Tales of a Colonial Policeman

#1
As I mentioned in the Thread on S Africa going down the Zimbabwe route I will try & put a few thoughts together on my time in N. Rhodesia.
This is the first bit, getting there.


It was the smell that I noticed first, a dry, dusty, smoky smell overlaid with a tang of burnt jet fuel, that had a hint of something indefinable in it, was it a slight animal sweaty background? I couldn’t decide, but the air was cooler and much fresher than the stale canned air of the South African Airways Boeing 707 I had just emerged from.
So this is Africa, the mysterious Dark Continent that I had read so much about in my boyhood, home of Tarzan, where the Mau Mau had just been beaten, where the Congo had just erupted into civil war and chaos, where I was going to spend the next three years as a colonial policeman in Northern Rhodesia, this was December 1960.
As I walked down the steps, I looked around at Nairobi Airport, noticing the clear blue sky, not a cloud in sight, such a contrast to the cold, grey, grimy, wet skies of my home in South Wales. The soil, very red and dusty between the sparse grass at the edge of the runway. Outside of the door to the whitewashed transit lounge, where I and my fellow passengers were headed while the plane refuelled, stood a tall African policeman, made taller by the dark red fez with the glinting badge of the Kenya police at the front. He was smart, polished boots, ironed khaki shorts down to his knees. Dark blue crew necked pullover, with a polished black leather belt around his waist. As I neared him I noticed the tribal marks scarring his cheeks, hard, dark, rather bloodshot eyes as he looked us over in passing. "I bet he’s seen some things in the last few years" said Hugh, one of my new colleagues I had met the previous day in the departure lounge at Cromwell Road in London.
There were 18 of us, 15 men aged between 20 and 25 and 3 women probably about an average of 5 years older. We were the next intake going to join the Northern Rhodesia Police, recruited in the UK to boost the numbers as violence broke out over the northern borders with the Congo, Tanganyika and Nyasaland. The men were a mixture, Irish, from both the north and south, Scots, English and Welsh with one South African of English origin. A mixture of backgrounds, public school, grammar school and secondary modern, one ex army officer, 4 ex UK policemen, 1 ex BSAP, Southern Rhodesian policeman. The others like myself, a mixture of various mundane office jobs, but all looking for that new, slightly glamorous, to our eyes, future which was the Colonial Police.
Having just been seen off by my attractive former girlfriend, I was not impressed with the quality of the would be policewomen, the oldest, who
looked about 30, a mousy ex RUC policewoman from Northern Ireland, was, as the Americans would say, homely, the next oldest, in her late twenties, was a tall blond Londoner who was an ex NAAFI manageress who had spent quite a bit of time in Cyprus, but had a long, slightly hard, horse like face, the youngest, who was about 25 was a pretty Scots girl, the only problem was, as Hugh had said, she was well on the way to having quite an impressive moustache, this was made worse by the fact she had a very pale clear skin and very dark hair!
The previous day when we had all congregated at the Cromwell Road terminal in London, we had recognized that we were all in the same party and introduced ourselves. I had got friendly with Hugh, a South African of English origin who had served 3 years in the British South African Police in Southern Rhodesia. Jock, a Scottish, rugby playing ex public school boy and Derek the ex national service Army officer. We seemed to be able to chat amicably and excitedly about what our new life would be like, whilst drinking numerous pints of beer. We had sat together on the plane and at the 2 stops en route in Rome and Athens, talking about our backgrounds and what we were looking for in Africa. Hugh had been a constable in Southern Rhodesia and looked forward to being an assistant inspector. Derek thought there was more opportunity in the colonial police than the army after the demise of national service. I was looking for adventure in Africa as I had missed national service. Secretly it was also largely to do with unrequited love, my former girlfriend who was 2 years older than me and whom I thought was sophisticated and attractive, had turned down my offer of undying love and marriage, for a far more secure future with her boss, the owner of a chain of travel agents in South Wales. At 20 I was devastated, to the extent that I had actually considered joining the Foreign Legion "to forget", fortunately common sense had prevailed, when I discovered the pay was terrible and the fact that various masters had torn their hair out trying to teach me French for 5 years in grammar school to the point where I achieved the magnificent total of 16 % in my GCE O level, most of which was probably given for me writing my name on the exam paper. So when the advert for the Police had appeared in the "Daily Telegraph" it seemed the ideal answer, comparatively good pay, lots of excitement, and the lure of Africa!
Jock was an ex Scottish public school boy who had been sent down from university for various offences against the system, mainly drunkenness and
lechery, his father, who was a big name on the Scottish legal scene, had encouraged his son to go abroad to avoid embarrassing him further. A remittance man Derek called him.
We were served a typical English breakfast by a team of quiet efficient Africans with bare feet wearing long white robes. After a few hours we were called back to the plane for the next leg of our journey to Salisbury in Southern Rhodesia. The pilot pointed out Mount Kilimanjaro as we flew over it, I was surprised to see the snow on it even though it was virtually right on the equator. Later we flew over the Zambezi river, which ran through the countryside exposing large tracts of sandbanks on either shore, the pilot explained that was because it was at the end of the dry season, a couple of months later and it would have been full to bursting, flooding much of the plain below.
 

