Boyhood adventures in the Northern Frontier District of Kenya
Copyright: G J Wright 2018
Although the locations, Administrative positions, Kenya Police ranks and units are real, the names, the abduction and the rescue are entirely fictitious and bear no relationship to any person, living or dead.
In the early 1960s, before Kenya attained independence, a state of tension and an incipient guerrilla campaign existed in the North Eastern Region as the Somali tribes sought to secede to the Republic of Somalia. They were unsuccessful.
Poaching was, and is, a lucrative perennial problem fuelled by the demand for ivory and rhino horn in South East Asia.
Thomas pushed away the plastic tray and settled back to enjoy the view from 30,000 feet. He had been lucky to get a window seat. The night had passed uneventfully and he had slept well, disturbed only by the short stop at Tripoli. School was a fading memory and he thought about the hunting safari that dad had promised. Now that he was fourteen, surely, he would let him carry the .270 Mannlicher this year and maybe bag an impala or two. It would be great to get a good head mounted for his study.
Thomas cringed when he remembered the fuss over the Tommy last hols. It had been such an opportunity that he could not resist it. He had not thought about the law, just getting a good clean heart shot. Anyway, the buck just fell. Hussein and the boys congratulated him, and it was not until they were around the fire that night that Dad raised the subject of the calibre.
“You know you’re not supposed to use a .22 on animal’s old man, strictly for kanga and other birds. I’m not too sure what we should do about this” his father admonished. “I think that probably we’ll have to talk to Frank Parsons about it when we get back to the boma—what d’you say?”
The game warden had been pretty heavy, but in the end, it was agreed that he would be banned from hunting for the rest of the hols—only two weeks anyway. Back at school, he had confided in Collins, but no one else in the house. Collins understood. Pity his father died, or he would have been out this year too.
The stewardess stopped in the aisle, “Seat belt, sir”. Thomas looked out just in time to see the cone of Kilimanjaro off to the East before the big plane plunged into a white fog as it descended towards Embakasi. The cloud was fairly broken and he glimpsed the brown expanse of the Athi where some wisps of smoke idled into the windless day. Masai or some poaching Kamba, he wondered. The turn continued and he caught a glimpse of Nairobi from the opposite window. The cabin seemed to have come alert again after the long haul from Tripoli, by way of Khartoum and Entebbe, seat backs snapped up and people began to gather up their hand baggage.
There was a grind and thump as the gear locked down and as he watched Thomas saw the big flaps extend and grip the thin air. He remembered that Embakasi Airport was at almost 6000 feet. The plane seemed to pause and then settle into a steady descent and the engines wound up a little.
Thomas remembered the excitement when the trip took thirty hours or more in a converted Sunderland flying boat, hopping between rivers and lakes with the final landing on Lake Naivasha, scattering the flamingos. Dad had said that the watu, the boys, had to scare away the hippos from the landing zone.
Flight BA182 levelled into the final approach and bucked a little in the turbulence rising off the National Park. Thomas was always fascinated by the way the wings flexed. The First Officer had told him that they could move several feet at the tips in extreme turbulence. As the ground approached, things seem to speed up, cars on the Mombasa road, a herd of Tommy, a fire lorry circling the perimeter raising a plume of dust, and suddenly the glare of the threshold lights and a gentle touchdown. The engines roared briefly in reverse thrust and the plane turned left at the third taxi track.
The big control tower loomed as the plane moved cautiously to the gate and pitched gently as the brakes were applied. The PA reminded people to stay seated until the door opened. Luggage and service vehicles rushed to surround the plane as the big door opened outwards and a gangway appeared in the opening. Now the scrabble for hand luggage and people started edging towards the door. “Have a nice stay and fly with us again soon” said the pretty stewardess. Unfortunately thought Thomas, it’ll be all too soon.
Thomas paused in the doorway and took in the busy scene. Damn England, he thought, damn school, this is where I should be, this is home.
He headed for the arrival lounge where two smart, red-tarbushed constables guarded the door and passively surveyed the arriving passengers. One of them was unmistakably Somal, “Nabad constable, iska warram?” greeted Thomas. “I am quite well sah, thank you” came the prompt reply.
Glancing around he saw that some of the passengers were already heading for the customs area, but he could see that the cargo hold was not yet open. There would probably be an announcement when the luggage was ready for clearance. Meanwhile, a cool drink would be good. A smart young Indian in immaculate whites accepted his order for an iced fresh lime juice.
He sipped the juice and absently scanned the entrance area through the large glass windows and could not miss Ibrahim and Abdi, the latter doing an excited jig to catch his attention. Ibrahim, in uniform and on his dignity, raised his hand in greeting and allowed himself a faint smile. Abdi had no such inhibitions and could hardly hide his excitement—an unaccustomed trip to Nairobi and then to meet his oldest friend, Thomas. Ibrahim had been his father’s KAR battalion sergeant major in Burma during the war and was at pains to cling to that status. He was certainly impressive in his immaculate starched khaki drill, his brushed red tarbush with the badge of the Kenya Administration, a highly polished brass lion.
Thomas reflected that Abdi was more like a brother to him than his own brothers Giles and Andrew, one up at Cambridge and the other in the army. Abdi had been his inseparable companion since before he could remember; they had shared everything.
Customs and immigration cleared, Thomas joined Ibrahim and Abdi as they headed for the Landrover. Ibrahim remained on his dignity as the District Commissioner’s major-domo, but Abdi had no such inhibitions as he chattered to bring Thomas up-to-date on the past six months at Wajir. It seemed that there had been an upsurge in shifta raids from across the border in an attempt to intimidate local Somals into supporting the case for the North Eastern Region to secede from Kenya to the Somali Republic. Ibrahim said that there was some support for this idea, but instability in Somalia and the rise in factions there had brought uncertainty.
After three hours they stopped at Nanyuki and had lunch at an Indian eatery on the edge of town. Abdi joined Thomas when he chose a lamb curry with chapattis and a large glass of cold lassi, but Ibrahim settled for a kebab and tea. As they drove North out of Nanyuki the cloud lifted from the snow-capped peaks of Kerinyaga away to the East and once again Thomas thought how much better the Kikuyu name suited rather than plain old Mount Kenya.
It was 4.30pm before they arrived in Isiolo and Ibrahim drove directly to the Provincial Headquarters where Thomas hoped to find the Provincial Commissioner in his office. Patel, the office manager welcomed Thomas effusively and said that he would let the PC know that he had arrived. Patel returned and said that he was to go straight through.
Thomas knocked and entered and was surprised to find several men with the PC, some of whom he did not recognise. The PC rose from his chair and took Thomas’s hand, “Welcome home Thomas, you had a good journey? ”
“Painless uncle Henry, but it’s really good to be back.”
“Thomas, you know the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mr Pidgeon and the Superintendent Wajir, Mr Harris, and possibly some of the other gentlemen here. I’m afraid that you have arrived at a bad time and not to put too fine a point on it, I have some bad news. Your father and mother were abducted from their home in Wajir the night before last and taken across the border into Somalia.”
It took Thomas a minute or so for this news to sink in, “How, I mean how could anyone get away with that?”
“We’re not sure yet. Mr Harris has started an investigation in Wajir. The District Office has sent a small team of Tribal Police, Dubas, with trackers, into Somalia, but as yet we’ve heard nothing from them. We believe that the shifta may be headed for Gedo, or thereabouts, which is about 150 miles and without transport would take four or five days.
“But is there no other way of finding them?”
The PC thought for a moment, “Thomas I’m afraid that short of sending an official expedition into Somalia, it’s difficult, no one seems to be in charge over there.”
“Then why not send in a search party anyway?”
“Well we have discussed that possibility but feel that it makes sense to wait for news from the Dubas. Once we know where they are being held then it may be possible to do something with the help of the Somali police.”
“Couldn’t the Kenya police send one of their aircraft to search?”
“That’s certainly another possibility, but it would mean crossing an international border and unless your father and mother were in the open when the plane passed over, not very helpful. Look Thomas I can assure you that we are doing all we can and, in the meantime,, it might be as well if you stay with myself and aunt Margaret—that way, you’d be kept in the picture. Get your driver to run you down to the house and I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”
Thomas climbed back into the Landrover and sat for a minute thinking. “How long will it take to get to Wajir Ibrahim?”
“About three and a half hours, if there are no problems.”
“Well we’d better get on the road then, if we are to arrive before midnight.”
Ibrahim started the landrover and drove slowly out of the compound turning onto the road north. Thomas held his breath, but relaxed as they left the township. A couple of hours would probably pass before Uncle Henry arrived home to find that Thomas was not there. He would probably guess what had happened but was hardly likely to send anyone to follow right away. He would probably signal Wajir.
As they followed the road, little more than a rutted sand track with occasional rock outcrops, Thomas mulled over the possibilities and decided on his next move.
