Born Newcastle Upon Tyne 1 April 1947.
My first recollection of anything to do with Rhodesia was one weekend Dad took me in the Austin 8 car we had when he went to visit a person who was the Chief Game Ranger in the Wankie National Game Park. He was apparently home in England on leave for Christmas so Dad went to visit and get the benefit of his local knowledge of Rhodesia. Dad used to have a habit of clearing his throat and then spitting out of the car window. I apparently tried to imitate him on the way home but instead of winding down the window I pulled the doorknob. Now the doors on the Austin 8 hinge at the back and open at the front. Combine this with the car taking a right hand corner and no seat belts, and off I went. I remember coming around at home, lying in the sofa with the doctor in attendance, and having lots of scratches from the bramble bushes where I apparently ended up. We had a white bull terrier called Betsy. I’m told I used to dress her up and take her for walks in my old pram. I recall one day Nanna took me for a walk down to the local level crossing to see the original Frying Scotsman come through with the Edinburgh to Kings Cross express.
I have no record of exact dates but I know we left the U.K for Rhodesia in the month of February 1951. I have this very clear recollection of Dad pointing out the dock crane lifting into the hold our roll of Axminster carpets that we had removed from the house and were taking with us.
We sailed from Southampton on board an Ellerman & Bucknall vessel, The City of Paris. I know that it was very rough going through the Bay of Biscay and that not many people were out of their cabins. Mum and I spent quite some time in the lounge of the boat which was located just below the bridge. The waves were coming over the prow and washing over the forward hold covers before exiting via the scuppers. We both apparently had our sea legs and didn’t get sea-sick.
The City Line vessels stopped at all ports on the route to Africa, Tenerife, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban, Lourenço Marques and finally Beira, where we got off. The boat actually continued on to Zanzibar before it turned around for the return voyage.
Dad had built a caravan in England and shipped it on the same boat. This was because the entry rules into Rhodesia were, you either had to have a job to go to, or have accommodation, both of which were in short supply. By taking our own accommodation we beat the system. Dad purchased a second hand Fargo vannett in Beira, and towed the caravan to Umtali. The story goes that we parked opposite Meikles Hotel, Mum and I stayed in the truck. Dad came out of the pub in about half an hour having secured a job working for Costain Construction building wattle barns up in the Eastern Highlands, somewhere between Melsetta and Chipinga. The place where we camped for around a year was called Silver Streams. I remember visiting one of the farms in the area, just to say hello. I think it was my first exposure to Africana culture and hospitality. Another incident sticks in my mind. We had all set out from our campsite to travel to Chipinga for supplies. The Fargo vannett had a bench seat and I was sitting in the middle. Going up a hill the old Fargo overheated and Dad pulled up. I recall steam was coming out from under the bonnet. Dad got out the driver’s side and Mum got out her side. This left me sitting in the middle. The bonnet was up and I could see through the gap between the dash board and the raised rear of the bonnet that Dad had a cloth in hand and was removing the radiator cap. There was a loud bang and the Fargo started moving backwards down the hill. Now in those days there was no such thing as Armco barriers and the edge of the road was the edge, with a very long drop to the bottom. Dad managed to race back and jumped in, used the foot brake and steered the vehicle in reverse into the high bank, to stop the old Fargo from taking the long drop with me in it. We found out later when the Fargo had been recovered and taken to a garage in Chipinga for repairs, that while Dad had put the hand break on and put the vehicle in first gear, which should have been safe enough, the crown wheel in the differential had let go. Every tooth on the crown wheel had been stripped off which is why the vehicle started rolling backwards, and the hand brake, which was not in the best of condition, held enough to slow the vehicle to allow Dad to catch up with it and jump in before it went over the edge of the drop. (Someone was looking after me)
I can remember Mum doing the ironing using a charcoal iron. About the size of a regular iron but about 4 inches high. It had holes around the sides just above the base and was filled with hot coals from the fire that heated the base for ironing. You had to wave it around to get air flow through it to heat it up, and shake it around and blow on it to get the ash out so it didn’t fall on what you were ironing. I recall hearing noises outside the caravan one night and when we opened the door to see what it was, and pack of lions scattered. They must have been snooping around for food I guess. I didn’t go out at night for a while.
Then we moved to Gwelo so I could go to school. We lived in the Gwelo caravan park for a while. I know I got amoebic dysentery, and was not in good shape for a while. There were caves in the kopje behind the caravan park. They could have been early gold mines I’m not sure. Anyway they were abandoned and we used to play around the first portions and went in until it was too dark to see but never went any further.
One day a bulldozer arrived and I think it was to fill in some of the holes left by the mining activity that held rain water and allowed mosquitoes to breed. I made friends with the dozer operator and got to ride on the dozer. He also, with Mums permission, took me to his place to meet his kids on the farm he had. Went for lunch one Sunday and came home with a white aylesbury duck for a pet which got christened Snowy because he was white. He used to roost in the trees around the park and came when called.
Mum was a teacher and she got a job teaching at Cecil John Rhodes School in Gwelo. It must have been the year I turned 6 that I started school. I remember she had to move to different classes since I was not allowed to be in her class. Remember rolling plasticine and painting with powder paint that was mixed with water. School lunches with cream crackers with Marmite that squeezed out of the holes in the cream crackers when you bit them. Monday afternoons the school used to show movies in the hall. I remember seeing “The Invisible Man” one afternoon and being scared for many nights after that. I also recall having to line up in the hall for scratches for smallpox vaccinations and the same for polio except for that we got the oral vaccine on a sugar cube. School sports day was something else. For the little kids like me we had ordinary running races but also fun races like the egg and spoon race and sack races where you had to hop, inside an old mealie sack instead of running. There was also a race where you had to balance a bean bag on your head and walk to the finish line. Mum had been determined that her little boy would be the best groomed little guy on the day and had laced my hair with Briliantine. This of course meant there was no hope in hell of the bean bag staying on my head for more than a nano-second once your hand was removed. No marks for guessing where I came in the beanbag race.
I think it was around this time, now that Mum had a job as well, that we moved to rented accommodation next to the Bata shoe factory. I recall it was an ex RRAF base. Bata was using the old hangars as a shoe factory, and the ex-officers and NCO accommodation that they did not need for their own people was rented out to families.
I know we used to eat in the mess. At the dump site there was a fuselage of a fighter plane without engine and wings. All the useable parts like the seat, instruments and controls had been removed, but with a box seat it was still great to play in. Sometime in this era Dad had an accident involving the old Fargo and a train. The train was shunting wagons and Dad was pulled up at the level crossing not far from the Bata camp. When the last wagon cleared the crossing Dad started to cross the rails, but the shunting engine changed direction and collected the Fargo with the lead wagon. Dad and the truck were pushed about ten yards down the track before the shunter managed to get the loco to stop. I don’t recall the old Fargo being around after that so it must have been a write off. It would have been for my 7th birthday that I got a bicycle. It had 24 inch wheels and I couldn’t quite reach the pedals. Dad put some wooden blocks on the pedals with hose clamps so I could reach them. Swimming lessons twice a week at the Gwelo public swimming baths were almost considered compulsory. This was done under the guidance on the guy who used to manage the pool and who had been a really good swimmer and had represented Rhodesia in international swimming. Crawl was the first thing we got taught and we started off in the baby pool learning to float with our heads immersed in the water, blowing bubbles, and turning your head to the side to breathe.
