More Stories from East Africa's past for you to enjoy

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 –...

Small of Stature but Stout of Heart: Tich and Dolly Miles

Tich and Dolly Miles were born into a military family. Their father, Frederick Tremayne Miles, a captain in the 18th Hussars, had married an American from New Orleans, Anna Carolie Sellar, in 1883, and they had four children. Olive, the only girl, was born in Middlesex in 1887 and her brother Arthur Tremayne Miles, in 1889. By the time of Arthur’s birth the family was living in Bourton, Much Wenlock, Shropshire. The father died on 12 February 1896, under chloroform on the sofa while being operated on for piles, and Arthur was then sent to school in Rottingdean, Sussex. He did not follow his father into the army, but instead sought adventure in Kenya, where he disembarked in 1909, at the age of nineteen. Arthur was taken on by a man promoting rubber-growing among the Nandi. His job was to serve in a duka (small shop) in Kapsabet for twelve hours a day, six days a week, selling goods and buying latex. With a long, thin face and toothbrush moustache, he was diminutive in stature, weighing scarcely more than seven stone, and was therefore universally known as ‘Tich.’ His friendship with Denys Finch-Hatton and Berkeley Cole led him, on the outbreak of the First World War, to join a unit called ‘Cole’s Scouts’, part of the East African Mounted Rifles, and Tich, Denys and Berkeley became known as ‘The Three Musketeers,’ so close was their friendship. Tich was a colourful and witty raconteur over evening camp fires, always cheerful and reckless. ‘Nature hath endowed him,’ said Lord Cranworth, ‘with a physique about ten times too small for the great...

Tea for Breakfast

About 1910 my father W.J. Dawson, known always as W.J., bought the Plains Dairy, that vast flatland where the Nairobi Airport is today. He and three other young Scotsmen had great times in the corrugated iron house he built there. The others were George Taylor, Will Jaffray and Sandy Milne. One morning my father, who was always particular about his early morning tea, spat out the first mouthful in disgust at the taste. He went outside and asked George Taylor if he thought the tea undrinkable. Taylor replied, “I hadna’ noticed.” Father called the servant and asked where he had obtained the water for the tea. Imagine my father’s reaction when the servant pointed to the tin bath in which all four men had bathed the evening before! Belle Barker, Hermanus, South Africa This story appeared in the October 2007 Only in Africa section of Old Africa If you enjoyed this story, consider purchasing Leopard in the Kitchen, our book of short stories....

Climbing Mount Longonot

Soon after the outbreak of World War II we boarders from the Prince of Wales School were moved to the old Sparks Hotel at Naivasha because the military required our school building at Kabete for a military hospital. We boys regarded our time at Naivasha like a long holiday, but they required us to work at our lessons as well. The spacious school grounds extended down to Crescent Island Lake. Sunday afternoons we could roam where we wished – only the dukas in Naivasha town were out of bounds. One Sunday afternoon three of us decided to climb Mt Longonot. As soon as lunch ended, we left the school grounds and crossed over the South Lake Road. We headed across a vast empty plain for Mt Longonot, miles away on the horizon. We set off at a fairly fast but sustainable run. There were no roads or tracks to follow but the grazing Tommies, Grants, and zebra had kept the grass down and the going was easy. By mid afternoon we reached the base of Longonot. We looked up the bush-covered slope and decided to give it a go to the rim. We climbed up a steep ridge following a game track. We paused near the rim when we heard the crashing of bushes. Several buffalo galloped down past us on an adjacent ridge a few yards away from where we stood. Soon we stood on the rim of the crater and looked down its bush-covered walls. We didn’t spend long there but turned our attention to the return journey. We couldn’t see the school, but we made out...

A Kenya Heroine from World War II

A Kenya Heroine in World War II Phyllis (‘Pippa’) Ada Latour Doyle was awarded France’s highest honour, the Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur, on 25 November 2014, by the French ambassador to New Zealand. What prompted this gesture? An extraordinary story has emerged of an ex-Kenya girl, now 93, and her derring-do during World War II. Phyllis Latour was born on 8 April 1921 in Durban, with a British mother and French father, a doctor. Both her parents died when she was a child – her father as a victim of tribal wars in the Congo and her mother, who had then married a racing driver, when she crashed a racing car. Phyllis grew up speaking fluent French. She moved to Kenya and attended the Kenya High School from 1936 to 1938, in Nightingale House. At school she had a dreadful stammer, which she later conquered. She moved to England in 1939, to continue her education there, and on leaving her studies in 1941, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, to train as a flight mechanic. Realising the potential of her fluent French, the Special Operations Executive, the secret force Churchill wanted to ‘set Europe ablaze,’ soon recruited her. She was happy to co-operate because she wanted revenge for the imprisonment by the Nazis of her godmother. She was trained by a cat burglar, released from prison for the purpose, to climb drainpipes, get in high windows, and clamber over roofs. With the code names of Paulette, Genevieve, Plus Fours and Lampooner, she was parachuted into the Vichy area of France in 1942, from an American B-24 bomber,...

