a broken heart and she was left to be brought up by her two sisters. Our games were "domestic": cooking, sewing and knitting and just talking, but I liked her company, it was relaxing. With a different "hat" to put on every day it is amazing that I still knew who I was.
My schooling was interrupted again in 4A when we were off to England for the 3 months Home Leave, this time going via South Africa instead of Suez. This was an amazing trip, not only because I was now 13/14 and could appreciate travel and exploration to the full, but because it was still the age of elegant travel, taking 5 weeks calling into Zanzibar, Lorenzo Marques, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Capetown all down the East coast of Africa. It seemed we were in port every other day, with a full day to to go ashore and explore.
The Union Castle Line had three classes: lst Class that had cabins with windows on to the deck and their own bathroom, Cabin Class (that we travelled) had cabins with portholes and communal toilet rooms along the passage. Both these classes shared the same louges, diningroom and smoking room and bar and took up the front 2/3rd of the ship, while Tourist class were at the back of the ship and did not enter up into lst & 2nd class decks. We had table service with menu at every meal, a 3 piece orchestra played music throughout dinner, a ship's officer would sit at each table and everyone would change into evening dress for dinner. Horse racing, dancing or a film would be put on for entertainment, and a sweepstake would be taken every day on guessing the ship's mileage for the day.
Nowadays sea travel seems to be too commercialised and overcrowded, as someone put it "Butlin's Afloat"! The seas, as we came out of Capetown were the roughest I have ever seen until we rounded the Cape and were up the West coast. Next stop, which seemed to be after days and days of looking at nothing but sea, was St. Helena Island in the Atlantic. Just a big mound coming out of the sea. We had to go ashore on pontoons as there are no docks. We climbed Jacob's Ladder: 99 steps up the side of the island to were Napoleon was held and buried. It was not until 1996 that I learned that my Great-grandfather, William Hole, was serving there as a Captain in the St. Helena Regiment, married there and my Grandfather was born there, in 1859.
We then called in to Ascension Island and then on to the Canary Islands where we picked up crates and crates of lovely big red tomatoes, that had to be held on the foredeck, for the London market.
My mother had a new Morris 8 delivered for her to the docks on arrival, and so we spent the next 5 months holiday travelling around England, Wales and Scotland. Steep hills and quaint villages in Wales. We stayed at cottage Bed-and-Breakfast places all up the west side of the British Isles, on into Scotland to visit Fort William and stay with my Gran's 92 year old Aunt. We went through Glen Coe and it was very eerie, we were the only car on the road at the time and a mist was coming down the hills into the pass and all was so very quiet and lonely that you cpuld imagine the ghosts of the fallen Scotsmen after the battle and we were very happy to get out of the place.
|Glen Coe on a clear day.|
Fort William was a quaint town, and Mrs Fraser and family lived in a large house on top of the hill overlooking the town. From the back attic window one could see the top of Ben Nevis. The old lady would say long prayers at the start of every meal and her nose would drip while the food got cold. She dressed in the old fashioned Scottish way of long black dress with high neckline and hair was done up in a bun. There was a very interesting little museum in the town consisting mostly of Bonnie Prince Charlie's clothes and memorabilia. There was a wine glass that, when tipped, one could see down the stem of the glass a painting of Charlie, so one could drink to his health without his enemies knowing. We also visited Loch Ness but did not see the Monster. We looked over old castles, abbeys and cathedrals. My poor mother was dragged round by me to see places were saints had trod, heroes had fallen and Robert the Bruce's heart was supposed to have been buried. No ruin was allowed to be passed without inspection.
Back in London the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and Museums had to be gone through yet again, not to mention Madam Tussauds and that Chamber of Horrors that wes blood curdling.