Dad set up a business making pre cast and pre stressed concrete products. A lot of my free time was spent either at the factory or on building sites. Dad also used to teach, night classes for adults, a couple of nights a week at the local technical college. He used to teach drain laying and bricklaying. He used to have this wooden crate about the size of an apple box full on wooden bricks that were about one tenth scale of the real bricks. These were used in the bricklaying classes to demonstrate different bonds such as running, common, Flemish, English, stack, and English cross or Dutch bond. I used to get them out and build all kinds of great forts and castles using these wooden bricks. There was one bricklayer that was in Dads class whose wife was friends with Mum as she was also a teacher. Len Puttik was his name and his family had a farm at Lalapanzi, which is Zulu for a place to sleep. We went to visit the farm one weekend, and while walking up a nearby kopje to get a better view of the extent of the farm I got bitten on the back of my left hand by a bush bee. Not knowing any better, then, I gripped the sting between thumb and forefinger and pulled it out. In doing so I had forced more sting poison into the back of my hand. It was fairly sore but bearable. We walked back to the farm house and in typical fashion I had my hands in the pockets of my khaki shorts. Well when we got back to the house I was unable to remove my left hand from the pocket of my shorts, because it had swollen up so much with the bee sting. My shorts needed to be cut so my hand could be re-examined. I think the treatment of the day was to put Reckitts Blue on the sting. It took almost a week for my hand to come back to normal.
I used to get reoccurring bouts of tonsillitis and the doctor’s recommendation was to operate and remove my tonsils and adenoids. So again during a School holiday I went into the Gwelo hospital to get done. The anaesthetic in those days was chloroform and was dropped, a drop at a time on to a gauze mask held over your nose and mouth while you counted to 10. I got to 3. For about a week after in hospital I lived on jelly and ice cream, and then foods that were easy to swallow like mince and mash potatoes and mashed pumpkin.
Did the usual things like messing around in the bush, fishing , roaming the rubbish tip for anything interesting or useable, and getting part time jobs with the two travelling circus’s when they came to town. Like helping to feed the animals, and doing maintenance painting on the wagons etc. And all to get free tickets to the circus. . Loved trains and used to hang around the station a fair bit. I used to hitch a ride with the 10 or 12 class shunting locomotives while they serviced the industrial sites around Gwelo. Distinctly remember the smell of the wagons with the hides and skins from the abattoirs. Around this time we got a kitten. Really not sure how it came about, but my guess is it was a give away from someone. The colour of the cat was an off black so he got christened Smokey. He was with us for a long time and moved to Garneton later in life. We think it was a snake bite that caused his eventual demise. I refer to him as “He” but somewhere along the line he must have become an “it”.
Somewhere during this time, around the time I was 8, I guess, we moved to a third floor flat in a building on the corner of Livingstone Avenue and Second Street, The block was known as the Victoria Milling Flats and they may have been owned by the Victoria Milling Company which was across the road and down towards the railway line. There was a steam laundry next door and I’ll never forget the distinctive smell when they used to discharge the steam from the boiler. Over the back of the flats and accessible via the back stairs was Balentines bakery. Whenever they opened the ovens the smell of fresh cooked bread used to waft into the flat. It was the best advert they could ever have. I could nip down the back stairs and get a fresh hot loaf of bread straight from the oven. Sometimes we would get a raisin loaf and have thick slices of that, still warm, with real butter.
I quite often used to forget to bring my bike up the stairs and store it in the entrance to the flat, to stop it being pinched. Mum was forever reminding me about it. Then one day it happened, my bike was gone. I walked all the way to the police station to report it as stolen. I went into the charge office and proceed to describe the bike and when it was last seen etc, and having gone through all that I was advised my bike was actually in the lockup at the police station. I was astounded! Had they caught the culprit? It turned out that a BSAP constable had been passing the flats, seen the bike left outside at night and taken it to the station for safe keeping. Before I could get it back however I had to go to the municipal offices and pay the two shilling and sixpence cycle tax that was outstanding, before the coppers would release the bike. I had a friend that used to meet me down stairs at the flats. His name was Peter and he did not speak much English. We used to play together with his model car. His Dad had made it for him. It was constructed from 8 and 10 gauge wire and had boot polish tin lids as wheels. It had an extended steering column so that when you ran behind the car you could steer it, was great fun at the time. The bush area where we used to play had a well worn track and was in a clump of Khakibos under some Gum trees across the other side of the railway line, and I guess the smell of Khakibos is one of those things you never forget. Now Bonfire Night, November the 5th was always special. The stores in town used to have stocks of fireworks about a month before. Crackers were the best for messing around with. The very small ones that made a bang but couldn’t really hurt were good, but the bigger ones, not quite a round as a pencil and about an inch and a half long were good. They could blow up ant’s holes and things like that. The little ones if you didn’t unravel them could be lit and they would go off one after the other until the whole string was gone. The fire works on the night were good and we used to let them off on the flat roof of our flats. Then stay up there and watch all the sky rockets going off. Quite often the next day the smell of fireworks was still around and you could sometimes find burnt sky rocket sticks.
There was another farm we used to visit quite often. It was only a little way out of Gwelo on the road that ran past Thornhill air force base. The farm was called Glengarry and was owned by Mrs McDonald who was the deputy head at Cecil John Rhodes. Mrs Mac as she was called had an old Zulu who used to virtually run the farm and the milking of the cows. High tea on the back veranda was something to look forward to with fresh milk to drink and fresh farm cream and homemade strawberry jam on the drop scones. Mrs Mac used to have a .410 shot gun that she used with great dexterity to sort out any snakes that were brought to her attention by the couple of dogs she had around the farm. We got there one day just after she had dispatched a very large black snake, and she had draped it over the farm fence near the front gate to the drive way. The fence would have been at least three feet high and its head and tail were still on the ground so I would have put its length at around 7 feet.
The factory was always in need of more business, and I think it was through Mr Van who owned the local brickworks that Dad got to know a large construction company was looking for a general foreman to be in charge of a new building project. Dad applied and got the job of building a new six story office block with shops on the ground floor. This was the first building to be more than two stories high in Gwelo. It was called “Development House” and was located on the corner across the road from the Post Office. I remember that when they were piling for the foundations, where an old house had been Dad found a toy field gun that had been lost and buried. It had a spring loaded breach and used match sticks as ammunition. I spent many hours with it shooting down lead soldiers. I remember Development House for two reasons. It was where I went to the dentists to get a filling. The drill machine was powered by a foot treadle and was driven by small round belts. One of the shops on the ground floor was a bookshop, and for being a good boy at the dentists I was taken to the book shop and was allowed to buy a Famous Five book by Enid Blyton.
Up Second Avenue was a soft drink bottling plant. I got to spend some time in there being a nuisance I guess, but the manager didn’t seem to mind. I used to help stack bottles in crates and got to sit next to the operator on the line that inspected the bottles being fed into the plant after the washing and heat drying process. They used to pass by the work station and be illuminated by a strong light from behind. That way you could see if the bottle was clean or not. I used to get to drink quite a few free soft drinks, and cream soda was my favourite. As you could imagine as a kid of this age in Rhodesia shoes were and optional extra and I went most places bare foot. This included the bottling plant where there was always an abundance of broken glass. Well one day it happened I got a serious piece of glass in my foot, right in the underside of the second bend of my big toe. I tried to get it out but it had gone in and was unfindable. I knew it was there because I could feel it. Well after a couple of days it got quite sore and started to fester. I had to front up to Mum and explain what had happened. Out came the TCP disinfectant and the eyebrow tweezers that looked like scissors but were really tweezers. Mum got it out and I still have the tweezers to this day. They come in handy for all sorts of things.
Before Dad left England he was the Chief Clerk of Works for the North Eastern Electricity Board. And when he resigned the work staff had chipped in and bought Mum and Dad a top of the range set of cutlery with bone handled knives all in a presentation box. Well this was Mum’s pride and joy. One evening around 8.00pm while checking that the house boy had correctly polished the silver using the little tin of “Silvo” polish, Mum found two of the tea spoons were missing. It took her about 10 minutes to search the regular cutlery draw in the kitchen and elsewhere to make sure they really were missing and not just re-located as the Africans were prone to do when the wanted to pinch something. Dad was away, but Mum was not putting up with this business of having her best spoons pinched. The house boy used to live in the accommodation block at the back of the factory in the light industrial area, so Mum knew exactly where to find him. I got bundled in the Morris, and we set off for the factory with Mum in a stinking mood and packing Dad’s .45 Webley pistol. Well Mum pulled up with the headlights on high beam to illuminate the accommodation and positioned herself between the car lights with her butt backed up to the centre of the cars bonnet. She proceeded to put two .45 slugs through the roof of the accommodation just to set the scene and to make sure she had every ones attention. As all the African staff stumbled out and held up their hands in surrender and against the blinding car lights Mum asked for her spoons back. We returned home and went to sleep with the canteen of cutlery complete.