DaManBugs

On ROPS
On ROPs
Book Reviewer
#2
Very interesting. Did you get your leg over?

MsG
 
#3
Nice stuff, ex-colonial :)
 

Stumpy4154

LE
Book Reviewer
#4
#5
It was the smell that I noticed first, a dry, dusty, smoky smell overlaid with a tang of burnt jet fuel, that had a hint of something indefinable in it, was it a slight animal sweaty background? I couldn’t decide, but the air was cooler and much fresher than the stale canned air of the South African Airways Boeing 707 I had just emerged from.
.


Yes, that definitely brings memories flooding back.

In my case it was flying London - Rome - Nairobi - Dar es Salaam for the first time as the family went to live in Tanganyika/Tanzania.

BOAC Comet, very itchy seats and poor air con. Arms and arrse throbbing with the effect of the dozen or so innoculations required. Nairobi was a bit weird (not many native Africans back home in UK in those days!) but in those days (mid 60s) it was still an elegant, tidy and thriving colonial city. Because of the altitude "Africa" didn't feel too hot....

.... until we arrived in Dar es Salaam. Off the aircraft into blinding sunshine, smoke and kerosene fumes - and unbelievable burning heat. The heat! It was summer, and around 50oC. Father had rented a colonial-era bungalow for us to live in. To add to the jet lag and the sickening effect of inoculations and malaria pills, we found out that the heat remained much the same all through the night (three months later we acquired a single air conditioner. Unfortunately Tanzania was by then already diving into socialist shambles under Nyerere, and so there was no electricity to power it!).

I think that the only reason my mother didn't head straight back to the airport was that was no return flight for another fortnight....
 

overopensights

ADC
Book Reviewer
#6
Yes, that definitely brings memories flooding back.

In my case it was flying London - Rome - Nairobi - Dar es Salaam for the first time as the family went to live in Tanganyika/Tanzania.

BOAC Comet, very itchy seats and poor air con. Arms and arrse throbbing with the effect of the dozen or so innoculations required. Nairobi was a bit weird (not many native Africans back home in UK in those days!) but in those days (mid 60s) it was still an elegant, tidy and thriving colonial city. Because of the altitude "Africa" didn't feel too hot....

.... until we arrived in Dar es Salaam. Off the aircraft into blinding sunshine, smoke and kerosene fumes - and unbelievable burning heat. The heat! It was summer, and around 50oC. Father had rented a colonial-era bungalow for us to live in. To add to the jet lag and the sickening effect of inoculations and malaria pills, we found out that the heat remained much the same all through the night (three months later we acquired a single air conditioner. Unfortunately Tanzania was by then already diving into socialist shambles under Nyerere, and so there was no electricity to power it!).

I think that the only reason my mother didn't head straight back to the airport was that was no return flight for another fortnight....
If and when you get down to it, I'll have a copy of your book!
 
#7
I love this type of biography........ the stories of ordinary people.

Sadly, I only met my FIL late in his life, but he spent about 10 years in that area as an MO, before, during and after the war and had a thousand wonderful stories to tell.

Tragic that he never wrote them down... a pretty benign colonialism, everyone ate, kids were educated, medical treatment available to all.

It broke his heart to see on the news the way the people he loved were being treated by the African scum that took over and destroyed their own countrymen's lives for their own enrichment.
 