One reason for this trip to England was with a view to my being left in boarding school in Northwood, near London. We went and looked over the school. I did not think it looked as comfortable as my Limuru school. However, the clouds of war were gathering and everyone was holding their breath, so Mum decided to take me back with her to Kenya and we boarded the Llandaff Castle on the last day of August 1939 for home. War was declared on that 3rd September and we waited in mid-ocean for orders as to whether to return to London or go on to Gibraltar and pick up a convoy to go through the Mediterranean Sea safely. This we did, with lifeboats let down to the level of the decks and emergency supplies loaded and life jackets had to be carried with us everywhere, even to have a bath.
We picked up with 26 ships, 6 Naval ships and 2 fighter planes. The boats were all "blacked out" and for the next 3 weeks we zig-zagged our way, 3 abreast, going at the speed of only 8 knots. This was because the slowest boat would stoke up and go 10 knots at night and fall back while going only 6 knots during the day as their boiler room got so hot during the day. The Llandaff led the convoy and one hoot told all the ships to veer to Port and two hoots and we would all veer to Starboard - so we would zig and zag our way along. Every day the Navy would come alongside and semaphore the orders for the day to the Captain. They were so close that you could hear their mascot dog whimper.
One morning at daybreak, there were three terrific explosions and the alarms went off. Two German submarines had been spotted and a torpedo had gone between our stern and the following ship without hitting anything. The Navy dropped depth charges and scuttled one of the subs and damaged the other, all this was too close for comfort. We were a marked ship as we were carrying aircraft parts for the middle east. In spite of all this danger of war at sea, we had an enjoyable trip with plenty of entertainment, concerts, dances and horse racing nights. One song that appeared in one of the concerts west to the tune of The Three Little Fishes and the first verse as I remember it went:
Away in the Medi went a convoy true 26 ships and the Navy too. The Llandsff at the head you see As they zig and they zag all over the sea. Boom boom waddam diddam choo ... As they zig and they zag all over the sea.
The other verses were topical of the people and situation on board, but I am now unable to remember them. Another song was "Kenya's not a country for a Cow" and goes on to say "the way they pull my udder, is enough to make one shudder- Oh, Kenya's not a country for a cow". We did eventually get home to Kenya safely and me back to school.
l'll break in here to give mention to the wild life in Kenya. To us children growing up in Kenya it was an accepted thing that they were at our back door, so to speak. Nowadays one has to join up with a Safari and go miles into the countryside in the hopes of seeing even a few wild animals, while in my young years one would only have to go out to the little local airfield, or a farm, and there would he herds of zebra, wildebeest and Thomsons gazelle in plenty to be seen.
I came face to face with a couple of large snakes when young. The first was when I was 6 years old and our short legged, Jack Russell type of dog, Peter, attacked a cobra on the drive in front of the house. Unfortunately it sprayed it's venom into Peter's eyes before he could kill it and we had to bathe his shut swollen up eyes with milk and medication for about 10 days. He lost the sight in one eye but the other gave him sufficient sight for the rest of his life.
|Irene and me with Peter and Raggie.||Peter and Raggie.|
The second encounter was when I was 12, Sheila and I were walking along a native path through the long grass when a few yards in front of us a cobra reared up in front of us ready to strike. We didn't hesitate and turned tail and got the hell out of there, I've never run so fast in my life.
Every 3 or 4 years we would get a swarm of locust descending on farms, gardens and native reserves. They would eat every green blade in sight. These swarms came down from the Sudan where they had hatched, and would be anything up to 4 miles square. We always knew where they would land for eating as the Marabou storks would fly ahead of them and wait, and what a feast they would have. Somehow the storks would instinctively know the time and place the locust would arrive. The swarm was so dense that it would look like a thunder cloud arriving, and when they landed we would try and scare them off by running through them, but they would simply land again behind us. The traffic would be brought to a standstill as one could not see through the windscreen and the road would be slippery with the dead bodies. The shamba boys would try to protect our maize and vegetable garden by banging tin lids together, but they still left a sorry sight.