They arrived at the outskirts of Wajir well before midnight and as they approached, Thomas asked Ibrahim to stop. Thomas told him what he has learned about his parents and that the PC had suggested that he stay in Isiolo.
Ibrahim was incredulous and angry at the news, “How could this have happened? Where were the watchmen. Asleep, I think”. Thomas went on to explain that he did not want to go directly to the District Commissioner’s bungalow which was now sure to be under close watch and asked if it would be possible to spend the night at Ibrahim’s quarters. Ibrahim thought this strange because the servants would still be at the DC’s bungalow, but he kept his suspicions to himself. He would watch events.
Thomas was welcomed by Amina, Ibrahim’s wife, and after a hearty meal he joined Abdi in his room. Keeping his voice low, he told Abdi of his plan, that he proposed to go into Somalia himself and search for his parents. Abdi immediately saw the pitfalls and asked if it would not be better to wait until they knew where his father and mother were being held. Thomas said that if he delayed he would be prevented from making any search. He added that with some local help he believed that he would soon be able to discover the route that the party had taken and then follow them. Abdi remained doubtful and asked what local help Thomas could expect. Thomas looked directly at Abdi and said with emphasis, “You”.
Thomas explained that all the equipment needed for such an expedition was in his parents’ bungalow, including several rifles and ammunition. He knew the key combination for the firearms safe, so that would not be a problem. He emphasised that the hardest part of the job would be getting the gear together without being detected. He knew that as soon as the Provincial Commissioner realised where he had gone, he would take steps to prevent him doing anything which meant that, if Abdi agreed, they must act at once. Abdi was doubtful, but the ties of long friendship and loyalty were strong, so with no further pause for thought he agreed to help Thomas.
Thomas told him that on the journey up from Nanyuki he had given the matter a lot of thought and that they must act right away. They would carry equipment and bottles of water in bags over their shoulders, remove the rifle action and barrel from the butt and wrap them in a bedding roll until they might be needed. Although they would be more comfortable and serviceable, rucksacks would be too obtrusive. In any case it would be best to travel light and fast. They discussed whether it would be useful to take a camel or a donkey, but decided that either would just add another thing to worry about.
Disguising himself would be a bit more of a problem but he recalled that idiots were led around by their minders and one seldom saw their face or eyes. So in Somalia when near other people, he would become an overdressed dumb shambling idiot led by the hand by his brother Abdi.
They waited until the household had settled down and all the lights were out, and then crept away—keeping to the shadows with Abdi leading the way—they gave the fort and the club, the humorously named Royal Wajir Yacht Club, a wide berth and approached the DC’s house cautiously. They slowly circled the compound, watched the house for five minutes and, observing no watchmen, walked to the back door where they paused. Thomas eased the surprisingly unlocked door open and stood listening.
Satisfied that there was no-one in the house, they moved down the hall and entered the study where Thomas tried the door of the large storage cupboard and found it locked. He knew that as well the key on his key-ring, his father kept spare keys in the wall safe. Thomas lifted down a picture and studied the combination lock. Several years ago his father had demonstrated the lock mechanism and Thomas had thought that he had memorised the combination. Now he could remember the technique, but not the numbers. He tried a couple of combinations that sprung to mind, but the safe remained resolutely shut. He decided to come back to it. He studied the cupboard and wondered if he could break it open, but decided to try the safe again later before doing anything drastic.
The storeroom door was also locked and so it was back to the wall safe. Abdi became worried when Thomas sat down and closed his eyes, but was relieved when he sprung up and started attacking the combination. He was now sure that he remembered it. First he put in his mother’s birthday, date, month and year, then added her age, pulled on the handle and the safe swung open. He remembered that his father had told him that he updated the combination on each of her birthdays. The bunch of keys were there, but he was surprised to see a 9mm automatic pistol and a box of ammunition. There was no holster but he could improvise.
In the cupboard he found his father’s old army compass and put it into a haversack which he found hanging on the back of the door. He took a flashlight, inserted new batteries and added that to the haversack. He then stopped to think about what else might come in useful and at the same time reached for a hunting knife in a scabbard. He also picked up a couple of candles, three boxes of matches and four leather straps which he guessed would just about go around the bedrolls with the rifles concealed inside.
He scanned the box files on the top shelf and wondered if there might be a map, or maps, of the area through which they expected to travel. He knew that his father had kept a collection of old army maps against the possibility that they might one day be useful—typical Dad. He found a box with an index taped to the inside of the lid, selected the relevant maps and quickly checked them. It might no longer be accurate after fifteen years, but the terrain would not have altered that much, so he put it into the back pocket of the haversack.
He relocked the cupboard and went to another at the end of the hallway and pulled out two old grey blankets. Time was passing, it must be after midnight, and if they were to be away before dawn, they must get cracking.
Sorting through the keys he found the one that fitted the lock of the food store, unlocked it and went in. He had already decided that they would probably need iron rations, for, at the most, seven days. He knew that his mother had a monthly standing order with Ramjis in Nairobi and as everything was neatly laid out he had no trouble finding what he was looking for. He selected a dozen of the small oval tins of sardines, a couple of boxes of ships biscuits (dry but filling), two large boxes of dates, a bag of flour and one of rice. He was about to turn away with his haul when he noticed a package at the end of one of the shelves that had not been opened. He turned it over and saw a familiar label: Cape Biltong. Dad always kept a supply which he took on safari and although it was salty, he liked to chew on a piece over his evening beer. He put a couple of pounds with the other rations.
Abdi picked up a piece of biltong, sniffed it and look dubious. Thomas suggested that he try a piece, it’s just like nerineri, the dried meat that your father likes to keep in reserve. He laughed to himself, this is beef, but God knows what Ibrahim’s dried meat is from, goat or camel probably.
Almost as an afterthought, he grabbed a packet of tea and a tin of sugar—he must find a small billy and charguls in the safari store cupboard. Back at the cupboard he found a pack of new one-gallon canvas charguls and took four, filling them and two water bottles with fresh filtered water.
Now he had only to disassemble two rifles—he thought a .270 Mannlicher and a .375 Holland—bag them, wrap the fake bedrolls and add some ammunition. He realised that these would be a little heavy so he would carry the Holland. This was quickly done and he grabbed another haversack from his bedroom. Now he had only to change into something resembling a shuffling Somali idiot, with plenty of head cover—he suggested that Abdi should supervise this.
He was just about to announce that all was ready and that they should set off, when he realised that he had not thought about footwear. His feet had inevitably softened at school and so it would be advisable to wear boots, but these would be a dead give-away. He thought about the alternatives, sandals, flip-flops, or even the old motor tyre sandals used by the locals. Abdi suggested that he should use socks and boots, but take a pair of sandals to use in any populated areas—so it was agreed. He suggested that if they met anyone whilst Thomas was wearing boots, he should squat and cover them with his loin cloth.
Just before 4.00am they set out toward the east intending to put as much space as possible between themselves and Wajir before dawn. As they were about to leave Thomas remembered the 9mm pistol and put it, complete with a fully charged magazine, into the pocket of the shorts which he had decided to wear under the maaro, or loin cloth, but found it cumbersome and uncomfortable. He was about to consign it to his haversack when he remembered seeing films where gangsters carried their piece by sticking it in the waistband at the rear of their pants. It would not be quick or easy to draw from there, but he thought he would try it. He tore up a pillow case and wrapped it in a piece of that before putting it under his belt. It felt okay, he would see.
There were well used tracks leading toward the frontier, but in the soft sand well-defined tracks did not last very long so there was no point in trying to track anyone. Abdi led the way with Thomas trying to keep within reach, to be ready to assume ‘idiot’ mode should they meet others on the track. They had agreed that it would be quicker to stick to the tracks wherever possible. They made good progress and saw no-one, only a few antelope, mostly dikdik and gerunuk. At 8.00am, Abdi left the track and headed for a large spreading acacia saying that they should rest for an hour and then push on until noon. Thomas agreed and did a quick calculation. If at noon they then rested through the heat of the afternoon and walked for another four hours, they should reach the Somali border early the next morning. The border was about sixty miles from Wajir as the crow flies. Thomas found it difficult to believe that only a week ago he had been in the lush, peaceful English countryside, and now he was in this dry, desert wilderness.
They had barely settled in the shade of the thorn tree when they heard the distinctive tell-tale tic toc of several wooden camel bells and shortly a string of six camels plodded westward on the track. In their wake walked a man and a boy, their eyes on the track seemingly oblivious to all else. The man typically hung his arms over a stick carried across his shoulders, with the customary aluminium kettle clutched in his left hand, all draped with a dirty white length of cloth. The boy wearing only a loin cloth secured at his waist, was carrying a heavy looking water gourd. At first Thomas had thought of waylaying them to ask if they had seen any ferenji in their travels, but thought better of it because the travellers would be bound to meet any official follow-up party.