The Rhodesian Government had gone to tender for a new “Post Stressed” concrete road bridge over the Mazoe River, north east of Salisbury, so Dad put in a tender to build it. It must have been near Xmas when he had to go to Salisbury for the tender opening, because Mum and I were able to go along, so it must have been school holidays. It was the rainy season. We set off in the Morris panel van with one of the old original Dunlopillo mattresses from the caravan in the back so I could sleep in the back of the panel van on the long trip. We were just past Que-Que when we got stopped at the Umsweswe River where the bridge was underwater. In those days most of the bridges were all low level bridges. The rail bridge was much higher and was not affected by heavy rains. There were long lines of traffic backed up on both sides of the river. Most of the people wandered down to the water’s edge and put stones at the water’s edge and waited to see if the water level was rising or falling by seeing if the stone became submerged or exposed after a few minutes. The river was dropping but not very fast. The bridges used to have old steel railway sleepers built into the edges that were linked by steel cable. These served as a restraint for vehicles on the bridge but also acted as a good guide as to the water depth over the bridge. They were generally about 18 inches tall and rule of thumb was it you could see the tops of the guard rails then it was safe to cross. The water at this stage was about 3 to 4 inches above the guard rails and no one was prepared to cross. Mum nearly had a fit when Dad came back to the van and announced “come on get in we’re going over” Dad had been up the back of the queue and had found a CARS (Central African Road Services) 8 X 4 Foden truck that was big enough to make it over the bridge, The deal was we wrapped and secured a short length of ½” chain round the front axle on the Morris and round the back axle of the truck and away we went. We basically floated over about three feet behind the truck. Needless to say we got to Salisbury in time for the tender opening.
Now herein lies another story. There were two tenders submitted, Dad’s and one from Costain’s in the UK. Their price was a little below Dad’s price and the tender was duly awarded to them. At the close of the tender meeting Dad approached the two reps from Costain who had flown out to Salisbury for the opening and asked them who they would be using to build the bridge. They replied,” we would like you to build the bridge for us so please give us your price for the job”. It turns out the Costain wanted the claim to fame, and possibly for marketing reasons, to have their name down as the builders of the first post stressed concrete road bridge, in the then Federation. As it turned out Dad made more money out of working for them than he would have done by building it directly.
The trip back to Gwelo was another experience. All was going well and I know I was asleep in the back of the Morris around 11.00pm when I was woken up by Dad and asked to steer the car. We were about two thirds of the way over the Umsweswe River again, the car’s engine was dead, the water was half way up the cars doors and we were in trouble. Well Mum and Dad opened both doors to reduce the water force on the side of the van by letting it flow through the van. I was kneeling on the driver’s seat steering the car in a semi up stream direction, and Mum and Dad were out on their respective sides holding the doors open and pushing the car the rest of the way over the bridge. The head lights were still working so we could see where we were going. Once over Dad dried out the plugs, distributor and coil leads and got the van started again. There was no traffic on either side of the bridge, so we can only assume that the level must have dropped enough to let everyone across prior to us getting there and have come up very quickly just as we started across. Once again very lucky!
The Mazoe Bridge took a while to build and I spent some time in the next school holidays with Dad on the job site. The pile driver was a converted Sherman tank with the turret removed and a pile driving rig fitted to the front. The compaction of the ground close to the concrete abutments where the roller could not get close enough was done by hand. Convict labour was used using hand held compactors.(Stompers) They were closely guarded by prison guards armed with old wooden stock, 303 rifles; they had khaki uniforms with short trousers and leather leggings and pith helmets. The prisoners would sing a song and this would give them the timing so they all raised the stompers in unison and let them all fall together. It was an unforgettable sight and sound.
Mum for some time had a Morris minor with and 850cc engine that she used to get to school and back, do the shopping etc. The time came to visit the local BMC dealer and trade in the trusty old minor on a newer bigger model, the Oxford. It was almost the same shape but much bigger. I recall Mum always got two shots of Redex added to the fuel tank when she put fuel in the car. After it had done the requisite 1000 miles running in it had to be taken back to the dealers for a de-coke. This procedure involved removing the cylinder head and cleaning all the carbon that had deposited in the engine while running it at low speed and low load during the “running in period” Once this was over the three of us went on a holiday to the Natal coast. We motored down to South Broome on the coast below Durban for about a week’s holiday. I remember we stayed at a hotel in Bloemfontein on the way down. I was amazed to discover that in South Africa you could buy these massive bottles of Coke Cola called family size.
Because of Mum’s school activities of teaching swimming, netball and rounder’s whenever the teams went away to play other schools I got to go along. It was easier that finding a baby sitter I guess and I got to see a lot of places and small towns in Rhodesia. I recall how Saturday morning we would go grocery shopping. This was before the days of supermarkets, and you went to the grocers, and the butchers for supplies and the chemist for toothpaste. The grocers used to have all these shelves behind the counter and the grocer used to get stuff of the very top by means of a step ladder that ran on little rails attached to the top of the shelves and a track in the floor. Things like flour, sugar, tea and rice were weighed out from bulk sacks and put in brown paper bags. The butchers used to wrap the meat, chops, mince or sausages in white “butchers paper” and keep a tally of the prices on a separate sheet of the same paper using a pencil that was generally kept behind his ear. When the order was complete he would run down the list of figures using the pencil as a marker on each line and then write the total down at the bottom. Remember this was all done in pounds, shillings and pence, not many people can add up like that to day. This total sheet would then be used to wrap the order and the whole parcel would then be tied up with string.
The next year I recall we went to Cape Town on holiday. I know we went by train because I remember going through the Hex River valley and crossing the Karoo. I know I was amazed by the height of the buildings in Cape Town, and how strong the wind was when you walked out from behind a building. If you didn’t lean into the wind it would blow you over. The street vendors were fascinating, selling fresh Cape fruit from large barrows. I know that we visited Shabani By the Sea round in False Bay, and The Strand. I know our hotel was at Sea Point and that I was fascinated by the Mouille Point light house and the fog horn. I remember going past a university to get to the wine lands and recall visiting a very old Cape Dutch building that may have been Groot Constantia.
Dad got a dog. It was an Alsatian bitch, and he got it from the Rhodesian Police. It seems that from any litters that were produced by the police dog breading program they only kept the males as police dogs. The bitches either went back into the breading program or were given away. The one we got, christened Alpha, came with conditions. After six months she had to go back to the police dog training school for six weeks basic training. The net result was we got one of the finest attack trained pets anyone could wish for.
Going to Northern Rhodesia
During 1956, I guess the building industry was not going too good and Dad heard about the Copperbelt in Northern Rhodesia. So he loaded up the Morris panel van that we had with concrete samples and set off for Kitwe. Things must have gone well in Kitwe because he came back very enthusiastic about the deal. Kitwe was what they termed a closed township at that time. That’s to say the council would only allow one of each type of business within the town limits so as to give protection to anyone who was prepared to invest in a new type of enterprise. The building trade must have needed the type of products we produced because the decision was made to move.