Salama Fikira Derby – April 12, 2015 – #SFkenyaderby2015

The Third Annual Salama Fikira Kenya Derby 2015 For the third consecutive year, Salama Fikira will be sponsoring the Kenya Derby on Sunday 12th April 2015 at the Ngong Racecourse in Nairobi, Kenya. The Kenya Derby is the biggest event of its kind in East Africa’s horseracing circuit. This year will mark the 110th anniversary of horse racing in Kenya. “Salama Fikira is delighted to sponsor the Kenya Derby and looks forward to an exhilarating day celebrating 110 years of horse racing in Kenya. The sport has earned a lot of respect and reached an important milestone.” said Salama Fikira CEO Conrad Thorpe OBE. “By supporting this classic event, Salama Fikira hopes to grow the occasion into one of the primary sporting and social events on the Kenyan calendar.” The Salama Fikira Kenya Derby is a show of world class horse racing with activities for both adults and children. Gates open at 11.30am. Sub sponsors joining us on the day include, The Star Newspaper, Etihad Airways, dusit D2, Bridging the World Travel, Seedcol Global Shipping & Bob Morgan Security. Signature cocktails and delicious food will be provided by Brew Bistro, who once again are supporting the event. Nairobi, Kenya 25 March 2015 About Salama Fikira Group Salama Fikira is an African Risk Management Consultancy headquartered in Nairobi, with regional offices throughout east, central and west Africa. The company supports multi-sector industries in the land and maritime dimensions, creating business assurance in complex and difficult environments for private, corporate and government entities. Contact: For more details, please contact: T: (Ke) +254 20 269 3846 E: derby@salamafikira.com W: www.salamafikira.com    ...

Donald Garvie and the First Cinema in Kenya

Donald Garvie and the first Cinema in Kenya Who were the Garvies and why did they come to the Uasin Gishu Plateau? The first white residents on the Plateau were the van Breda brothers – Bon, Dirk and Piet, who arrived in 1902. In the same year two more families arrived – Donald Garvie, a Scotsman, and his wife Cornelia (Nellie) Gertrude Steyn, and her youngest brother Stephen Steyn. The Steyns were a Boer family resident in Orange Free State. Donald Sutherland Garvie, born in Edinburgh on 3 June 1873 to Laurance Garvie and his wife Johanna Sutherland, had travelled to South Africa from Scotland as a boy, in 1880. He grew up in Knysna and Kimberley. An adventurous young man, he undertook a safari into Central Africa in 1899, and he was also present at the relief of Kimberley, because he and his four brothers all served in British regiments during the Boer War. When they arrived in East Africa, on 2 March 1904 five members of the Garvie family applied for land and were allowed to rent, illegally, 15,070 acres at ‘Nandi’ (on the Uasin Gishu Plateau). This land, four miles from the government fort at Kaptumo, was allocated by an official, James Walter Mayes, an Assistant Collector in the Kisumu district. Mayes was later dismissed for this transgression. Garvie then turned round and invited the Nandi to graze their stock on his land, on payment of rent. (DO, Kapsabet, Nandi Political Record Book, p.23). Unsurprisingly, the Nandi were unhappy with this arrangement, and the government hurriedly established boundaries for a Nandi Reserve, so that more land...

Banker J C Shaw Encourages Eldoret to Develop

Banker J C Shaw Encourages Eldoret to Develop In 1912 Eldoret did not even have a name. It consisted of a few dukas (small shops), a bar, the District Commissioner’s house and a post office. It was called ‘Sixty-four’ by the few Boers and Britons who farmed in the area because such was the number on the map of the block of land it occupied. The post office gave as its address Eldore River, a watercourse which merged with another river named the Sosiani (or Saucy Annie in local parlance). Telegrams went by heliograph to Kapsabet, the nearest point where there was a telegraph line. Then in 1911 Sir Percy Girouard, the Governor of British East Africa, visited the settlement and the locals suggested to him that they call the place Girouard. Mindful that his was an uncommon name and difficult to spell, Girouard suggested a ‘t’ should be added to Eldore, and thus the place became Eldoret, a name which happily suggested Eldorado. The Standard Bank of South Africa was at this time expanding into other territories, and it decided to establish branches in Nairobi and Mombasa in January 1911, under the direction of J J Toogood. There was further East African expansion and a branch was opened in Eldoret, in 1912. The Bank appointed a young man formerly resident in South Africa to open the Eldoret branch. He was John Clifton Shaw, a Scotsman of thirty-four years of age, who had gone to East Africa in 1907. His background was one of considerable affluence and he was probably well educated. Born in Monifieth (now a suburb of...

