At the age of 13, I came to Zambia with my parents on one of the post-war overland trips from Britain. You will no doubt have input from others who set off on this hazardous route with the intention of reaching South Africa, but ran out of funds by the time they reached Zambia. Nearly all the emigrant parties who set off on this enterprise did so with lots of confidence but with no experience of Africa and particularly of desert conditions, and some failed to succeed. Traumatic incidents were frequent, and quarrelling verging on violence a feature of some parties. As they were all travelling to a new life, the ex-army vehicles available for little cost after the end of the war were invariably overloaded, in contrast to the Algerian-based commercial transport lorries designed for the conditions which were loaded to only half their rated capacity so as to be able to cope with the soft sand and rough surfaces, and driven by Arabs familiar with every inch of their regular route.
As my father contracted a severe dose of malaria in Goma, at the north end of Lake Kivu, the rest of the party had to leave us there. The Doctor who treated him took him on as manager of his pyrethum plantation where we lived for a few months, but being unable to secure a resident’s permit we were obliged to travel by a combination of taxi, bus and lake steamers southwards. In the course of this we met some people from Luanshya who persuaded my parents to try their luck on the Roan Antelope mine, where my father secured a job, as described to you already by my sister. At this point I should mention that Goma in those days was not the sprawling, dangerous slum which you will have read that it is today. It was, in fact almost a resort town, being in a pleasant lake-side situation and enjoying an agreeable climate. It was popular for local leave with Europeans working in more oppressive climates and conditions.
By the time we reached Luanshya I had turned 14, and went to school there for the remainder of 1947. There was no secondary education available in N.R. in those days, so during the following two years I attended Milton School, Bulawayo. This involved travelling on the ‘ school train ‘ which collected all the secondary school pupils in Northern Rhodesia for delivery to their various schools in Southern Rhodesia, and returning them home, at the start and end of each school term; three times per year. Arrival at the Victoria Falls both coming and going, was at a convenient time for sight-seeing. We used to get off at Livingstone when travelling south, share a taxi between as many as could get into it, enjoy the falls and catch the train when it reached Victoria Falls station on the S.R. side, doing the same thing in reverse when travelling north, so I have seen this famous natural wonder more than 12 times. From Ndola, where I embarked, to Bulawayo this trip was 3 nights and 2 days as it had to stop at every station where a student might be waiting. I remember the train being stopped once so the driver could get out and shoot a buck which he had seen from the locomotive. Some of the surnames I remember of students embarking at Broken Hill may be familiar to you, Dunbar, Théron, Geldenhuys, Weiss, Van Rensburg although the latter two were girls no doubt acquiring different married names eventually. Tommy Théron was a very good friend of mine at Milton School. In later years in Abercorn I also knew Eric Glieman; another name which might ring a bell with you. Neville Joseph, a policeman and a friend of mine from Abercorn days was stationed in Broken Hill about the 1962-63-64 time, concurrently with Karen’s schooldays there.
I have mostly used the pre-independence names for the country, towns and settlements as being more pertinent to the era about which we are reminiscing. The names Abercorn and Broken Hill for Mbala and Kabwe are probably unknown to a whole generation of Zambians today, although I am told that ‘ Mosi oa Tunya ‘ is too pretentious even for Zambians, so Livingstone is still Livingstone . In fact, Abercorn was often referred to as ‘ Mbala ‘ by local africans even in pre-independence times.
On leaving school I worked in the copper mining industry for three years. on Nkana and the Roan Antelope mines. In 1952 I preceded my parents to the farm we had bought in Abercorn. As there was no house on this property, I lived in a grass hut while carrying out my father’s casual instruction innocent of specifications to build a house for the family ready for their ( not all that much ) later arrival. At the age of 19, I managed to build one which was much admired, which I count as one of the few successes of my young life, particularly as I was simultaneously in a steep learning curve related to cattle management, butchering ( which involved the hazards of customer relations ), a milk delivery and trying to protect my cattle against predatory carnivores. The prevailing belief of cattle farmers of 50-odd years ago, that lions, leopards and hyaenas were dangerous vermin which it was one’s duty to shoot, would be incompatable with today’s emphasis on wild-life conservation, to the extent that I now feel uncomfortable in mentioning this to people, especially in that it would entail having to admit that it was an exciting activity for a young man barely out of adolescence. In Africa there is still, or maybe now even more of, a conflict between wildlife conservation and economic survival, to say nothing of the input of commercial poaching to further aggravate the issue.