Dad went first. I know that he had decided the business would need a large delivery truck so he went to the Bedford dealer in Gwelo and bought a 5 ton Bedford truck. I recall hearing he paid the deposit with a promissory note. He duly loaded all the equipment and moulds and set off for Kitwe. I’m guessing that when he had been there for a couple of months and during a school holiday Mum and I went to Kitwe for a look see. I remember we took the train from Gwelo to Salisbury, to catch the plane to Northern Rhodesia. It was a mixed goods and passenger train and stopped at all stations. Things would have been fine if it had have been on time, but it started running late and missed a couple of cross over’s at the loop line sidings that allowed north and south bound trains to pass on the single track system. Thus we ran later and later. Mum had a word with the conductor about us needing to get to Salisbury in time to make the transfer to the airport and the plane. He admitted that there was no way we would make it, but that he had a plan. Sure enough, at about 1.30 in the morning our train was pulled over in a loop line to allow the “Mail “, the Bulawayo to Salisbury express through, when our conductor was standing in the middle of the track waving a red light. He stopped the express, had a quick word with the conductor of the express, and we were transferred and away. Two things stick in my mind. One was that there were no sleeping compartments available, but as luck would have it, the Royal Coach, was being transferred to Salisbury as part of the express train, for some sort of maintenance, so the express train conductor found some Rhodesian Railways bedding and we bunked down on the sofas in the Royal Coach. The second thing that sticks in my mind was that the locomotive on the express was a 15 Class Garratt. We made the Salisbury airport with time to spare. We made the trip to Kitwe and back and we were aware of where we were moving to.
Mum was pregnant with my brother to be, at the time and I joined Dad in Kitwe before my brother was born at Birchenough nursing home on 21st August 1957, It must have been some time prior to that when I went to Northern Rhodesia, and knowing Mum it would have coincided with the midyear school holidays. I recall I was flown to Northern Rhodesia. I left Gwelo very early one morning on the single engine Beaver that used to carry the air mail. I felt very important being the only passenger and sitting up in the co-pilots seat. We touched down at each town to pick up and drop off the mail. First stop was Que-Que, then Gatooma, Hartley, Norton and then finally Salisbury airport. As I was an unaccompanied minor I was duly turned over to a very nice CAA hostess, who taught me a great deal about the difference between a Vickers Viking aircraft and the Douglas Dakota in the couple of hours she looked after me at the airport.
I was escorted onto the lunchtime flight to Ndola via Lusaka and off we went in an unpressurised DC 3 of Central African Airways. We crossed the Zambezi valley around 1.00 in the afternoon and I recall that we had a few ups and downs, with the air pockets.
After stopping in Lusaka we flew on to Ndola where Dad was waiting to meet me. We drove through to Kitwe and arrived at the town limits close to 7.00 at night. Just in time to see the pouring of the copper slag. The old road used to run very close to the slag tip and it was a very memorable sight. The light from the slag pour used to light up the whole sky at night.
I finished that year in Std 3 at Fredrick Knapp School in Kitwe. We started off living in a house on the block where Dad had set up the new concrete works. I remember the windows being glassless with only wooden shutters that opened outwards. They had crosses cut out in them as the house was originally built by a missionary. We used to eat a fair bit at the Nkana mine mess, as Dad was not a great cook and also he did not have a great deal of time for cooking after a day at the factory. Home work was by Tilly lamp. We did have hot water though, from the Rhodesian boiler, that was an old 44 gallon drum with a wood fire under it. Prior to Mum and my brother joining us Dad moved to a real factory in Freetown Road and we had a two room flat at the back of the factory, it had electric lights and an electric geyser for hot water. Alpha, the dog, used to sleep under my bed on an old mealie sack. Dad also made a point of reading to me at night. They were good books like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. We would cover about 4 or 5 pages a couple of nights a week. That was quality time!
All this time Dad had purchased a 5 acre block of land out of town in a township called Itimpi. It later changed to Garneton, when it got its own management board. I think the land was crown land and sold for 5 pounds an acre. Dad was building a house on the block and running the business and supervising me all at once. I guess he was fairly well worn out with all this.
Mum and my brother Richard arrived sometime late in 1957. Dad went to fetch them and they came up in Mum’s car. Dad had purchased a new 7 ton Bedford. He went with the driver and a couple of lorry boys in the truck to Gwelo to pick up Mum and Richard and all the katundu. It took them about three days to make the trip, stopping each night on the way. I recall the house was only just liveable when they arrived. The bedrooms had doors on, but there were still full cement bags stacked in the lounge.
The only means of cooking our first supper in the new house was on the fire built in the lounge room fire place. Lighting was by way of Tilley lamps. The range consisted of two 4 inch concrete blocks and about 4 pieces of 1/2’’ reinforcing bar to stand the cans on over the fire. The meal consisted of canned Frey Bentos braised beef and a large can of Silver Leaf peas warming up over the fire. Well the base of the fire place like the rest of it was all done in Sinoia slate and when heated because it is a sedimentary rock it will explode. We did not know this but we learned in a hurry. Needless to say it went off with an almighty bang and our dinner to be was spread the length of the lounge. Mum was about going off her nut at this stage when we saw a torch coming down the drive way which was fairly long, being half way down the 5 acre block. Well it turned out it was our new neighbour, Ron Jackson, from across the road, come to introduce himself and bring some bought fish and chips for dinner. He was made most welcome, and I went to bed with a full tummy.
Mum got the job of head mistress of the local primary school in Garneton and had to start the school from scratch. School started in a house next to the railway line that came through from Chingola. The house was empty and nobody would rent it because they said it was haunted. The school moved in and Mum found there was some truth to the haunted stories. Internal doors closed at night, were found to be open in the morning. Mum stuffed some pieces of manila board into the door jams at night and the next morning all the doors were still closed. Secret was that with the cardboard stuck in the doors the vibration of the goods trains passing at night were no longer strong enough to rattle the doors open, Mystery solved.
For standards four and five I went to Saint Francis College. This was a Franciscan Brothers College, located further out than Garneton on the right, on the road to Chingola. Father Sylvester, who was like the head master, had on occasions come all the way into Kitwe with a Fordson tractor pulling a drawbar trailer, to come to our factory to buy paving slabs that were used in building the school. He was always dressed in his brown habit and sandals. Dad had given him a good price to support the holy cause and I guess because of this I as allowed a place at the new school. It was a boarding school and was really only a couple of miles from home, but I had to stick it out because it was in my interests for a good education. I learned to play soccer, was taught how to box, learnt Latin and went to Mass every Sunday. The Africans used to sing the hymns in Chebemba, and I still remember some of the lines today. Used to love toast with sugar at breakfast, and the butterscotch lollypops we could buy at the tuck shop. Also was most surprised to find that when several of the other guys who’s fathers were in the booze business, like one guy who’s farther was the manger of Castle Wine & Brandy, the wholesale liquor distributor, would bring boot loads of booze for the brothers. And some nights we battled to get to sleep because of the noise they would make while partying. There was an advantage of the family living fairly close, and that was I could get supplies from home. Nanna and Grandie, Mum’s parents were out from England and living with us on an extended stay in the tropics. I got chicken pox at school, and for quarantine I was sent home for a couple of weeks. The net result was I gave it to Dad. Because of the spots on his face he couldn’t shave and had to grow a beard. He trimmed it up and kept it for a while and was duly christened “Barron Von Concrete Mixer”.
Nanna was real good at making chocolate cakes with chocolate icing and filling. They used to get sent up to the school for me on weekends, when visiting was allowed. Nanna always put the cake on the upside down lid of the cake tin and put the deep portion of the cake tin over the cake. That was so that when the deep portion of the tin was lifted it was easy to slice the cake and take a piece. Many a time when the cake was given to others to bring to me the cake tin was delivered the wrong way up. Technically the right way, but I had to spend time recovering all the icing from the bottom of the cake tin. Nanna also used to send tins of homemade toffee, and this was as good as currency when it came to getting chores done. It really was amazing what a piece of Nanna’s toffee would buy. Whenever I came home for school breaks or long weekends Nanna knew I had a standing order in for her rice pudding, with the thick nutmeg flavoured crust.