After a thirty-minute rest, they plodded on through the remainder of the day. At night fall they left the track, found a camp site under a large thorn tree where Abdi insisted that they light a fire. Although they had not noticed mosquitos, they jury rigged nets over their sleeping mats. They had a meagre meal of sardines and dates accompanied by a ship’s biscuit and a ration of water. They had barely settled to get what sleep they could when the night was split by an all too familiar sound, a lion coughing, quite close to their camp, to be answered by another in the distance. The sounds gradually moved away. Abdi rose and put more wood on the fire, enough to last for several hours. They had thought about taking turns to stand watch, but in the end decided they were far enough from anywhere not to bother. Few locals travelled at night, and anyway they needed to sleep.
They were undisturbed through the rest of the night and Abdi woke Thomas just before dawn with a mug of hot, sweet tea and singing “Funga safaree“, the old marching song of the King’s African Rifles. Thomas decided to spare a little water and made some damper which cooked quickly in the dying embers. They ate the damper with dates and another mug of tea. Not a very inspiring breakfast thought Thomas, but it was easy, convenient and it would be only for a few days. Inshallah.
Just before 8.00am they reached what was clearly the border, indicated by four-yard-wide strip of cleared bush running north to south and which, judging by wheel marks, was well frequented by vehicles. He remembered coming to the border with his father some years ago. He wondered if the kidnappers had been met at the border by a vehicle—unlikely he thought. He knew that Gedo was pretty much due east of El Wak and after taking a look at the map he decided that they should walk up the border cut keeping a look out for any tracks diverging into Somalia.
They had been walking for about two hours when Abdi stopped and looked back. He ran back about twenty yards and picked something off a bush excitedly calling Thomas to come and take a look.
Immediately Thomas recognised a strip from one of his father’s handkerchiefs complete with the monogram MGF for Michael George Freeman. Clever, Dad had used the strip with the monogram so that when more strips were found, rescuers would know that they were on the right track. He wondered how his father had contrived to deposit it. They decided to leave the strip on the bush in the hopes that any official party with trackers might later spot it. The boys were buoyed by this discovery and resolved to henceforth stay more alert to their surroundings.
Thinking about the handkerchief clue, Thomas smiled as he thought to himself that his father would not be taken easily—the shifta did not know who they were taking on. He had commanded a battalion of the King’s African Rifles in Burma during the war, where he had earned a DSO and an MC.
They walked until 9.00am when they stopped off the track and sought shade under a large acacia. There they rested and took a little water. The country through which they were walking remained unchanging, just a flat terrain covered in scrub and trees which varied only in density. At one point they passed a camel which had been dead for some time and looked almost mummified. Thomas realised that but for the well-defined border cut they would have no idea where they were. He closed his eyes and was certainly dozing when Abdi touched his shoulder and whispered, “raag”.
They remained still and quiet as they watched a party of five men coming down the track from the north. They were in full view when Abdi leapt up and shouted. Thomas thought he had taken leave of his senses and stood cautiously, reassuring himself that the pistol was still stuck firmly under the waist of his shorts. The men turned and, seeing Abdi, hurried toward him laughing. After a round of greeting, handshakes and questions, Thomas recognised two of the men and realised that they were the Dubas recce team sent out by the District Officer. Abdi talked for a couple minutes in Somali and then turned to Thomas and told him that the team had found his parents. They were in a village about two days’ march to the east, closely guarded in a disused school house. Although Thomas could understand some of the conversation, his Somali was not good enough to make sense of it. He spoke to Corporal Isaak in Swahili and soon had a picture of where and how his father and mother were being held.
It seemed that they were under guard by men armed with AK47 automatic rifles. The Boni trackers had gone into the village and at a tea shop they had found that it was common knowledge that two ferenji were being held in the old school house. It was rumoured that a ransom had been set at one hundred thousand Kenya shillings. At least, Thomas thought, the kidnapping didn’t seem to be political and the sum amounted to only £5000. At worst the administration could surely raise that. The corporal said that it had not been possible to get near the school house without being seen by the guards and anyway he thought it better to return and report the location. The party had watched the area for two days and saw no sign that there was any intention of moving on. They were far enough from the border to feel secure, he thought.
One of the Dubas lit a fire and made tea, whilst they sat and discussed the best course of action. The corporal felt that Thomas and Abdi should return with his party and report what had been seen. Thomas said that he and Abdi had not come so far to give up now, so they would push on to do their own recce. Isaak countered by suggesting that it was not a game. His parents’ captors were well armed and dangerous. Thomas persisted and prepared to leave, at which point, accepting the inevitable, Isaak suggested that the older Dubas, Hussein, should go with them. So, it was agreed.
Just as both parties were preparing to go their separate ways Thomas raised his hand and cocked his ear. The others stopped moving too. It was a familiar sound and confirmed just minutes later when a Cessna 180 of the Police Airwing swept low overhead. Thomas prayed that the group had not been noticed, but his worst fears were confirmed when the plane turned and again overflew the group lower than ever and then climbed toward the west. Corporal Isaak and the other Dubas had by this time moved into the open, convinced that the plane would return. Sure enough, after about five minutes Thomas heard it returning. He realised that it was pointless to try to hide so he and Abdi joined the others. The aircraft again came in low and banked over their position as something was thrown from the right-hand side. Abdi raced to pick up the object, returned and handed it to Thomas who recognised a message container.
Thomas scanned the message sheet and then read aloud. “The Provincial Commissioner directs that Corporal Isaak and his entire group, including Thomas Freeman, return to Wajir immediately. Harris, Supt. of Police, Wajir.”
On hearing the message, Corporal Isaak felt vindicated in insisting that Thomas and Abdi return to Wajir with his party, but had not reckoned with Thomas’s stubbornness. Thomas paused only for a moment and then said that he would push on as planned and that he was sure that Abdi would be with him. Abdi agreed. He pointed out to Isaak that neither he nor Abdi were under anyone’s orders and that when he returned, with his mother and father, he would ensure that there were no consequences for Isaak or his team. He omitted to mention that under the Outlying Districts Ordnance the Provincial Commissioner had absolute control over anyone in his Province, staff or civilian.
Isaak said that he was unsure about whether Hussein should go with them. Thomas suggested that they should leave the choice to Hussein. Isaak spoke with Hussein in Somali at some length—Thomas decided that he could find out what that was about later from Abdi. Finally, Hussein announced that he would go with Thomas and Abdi.
The parties separated and Hussein led Thomas and Abdi up the border cut for a few more miles. He then indicated a track saying that this would lead almost directly to the village. Meeting with the Dubas had eaten into the day and so they decided to keep walking until sunset. It was contrary to all custom and good sense. But they were forced to find a spot for the night well before sunset. Just as they had picked out a suitable spot just off the track Hussein whispered “Maroodi“, elephant. They were downwind and so it was unlikely that if they kept still and quiet the elephant would spot them—even then the herd were likely to just keep plodding on. The trio watched as a large old bull followed by a dozen others, including three young ones, kept plodding toward the west. They waited until the herd were well on their way and then collected firewood. Water was getting short, Hussein had less than half a chargul, but they decided to cook up some rice and eat it with sardines before settling for the night. Darkness fell quickly and Hussein suggested that they should divide the night and each stand watch for three hours at a time. Since they were now well inside Somalia Thomas felt that this was good idea and they drew lots for first watch which fell to Abdi.
Apart from the usual night sounds of Africa, the night passed uneventfully and they were up and ready to move before dawn. They had hardly met anyone since leaving Wajir and Thomas had become a little relaxed about the ‘idiot mode’ idea and his disguise had slipped somewhat. So, he was caught out when they suddenly came upon two men and a boy walking in the opposite direction. Hussein greeted them and Abdi attempted to screen Thomas as he sank to his haunches, carefully covering his boots and head. Thomas rocked back and forth on his heels and moaned a little. In a short conversation, Hussein and Abdi exchanged news with the men who said that they had heard nothing about ferenji being held anywhere in the locality. Expressions of goodwill and blessings followed, and the men went on their way. Abdi laughed and gave Thomas a gentle kick saying that the majnuun could now reveal himself.
About half an hour later Abdi spotted another piece of handkerchief hanging from bush. Hussein was intrigued when they explained how they had found the first piece with the monogram. The left the fragment on the bush.
Two hours later they came to a deep, dry lugga, where the remains of a vehicle wedged into the bank downstream told a story of previous flash floods. Hussein stopped and cautioned that when they walked out of the other side of the lugga they would see buildings and huts through the trees. He suggested that they should now leave the track and walk carefully through the bush to circumvent the village until they neared the old school house. Hussein added that there was a low ridge to the south of the school house from which Isaak and his party had kept watch. Thomas could barely believe that he was within a few hundred yards of his parents.