Hamat – Just Another Refugee

Just Another Refugee   In the world today there are over 50 million refugees – people who have left their homes under catastrophic conditions and are struggling to survive in limbo without place or country. It is difficult for us to get our minds around the magnitude of this many suffering people. So let me tell the story of a single refugee – my friend Hamat.   I first met Hamat when I was doing a linguistic survey in the Boma Hills of southern Sudan. Initially I had a difficult time communicating with the local Murle people since I could not find a common language. While I set up camp crowds of people stood around and watched me. Then I saw a tall man striding up the path wearing a bright white Arab robe. He had a powerful athletic form and was starting to go bald. His white teeth were accentuated by his brilliant smile. He walked up to me and in perfect English said, “I am Hamat. Welcome to Boma.” Within minutes Hamat was organizing my camp.   Hamat was a born leader and I soon discovered that he was a coffee trader. He did not come from Boma, but had been born in the Nuba Hills in northern Sudan. The Nubas were famous for their prowess as wrestlers. Hamat himself had trained as a wrestler and eventually became a champion. He then moved to Khartoum where he learned Arabic. I asked him where he learned his English and he told me he learned English from watching Hollywood movies in Khartoum a la John Wayne. Jobs were hard...

Cecil Hoey and Hoey’s Bridge (now Moi’s Bridge)

Arthur Cecil Hoey and Hoey’s Bridge (Moi’s Bridge)   One of the first white residents in the Trans-Nzoia region was Arthur Cecil Hoey. Who was Hoey? He was born in Wimbledon in 1883 and baptised on 12 October that year, the son of John Hoey and his wife Matilda Jane, née Tront, who came from Dublin. In 1891 the family was living in Knaphill near Woking and Arthur Cecil had an older brother John and a younger brother William Henry. There was also an older brother Alfred Ernest who had left home, and who was later to join Cecil in East Africa in 1905 (he died in Nairobi in 1926), as did the younger brother William (who died at Naivasha in 1960). Their father John was working as a clerk. After education at Farnham Grammar School, Cecil had an adventurous youth. He was apprenticed to a sailing boat and went to sea. When his ship reached South Africa he left it to fight in the Boer War’s closing months. He stayed in South Africa when the war came to an end and learned something about breeding horses. He then embarked for East Africa, where he took up big-game hunting in 1904. He trekked through the Uasin Gishu plateau to the Nzoia River, marvelling at the huge herds of game, and becoming a proficient lion hunter. The American writer W.S. Rainsford sought him out to accompany him on a year’s safari to the Sergoit river. Since ivory hunting brought the greatest profit, Hoey shot many elephants until he had made a sizeable sum. In 1909 Cecil trekked from Nakuru to...

Briton vs Boer: Educational Tensions in Trans-Nzoia

Merry Christmas, Everyone! Briton versus Boer: Educational Tensions in the Trans-Nzoia   After the Second World War, the British Government encouraged white settlers to go to the Trans-Nzoia area and Uganda. Of course this increased the number of children to be educated. As Eldoret was the largest town, it was sensible to place the schools there, especially as it was easily reached from Uganda by rail. The Central School was built there, but as the number of Afrikaner children attending rose, so the few British pupils fell. By 1944 96% of the 200 pupils were Afrikaner. By 1948 no teacher at the school spoke Afrikaans, so there was no instruction in Afrikaans. The Headmaster, Hunter, refused to have books in Afrikaans in the school library.                                                      The original Hill School. Photo courtesy John Focks.   In 1944 another school had been opened in Eldoret – the Hill School, which took over the buildings of a former RAF base. Why did this happen? Although it was not explicitly stated, the supposition is that that the Hill School was developed in order to cater to the racial prejudices of Briton and Afrikaner. Ugandan administrators had a powerful voice and they wanted their children to go to an English-dominated school. There was tension between Briton and Boer on the plateau and the local residents also wanted an English school. Yet, within a few years, the Kenya Government wanted the two schools to amalgamate, to remove the racial...