For the period of 12 years, that is from 1952 until 1964 when I moved to Rhodesia, I was very familiar with most of the Northern Province and often passed through Kasama, Mpika, Mkushi etc., places on the Great North Road between Abercorn and Kapiri Mposhi. Joe and Bertha Thatcher ran the Mpika hotel at one time, and subsequently the Mkushi one, where Joe died. Connie Green ran Kapiri Mposhi, where I once spent a week with three horses which had arrived by train from South Africa, waiting for the lorry of an indian who had promised to arrive on the same day as the horses. I went several times to the Sumbu game reserve on Lake Tanganyika, which is about as far North as one can go in Zambia, and for a time did some commercial fishing on Lake Tanganyika, operating out of Mpulungu. I met Sir Stewart Gore-Brown at Shiwa Ngandu during a weekend organised by the deparment of agriculture, and was a fellow committee member of the Northern Province Farmers’ association with his son-in-law, John Harvey. You probabIy know that he and Lorna were murdered some years ago. I knew Ronald Rumsey, of Mbesuma ranch, who in 1918 on a motor-bike and with a white flag carried news of the armistice to the German General Von-Lettow-Vorbeck, who had campaigned so successfully against the British and South African forces. You may also have heard of Dr Hope Trant, who at one time owned a farm adjacent to mine, and who was still practising in Abercorn in 1962 when my future wife Maddy arrived as a nurse there. She used to walk phenominal distances and at one time had a pet baboon which had had a hysterectomy and was diabetic ! No one ever knew her age. In 1952 she claimed to be 72, but when I left the area in 1964 she was admitting to only 74 ! She had been an ambulance driver in World War 1. To me, at the time, World War 1 was far distant past history. In fact, it ended less than 35 years before 1952, and I now realise with disbelief that more than a half century has passed since the period we are reviewing here.
I don’t even know the new name of what used to be Fort Roseberry. I know that route well too. The last time I saw Roy Williams, who I knew in Abercorn after he left Shiwa, was in Fort Roseberry. I used to travel quite a lot in Southern Tanzania, to Mbeya and also Sumbawanga, and once to the Rukwa valley, where most of the International Red Locust Control organisation’s activity took place. Their Headquarters were in Abercorn. I went to Mporokoso only once, and can think of no reason to ever do so again.
In 1964 we moved to Rhodesia, where I managed some large cattle ranches for the next 10 years, so my contact with Zambia from then on was only by correspondence with our friends still living there.
We are still in contact with friends of those days, some here, some in Zimbabwe and some in New Zealand, which we visited at the end of 2007. Some of them seem to have no recollection of, and deny having been at, occasions on which I distinctly remember their presence. On the other hand, I have similarly denied having been in some places and have been presented with photographic evidence of my presence there ! So it seems that my long-term memory is now becoming shaky, as well as the short-term one which could be classified as a casualty these days.
I lived in N.R from 1947 ( being then 14 years old ) until 1964, the last 12 years of which were in Abercorn in the Northern Province, with a butchery/ranching business. I also did some commercial fishing on Lake Tanganyika. I knew many people whose names you will have heard; Geoffrey Stokes, Ken Jobling, Ronald Rumsey of Mbesuma Ranch, the Jefferies, the Gamwell sisters, John Venning, Lional Smith and Jim Kitchin, P.K. Hobson and Joe Thatcher, of Smith and Kitchen and Thatcher and Hobson, the transport company which eventually became Central African Road Services ( C.A.R.S.). I was on the committee of the Northern province Farmers’ association with John Harvey, son-in-law of Sir Stewart Gore-Brown of Shiwa-Ngandu. As you probably know, John and Lorna were murdered some years ago.
As there was no secondary education for white children in N.R in the 40’s, I finished my schooling at boarding school in ( the then ) Southern Rhodesia, as did most of my age group from everywhere in N.R., including of course, Broken Hill. Some of the names I knew might ring a bell with you. As you were able to go to school in Lusaka, I imagine you will be younger than myself.
After leaving N.R. I managed some large ranches in Rhodesia, before coming to N.W. Scotland, where I live in retirement now, after having owned and operated fishing vessels in Ullapool and Gairloch. In the mid 1980’s I returned to Africa for a couple of years as an expat, doing what was euphemistically described as a consultancy in Eastern Zaire, back to the familiar Lake Tanganyika. French was one of the requirements, but the fluent Swahili I learnt in the Northern Province and by doing business over the border in Tanzania, proved to be more useful.
I came to N.R. with my parents, having travelled overland from Britain. You probably know of other post-war emigrants who chose this hazardous means of reaching Southern Africa and managed to get only as far as N.R. before running out of money and eventually deciding it to be as good a place as any in which to put down roots. I was at school in Luanshya for a year before going to boarding school in Bulawayo.
Something which might interest you, is that because of an open web correspondence I had with an ex Red Locust scientist, I was contacted by an Alison Finley-Bisset, who lives in Queensland, asking for any information about her grandfather, Stuart Finley-Bisset, of whom I am sure you have heard, and who I knew well. My relationship with him varied wildly from daggers drawn to sharing a bottle of whisky.