Hussein led them to the bottom of the gentle reverse slope and Thomas estimated that the ridge would be no more than a hundred feet. They moved cautiously up the slope, lay down and crawled the last few yards. Together they raised their heads to eye level, just enough to afford a view of the open space below at the east end of which stood the old school house. Thomas felt quite emotional and found it hard to believe that his parents were inside the building. He edged back from the crest and found the binoculars in his haversack. He checked the position of the sun which was sinking toward the east to ensure that there was no chance of a reflection from the lens. He then returned to the crest and started to scan the area. Hussein suggested that one of them should keep a lookout to the rear to ensure that they were not surprised. Abdi volunteered.
Thomas thoroughly examined the open area and was surprised to find that there appeared to be only one sentry. The sentry was sitting on a chair under the eaves of the building with an AK47 across his knees. Thomas watched for signs of movement. There was none and he concluded that the sentry was asleep. He found it incredible that there appeared to be no other sentries, but remembered that these people were not military, just petty criminals and that they probably felt secure behind an international border.
They watched until sunset and then retired to the bush and found a secluded place among a stand of acacia a few miles from the village. Soon after they arrived, a couple of herd boys with a flock of goats passed about fifty yards away heading for the village, but did not spot the aqraab (strangers). Having had a chance to see the school house, its location, and the rudimentary security, Thomas said that he had an idea but felt that he would like to observe the area a little more to see if there was any change in the guard routine. Hussein countered by suggesting that they could not spend too much time observing before heading back to the border. Thomas shocked him by saying that he, Hussein, could head for the border if he liked, but that he was not leaving without his mother and father. They adopted the watch routine of the previous night and the night passed without incident.
After an increasingly meagre breakfast, they returned to the hill early the following morning and found the guard pacing to and fro in front of the school house and sometimes walking around the entire building. About an hour after they arrived an old, rather dilapidated, lorry drove up to the building. Two men and a boy emerged from the cab. The guard ranted at the driver, pointing to the sun and clearly complaining about the relief being late. To the surprise of the watchers they left the boy as guard, and left. The boy who was no more than sixteen, picked up the AK47 and after examining it closely and putting it to his shoulder, he squinted down the sights. The he lost interest and leaned it against the wall by the door. In another surprise move, he produced a football from his bag and started to kick it around and between the short posts on what would have been the school playing field. He was about fifty yards from the building and was plainly enjoying his kick-about.
Thomas immediately saw an opportunity and turning to Abdi asked if he thought that he could walk in from the other side of the open space and join the guard in his game. If he could do that, Thomas and Hussein would come from the rear of the building and seize the rifle. They would have to move quickly if they were then to free his parents and be out of the area before the next guard change. Thomas had been a little worried all along that the slack security suggested his that parents were not in the building and that perhaps Isaak and his party had been mistaken—but someone clearly was inside. The men in the lorry did not check the building or seem to deliver any rations.
No time was wasted. They left their bedrolls just out of sight and Abdi set out casually to join the boy kicking the ball around. Thomas and a rather reluctant Hussein started to move to the rear of the building. Taking the pistol from his waist band Thomas checked that the magazine was full, but did not cock it. They watched as Abdi appeared from the bush and, after a brief conversation, was soon kicking the ball around. They could hear comments and laughter. Thomas and Hussein moved quietly around the blind side of the building and emerged to the front. Thomas immediately grabbed the AK47. He was surprised at the weight, heavier he thought than the old Lee Enfield, but he did not have time to ponder as the guard turned and saw him. The boy started running towards Thomas yelling for him to put the rifle down. Thomas brought the barrel up and told him to stop, celi, saying that he would shoot unless the boy stopped. Thomas then ordered the boy to walk forward slowly. The boy complied and was even more shocked to see that Thomas was a yurub, a European, and you could almost see the wheels turning as he realised what was happening.
Abdi was close behind and introduced the guard as Hassan Ali of the Ogaden. Thomas asked him if he had the key to the entrance door. He responded that the door was not locked. Thomas entered and called “Dad” to be met with a muffled cry. He went in the direction of the cry, pushed open a door and was shocked to find his father and mother full length on the floor, trussed like chickens and biting on cloth gags. He rushed back to the door and called the others in, including Hassan Ali. He urged them to help him free his parents quickly. Thomas’s father was awake and able to sit up, but his mother caused Thomas more anxiety since she seemed to be barely conscious. The rescuers gave them both some water, not too much cautioned Thomas, and his mother revived a little. Thomas hugged his father and said, “We must get out and away from here as quickly as possible”. His father started to ask questions and quickly thought better of it realising there would be time for talking later. At that moment they heard the lorry returning. Damn, thought Thomas. They were not supposed to come back for hours.
Realising that he had the element of surprise, and having accustomed his eyes to the dim interior, Thomas went to the door and saw one man, the driver, jump down from the lorry carrying a bag. He stopped and looked around, presumably for Hassan Ali, then walked toward the door and entered. Thomas let him pass and then loudly cocked the AK47. The man stopped, turned and let fly a stream of Somali, the meaning of which was clear, though he thought that he was talking to Hassan Ali. As his eyes accustomed to the gloom the driver saw that the boy holding the rifle was European and he again started his tirade. Thomas jerked the rifle, indicating that he should walk toward the back room where he found Hassan Ali, his prisoners and two others. Thomas said, “We’re in luck, there’s only one of them and now they had a lorry to leave in, but we had better move fast”. He sent Hussein to collect the bed rolls and, holding the rifle on the visitor, had the others tie him securely.
Whilst he was being tied and not knowing that Michael Freeman spoke fluent Somali, the driver asked Hassan Ali who the boys were. Hassan said that he didn’t know, but thought that the white boy was the son of the prisoners. He then asked why Hassan Ali was not being tied. Hassan shrugged and said that he did not know either. “You’d better think of something because Omar will cut your throat when he finds what has happened. Well, he added resignedly, as they’re taking the trouble to tie me, it doesn’t look as if they intend to kill me—they’re soft, the Europeans.”
Hussein returned with the bed rolls and Thomas explained to his father about the rifles. They decided that they wouldn’t bother to assemble them right away, but to rely on the AK47—although the unspoken word was that they hoped that they would not need to use it. Next, they inspected the lorry and found that the fuel gauge was broken. Abdi asked the driver, but he refused to say. Outside, Hassan Ali volunteered that he had seen the lorry being filled the day before. No matter, said Mr Freeman, we’ll just have to run it until it stops and then walk. He did not voice his fear that his wife would not be up to walking far.
Meanwhile Thomas had checked the bag that the driver had brought with him and found four bottles of an indeterminate soft drink and six pieces of flat bread. He then helped his mother out to the lorry and settled her into the passenger seat. She said that she was feeling better after taking some water.
Michael Freeman then took charge and told the boys to get into the rear of the lorry and make themselves as comfortable as possible. He started the engine and was about to move when Thomas knocked on the roof of the cab and pointed to Hassan Ali who was standing by the door of the hut clutching his football and looking forlorn. Mr Freeman waved him over and said to him in fluent Somali that if he wanted to join them, he should quickly climb into the lorry. Hassan Ali, aware of his sticky position, needed no second invitation. Michael told Thomas that they should all drop down below the sides of the lorry and stay down until they were well beyond the village. They reached the village, drove slowly down the short street and saw no one. Once clear of all buildings Michael Freeman accelerated and shouted to Thomas that he should watch behind for signs of anyone following.
They crossed the lugga without difficulty, but speed was constrained by the state of the road— just sand and little more than a camel track. After about ten miles they met a large herd of camels and goats, some of the camels carrying the long-curved projecting sticks that served as rude hut supports, together with baggage and some young goats. At the rear they met an extended family: men, women and children of various ages. Michael stopped and greeted the men in Somali and they said that they were moving to traditional grazing grounds ready for the rains—others were following. Realising that the migration would meet any pursuing shifta, Michael asked how far it was to the Kenya border. After consultation, an elder said that the border was about one day’s march—which Michael estimated would be fifteen to twenty miles. With any luck they would be clear of Somalia in less than an hour, although it was always possible that the shifta might follow them into Kenya. Just as they were about to pull away, Thomas saw dust rising a few miles behind. Someone was following at speed.
Thomas yelled to his father who made a snap decision. He told Thomas that he would drive until they were out of sight of the camel herders and then turn off the track to the left where he would stop for the boys to climb down. He said that they should then quickly break off some small branches and obscure the lorry tracks for twenty yards or so by sweeping them. Then they should run into the bush and re-join the lorry.