Poison of the Arrow by Iain MacDonald

Available now from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk Poison of the Arrow: A Tale of Quest & Survival by Iain MacDonald The world is changing. Kigusu the magnificent elephant whose great tusks and cunning have become whispered legend around the smoky fires of the African bush knows this; the walls are closing in on his once expansive empire. He carries musket scars from Arab slave traders, arrowheads hurled by wily African hunters and bullet wounds from pale hunters from across the seas. He has defeated and outsmarted them all. Now he searches for peace and quiet in the dense thickets of the Yatta Plateau and the Chyulu hills. As withered and wise as the old bull is, Muthambo, a great hunter of the Wakamba tribe, matches the elephant in scars, wrinkles and bushcraft. Muthambo struggles to maintain his traditional way of life and pass this heritage down to his grandson, all the while dodging the wildlife department, thieving neighbours and informants. He is forced to risk all when his wayward son, who has turned from the old ways, falls prey to the deadly allure of the fast paced city life of Nairobi, Kenya’s burgeoning capital. Poison of the Arrow is a poignant look into a world of vanishing traditions, culture and...

Early white settlers from Britain in Trans-Nzoia

  Early White Settlers from Britain in Trans-Nzoia   Mrs Gladys Hoey reached the plateau in 1913, arriving with her father in an ox wagon. Her future husband, Cecil, later a breeder of racehorses, had reached the Nzoia river in 1904 when on a hunting expedition. He felled trees to make a river crossing – known thereafter as Hoey’s Bridge (now Moi’s Bridge). Many Boers from South Africa had also made their farms on the plateau, and it was not until after the First World War that settlers from the British Isles arrived in any number. How did these travellers reach Trans-Nzoia? For the early Boers, it was a hazardous journey. At the beginning of 1907 Frans Arnoldi and others left Nakuru to travel up the western wall of the Rift Valley by ox wagon, and then on to the plateau where they stayed with the van Breda brothers. The journey took two months. The Van Rensburg trek up the western wall of the escarpment began in August 1908. The wagons crossed the Rongai and Molo rivers, traversed the forests and bamboo beyond Eldama Ravine and eventually forded the Sosiani river. Cecil Hoey, camped at Lake Sergoit on a hunting safari, watched the wagons through his binoculars. The Van Rensburg trek rested up on the farm of John de Waal at the end of October 1908. Then the Commissioner of Lands, Colonel J.A.L. Montgomery, and Piet van Breda (in his capacity as a land surveyor), allocated them land on the plateau and each family began farming. There is a good description of the route a few years later, by...

World War I Battlefield Tour – Maktau Cemetery

World War I Battlefield Tour Taita Taveta August 2014 Part two Maktau Railway Station and Cemetery In August 2014 I travelled with my daughter Malindi and a group of Old Africa readers on a tour of World War I battlefield sites. James Willson acted as our guide. After looking at the Commonwealth Graves Cemetery in Voi on the afternoon of our trip to Taita, we spent the night at Taita Salt Lick Lodge. The next morning we headed on the rough road to Taveta. Our first stop was at the railway station at Maktau. Maktau developed into a large military camp during the first two years of World War I. At the beginning it had to be supplied with water carried on the heads of porters. Eventually a rail line was built all the way to Taveta to carry troops and supplies. The railway station at Maktau continued to serve Taveta until the line ceased operation a number of years ago.  We walked along the rusty rail lines and James Willson stopped several times to examine the imprints on the sides of the rails to show they had been laid back in the time of the Great War.  Our path led us to a well-kept cemetery with a stone monument in the middle with inscriptions in Arabic and some Indian languages. This cemetery had been set aside to honor the fallen troops from India. It didn’t have individual headstones like the cemetery in Voi. We stood and listened as James told us how the war progressed in its early stages and the sacrifice made by troops from India who...

The Founding of Kitale

There is a map of the Trans Nzoia area in 1908, which showed numerous potential farms delineated by metal beacons stuck in the ground. A survey had been done to encourage white settlers to come to the area. Kitale appeared as a rectangle three miles by two, but in reality there was nothing there – not even one building. The British Government sent out settlers after the First World War in 1919 and they found that what was supposed to be Kitale was just grassland and scattered trees, with not a single hut or person to be seen. One traveller noted: ‘It was impossible to foresee that this small area was destined to become the commercial centre of the 1000 square miles of fertile land. As I moved westwards two huge lions passed me, for this was lion country where game abounded. Kongoni, reedbuck, oribi, topi and waterbuck were plentiful, and leopard well in evidence in the forested areas, their victims wild pig and monkeys.’ In reality the Trans Nzoia district was not a popular area. It had a reputation as the home of malaria and blackwater fever and it was removed from civilisation, because the nearest railhead was at Londiani over 100 miles away and the nearest bank was at Eldoret 45 miles away. But gradually convoys of ox wagons carrying furniture and tools travelled from Londiani and the soldier-settlers sent from England after the First World War began to occupy and develop the farms. A District Commissioner, Mr Champion, was appointed but as there were no buildings in Kitale he took up residence in what became known...