Famine and disease would follow these swarms and the Government would have to rush supplies and innoculations against cholera and typhoid to the native reserves. We also would get these "jabs". Spraying in the Sudan wes done to kill the locust in their hopper stage and this was quite effective but unfortunately was stopped during and after the war.
A couple of times a year we would visit the Harris's farm at Athi River, a few miles south of Nairobi. We would see plenty of buck and zebra on the way there but the journey homeward was the best, as the animals would be coming to the river for the day's drink. The giraffe, with their long necks would bend right down to peer into the car with curiosity. Once there was a pride of lions right on the side of the road, happily quite unconcerned at us passing so near to them as we drove carefully past shaking in our seats.
The farm ran dairy cows. On arrival, the men would load on to an old open truck and go off looking for some shooting. They would return with one or two Tommy or a water buck and Mr. Jones, the head boy who spoke excellent English, would gut and skin the animals and we would take what we wanted of the meat and he, and the herdsmen, would have the rest. Mrs. Harris would then have ready a hearty meal of roast beef and Yorkshire pud and always the most delicious baked custard pudding made from the farm milk, cream and a dozen eggs. Before taking our leave all would test the milk, with a splash of Whisky added?
A couple of Easters we went up to the Dawson's farm on the Kinangop. This was a dairy and sheep farm at 8,500 ft on the plateau looking down on Lake Naivasha where hundreds of Flamingos would land to feed. The contrast of their brilliant pink and white feathers against the deep blue off the lake was a beautiful sight.
The Rift Valley could be counted as one of the wonders of the World: starting at the Red Sea, coming down through Abyssinia and Kenya to finish around Lake Tanganyika. At the Mau Escarpment one stands and looks at the Rift Valley. It is vast: 8,O000ft high at this point with a sheer 2,000ft drop to the flat plain that is over 5 miles wide. You can see the lines of cows, looking the size of ants, walking below, and hear the distant bell of the leading cow and the occasional yelp of the herdsman urging the cows on, and the air is so still.
Mr and Mrs Dawson came to Kenya from Scotland to farm. He was a very large strong man. One night he and his herdsmen set tp a watch as a rogue lion was worrying his cattle in the boma (cattle pen) and has taken and killed one of his sows. Unfortunately they were surprised by the lion and he was unable to level his gun before the lion sprang and he had to fight it with his hands. The herdsmen joined in and he managed to thrust his fist and arm down the lions throat and killed it but not before the lion had inflicted fearful rips with its claws all over Mr. Dawson's back and shoulders. These scars were still deep and wide and awesome when I saw them.
Mrs. Dawson made Cheddar and Stilton cheeses, these won many awards at the Shows. During the dry months they had to chase the wild animals away from their drinking holes - in those days there were large herds of zebra, buck and wildebeest. The plains would be covered with them, not so today. It is sad to see what little game is now left from poachers and lack of feed. It was such a shock to go back to Kenya after 40 years and see the empty plains and so few animals, if any at all.
My Aunt Olive was married to John Park who came out to Nairobi from Greenock in Scotland to be Manager of Kodak. He also used to take rich American "White Hunters" on safari as their photographer. On crossing one of the rivers to the animal reserve, the leading truck drove on to the raft type of ferry that could take 5 trucks at a time, but he failed to stop in time and so fell off at the end. It was some hours before they could recover the driver and truck and so the poor fellow died. As it was now evening they took the body downstream and buried it, taking care to cover the grave with large stones to prevent the wild animals digging him up, and returned upstream to make camp. In the morning they returned to the grave to find that indeed it had heen dug up but there was no trace of bones etc that animals would have left. On asking around, one of the other drivers who was also a "tracker" said he knew the area well and the nature of the local tribes, and yes they were cannibals, but it was not done fo eat a member off your own family and if a loved one died he/she would be handed over to another family for dinner and marked up that they owed you one. That was his story anyway.