When Thomas, Abdi, Hussein and Hassan Ali re-joined the lorry Michael Freeman said that he would drive south for a few miles and then turn hard right and again head for the border to the west. He added that he would drive fairly slowly to avoid raising a lot of dust. Just as they were about to set out Thomas remembered that he had his father’s compass in his haversack. He found it and handed it down to Michael who climbed down from the cab and walked about twenty yards away from the lorry. The compass needle barely moved and he concluded that the metal mass in the lorry was not affecting it too much—better safe than sorry, he thought. The border stretched south from El Wak for about 250 miles on an almost constant bearing of 180º south, so if they now drove on a heading of 270º they would reach the border sooner rather than later. As soon as they set off Thomas unwrapped the rifles from the bedrolls and set about assembling them—only a matter of inserting and tightening a locking screw in each. Pity he had not included the scopes he thought, but he doubted that they would be needed anyway. He charged the magazines with three rounds each.
For about an hour they drove at less than twenty miles an hour when Michael spotted the border cut just ahead but to his consternation a lorry with several armed Somalis standing near. He stopped at once, but too late, they had seen him. He backed up a hundred yards and called for the AK47, telling his wife to get into the back of the lorry and lie down behind the steel sides. He knew that it would be impossible to run and watched as the Somalis spread out and moved toward them. He noted two AK47s and what appeared to be a shotgun. Two others were armed with simis.
Thomas shouted that he had assembled the rifles and his father grabbed the .375 in preference to the AK47. Thomas handed down the packet of ammunition. A burst of 7.62mm went over the lorry, predictably high. Michael sat in the driver’s seat and took careful aim at one of the men carrying an AK. He yelled to Thomas to target the one on the right. He fired and his target fell. Thomas fired almost simultaneously and his target dropped his AK, looking bewildered, as Thomas chambered another round, took more careful aim and fired again. Both the men carrying AKs were down. The remaining three men turned and ran towards their lorry just as a burst of automatic fire came from the border track to the left and Michael recognised the sound of a Bren. The running men fell as one, but it was clear that whoever was firing the Bren had deliberately aimed high and had not fired to kill.
The lorry on the track emerged into view and Michael saw that it was a Kenya Police landrover closely followed by a 5-ton lorry. He then drove the borrowed lorry to the track and saw that the policemen were from the Police General Service Unit. As he stopped a European officer emerged from the landrover and announced himself. Inspector Rex Hart asked Michael if he was the DC Wajir and on learning that he was, signified his relief. He explained that after a reconnaissance he had been tasked with entering Somalia seeking to rescue Mr and Mrs Freeman from the location reported by the tribal policemen, one of whom was with his party.
The three shifta slowly rose from the ground with their hands above their heads and Hart ordered some of his askaris to arrest them, whilst the sergeant on the Bren covered them. Whilst Michael Freeman and Hart were discussing what to do with the prisoners another lorry came into sight from the north. It slowed when it saw them and approached cautiously. Michael recognised that the lorry belonged to the Somalia Police. It stopped about fifty yards away. A figure jumped down from the passenger seat and walked slowly toward them. He greeted Michael as Mr Freeman, held out his hand and said “Tenente Elmi Roble”.
Freeman quickly explained what had happened, the abduction, being held in the old school house and the rescue by his son Thomas. Tenente Roble said that he knew what had happened and apologised on behalf of the Government of Somalia and added that he would now take the three men back to Gedo for trial and remove the bodies for burial. Trial—who would be the witnesses Freeman wondered. Inspector Hart picked up on the same anomaly and asked if Roble would not want statements and witnesses. Roble said that he had all the witnesses he needed back at the village and that the abductors would get justice. After some discussion, it was agreed that Elmi Roble should take the three prisoners, the two bodies, and the lorry that the shifta had used, back to Gedo. At Michael Freeman’s request Inspector Hart wrote two copies of a summary of the agreement, including a requirement that the District Commissioner Wajir should be informed of the date and result of the trial, if necessary through diplomatic channels.
By this time, it was after noon and the sun was high in the sky. The party were tired and hungry, but since Rex Hart estimated that they should be in Wajir by mid-afternoon they decided to press on. The GSU had several twenty-gallon copper burramels filled with warm, but clean water, so no-one would die of thirst. As soon as they were within VHF range, Rex Hart called Wajir to let them know that everyone was safe and that they should arrive early evening.
Just before sunset the party reached Wajir and Rex Hart dropped the Freemans and Abdi off at the DCs house where they found the District Officer and Ibrahim waiting for their arrival. Abdi left with Ibrahim, promising to return the next day. It was then just a matter of a shower, something to eat and bed. A debrief could wait until the next day.
It was two months before a report on the incident reached the governor and the investigation concluded that the abductors had displayed few signs of organisation or planning and that in all probability had seen and seized an opportunity. Predictably, the report recommended that at all administrative centres on the Somali border measures be taken to prevent any reoccurrence.
Thomas, Abdi and Dubas Hussein received a Governors commendation for courage and initiative and for Thomas and Abdi this was accompanied by a reprimand from the Provincial Commissioner for failing to follow instructions and acting alone in a dangerous environment.
Thomas returned to England and school knuckling down to the rigours of algebra, Latin, and the pleasure of crumpets for tea. It was not until six months later that he was reminded of his holiday adventure. Early one morning in December he was summoned by the headmaster and told that in two days his mother and father would arrive to pick up him and Michael Collins to attend a very special occasion. The Head said that he could add nothing to that and they should be ready in the foyer at 9.00am two days hence. “Oh, and by-the-way, you should be wearing your best school uniform and take luggage for a seven-day absence”. Over the next two days he and Collins discussed the possibilities endlessly and concluded that they could only wait to see what was afoot.
Thomas and Michael stood ready in the foyer at the appointed time and finally a new Range Rover pulled up. His mother and father he had expected, but couldn’t believe his eyes when Abdi appeared resplendent in a dark suit with a collar and tie, looking dapper. There were excited greetings and much hugging which his father interrupted, called for the boys’ luggage and said that they must get on the road. Just then the headmaster and the boys’ housemaster arrived and after greeting Mr and Mrs Freeman, were introduced to Abdi. The head dropped a bombshell when he looked at Abdi and said “So you will be joining us here in the New Year Mr Madei”. Abdi smiled and said simply, “Yes sir”. Thomas looked questioningly at his father but felt it politic to save his questions until they were on the road. In any case the head’s remark was plain enough. The head said “Well, we look forward to welcoming you”.
Once out of the precincts of the school, the questions flew fast and wild and the one that intrigued Thomas and Michael most was, what was the big event?
“Well” said Mr Freeman,” you’ve probably heard the yarn about the two young men who set out into wild, unknown territory in Africa to rescue a man and a woman who had been abducted by bandits. Well, each of the boys has been awarded a George Medal and they are going to meet Her Majesty the Queen to receive their decoration.”
Abdi laughed because he was already in on the secret, but Thomas was struck dumb. Had it been anyone but his father telling the story, he would not have believed them. How, Thomas wondered, could things have come so far without he having even an inkling of what was going on.
“We are to meet Her Majesty on Wednesday morning at the Palace and in the meantime, we have to get you an Abdi fitted out with morning suits.”
“Is that really necessary?” questioned Thomas. He could hardly picture himself, much less Abdi, in waiter’s outfits.
“It’s the done thing old chap, so get used to it.”
Here Mrs Freeman interjected, “And that’s not all, father is to collect a KCMG and he is replacing Uncle Henry at Isiolo.”
Thomas let out a hoot. “Kindly Call Me God” he added.
“Enough of that” said Mr Freeman, laughing.
Whilst everyone else laughed, Abdi looked puzzled; “Is this true?” he asked.
Mr Freeman explained that KCMG meant the Knight Commander of the Cross of St Michael and St George, but it was popularly referred to as “Kindly Call Me God”. It was clear that Abdi had much to learn about English humour.
“Doesn’t that mean that you and Mrs Freeman will have a title and be in line to become Governor” suggested Michael.
Thomas immediately felt a pang for his friend—Collins’ father had been about to take up his appointment as Governor when he was killed in a stupid hunting accident.
“I doubt that Michael and anyway I shall have my work cut out as Provincial Commissioner at Isiolo.”
After the party arrive in London and were ensconced in a hotel, his father took Thomas aside to explain how and why he had arranged for Abdi to join him at school. “You’ll recall that Ibrahim was my battalion sergeant major when we were in Burma. In the action for which I collected an MC, Ibrahim saved my life by single handedly eliminating a Japanese machine gun nest enabling me to return to our lines unscathed. Ibrahim received a MM for that. You can see that this, combined with the help you had from Abdi in the recent escapade, rather puts me under an obligation to Ibrahim and his family. So, with the help of several other former KAR officers, I have set up a Trust for Abdi which should see him through school and university or, failing the latter, set him up with his own livestock.
“Dad, that’s marvellous—does Abdi know all this?”
“He probably knows the outline, but not the detail and I wouldn’t bother him with that.”
“Okay, thanks for telling me this.”
