CHRIS LYON

I was born in Kent in 1935 to English parents and was an only child. I survived the war with its terrifying nights of bombing and with friends hunted for imaginary German spies. I left grammar school with three ‘O’ levels (English language, English Literature and Mathematics) and started work at the Head Office in London of the then Standard Bank of South Africa. I was called up for National Service in 1953 and after training was posted to a radar station outside Newquay in Cornwall as an RAF policeman. I had no choice in my trade, I was told I was going to be a ‘snowdrop’ and that was that. Newquay was a popular seaside resort and I had, in effect, 18 months holiday at Her Majesty’s expense. National Service upset a lot of young men’s views of their futures and I was no exception. I went back to the bank and realized very quickly that I could not carry on banking for life. The bank would have sent me to work in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, both Rhodesias or South Africa but I would not survive in any of these countries as a bank clerk. The “Evening Standard” had in its ‘Situations Vacant’ pages adverts for at least half-a-dozen colonial police forces which grabbed my attention every evening until I took the plunge and applied. I narrowed down my choice to either Bermuda or Northern Rhodesia but I did not like the look of the Bermuda uniform so I went for Northern Rhodesia. On such trivial points are great decisions made.

I joined the Northern Rhodesia Police in October, 1956 as an Assistant Inspector. After 4 months training at Police Training School, Lilayi I was posted to Ndola. I worked in the Charge Office on shifts, then in Investigation Branch and finally as a Public Prosecutor before Senior Resident and Resident Magistrates. I married an Irish Nurse, Frances, towards the end of my first tour. While on long leave in the U.K. I was promoted to Inspector. For my second tour I was posted to the Police Training School as a law instructor and also, after a few months, taught European recruits Cinyanja and performed this dual role for the rest of my second tour. My eldest son was born in Lusaka Hospital. Independence was on the way and Frances and I felt that a new indigenous government would want to have Africans as senior police officers. I would need to find a new career while I was still under 30. I resigned from the force at the end of my tour and we returned to England in May, 1963.

We drove from Southampton to my parents’ (and my childhood) home in West Wickham, an outer suburb of London, in Kent. As Frances and our little boy walked up the path to the front door I turned to close the gate, looked round at the neighbouring houses and felt a sudden overwhelming depression. I had been half-way round the world, followed an exciting and relatively successful career and here I was back in front of this small house where I would have to start all over again; the previous six years had vanished to nothing.

Obviously the first thing to do was find a job but it has to be said that in Britain in 1963 work was plentiful even for an ex-colonial police officer with no qualifications and 28 years old. Having attended interviews I was quickly offered posts at the Portman Building Society and Barclays Bank Trustee Dept. and both institutions seemed eager to employ me. However the starting salaries of both were too low for a family man who would have to live within daily travelling distance of the City and as for the cost of such housing it was just as impossible as it is today. I did not for a moment think of joining a U.K. police force.

I had obtained the prospectus of positions in the administrative class of the Civil Service and had found myself drawn to the job as one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Taxes. During the latter part of my second tour in the N.R.P.I had, in preparation for post-independence, studied for the exams of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries and had found myself strangely interested in the taxation paper. (I passed the intermediate exam but did not have time to take the finals before returning to the U.K.). In order to be considered for the selection process candidates had to have either a 1st or 2nd class honours degree or have held a regular commission in the armed forces or have been in the Overseas Civil Service! There were three interview sessions. An hour’s grilling by two assistant secretaries at Somerset House, a two day “country house” involving tests in maths and English, composing an advice to ministers regarding the siting of a new Ministry, debating with four other candidates on subjects set by the selection monitors and more interviews and finally an interview by a panel composed of six of the “great and the good”. I was offered a trainee inspector’s position and most importantly my choice of where I should be posted. My wife’s sister and her husband lived in a large Victorian house in Stafford where we could live while house hunting so I was posted to Wolverhampton.

From my first day at Wolverhampton 1st   tax district I knew I had got lucky and made the right choice of career. A trivial point, I was told that for the early stages of my training I would be working in the open general office but I was nevertheless allocated my own room. My own room! I could withdraw there to eat my lunch-time sandwiches, hang my coat on the hook provided, and later study my taxation text books in seclusion.

We found a small fairly modern house in a village outside Wolverhampton and moved in in November, 1963. It was then that the reality of winter in England struck home. The house did not have central heating and Frances, who was by then expecting our second child, suffered at home from the cold whereas I could warm up at the office. The days were short and dark and where was the sky and where the distant horizon? Everything was small and our neighbours’ lives seemed so circumscribed. Our time in Africa was to them a not very interesting oddity. Their idea of a party was an aunt coming to tea. Frances sent me out to buy a red pepper from the local greengrocer and they had not the faintest idea what I was talking about. They offered a box of white pepper which I declined and as walked out of the door the woman owner of the shop shouted “and you won’t find one anywhere else”. We ate curry well in advance of it becoming the British national dish. Nevertheless within a year we made friends with our neighbours and realized that we were settling down but we eagerly sought out anyone who had lived in Northern Rhodesia so as to be able to share memories. A number of particular friends from the N.R.P. got in touch, and if they were living within travelling distance we visited for meals and we remained in touch for the rest of our lives. These continuing friendships were very much part of the settling down process. How could people we lived amongst know what our lives in Africa had been like? If we tried to tell them their eyes would glaze over and who could blame them?

It was the weather which got us down the most until we became sufficiently British again to treat it with the appropriate weary resignation. In Northern Rhodesia we could at Christmas-time plan a picnic at Mufilira Falls for the Rhodes and Founders weekend in May and know that whatever else might disrupt the plan it would not be the weather. Worse was that our first UK home did not have central heating and the winter was cruel in 1963-4. I was woken up early one morning by my 3 year old son crying that he was cold. We would have to dig out our photos of Northern Rhodesia to try and warm ourselves with memories of sun and heat.

Looking over what I have written I realize that our experiences in coming back to England are not really evidence of angst or trauma from the abrupt change of culture and environment. I think that is because firstly I fell into a job which gave me an interesting and at times exciting well paid career. Although our first house was small and in the winter, cold, the Revenue moved me back and forth over the country and because it paid the entire incidental costs of moving we were able to trade up each time and till by the time we retired we were living in some style.

What is missing from this account is my wife’s experience of return. Sadly she died some15 years ago otherwise I would have been able to ‘interview’ her. She supported me in my/our early struggles with work, housing and money management. Actually she not I managed the money.

Northern Rhodesia continued to resonate with us throughout our lives. To the mystification of our friends we would ask each other before going out “Have you got some ndalama?” or “Where is the PK?” We were always alerted by any mention of Northern Rhodesia/Zambia and if some new acquaintance at a party mentioned that he had been there then we would monopolise them for the rest of the evening.

I was only in Northern Rhodesia for 6 years but Africa is in my blood.

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