#9
I'm looking forward to reading this. I had a mate in Darwin, a retired NT detective, who had started his career in the BSAP and another mate, who'd been one of the ZANU rebels, who lectured at the local TAFE college. He was an interesting chap as he had been sponsored to do a degree at Moscow University. The two became great mates after a shaky start. They did have a few discussions about how difficult it was for a black guy to become an officer in the BSAP.

I'd be interested to know a bit about the selection and screening process, because it must have been very difficult to take a kid from an insurance office in Swansea to fighting rebels in darkest Africa.

Looking forward to more of this!!!!
 

_Chimurenga_

LE
Gallery Guru
#12
I recall you mentioning you crossed tracks with Rick Rescorla, the hero of 9/11.

edited to add- What happened to your online folder of photographs from this time period?
 
Last edited:
#13
London - Rome - Nairobi - Dar es Salaam
Luxury, lad. We used to fly a creaking Britannia (of Britannia Airways, chartered to take schoolkids) from Luton - Paris - Rome - Benghazi - Juba - Nairobi - Dar. 24 or so hours, and wearing a kilt made it discomfy. After our last trip they had the decency to crash that aircraft in Yugoslavia, sparing us another vile experience on it. Comets, BOAC or EAA, were fabulous, and only imploded occasionally, with other people on board.
 
#14
Great stuff.

The thing is there are so many amazing personal stories out there that are never told, written down or passed on and then lost. So, for posterity (and us interested readers) carry on and if you have photos throw them up too.
 
#15
I am pleasantly surprised by the warmth shown for my first stumbling efforts at writing about my experiences in the NRP. The first few will be about my recruitment, journey there and the basic training we went through. After that I will try & lump various types of experiences I had as I remember, they will not necessarily be in chronological order but for the sake of keeping to a theme that will be the way I post them.
I will try and answer queries if I can remember the facts. Some of the names I use will be changed to avoid embarrassing people or their families if they have passed on as many have. Bear in mind our minimum recruiting age for Assistant Inspectors was 20 and the last European recruit arrived in 1962, so the youngest survivor would be 76 now indeed I hit my 79 birthday in a couple of weeks time so please bear with me. :)
 
#16
I recall you mentioning you crossed tracks with Rick Rescorla, the hero of 9/11.

edited to add- What happened to your online folder of photographs from this time period?


My bold.. I did but only for a brief time he came to the training school a few weeks before I left there, he was then posted to Kitwe a town on the copper belt about 30 odd miles South of my first posting in Chingola.
Unfortunately I did have a few photos of my time in Africa both on this site and indeed on my own computer but this site had a fairly major problem some months ago when a lot of stuff seemed to disappear/get lost and unfortunately my own pc had a few hiccups some months ago which has seen all those disappear. I will see if one of my sons can scan some of the more interesting & post onto my computer. :-(
 