While in standard five Dad built a 14 foot fishing boat. It was fully welded metal boat with the deck at the prow done in wood decking which required varnishing from time to time. The boat had seats along the sides at the back and a transverse seat about mid way. It was powered by a 7 ½ horse power Johnston outboard motor. Made a really great fishing craft for the local rivers and dams, and after a Saturday afternoon of “Sea Trials “at Mindola dam it was declared ready for use
Form one saw me enrolled at Kitwe Boys High. Back to normality! First day at High School we all had to take turns going to the tuck shop that was used to distribute the text books and a new piece of apparatus called a math’s set. This was a metal box about the same size as the old 50 packet of cigarettes. It contained all kinds of interesting things, like a compass, dividers, protractor and plastic set squares used for drawing angles. Directly after having received this box of tricks we went to French class.
We had a real Frenchman as a French teacher. I was not concentrating on French and was more interested in discovering the wonders of the equipment in the math’s set when the French teacher came up and removed my new math’s set and proceeded to throw it out of the window. From that day forward I had a mental block against French and never got any more that 19 out of 100 for any French test. Took to physics and chemistry like a duck to water and by the end of high school I had a fairly well equipped lab at home, in a room behind the garage. I used to take some of the younger kids for extra chemistry lessons after school. Most of the time in the lab was spent investigating how to make explosives. I was able to produce some spectacular fireworks from time to time.
On several occasion we took the boat to the seventeen mile Dambo out the back of Kalalushi. Some of the best Bream I have ever caught came from there. We used to trawl along the edge of the reed beds at fairly low speed with good results. Fresh fillets cooked on a camp fire, in a fry pan with butter are hard to beat.
Not quite sure of this timing but I figure it would have been while I was in form one at Kitwe Boys High that we went on a fishing and camping trip to Lake Banguella. We took the Morris commercial and the boat and headed off through the Congo pedicle, crossing the Luapula via the ferry at Chembe. We were away for about a week and had taken a friend from Kitwe with us so I had someone my own age around and to show him a bit of the bush. Well after setting up the camp on the shores of Lake Bangweulu, and close to dark I showed Bruce how to light the Tilly lamps. We started off by cleaning the glass then filling them with kerro. Because they had been transported a great distance on the dirt roads the mantels were all falling apart, so I very carefully showed Bruce how to tie in new cotton mantles, and then start the lamps with the initial heaters soaked in meths that you clamped around the stem of the light just below the mantel. Once we had the lamps heated and pumped up we started to open up the kerro flow and adjust the intensity. The meths burners were removed by this time. Everything was fine and we had lights.
The next night on dark I asked Bruce if he felt confident to have a go at lighting the lamps himself and he said yes with great confidence. I set him to it. To my horror he came back a few minutes later to tell me the mantles were all soft and powdery and did we have any more? Well of course we didn’t, but Bruce not knowing that you don’t replace mantles every time you light the lamps, had removed the now burnt mantles. The next day we managed to scrounge a few mantles form some of the other campers that were there and got out of trouble.
Still we had some great fishing and swimming in the lake, and were totally tired out when we got back to Kitwe a week later. That was not one of the better roads I have travelled.
Dad always dropped me off at school in the morning on his way to work, so we used to be away no later than ten to seven in the morning. He would normally pick me up around 1.15pm and I would spend the afternoons at the factory sitting in a spare office doing my home work. Once home work was done I was able to help in the factory. Used to like working in the blacksmiths shop making things, and by the time I was about 14, I could weld, both Oxy and electric, I could use a brazier to heat up round bar to make gate hinges and things like that. I was also a fairly good brick layer. I had allocated myself the position of fleet mechanic and spent a good deal of time making repairs to the trucks and other bits of equipment like the concrete mixers that were powered by Lister single cylinder water cooled engines. All skills I still have today.
By this time the factory delivery fleet had grown to include the original Bedford, the new TK model 7 ton, a second hand 5 ton Albion and a 3 ton Morris commercial. We used to use the Morris for camping and fishing trips, loaded with all the camping gear and the boat turned upside down on top of everything.
From recollection it was either 1960 or 61 that we went on holiday to Xai-Xai in Mozambique. Xai-Xai is about 120 miles up the coast from Lourenço Marques. We took the train from Kitwe and connected with the mail train to Bulawayo. Our carriage from Kitwe was shunted onto the mail train at Ndola and that normally departed just on dark from Ndola. We changed trains in Bulawayo and picked up the train for Lourenço Marques. The train used to be a mix of Rhodesian Railway carriages and those from CFM (Caminhos de Ferro de Moçambique). The train travelled the Bulawayo to Salisbury line and branched off at Somabhula and then crossed into Mozambique at the border town of Malvernia. I recall the train crawling very slowly in some section but not stopping. I thought something was wrong with the train but it was going slowly to drop off sticks of Portuguese soldiers so they could comb the bush for terrorists. We got off at a station called Manhica where the hotel bus would meet us and take us to Xai-Xai for our holiday. There was not a lot there on the coast, just a few local houses and the hotel that belonged to the De-Cruze family. The hotel was a three story structure right on the beach. The bay was protected by a reef that was accessible at low tide. This made an ideal place for family holidays. All there us to do was sleep eat, swim, fish, explore the reef and eat and rest some more. The waiters from the hotel used to serve drinks to you on the beach and you could sign and have them charged to your room. Fish that we caught by fishing on the sea side of the reef using red bait straight off the reef were cooked in the hotel kitchen and served in the dining room at meal times. By this time I was being allowed wine with meals and some of the Portuguese white wine and fresh fish are a great combination. In the bar at night there would always be a band and a singer, singing Portuguese songs, and music you could dance to. The locals quite often would come into the bar at night just for the entertainment. One day I took a pack lunch from the hotel and walked north up the coast for quite a long way. I was told there was another resort up the coast about 12 miles. I never got there but I did walk a long way there and back without seeing another person all day.
The second time we went to Xai-Xai we went back via Lourenço Marques. Tony De Cruze gave us a lift in his Citroen car and we stayed a couple of nights in the Polana Hotel. I spent one day with a friend who had stayed a couple of days at Xai-Xai and she showed me around Lourenço Marques, including where she went to school. It was a great day and we ended up having a BBQ at her place. Her dad was with the US Embassy and we had American hot dogs done on the barby. I’ll never forget her mum in a real southern accent telling their dog Doby” to keep his cotton picking nose out of them there hot dogs”. The day after we visited Catembe that is on the other side of the harbour. We took the local ferry and sat on the top deck to get the view of the harbour and the city. When you arrive at the jetty on the far side you are greeted by hordes of kids and teenagers talking Portuguese and thrusting brochures at you trying to convince you that their water front restaurant is the best and is the one you have to visit for a life changing experience. Once you make a selection you are enticed to board some form of transport. This may be a mini bus if you’re lucky or it may be a pickup with seats installed in the back. Whatever you are taken on a bumpy dirt road to one of the family owned restaurants that overlook the bay. You are taken normally around the family house and seated in an open air restaurant, in front of the family home that overlooks the bay. The tables are a bit rough and the trellis over them with the vines are a bit rugged, but you sit down and see what awaits you. Normally the finger foods like the fresh bread and olive oil is put out first followed by the carafe of house wine and the small plates of spicy beef or kidney that is eaten using tooth picks. The sun is shining and reflecting off the small waves in the bay that are gently lapping the beach about 10 feet from where you are sitting. You are then asked what you would like in the way of fresh seafood. Squid, prawns, fish, grilled or fried and type of sauce etc. The owner then goes up onto the flat roof of the house and proceeds to call in the fishing boat he has out in the bay. The boat arrives at the beach and the catch is unloaded and cooked to order. That is about as fresh as you can get anywhere. At this stage you are on the second carafe of wine, and life is good. Several hours later and many escudos poorer you are on the ferry home. On the return trip we had a great experience. My guess is they were a bunch of South African farmers on some kind of tour because they had several Portuguese hosts with them riding shotgun and keeping some semblance of order with these guys that had obviously had several drinks.