Sir Michael went on, “The head has suggested that Abdi spend a year in the Junior school and then move up to an age appropriate level the following year. I don’t think that Abdi would have any trouble coping directly, but I deferred to the head.”
Two days later the party arrived at the palace at the appointed time resplendent in morning suits, carrying top hats and feeling rather stupid in such attire. His father reminded Thomas that he should by now feel rather accustomed to appearing in public dressed as an idiot.
Thomas and Abdi’s citation read: “…with exemplary courage and initiative did alone and unsupported enter a dangerous area of the Somali Republic to locate and rescue two British nationals who had been forcefully abducted by tribal bandits and held to ransom”.
The investiture was over in no time and Abdi was overwhelmed, but when asked by Jane Freeman what the Queen had said to him, he replied that she had just asked, “Have you come far?”
When his father and mother, accompanied by Abdi, returned to Kenya, Thomas went back to school alone to await the start of the autumn term. After the excitement of events at Wajir during the holidays, the unexpected arrival of his parents and Abdi, followed by the visit to the Palace, the school term that followed was a drag.
Since his arrival at Wauchope Hall two years before, Thomas had learned that time passed more quickly if he knuckled down and systematically dealt with his studies. His mood lightened at half term when he was picked up by brother Giles and they spent a weekend in Cambridge. They stayed at the home of Giles’s fiancé Samantha where she and her family were keen to hear first-hand about the kidnapping and rescue. Thomas felt some embarrassment at being treated as some kind of war hero, but the family were so kind and thoughtful. At least he would be able to report favourably on Giles’s good fortune when he returned to Kenya.
The second half was no so bad. Having failed dismally at rugby, his spirits lifted somewhat when he was selected for the school’s musketry team. This involved a trip to Bisley for the Public Schools Rifle Championships. The Hall didn’t do too well and Thomas felt sure that the quality of the rifles accounted for this. Practise was of the essence and he resolved that by hook or by crook he would have his own regulated .303 match rifle with the latest Parker Hale sight. He also planned to make representations at school on the need for proper competition rifles, consistent practise and regular competitive shoots. He felt sure that his standing would gain him a fair hearing.
After the exams, in which he did not do as well as he had expected, the term ran down in the run-up to the Christmas holidays and he was resigned to spending the hols at the Hall. Two days before the end of term he was summoned to the bursar’s office where he was handed slip bearing an unfamiliar telephone number. When he asked what it was about, the bursar shrugged, “They just asked for you to ring them at 7pm. Use the phone in the hall”.
Since he had never before received a telephone call while at school, his imagination ran riot all day. After tea and with no prep to complete, he sat in the hall and waited for the clock to tick away to 7 PM. Fearing some news of an event at Isiolo he had deliberately not mentioned the phone call to Michael Collins. Promptly at 7 PM he walked over to the phone and dialled the number. The phone was picked up almost instantly and he said “Thomas Freeman here, I was asked to call you at 7 PM”
“Thomas it’s Sam here, Samantha Williams, how are you?”
“Sam I’m fine, how nice to hear from you, I was just a bit worried that the phone call might bring some bad news.”
“On the contrary, we were wondering if you had any plans for Christmas, if not whether you might like to join us here in Cambridge for the holiday?”
“Wow, no actually I was resigned to spending Christmas here at the Hall with all the other orphans. Apart from a date to meet Abdi at Heathrow on 5 January, I have no plans.”
“Well that settles it then, you will join us for Christmas.”
“I wonder if I could be awfully cheeky and ask if there might be room for one other? If I come to you my Kenya friend Michael Collins will be stuck here by himself – not a very exciting prospect.”
“I should have thought of that, I’m sure it would be all right for him to join us too, but I’ll just check with mother. Hang on a moment…”
“Hello Thomas, yes mummy says that that will be okay if you don’t mind sharing a room with him.”
“Of course, school closes in a couple of days so would it be all right if we came down at the weekend?”
“Fine, I’ll be home on Saturday so if you just ring me from the station I’ll pick you up”
“See you then and by the way, have you heard anything from Giles since he was posted to Germany?”
“I spoke to him couple of days ago and he says that he’s really looking forward to a bachelor Christmas in Germany among all the frauleins,” Sam laughed.
“Okay, we’ll see you at the weekend and in the meantime please give our thanks to your mother and father for their kind invitation. I’m looking forward to the weekend.”
Thomas put down the phone and hurried off to convey the good news to Michael. This invitation couldn’t have come at a better time.
Saturday dawned bright and clear Thomas and Michael arrived in Cambridge mid-afternoon. On getting their call, Sam wasted no time in picking them up, “We’re really glad that you are able to join us for Christmas. When I told Giles, he said that I was to make sure that you behaved yourself!”
Thomas chuckled, “He’s a fine one to talk, just remind him of Christmas 48!”
“What about Christmas 48?”
“He was at school in Nairobi, the Prince of Wales, and just before Christmas he was invited to a party by one of his classmates and afterwards spent the holiday in hospital.”
“Just ask him, I think it would be better if you heard it from him” said Thomas laughing.
Sam pulled into the driveway of the large Victorian house on the outskirts of Cambridge. “We’ll get you settled in, give you time to freshen up a bit and then it will be time for tea”.
After unpacking, Michael laid back on his bed and closed his eyes. “What exactly does Mr Williams do at the University? Looking at all this, it must be something important.”
“I don’t know, but I expect we’ll find out”, responded Thomas.
“I mean, is he a professor or something?”
“I really don’t know, but I’ll tell you what, Agent Collins I’m tasking you with finding out what he does. In the meantime, we had better get changed and go down for tea.
He few minutes later the boys descended the broad staircase, located the buzz of conversation and entered the lounge. Sam stood up “Good, you made it, we are about to start tea, but first of course I must introduce you to the family.” They did the rounds, greeting Sam’s mother and father, who he remembered for his last visit, then her maternal grandmother, and a girl who was introduced as Sally Worthington.
Mrs Williams took Sally’s hand and told the boys that she was the daughter of an old friend and like them had been consigned to a lonely Christmas at school. She went on to explain that Sally’s parents were in Malaya with the army. It seemed that they would later be joined by Sam’s elder sister, her husband, and two children.
The room was fairly spacious, giving sufficient space for grand piano and well-stocked bookshelves on two sides. Clearly the house had central heating, but an open fire emitted a cosy glow. A well-stocked table stood to one side.
Mrs Williams suggested that they had better tuck in as they had decided to skip dinner tonight. She added that should the boys and Sally feel like a top up before bed, they were to help themselves in the kitchen. “Do please make yourself at home, we don’t stand on ceremony.”
With a well-stocked plate, Thomas found himself sitting by Mr Williams who asked how the term had gone.
“Well not as well as I had hoped Sir, but I did manage an enjoyable break shooting for the school team at Bisley.”
“Ah, Giles mentioned that you plan to follow him to Sandhurst.”
Thomas almost choked on his sandwich, “I don’t think so Sir, wherever did he get that idea.”
“Oh, sorry, he rather gave me the impression that it was a family tradition, the army I mean.”
“Hardly Sir, dad served with the KAR, the Kings African Rifles, through the war but I don’t know of any other family connection, except of course Giles himself.”
Mr Williams picked up his pipe and reached for his pouch to recharge it, “What about your other brother Andrew, what does he do.”
“He took his degree last year and now works in the City, where dad says he plans to make a million.
Mr Williams chuckled, “Well good luck to him…”
I haven’t seen him for a couple of years and actually I was to have joined him for Christmas, but he decided to fly out to Kenya for the holiday.”
“So, if it’s not to be the army, what would you like to do?”
“Well, I haven’t firmed up any ideas yet, but rather fancy reading Zoology and Law and then possibly joining the Kenya Game Department.”
“Not following your father into the administration then.”
“I had thought of that, but having lived among game, big game, all my life I must say I find the idea of conservation and game management most attractive.”
“You’re not worried about the pronouncements of this chap Kenyatta then?”
“I’m sorry Sir, but who is Kenyatta?”
“You haven’t heard of him? No, I suppose not. He has only just persuaded the Colonial Office to allow him to return to Kenya where he has immediately stirred up the Independence debate.”
“Ah, I had heard that there had been some whisperings about Independence for the colony, but I’m afraid I had put that down to wishful thinking. This Kenyatta, is that his real name?”
“Well I’m no expert on Africa and only know what I read in the Times, but there he is reported as Jomo Kenyatta and apparently after spending the duration in England, he then went to Moscow for two years. So naturally the British government is bound to be a bit suspicious.”
“I see; I must ask dad what he knows. If you don’t mind my asking Sir, I wonder, what is your position in the University?”
“Ah, nothing too grand I’m afraid, Professor of Classics at Kings.”
“Sounds pretty impressive to me Sir. I’m doing Classics at school and am finding it most interesting.”
“Well there you are then, maybe you ditch the Zoology and Law come up to Kings and read Classics.”