#17
Here comes the next bit, "Arrival"
We landed with no problems at Salisbury and went through the formalities of immigration and customs. We had several hours to kill before our next flight to Lusaka in Northern Rhodesia and we all wondered what we would do, not wishing to spend yet more time at yet another airport. However we were lucky, Derek had some family friends in Salisbury who met him and when they realized the 4 of us had palled up, they invited us all to lunch.
They piled us all into the estate car and gave us a quick tour of the modern, clean city, not unlike a pleasant prosperous market town in southern England but with a lot more dark faces and lovely sunshine, pointing out the original settlement, government house and the famous Meikles hotel.
The family lived in a pleasant suburb not too far from the centre, all the houses looked very similar, good sized bungalows with a covered veranda running around the outside, called a stoop. We sat down to a typical English lunch of Roast beef served with the usual vegetables but with the addition of a squash, I had never heard of this but it turned out to be a delicious vegetable served with butter, salt and pepper. We were also served with our first African brewed beer, ice cold castle, which as the day was getting warm, was much appreciated!
All this had been served by an African, again in bare feet and wearing a long white robe, he was, they explained their "house boy", they also had an African cook and a garden boy. The wife of the house boy also acted as a nanny for their young child. The houseboy and his wife lived in quarters at the bottom of their substantial garden, hidden from the main house by trees and a wall. The cook and garden boy lived in a nearby African township. It was, they explained, fairly normal to have that many servants for a family. By law they had to provide, not just their wages, but food, accommodation and medical care for their staff.
The Meal and a few more cold castles finished, we were taken back to the airport. It was then just a quick trip up to Lusaka in a Vickers Viscount of Central African Airways. We landed just as dusk was falling, by the time we had collected our luggage it was completely dark.
In the arrivals hall we couldn’t help but see our reception committee, a tall, very smart, heavily built Police inspector in Khaki shirt and shorts, highly polished black boots and Sam Browne belt, a swagger stick under his arm! He checked our names against a list and chivvied us on to a canvas topped lorry with slatted wooden benches either side, an African constable at the wheel. We couldn’t see much as we went through the warm African night but after half an hour or so we went through large metal gates and pulled up outside a 2 story barrack block. This was the NRP training school at Liyayi. Another, shorter, Inspector awaited us, again immaculately turned out, between them we were told to hurry up and find a partner and pick a room to share with them on the upper floor, that was to be our home for the next 18 weeks.
Hugh and I got a room about halfway down the corridor, the room was about 12’ x 10’ with two single beds either side of the window and two wardrobes opposite either side of a washbasin. The walls were plain white with a polished red concrete floor. We only had a few minutes to drop our luggage, freshen up and assemble back outside. We were taken over to the dining hall and given a quick meal, then taken to one of the lecture rooms where we had to fill in numerous forms. The shorter of the inspectors informed us that he was to be our drill instructor for our training. We then had a brief lecture on the do’s and dont’s of our stay. One of the things that really struck me was the warning not to let any strange dog approach you as the risk of rabies was very high. The cure could prove as fatal as the disease, we were then shown a brief film in which a victim was shown undergoing the horrific symptoms. That definitely made me vow to myself that I would never let any dog approach me, to such an extent that later in my career there I actually had to kill a suspected rabid dog with my long baton as it attacked me!
We were issued with "Daraprin" an anti malarial drug which we had to take all the time we were in Africa as malaria was endemic in Northern Rhodesia. We had already had inoculations against typhoid, tetanus and yellow fever before we left England.
 
Last edited:
#18
If I were you, I would collate all these stories (which should be easy-ish, since you're writing them here anyways) and publish them yourself straight into an e-book. And if it does take off, you can always publish hardcopies later. At the very least your friends, family and anyone else who is interested (like ARRSErs here) will have a nice e-book to read.

Amazon has their KDP program which is quite good (and importantly, won't cost you anything.). There are others out there as well, but Amazon seems to have the widest distribution, marketing channels/ ease of publication/ change control/ revenue control features with their program (as far as I know).

Check it out: Self Publishing | Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing

/ no, I don't work for AMZN, just know a friend of mine who published 2 e-books using the KDP platform, hence that's why I have some knowledge about it.
 
#20
If I were you, I would collate all these stories (which should be easy-ish, since you're writing them here anyways) and publish them yourself straight into an e-book. And if it does take off, you can always publish hardcopies later. At the very least your friends, family and anyone else who is interested (like ARRSErs here) will have a nice e-book to read.

Amazon has their KDP program which is quite good (and importantly, won't cost you anything.). There are others out there as well, but Amazon seems to have the widest distribution, marketing channels/ ease of publication/ change control/ revenue control features with their program (as far as I know).

Check it out: Self Publishing | Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing

/ no, I don't work for AMZN, just know a friend of mine who published 2 e-books using the KDP platform, hence that's why I have some knowledge about it.


Thanks, you may have noticed that the first few chapters I am posting here I had already put on a DVD a few years ago & its the first snips of this I am using, hence the speed of posts, encouraged by some of the comments I received about my reminiscences on other threads about Africa, Once that runs out it will be back to my memory & painfully slow, virtually 1 finger typing.
Perhaps I'll get one of my sons to collate it for me in the end
Bye the way there is another very good book by a former NRP Inspector which is or was in print. His is a little different as he was in a small rural station and had much more contact with the local Tribe, actually learning to speak reasonably fluently 2 African Languages. I was based in mainly urban or for a spell actually on the border with Katanga for some time. His opinion of the African and its corrupt politicians match mine almost exactly and as he spent one of his tours in the Zambian Police seeing how quickly the corruption and inefficiency was setting in is a good follow on from mine. "No better life" by John Gornall!
 
Last edited:

Similar threads

Latest Threads

Top