Welcome to Old Africa

your window into East Africa’s past.

subscribe now

Old Africa books

Old Africa books are well-told stories in the same tradition as the shorter pieces

our readers have come to enjoy from the pages of Old Africa magazine.

check out our titles

Old Africa magazine seeks to tell the story of East Africa’s past through well-written stories and vintage photographs. Founded in October 2005, the first issue featured a story about the Royal Navy’s ill-fated attempt to launch a naval presence on Lake Rudolph (now Lake Turkana) and an account of the Kedong Massacre. Since then the magazine has published stories and photos from Kenya’s diverse ethnic groups – African, Asian and European – to preserve East Africa’s history. 


The Role of Kenya’s Settler Women in World War 2

As troops flocked into Kenya to defend the country from possible Italian invasion from Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in the north, so Kenya’s women rushed to help the war effort. Up-country towns such as Nanyuki became gorged with South African troops, and its hotel, the Sportsman’s Arms, rang with their favourite song, Sarie Marais. As the male farmers flocked to the recruitment offices, their womenfolk took over the running of the farms. Nearly 800 women were employed as owner-farmers, assistants, or acting on behalf of menfolk serving in the forces. Most of the males left on the land were elderly. In Mombasa, when the Royal Navy established a base, so many naval personnel came to the town that they were billeted in local homes. Money was raised by appeals, such as the ‘Spitfire Fund,’ and regular food parcels were sent by sea to people in England. The number of parcels people were allowed to send was controlled, with only so much of sugar, tea, tinned butter etc allowed, carefully packed and sewn into cloth parcels. Local ladies put on concerts and plays to raise money for the war effort. The elderly Mother Superior of Mombasa Convent became so enthusiastic about one such event that she stopped sailors in the streets and invited them to come to the evening’s concerts where many pretty girls would be singing and dancing. In fact, the East African Standard thought that there were too many women wanting to do war work and that those with younger children would be better off looking after their families (EAS, 8 September 1939). The women volunteers were overseen by the...

What happened to the education of European children in World War 2 in Kenya

What Happened to the Education of European Children in World War 2 in Kenya? Hazel MacGregor (née Kempton, of K Boat Yard in Mombasa) remembers the day war was declared in 1939, when she was ten years old. The European Grocery Shop in Mombasa was run by a German couple – the Von Rittens, who had left Germany because they were not supporters of Hitler. After being rounded up, Germans above military age were sent back to Germany. This greatly distressed the Von Rittens, who had no warm clothes. They were given clothes by Hazel’s mother and off they went, only for Herr Von Ritten later to be executed by the Nazis. Because Mombasa would be vulnerable from Italians in Abyssinia, the government arranged for upcountry farmers to host coast families, and Hazel was evacuated to a farm on the slopes of Mount Menengai. But a few weeks later the government decided it would be safe to return to Mombasa, and the children duly went back home. An underground trench was built in Hazel’s home, in case of Italian air raids. Air raid sirens were installed and air raid drills practiced. But the government changed its mind yet again and evacuated children upcountry. This time Hazel went to a farm near Nyeri, belonging to the Hendersons, whose son Ian later became prominent for his undercover work for the security forces. There were also air raid shelters and siren practices in Nairobi. In September 1939, immediately after the outbreak of war, pupils started school two weeks’ late, and helped to dig trenches. Children were not immediately evacuated from Nairobi but...

Kenya and the Outbreak of the Second World War

Kenya and the Outbreak of the Second World War How did Kenya settlers hear about the outbreak of the Second World War and how did they react? The radio of course alerted settlers to the outbreak of war on 3 September 1939, and able-bodied men rushed to join up, while the women prepared to take over the running of the farms. Most young European settlers had belonged to the Kenya Defence Force, and had been summoned twice yearly for a fortnight’s training. The Kenya Regiment had also begun in 1937, with the purpose of training officers and NCOs for the King’s African Rifles. Now men were sent immediate telegrams ordering them to report to camp. The women bought up supplies of batteries, medicines, and spares for farm implements and machinery. The government requisitioned lorries and petrol was rationed – people were allocated ration cards. A list of maximum prices was published, to prevent profiteering, and there were warnings about trading with the enemy. The total available European manpower in Kenya was 8,998. Of these, 3,039 began serving in the forces, and, of the remainder, 3,041 were in essential occupations, 1,092 were discharged from the forces as unfit, and the rest were exempted because of age or other reasons (Brooke-Popham Papers, Bodleian Library, File 10). Czechs and Germans were rounded up in Nairobi, though this was done in a pleasant manner. They were put into the Vermont Memorial Hall and the hall of St Andrew’s Church of Scotland, on camp beds. It was good-humoured, though Nazis and Jews were put on separate tables. There were 700 Germans in Kenya –...