We were on the top deck it the ferry again when one of the Portuguese guys stood up on the slatted bench seats and started to sing opera with no musical accompaniment. There was nothing but rapt attention from every passenger on that ferry. So much so that we had actually berthed and tied up on the opposite side before we realised we were actually there. There was a line of people ringing the dock and they were applauding the performance as the boat berthed. They must have heard the singing way out on the water. It was a memory that will stick with me forever.
The next day we boarded the train back to Bulawayo from Lourenço Marques railway station. Tony De Cruze’s father owned one of the largest wine shops in Lourenço Marques and Dad had purchased a reasonable selection of wines and liquors to take back to Kitwe. The selection was packed in to two well constructed crates and they “met” us at the railway station. Dad had a bit of a conversation with the conductor and a quick handshake and the cases went in to the guards van on the train. The next time we saw them was when they emerged from the baggage compartment of the guards van at Kitwe railway station. Ask no questions. During this return trip the dining car staff advised all passengers they were no cold soft drinks to be had as they had mechanical trouble with some of the fridges, so priority was given to cooling the wines and beer. We later found out that there was nothing wrong with the fridges at all. What was wrong was, the dining car staff had the fridges chocker block full with fresh Mozambique prawns that they were taking back to Bulawayo.
Somewhere around 1962 when things started getting a little unsettled, I changed to taking the school bus home so as to be at home just in case! I had by this stage graduated from a .177 BSA air rifle to a .22 Winchester, bolt action rifle with a 5 shot magazine. Having grown up on a 5 acre block and out of town to boot it follows that I knew how to drive. I used to be allowed to practice in Dad’s Morris pick-up, up and down the drive and around the big circle in the drive in front of the house. I also used to go over to Chris Hills’s house and he had stripped down old Ford that we used to drive all over the dirt roads on his block. Mum at this stage had a Wolsey 699, the same type used by the police as pursuit cars, It had a straight 6 engine with three SU monoblock carbs and really used to go. So one Saturday Mum and Dad announced they were going out to Chingola for the day on Sunday. They were leaving around 8.30am and did not expect to be back much before 4.30pm. Question was did I want to come along. No I answered, I would just stay home. Well the next day off they and Richard duly went on time. I was up and away as well. Dad always left his pickup keys on the mantel shelf above the fire place, so I had the Morris for most of the day. Well a great time was had visiting all my mates and we all ended up down the river having a swim. Had to make sure I was home before 3.30 to play it safe and to give the car time to cool down, so here I was driving down the drive at 3.30pm to find the familiar sight of the rear of the Wolsey already in the garage. Was I ever busted. Mum and Dad were sitting in the front veranda having tea. I had been set up. Mum and Dad had driven around the main circular road of Garneton and come straight home. There was no way I could plead just having gone for a quick drive down the road and back because they had been home all day. I don’t remember what the punishment was so it could not have been that severe.
I was also part of the junior fire brigade? The Garneton Management Board had purchased a Land Rover fire engine that was used for putting out mostly bush fires. Since the adult men would not normally get home from work until after 6.00 at night it was deemed a good idea that some of the older teenage boys should be trained to man the fire truck in case of emergency. I was designated to be the driver of the fire engine and since it would have been unacceptable for an unlicensed person to be driving, I had to pass a driving test conducted by our old friend Ron Jackson who was by this time the secretary of the Garneton Management Board and as such the local licensing authority. Needless to say I passed with flying colours.
We did some local practice and also went into Kitwe fire station on several occasions to get professional instruction from full time firemen. This was a great experience and in 1963 the Garneton junior fire brigade was placed third in the country wide fire service competition.
Somewhere while getting interested in mechanics I developed an interest in motor bikes. We used to ride locally on dirt tracks and have a great time. The big league was when we loaded the bikes up and went through to the Nchanga mine driver training school to race on tar roads. They were real races where people used to pay entrance money to watch us race. I had a modified BSA Bantam 150cc that used to go very well. I know I beat one of the new 300cc Hondas once and came second in my class in the “Zambian” Gran Prix in 1967.
1963 saw me sent off the Gilbert Rennie boarding school in Lusaka. I had not done terribly well with my school results so boarding school was the answer to get good results for my GCE. Great fun all of us from Kitwe, and there was a few, catching the train to Ndola and linking up with the train that went all the way to Bulawayo. We left Ndola at about 7 at night and got off in Lusaka the next morning. There were teachers on the train to try and keep us under control and away from the girls travelling to Jean Rennie, who were allocated different coaches. The teachers did not always win. During the Xmas holidays in 1963 I went bush. That is to say I joined the Northern Rhodesian Schools Exploration Society trip to Michili River which is to the left of Livingstone in the Zambezi valley. We all again travelled to Livingstone by train from the Copperbelt. We spent a night in the dormitory of a boarding school in Livingstone and left the next day for the bush. We were accompanied by a couple of teachers but mostly by research staff from the Livingstone museum. We had a convoy of Land Rovers and long nose five ton Bedford trucks. We camped one night by the road side on the way there. The second day’s journey was not completed at high speed. It was very much a trail breaking exercise. Camp was set, toilets dug, cooking fire trenches dug and thorn branches dragged in to barricade to camp against Lions. I had picked photography as a section since I figured it would involve the least amount of work. However on the second day in the bush the assistant quartermaster went down with appendicitis and had to be transported back to Livingstone in a hurry by Land Rover. This left his spot vacant so I volunteered for it and got the job. Had to keep stock of all the dry stores and issue what was required to the cooks for the next meals. We had an African cook that could make bread in a three legged cooking pot that was out of this world. Well one of the guys had some torch batteries that were flat and figured he would throw them into the fire to dispose of them. Wrong! Batteries explode when burnt in fire. Needless to say they went off when the bread chef was busy at the fire. We did not see him for two days and it required all sorts of coaxing and promises to get him to come back. We ran short of fresh meat so I accompanied the quartermaster and other staff to a nearby African village where we proceeded to barter for the purchase of a bullock, which we duly purchased and shot. We transported it back to camp and butchered it for meat. That night we had a visit from the lions who I guess smelled to offal and came to visit. Between them the hyenas’ and the jackals there was not much of the carcass left the next morning. There was an Indian guy called Gunvant Patel who had been in my dorm at Rennie on the expedition. He was a vegetarian and was having difficulty getting enough to eat with only regular food being served. I would slip him the occasional extra ration of bread or biscuits, and canned fruit to keep the poor guy alive. He was most grateful and paid me and a couple of the other guys back when we got into Livingstone after the camp, which was Gunvant’s home town. We were spending another night at the same boarding school and were due to eat, I’m not sure what, in the school mess. I remember that when we arrived none of us liked the smell issuing from the school kitchen. Gunvant invited about six of us, as I recall to his house for dinner. Two cars arrived to pick us up at 6.30pm and off we went. Well not only did we get a great Indian vegetarian dinner but we got treated like royalty. His father, older brothers, and uncles kept us entertained with stories of the Livingstone Patels while the women folk, who were not permitted to eat with us, kept us supplied with food and drink.
I think it was about 11.00pm before we got back to the school for a short sleep before boarding the train the next day, for Ndola and on to Kitwe .
Many people who lived and worked in Kitwe probably never knew how close they came to many of our products in daily life. Most of the concrete kerb stones and two foot square paving slabs used in all the pavements around Kitwe came from Dad’s factory. The concrete street light poles like the ones in Edinburgh Road were all made by us. The one piece cast concrete bus shelters like the ones down Central Street were all constructed by us as well. Most of them still there today,I guess.
