Riled up Rhinos

Riled up Rhinos

On the eve of World War 2 I joined the King’s African Rifles (KAR). At Isiolo a thorn-bush covered hillside to the west had been set aside as a field firing range where the troops used live ammunition. One unit set out the targets – white six-inch square steel plates – and another unit later went into the area shooting at every plate they saw. At the end the plates were collected and a count made: how many bullets fired and how many hits registered. On one occasion my unit, “D” Company of the 1st KAR, set out the steel plates. “A” Company of the 5th battalion went in to shoot them up. The troops formed a long line abreast across the slope on the bare hillside and advanced, rifles ready. Firing soon started and gradually increased in intensity. The shooting suddenly stopped and the line of troops galloped out of the bush with six very irate rhinos charging after them! On reaching open ground, the annoyed rhinos paused, snorted and pawed the ground before trotting off. That ended field firing for the day. Karl Johansen, taken from a family history called Ujamaa Wetuwritten by Anne Freeman Robertson (nee Johansen) and edited by Jeanette Anne Robertson, New Brunswick,...

Christine Nicholls’ Blog, 13 December 2011

We had such a windy night in Oxford last night, with 70-mile-an-hour gusts, that I awoke with a start at the sound of a crash. I thought, in my sleepy, state, that there must be a poltergeist in the room. This reminded me of the Ghost of Leven House, in Mombasa. In 1888 Sir Frederick Jackson and Ernest Gedge, appointed by the Imperial British East Africa Company to find a safe route to Uganda, were staying in Leven House, a small compound on the edge of the low cliff a few hundred yards north of the Customs House in Mombasa. Immediately below it was a shallow arched vault containing a well. Tradition had it that a Swahili woman had been murdered by her lover, a Goan cook, and thrown down the well. She haunted Leven House. After dinner Jackson and Gedge were reading when they heard shuffling, but they could see no one. This happened again, but there was no one in the room. Two nights later they had been in bed for a while, but were still awake, when a woman, dressed in Swahili fashion and with a shawl over her head, entered by the door, walked past the bed, and went into the bathroom. They shouted at her, but there was no response. They assumed she was the ghost. It was also in this house that Mrs Krapf, the wife of the missionary Dr Krapf, had died shortly after childbirth. She was buried on the mainland opposite Mombasa harbour. The house became known as the Mombasa Mission House, and the CMS missionaries lived there until they built a...

Christine Nicholls’ Blog, 5 December 2012

Who remembers ‘Miranda’s Merrier Moments’ in the Sunday Post?  It was a gossip column, at one time written by ‘Mugs’ Muggeridge, a secretary working for Shell. She had a lively social life and so was well placed to write the column. The column concerned itself with naming those attending social events and describing their clothes. In the 1940s people wore long dresses, even for a drink in the evening. People wanted to be named in the column but the newspaper got into trouble sometimes, and was sued for defamation of character. Mugs called the newspaper the Sunday Pest. For £10 a month Mugs lived in Torr’s Hotel in Delamere Avenue (now Kenyatta Avenue), almost new in 1930, when she arrived in Kenya. Nobody would use the hotel lift because a cheetah was kept in it. Delamere Avenue was then made of murram and was full of holes – people needed chains on their cars to get along it in the rainy season. They came to Torr’s for the nightly dances, where Micky Migdoll and his band played. The Claremont was another dance floor at the time. As for the New Stanley, it was a much staider hotel than Torr’s. Torr’s closed in 1958, when the building was taken over by the Ottoman Bank. Does anyone know what happened to Mugs? In 1987 she was she was eighty-eight years old and living in her flat in Muthaiga. And can anyone help with enquiries about Henry Murrell, of Motor Mart in Eldoret? He died in 1948. What sort of a man was he?...

The Royal Standard

During the Queen Mother’s visit to Kenya in the late 1950s they flew the Royal Standard from the flagpole at the entrance to Government House. One day the person in charge of raising the flag made the mistake of putting two ends of the rope through the grommets on the Royal Standard instead of a joined loop. That evening when they lowered the flag the entire rope came off! I received a call after dark asking if I could repair the damage. I drove to Government House, where I often worked on the electricity and lighting, with an African worker from the Ministry of Works.  He shinnied up the flagpole and threaded the rope through the pulley. The Royal Standard flew the next morning!  Dick Whittingham,...

Do Not Disturb!

Featured in Only in Africa – April-May 2007 A left turn off the pathway from our verandah passed between tall parallel kei-apple hedges. A little further on the hedges widened to enclose a sheltered spot. In the centre, facing east, the structure coyly referred to in that era as “The Little House” stood resplendent. Indoor facilities had not yet reached Tambach, the remote administrative centre where, between 1949 and 1953, my father, John Raymer, served as Principal of the Government secondary school and teacher training college.  This classic upcountry long-drop toilet (with the inevitable yellowing bound copies of the Daily Mirror hanging from a nail in the wall) was a pleasant place in the morning with the sun streaming through the open door and a colourful flower bed opposite to contemplate.  Footsteps could be heard from afar, allowing the user ample time to warn anyone approaching that the little house was already occupied. My father retired daily to this haven after breakfast before departing to conduct morning assembly.  House rules and the tyranny of the timetable dictates that he be undisturbed during his occupancy of the little house. On the morning of February 6, 1952, I dawdled over a slice of toast at the breakfast table. Father was we-know-where and Mother was in the kitchen seeing to the day’s meals, when a vehicle pulled up sharply at the front gate in a cloud of dust.  I ran outside to investigate this unusual occurrence.  The Police OCS leapt from his official Land Rover.  “I’ve just heard on the Police radio that the King died last night,” he said breathlessly.  (In those...