“I’m not sure that I have the brain for it, but one never knows,” responded Thomas with a grin, “I wonder if you would excuse me Sir, I should say hello to Sally rather than leaving her all to Michael.”
“Certainly, my boy, I should attend to the fire anyway.”
Less Lucy and her family, Christmas Eve found the rest at Kings College Chapel for the annual 9 carols and 9 sermons. Thomas couldn’t but be impressed by the splendour of the chapel, the candles, and the colours of the vestments. What a contrast to Kenya he thought, I suppose missing this sort of thing was one of the penalties one paid for living in the colonies. Hard to believe that the chapel was built during the reign of Henry VIII, over 400 years ago.
The singing of the familiar carols took on a new dimension enhanced by the acoustics of the chapel. Thomas reflected that the whole occasion could be only improved by more carols and fewer sermons.
Christmas Day was predictable with the distribution of presents from under the tree immediately after breakfast. Thomas and Michael had taken time the day after their arrival to go into town to choose modest gifts for everyone. Sally appeared to have prepared herself before arrival.
Christmas dinner, organised by Sam and her mother, was thoroughly traditional with a turkey and all the trimmings. After a short break, Sam entered with a large plum pudding on a tray in a plume of flame, fed by brandy. It tasted as good as it looked. Once again, Thomas was struck by the difference between the celebration here and that to which he was accustomed in Kenya.
Boxing Day dawned bright and cold and after agonising all morning Thomas finally steeled himself after lunch and asked Sally if she would like to go for a walk. To his surprise, she agreed at once and seemed rather keen. “We needn’t go too far,” he suggested “but after all that food one feels the need for some exercise.”
Michael elected to stay by the fire with a book recommended by the professor — “The Spartan Wars”. “I’d always thought the Classics was dry as dust, but this is really exciting” he explained. Thomas didn’t attempt to discourage him.
They set off at a fairly brisk pace with no idea of where they were going. It occurred to Thomas that he would need to remember the way back to the house. Much harder, he thought, then navigating in the NFD. He became aware that his left-hand was brushing Sally’s as they walked and so, nothing venture, he took her hand. She squeezed his fingers and gave a small smile.
They walked silently for some time until she asked, out of the blue, “Who is Abdi?” Thomas wondered where that came from, but explained that Abdi was probably his oldest friend. He went on to enlarge on the events that had brought the families together, the war, the KAR and finally the rescue of his parents. Adding that in recompense to Abdi’s family, his father and a group of former KAR officers had set up a trust for Abdi and he would be joining him at Wauchope Hall in New Year.
“Your families must be very proud of both of you,” said Sally with fresh interest, “And you both received awards.”
Thomas stopped, “You know Sally sometimes I wish that we could have avoided any publicity, it has all become rather embarrassing. There was no real danger and I feel that the whole thing has been blown out of proportion.”
Sally had only known Thomas for a few days but she felt that she could understand how he felt about the rescue and its consequences. “Thomas I’m sorry that I raise the question, please forgive me”
“No, not at all, not your fault, I expect that it will all fade with time. There is nothing to forgive.”
“I’d like to meet Abdi; does he speak English?”
“As well as you and I.” Said Thomas, reflecting that if she met Abdi, it meant that he would also see her again. “Well, maybe we could arrange a get-together at half term.”
They walked on and eventually came to a large park like open space which a sign declared to be “Parker’s Piece”, apparently a venue for cricket and football. “Not much of a day for either,” observed Thomas, “Did you know that it was here in 1863 that the University football club established the rules for association football?”
Predictably, Sally didn’t know.
“I think it’s probably time that we turned back,” Thomas suggested. The large red globe of the sun was low in the south-west and would soon be setting. Mist was rising from the grass and the air had taken on a distinct chill.
They stopped, faced each other and Thomas said, “Thank you for agreeing to take a walk with me and for your understanding”. With that he leaned forward and brushed his lips against hers. Not quite a kiss, but bold for Thomas. As they set out to return, he felt lightheaded and as if he was walking on air.
Mrs Williams opened the door when they finally arrived back at the house, “You’re just in time for tea,” she said. “You’ve been out for quite a while; how far did you go?”
“We walked until we arrived at a sign which said “Parker’s Piece” and then we turned back” said Sally.
“Good heavens that must be all of 10 miles, you must be frozen and famished,” as she took their coats and hung them in the closet besides the front door.
After Christmas the time passed all too quickly and Sally left on the day after New Year with a promise to Thomas that she would write to him. Michael and he returned to the Hall the following day and Thomas prepared to collect Abdi at Heathrow on the 5th ready for the new term which started on 10th January.
Thomas travelled to London by train, then out to Heathrow where he arrived in good time to meet the incoming flight. Abdi stood out among the incoming passengers and waved as soon as he spotted Thomas. As they waited for the arrival of the luggage, Thomas caught up on the latest from Isiolo. He delivered a letter from Thomas’s mother and one addressed to Thomas from his father, Ibrahim.
As they emerged from the terminal the sun had set giving way to a cold, damp, miserable January evening. Thomas explained that they would be staying at a small hotel in Kensington, before travelling out to the school the following day.
They had a meal at a nearby Indian restaurant and Thomas took the opportunity to fill in Abdi on the school. The Head had recommended that Abdi should spend one year in the junior school to become familiar and to catch up. This meant that he would be in a dormitory and share the junior common room for study and prep. In the following year he would move to the senior school and share a study with a fellow student.
“By the way, the head asked me to find out if you would be happy to share the Muslim prayer room with the Pakistani students.”
Abdi chuckled, “I don’t think I’ll be doing much praying whilst I’m here. Since the war, dad seems to have very much given up on religion. Hardly surprising really”
“Okay so I’ll just tell the head that you are happy with the arrangements. There is a prayer and a hymn at morning assembly, but you can drop out of that if you like.”
From his observations Thomas had always felt, that in Kenya at least, the Somali adherence to Islam was more cultural than spiritual. In other words, like many Christians, they would go through the motions but it was not a deeply felt need.
Thomas read the letter from his mother which was essentially an update on happenings at Isiolo. She had won the ladies tennis competition by a good margin. She concluded by enjoining Thomas to look after Abdi, suggesting that at first, he would be like a fish out of water.
He then turned to the letter from Regimental Sergeant Major Ibrahim which proved to be very formal:
Dear Mister Thomas
I hop you well. I send my boy to England for school. He you good friend. I know you look after him at the school. He must do well in his learning then return here to us. Good luck to you. Mrs Amina she send her love to you.
Ibrahim Sheikh Madei
Thomas was touched that Ibrahim had taken the trouble, indeed had made the effort, to write to him. He can imagine how Ibrahim and Amina must be feeling at Abdi’s departure. He must remember to reply.
A couple of weeks before half term Thomas wrote to Mrs Williams and asked if it would be possible for him, Abdi, and Sally to visit over the half term weekend. He said that he realised that this was probably an inconvenience and that he would fully understand if this were not possible. She replied by return saying that they were all most welcome.
Thomas and Sally had been in touch, almost weekly, since Christmas and she was ready to fall in with the half term arrangements. She was waiting in the lounge when he and Abdi arrived late on Friday afternoon. Thomas greeted her with a peck on the cheek and turned to introduce Abdi.
Abdi bowed, took her hand and kissed it lightly saying, “Hujambo memsahib, uhali gani?”
“Old Somali custom Sally” grinned Thomas.
“Thomas, you told me that Abdi speaks English”
“Yes, he does, but only on Tuesdays”
Abdi could no longer contain himself, “That was his stupid idea Sally, I’m sorry” he said, laughing, flashing his beautiful white teeth.
Sally turned to Thomas, “You’ll pay for that Thomas Freeman”
“Don’t be too hard on him Sally,” said Abdi, “He thinks that he is a joker. Have you been to Kenya?”
“No, I’ve not even been to Africa.”
“Well why don’t you come with us for the summer holidays?”
“I love to, but I’m flying out to Malaya to join my mother and father. We are then going up to a family leave centre in the Campbell Highlands with friends.”
“Friends?” said Thomas.
“Yes, daddy’s battalion major, his wife and two boys.”
“The two boys, how old are they” queried Thomas insouciantly.
“I don’t know exactly, about 10 or 12 I think.”
The weekend passed smoothly. On Saturday afternoon they went into Cambridge, visited Heffers bookshop where Sally quickly found what she was looking for. Afterwards they took tea at the nearby Dorothy Cafe.
On Sunday afternoon, uncle Henry (as they were now calling Professor Williams) gave them a conducted tour of the college and in particular the chapel. He explained that the chapel, dating from the 15th century, was a fine example of the Gothic, perpendicular architecture. They stayed to hear the choir at Evensong and Abdi was duly impressed. He said that he could not believe that such a big building was so old.