We were approaching October 1964 and the tenders were out for the construction of the Independence Stadium north of Lusaka. I recall Dad was interested in the tender for the fencing and was sitting at the dining room table working out the prices for the ( I think) 6 miles of security fencing and 22 sets of double gates. He asked Mum to ring Edi Denovan who owned Parklands service station, the Mercedes dealer, and find out what it would cost to pick up a new Mercedes at the Stuttgart factory. He added the price of the car and six months holiday in Europe into the price for the fencing job. He also added the price of a new Fordson tractor with a rear mounted auger for digging fence post holes, and then decided he didn’t really want the job because of what it was for, so he doubled the price.
We were the only company that submitted a price for the fencing so we were awarded the job. Muggins got to live on site for the duration of the midyear school holidays as site supervisor. I lived on the site in a caravan, had old Jake our Southern Rhodesian Makaranga boss boy to help me and locally recruited local labour. We never did get the Fordson for digging the post holes, and if we had it would have been no good anyway because the ground was too rocky. I remember one very big rock being in our way that was too big to dig out or move by hand, and should by rights have been blasted. Having no time to get a blasting contractor in we reverted to “Bush Methods” We collected large amounts of fire wood and kept a fire burning around the rock for about 24 hours. In the mean time we built a stand next to the rock to take a couple of 44 gallon drums on top filled with water. With the rock hot enough we tied ropes to the drums and pulled them over with the pickup. The cold water thus dropped down onto the very hot rock. The result was spectacular to say the least. The rock basically disintegrated and launched pieces far and wide. The way for the fence was open. We used to use a system known as skonqua, where the local labour would be allocated a number of post holes to dig in a day. When the holes were finished they could go home and still receive a full day’s pay. It was a productivity incentive, and used to work well. They used to get through about 12 to 14 holes a day and be gone by around 3.00pm. The local labour started getting a bit out of hand, no doubt due in part to all the expectation that were being fed to the locals about what they could expect after independence. One day after a request for outrageous increases in the day rate for wages they failed to report for work. I asked Jake for his input on how we should handle the situation and he suggested we visit the local U.N.I.P. (United National Independence Party) office to see it they could assist. I went along with Jake and we took the site pay book with us. Well I sat while Jake explained in detail how much we were paying these people to work on “Our” Independence Stadium, and how the local labour was being difficult and refusing to work on “Our” Stadium. The local officials asked if we had the names and address of the employees in question, to which we answered yes and gave them all the details from the site pay book. They said they would look into the situation and that it may take a couple of days to resolve. Well all that day and the next we had no labour. On the third day the guys started coming back and on the fourth day all staff had again reported for work at the old agreed rates. It took about 10 days for all the signs of the persuasive conversations the UNIP enforcers must have had with them to disappear, but they were very enthusiastic about their independence stadium from then on.
It was after Independence, as petrol rationing was in place as a result of UDI in Rhodesia, and I was working on a job a Kapiri Mposhi at the Shell service station.
We were doing the concrete service area around the pumps. I was again living in the caravan but eating in the hotel. The hotel had at that time the only pub in town so the two young guys who ran the Mobil service station at the south end of town used to come in from time to time for a beer. I went up to the Mobil sevo one day to have a look around their scrap yard. They had the contract with the RACV and AA for the recovery of car wrecks along that stretch of road and had an extensive array of vehicles ,that had crashed, burnt, broken down and been abandoned.
They had a 1928 Rolls Royce that still had a vertical flat wind screen and a horizontal steering wheel and real leather upholstery. It was a runner and they wanted Fifty Six Pounds for it. I should have bought it, but I didn’t. They took me out to their farm which was a way up the Great North Road, about 20 miles as I recall. They never seemed to have issues with fuel and I asked if they were running some sort of a scam with the petrol coupons through the service station. The answer was no they were just collecting the fuel drums that they found on the road to and from the farm. The Tan-Zam road transport company was hauling fuel into Zambia from Dar-es-Salam at that time and using Fiat trucks and drawbar trailers to haul the fuel in drums. Quite often the tail gates on the trucks would come loose due the corrugations on the dirt road and some fuel drums would be lost on the road. Whatever they found on the road they assumed the rule of finder’s keepers.
As a part of their community service responsibility, and to keep wayward youth off the streets the Garneton Management Board used to host dance sessions for the local kids in the community hall. Ron Jackson used to provide the music using a big Phillips reel to reel tape recorder. He used to record all the latest songs and really did have a fine collection of music. We used to have jive and twist competitions and sometimes competitions were held for the best mime performances of rock bands and or singers. There were many take offs of the Beatles and The Rolling Stones and even solo entries taking off the likes of Shirley Bassey and Dusty Springfield. A good time was generally had by all who attended.
I recall once dad was working on the block one weekend finishing off the boundary fencing down the back of the block. I remember he came into the house with blood streaming from a wound on the top of his head and saying to Mum to call the police because he had just killed a local. It turns out that an African in a suit had been riding his bike along the bush track that ran across the back of our block while Dad was busy pulling the fence wires. The African had taken offence to the fact that the local right of way was about to be closed and had words with Dad about it. The African then proceeded to take up a Knob Kerri that he had and belted Dad over the head with it, Dad reckoned it was because of his Trilby hat that he always wore that the blow didn’t lay him out. Well as soon as the African hit Dad, the two dogs, Alpha and a pup of hers called Lugs took the African off his bike. Dad being pretty pissed off at this time proceeded to knock the pick handle out of a pick and took the handle to the offender. When the Police arrived they visited the scene expecting to find a body, but there wasn’t one. Both the African and the bike had gone. The police interrogated the workers that had been helping Dad with the fence and all confirmed the African with the bike had hit Dad first. Determined to be a clear case of self defence. A couple of days later the Police came out to see Dad to tidy up a few loose ends and showed us the hospital report on the attacker. From memory it read, fractured skull, loss of sight in left eye, broken jaw, broken front teeth, broken forearm, multiple broken ribs, punctured lung, broken right lower leg and multiple internal injuries including a ruptured spleen and kidney damage.
By dead reckoning it would have been some time around October 1966 that I flew to England. My Grandparents who had lived with us for several years had returned to Newcastle, and since they were both too old to travel they had asked Mum and Dad to send me to visit them. I flew from Ndola in a British United Airways VC10. We stopped at Entebbe on the way to Gatwick. Coming in to land at Entebbe there was an early evening tropical thunderstorm in progress, with low storm clouds, heaps of lashing rain and lightning and low visibility. The approach to Entebbe airport is over the waters of Lake Victoria which due to the storm had considerable size waves. Looking out of the VC10 side windows all I could see by the landing lights of the plane, was a lashing storm and us getting closer and closer to the water. There was much relief when at the last minute the runway appeared under the aircraft and we skidded down the runway and stopped at the terminal. When I got into London I was to stay with our old friend Ron Jackson who lived there at that time having returned from Zambia. I know at Ndola airport Mum had given me Ron’s address and I had very carefully put it in the top pocket of my shirt. Well after arriving at Gatwick around 8.30pm and cleared Customs and Immigration I went to my shirt pocket for the address and it wasn’t there. Mass panic! I went through all my hand baggage and racked my brains as to what I might have done with the address. I tried looking up Jackson in the London phone book and after the second page decided that was a dumb idea. Decided that with the time difference it was after midnight at home so I couldn’t ring home to get the address, besides the local phones in Garneton were party line phones and on a manual exchange that would take hours to get through, so I decided I would have to spend the night on a bench in the arrivals hall at Gatwick and get some help with the address in the morning. I duly settled down on a bench and in those days I used to smoke, so I dragged out the soft pack of Peter Stuyvesant smokes and low and behold the paper with the London address was between the packet and the cellophane wrapper. I will never forget that address which was No9, Beachmore Road, Battersea. I was out the airport in a flash and found a London cab. Did as Dad had suggested and asked the cabbie before the flag fall for a price without the meter, and got a deal for eight pounds. I visited Ron Jackson in London, my Uncle and Aunt in Stratford, my Grandparents in Newcastle and another Aunt and Uncle in Edinburgh and my Cousin who worked for Scottish and Newcastle breweries which got me a tour of the factory. Managed to visit the B.S.A. factory in Birmingham and got some spares for my motor bike, and some promotional items from BSA.