The last year of school for me was 1940. Because of the war the school had to take in more pupils than it was built for. The attic was opened up and 5 double bedrooms, a communal bath and wash room and toilets were added. We prefects and 5A form girls moved into them. It was lovely up there, two to a room and not in a dormitory of sleep-talking, snoring contemporaries, and what views we had. Two prefab schoolrooms were also added in the grounds, one of them Being the 6th form. Also because of the war there were some daughters of high ranking Civil Servants and Consuls who would normally have gone to England or overseas to be educated, so Limuru had to take them. There were the two daughters of the Governor General: Jacqui and Deirdre Brooke-Popham. Valerie De Haviland, the aircraft magnate's daughter. Anne, Lord Cavendish-Bentick's asthmatic daughter who had to leave and go to school in Mombasa as she could not breathe properly at 7,000 ft. Joy Ishmael the Persian Consul's daughter was a black eyed dark skinned beauty. Two Greek diplomats' daughters: Anna Renb Paniotou and Geena Geordiardis. We had a cute little 6 year old French girl whose father was a high official up in the Belgian Congo. She couldn't speak a word of English so we 5th Formers had to take care of her. Her English improved far quicker than any of our classroom French! I shared my room in the attic with my good friend Jane Mulcahy-Morgan, whose father was a General serving in Palestine. We took it in turns every afternoon rest time to read aloud Francis Brett-Young's books: "My Brother Jonathan" and "The House Under The Water".
We had 5 sets of twins in the school. The Ward-twins and the Chater-Jack twins were identical and very hard to tell apart. The Stone twins were a boy and a girl 6 year old day pupils, unfortunately we returned from holiday after Easter to learn that Susan had died of meningitis, very sad. That was also the term of the Polio scare and there were several cases in Nairobi, one being the Chief Secretary to the Government's son. He had a very severe form and was in the iron lung for a while, and later was in a wheelchair. Dr. Seddon, a Polio specialist from England was flown out to treat this boy and the other patients. Little was I to know then, that 8 years later Mr. Seddon, now a Professor, would be treating me at Stanmore Orthopaedic Hospital, England for the self same disease, having got Polio in Ismailia and flown back to England.
That last year the school choir put on "Hansel and Gretel" musical. The gingerbread house was indeed covered in slices of gingerbread cake with jam tarts as windows, whick we enjoyed eating after the performance. The musical was put on in conjunction with Prize Giving so all parents were there for the afternoon. I was awarded the prize for Hymn Playing, the only prize I ever got. I forgot to mention that I was in the school choir and we had hymn practice every Sunday evening and Miss Chapman had a very ancient short haired terrier called Mr. Binks who went everywhere with her. One Sunday evening our French/Latin teacher, Miss Nicholson, who had a very fine light opera voice, decided to join us at practice. It was coming up Easter time when the school would be attending Easter Monday Service at the local Church, and we were going thyough the hymns for that day. Miss Nicholson decided to sing out descant to the hymn "Jesus Christ is risen today" unbeknown to Miss Chapman, and when she was at her very height on the "Hallelujahs" Miss Chapman stopped playing the organ and asked one of the girls to please open the door as Mr. Binks was asking to go out. Miss Nicholson was not amused that Miss Chapman had thought it was Mr. Binks howling and it was very difficult for us all to hide our mirth.
In the last half of that last term I was called to the Head's office. A censored letter had arrived for me with "Services Post" stamped across it and we were not permitted to correspond with soldiers other than direct family, and I had to open this letter in front of her. On reading the signature I realised it was from my father, this was the first contact I had ever had from him as my parents were divorced when I was three years old. I was speechless, and that coming Christmas I was to meet him for the first time.
School days ended that December of 1941. It had been a happy year. and with Leaving Certificate in hand I would now go on to Temple Secretarial College in Nairobi and train as a stenographer and then work in the Secretariat as Mr. Pinny's P.A. in the Native Affairs Section until I got married in 1944, I had always wished to be trained as a Vet. but with the war and no Vet. College in Kenya, I would have had to go to South Africa for training. I decided to remain in Kenya.