During 1967 I went to live at the W.M.C.A in Johannesburg where I attended Damelen College to get my South African Matric. While in Jo-burg I looked up Manny and Judy Rosha who we had met when they were on honeymoon at the Xai-Xai hotel. Judy was the eldest daughter of Norman Carr who used to run the Luangwa Game Reserve. Judy’s younger Sister Pam as studying at Wit’s and we spent some time together. After my Matric exams in November- December I went back home to Garneton for the holidays. The local bikers were all going to the Eureka track outside Lusaka for a Saturday race meeting so I loaded up my 500cc Triumph dirt bike and joined them. I hadn’t ridden for a while so I did not get any placing but I did get the 5 pounds (10 Kwacha) appearance money that was offered to competitors for coming. After the races I sent my bike back with a friend and set off to hitch-hike to the Luangwa game reserve to take up an invite from Pam to visit the reserve while she was there for the December holidays. I set out on the Sunday morning after being dropped at the intersection of the road to Broken Hill and the road to Fort Jameson by the guys taking my bike home to Kitwe. I waited for about 15 minutes and then got a lift with a Jesuit priest who was returning to his mission somewhere short of Kachalola. It would have been around 1.30pm that he dropped me off but before doing so introduced me to the headmaster of a local village school that was near his turn off and about 500 yards back from the main road. That was to ensure that if I was unable to get another lift I had somewhere to sleep for the night. Well he dropped me back at the main road and I settled down with my bag on top of a windrow left by the roads department grader on the side of the road to await a new lift. It was very quiet and if there was any traffic you could hear the approaching vehicle long before you saw it. There were two west bound vehicles that came by but nothing east bound. Then there were rustling sounds from the bush behind me and I jumped up grabbed a big rock and stood in the middle of the road waiting to see what the hell it was. Well much to my surprise it was two small school children who had been sent out to bring me one of their kindergarten school chairs to sit on while I waited. The chair was the standard square, straight up chair with rawhide slats for the seat. I settled down to wait perched on this kindergarten chair on the side of the road in the middle of the African bush waiting for a lift. One vehicle came by but was full and didn’t stop. Then the bush noises were back. This time it was two little girls carrying a tea tray. There was the tray, a china cup and saucer, a tea pot complete with tea cosy, and a sugar bowl covered with the typical mosquito net cloth weighted down with a surround of multi coloured glass beads stitched to the circumference and a tea spoon. So here was me the big white boss sitting on a kindergarten chair in the middle of nowhere, in the African bush drinking afternoon tea waiting for a lift to Fort Jameson. At about 4.00pm a saloon car came along and stopped. It was a couple of pommy engineers that were working on the new bridge over the Luangwa River at Kachalola; they had been down to Kariba for the week end, and were travelling back to the job site to be ready for work on the Monday morning.
They took me as far as Kachalola and dropped me off at about 6.00pm. I went to the local pub for a beer thinking that anybody travelling through to Fort Jameson that night would stop at the pub around that time for a drink and a meal before travelling on. I asked the barman if there were any travellers in that were going to Fort Jameson and was told no all the people in the pub were locals. I got talking to a guy who turned out to be the local roads department foreman responsible for the maintenance of the road for a couple of hundred miles either side of Kachalola. I told him how I was trying to get to Fort Jimmy and then asked if he could possibly allow me to bed down in the cab of one of his trucks. No way he said, we can have another couple of beers and then you can come home with me and I’m sure we can find you a bed, and he had a truck going as far as Petauke the next morning and I was welcome to get a lift in the truck. Well we got home and his wife Nora got their two kids, a boy and a girl of about 4 and 6, I guess, asleep in one bed and that freed a bed up for me. The next morning I got woken up at about 5.30 with tea, then a cooked breakfast. Nora had been up since what time I don’t know but she had packed some fresh scones and a bottle of tea to keep me going on the road to Fort Jameson. The truck left at about 7.00am. Within minutes of being dropped at the intersection where the road to Petauke left the main road to Fort Jameson I got a lift all the way to Fort Jameson. The guy very kindly dropped me off in front of the Luangwa Safari Offices just as the lady who ran the office was locking up for lunch. I explained who I was and how I had been invited to the reserve etc. Yes, she knew about me coming, Norman Carr, Pam’s farther had confirmed my visit, and she would try and arrange transport to the game park with whatever was leaving first. They did not have anything going to the park themselves until Tuesday the following week but she suggested we could check with the Government Game Department as they may have had something going to the park before that. She invited me home with her for some lunch and just as we were getting in her land Rover to go to her house for lunch the radio alarm in the office went off. We rushed back into the office and got a message on the VHF to say that there was a small emergency at the Mufwe Luangwa camp and a light aircraft had been despatched from the air strip at the camp and would we please meet the plane at the Fort Jameson airport at about 13.45. So we dashed home grabbed a sandwich and a cup of tea and were back at the air port in time to meet the plane. It was a twin engine Piper Navajo and on landing it taxied right up to where we had the Land Rover parked on the apron. The pilot dropped the rear door, the inside of which formed the steps and got out on his own. Well, we asked what the big emergency was. It turned out there several German tourists staying at Mufwe camp and they had drunk all the beer stocks. The purpose of the mission was to go to the bottle store and buy new beer stock for the camp and fly it back to camp in time to get it cold for the tourists returning to camp in the evening. And yes there would be room for me on the return trip to the reserve. Well with most of the rear of the plane stacked with cases of beer, I had to take the co-pilots seat for the return trip and away we went. Prior to landing at Mufwe we had to buzz the strip to chase the game off, and then we circled and landed. Buzzing the strip was also a signal to the camp staff that we had arrived, and transport was sent to meet us as we killed the engines in the dirt parking area. Pam was there to meet me in her own long wheel base Land Rover with no top, no doors and a cracked wind screen folded down on the bonnet. We talked nonstop about my trip, and what was happening in camp etc, got my bag dropped in the rondavel and off we went to see game, just the two of us. We spent a couple of days driving all over to Pam’s best spots to see game. I recon we saw everything there was to see including Pam’s favourite rhino named Fifi. On the last afternoon I was there we drove down to the Luangwa River to see the hippos. We were out of the Land Rover and down at the edge of the river with about 6 feet between the river and the eroded bank which was about 8 feet tall. After about 10 minutes we got tired of throwing stones at the hippos to stir them up and turned to climb the bank back to the vehicle. As we turned there was this combination of a grunt and a dry cough and something fairly big took off from behind the low bush on the top of the bank. Pam reckoned it sounded like a leopard, and it must have been eyeing us up for a while. The next morning I was due to depart after breakfast and during breakfast the Piper pilot came over and confirmed that I was looking for a ride back to Kitwe. I confirmed that yes I was indeed leaving for Kitwe that day and he offered a ride back with him as he was taking the plane to Kitwe to get some service work done and I was welcome to go along. What a turn up for the books. Having breakfast in the Luangwa and home in bed that same night in Garneton. I spent the next week or so at home and around Kitwe prior to departing for Johannesburg again. I had a ride organised with Ted and Kate Pike. Ted used to work for the R.C.B.P.C. (Rhodesian Congo Border Power Corporation) and Kate used to be Dad’s secretary at the factory. Ted and Kate were heading off by car to Cape Town to catch the Union Castle Mail ship back to the UK. I left Kitwe and crossed into Rhodesia on route to Jo-Burg at Chirundu on 27th January 1968 and have never been back.
In 2014 Norman Seton returned to Zambia to work for a transport company.