The school year ended with a bang with Thomas and Abdi both picking up prizes on speech day. Abdi found that he had a gift for languages and as well as perfecting his English, he now had a good command of French. Next year he planned on adding Italian to his repertoire. As well as doing well in all the usual subjects, Thomas took the senior prize in Classics.
The final week of term passed in a flash and early on a bright morning in August they found themselves in the departure lounge at Heathrow.
Michael Collins had also joined Thomas and Abdi for the long vac. After his father, then Kenya Governor elect, was accidentally killed in a hunting accident Michael and his mother had remained in England. Apart from grieving the loss of husband and father, the Collins felt unsettled in what had become an alien environment after so many years in Kenya. Michael had been born in Nairobi. Thomas’s father, Sir Michael Freeman, solved their problem at a stroke by offering Mrs Collins a position as his PA at Isiolo. Hence Michael’s return for the school holidays.
Baggage had been checked in and boarding passes collected, they now waited for their flight to be called.
Thomas thought about the past year. When they had returned to school after the Christmas holidays the Head had singled them both out for special attention. He recalled the embarrassment when he and Abdi were called to podium when the Headmaster announced their decorations and briefly recounted the events that had led to it. The school, eight or nine hundred fellows, had stood as one and delivered a standing ovation. He cringed when he remembered the scene.
Abdi has taken to school like a duck to water and immediately found himself the centre of attention in the junior school where boys flocked to befriend him. There were perhaps a couple of dozen students from India and Pakistan, even some Arabs, but as the only African Abdi stood out and received a lot of attention.
Thomas had felt obliged to take on the role of ex-officio mentor but soon saw that his old friend was quite capable of looking after himself. He was not surprised that Abdi did not take to team sports, and was intrigued to find that he had become a swimmer and promising tennis player. He had already warned his mother not to take a tennis challenge from Abdi too lightly.
The flight was called and the trio were quick to get in line at the departure gate. Abdi exclaimed at the sight of the latest addition to the BOAC fleet, a sleek new four engined jet, recalling the lumbering Britannia in which he had arrived just six months before.
The flight, with fewer stops and at altitude well above any turbulence, was uneventful and landed at Embakasi, Nairobi International, in the late evening. As they emerged from customs and immigration, an African driver from Government House made himself known and conducted them to an immaculate Landrover, the latest model, then to a GH guesthouse. The driver handed Thomas a note which advised that they would be picked up at 0800 the following morning.
The boys were up early and after a leisurely breakfast they packed and waited on the porch. On the dot of eight, the Landrover pulled up and the driver shepherded the porters with the luggage.
Thomas took the front seat beside the Kikuyu driver. “How long will we take getting to Isiolo?”
The driver thought for a movement as he negotiated a roundabout, “I think just over one-hour Sir” he replied, keeping a straight face.
It took a moment for this to sink in, but the truth dawned when Thomas noted that they had missed the turnoff to the Thika road. “I know where we’re going, Wilson Airport”. The driver didn’t disagree. Thomas turned, “Hey guys it seems that dad has arranged an alternative means of transport”
“What you mean”, said Michael Collins.
“You haven’t noticed”
“No what are you talking about Thomas?”
“Well is this the way to Thika?
“Ah, I see what you mean, are we going to Wilson?”.
Ten minutes later the Land Rover pulled up in front of the office of Camplings, the air charter company. The boys leapt out and quickly unloaded their luggage when a European emerged from the office and enquired for Thomas Freeman. “Right Mr Freeman you and your companions might as well carry your luggage over to the Cessna there on the hardstanding. We’ll be taking off in about 10 minutes. By the way, I’m Mike.”
The boys walked over to the aircraft and admiring its lines deposited their bags. They dumped their bags and strolled around the aircraft. “Always a puzzle to me how these things stay up, they seem so fragile” observed Michael.
“Actually, they are very strong, engineering they call it, all those little mathematical calculations” commented Thomas as he tried to rock the plane by swinging on the wing strut.
The pilot strode up clutching a clipboard, “Just have to check your details — hey, you trying to wreck my plane?”
“No, just demonstrating how robust it is” grinned Thomas.
Having completed his details check, luggage stowed, Mike invited the boys to climb in, two in the back seat and one in the right hand front seat, “Oh, and fasten your seat belts”.
“Abdi, you take the front seat, you can keep an eye on Mike and make sure he keeps on the right road” suggested Thomas, whilst he and Michael climbed into the rear of the cabin.
“Right, everyone buckled up?” Mike made his pre-take-off checks, started, continued to flick switches, adjust dials, and taxied out to the active runway, opened the throttle, released the brakes, and they were soon airborne. They had a good view of Mount Kenya as they passed over the flanks of the mountain and the snow and glaciers that had so puzzled the early European explorers. Mike yelled that they had just passed over the equator and were now back in the Northern hemisphere. He was soon setting up for the landing at Isiolo airstrip.
Thomas was surprised at the size of the welcoming committee, everyone seemed to have turned out. The plane came to rest in front of the terminal and Mike shut down with a burst of throttle. Thomas was disappointed to see that there was no band!
The arrival took on the air of a ceremonial occasion. Thomas and Michael greeted their respective parents and two senior members of the provincial staff. The office manager, Mister Patel, stepped forward and took Thomas’s hand “Welcome home Sir, it is good to have you back here, isn’t it”.
Sir Michael then said, sotto voce “This is really an occasion for Ibrahim and Amina, so we should make ourselves scarce.” Thomas couldn’t but agree and the Freemans moved off and left the occasion to Abdi, his mother and father and their friends. As they and the Collins climbed into the Land Rover, Abdi caught Thomas’s eye and mouthed “I’ll see you”.
Back at the house, Thomas quickly unpacked and the rest of the day was spent in catching up. Thomas and Michael brought them up-to-date on their Christmas Day with the Williams in Cambridge, now but a distant memory. His mother was keen to hear about Samantha and the rest of the Williams family. Had they yet set a date for the wedding? Thomas had to admit that he hadn’t even given that a thought, but he thought that it would quite likely be after Giles returned from Germany.
His mother was also keen to hear about Sally Worthington who Thomas had been so keen to talk about in his letters. His replies to her questions were generally noncommittal, although he did open up a bit about their half term meeting when she had met Abdi. How he had rather cheekily asked Mrs Williams if they might all visit at half term, she had readily agreed and the family were intrigued to meet Abdi. Lady Freeman made a note that she must write and thank the Williams for their many kindnesses to Thomas and Abdi. She added that they had thought of offering Abdi a spare room during his stay, but on thinking about it felt that it would be more important for him to maintain his contacts with his family. Anyway, it was doubtful that Sergeant Major Ibrahim would have been taken by the idea.
His father however was more interested in how Abdi was doing at school. “I must admit that I was afraid that he would not be able to measure up to the school routine which would be in stark contrast to all that he had experienced before.” Thomas was able to reassure him that not only had Abdi taken to it like a duck to water, and had made an impression on all that came into contact with him, staff and students. He soon had a wide circle of friends among his fellow students, several of whom had invited him home to stay during these holidays.
Academically, getting into the flow of things had taken a big effort, but by the second term he seemed to have adapted very well. The traditional public-school sports of football and rugby did not appeal to him, although he did try football in term one. He soon found his niche however in tennis and swimming, where he was no slouch – “I have warned mother about challenging him at tennis.”
“I gather that the shoot at Bisley did not go too well for the school?” Asked Sir Michael.
“No, but I was not surprised at the poor showing,” responded Thomas, “One couldn’t really expect too much from the rifles that are also used for drill by the school cadet unit! Although we were not allowed into the butts during the shoot, so could not inspect the targets, I’ll wager that by the time the bullets reached the target they were tumbling. The rifles are simply worn out.”
“Clearly for any serious shooting each competitor should have his own personally regulated rifle” opined Sir Michael.
“Exactly” exclaimed Thomas, “which leads me to the next question…”
“A properly regulated match rifle with Parker Hale sights, can cost anything from £500 to £1000.”
“Mmm, bit steep I would have thought. But when is your birthday?”
“Oh dad, you know when it is, can I take that as a yes?”
Sir Michael smiled, “you can take it any way you like, but you’ll have to wait”
“By the way, that was jolly decent of you to fly us up, rather than us having to enjoy the interminable road journey.”
“Well, it was not exactly intended as a treat, rather, it was a precaution.”
“A precaution, why?” Queried Thomas
“Obviously you have not been keeping up with the news. There have been a number of events in Central province over the past few weeks. A European farm was attacked in the Nyeri district where the farmer and his entire family, wife and three children, were unceremoniously slaughtered. The attackers used pangas. It seems that they entered the house, intimidated the cook, and followed him into the dining room as the family sat down to dinner. The gang also hamstrung the cattle on the farm, presumably before they entered the house.
A week later another farm between Nyeri and Nanyuki was likewise attacked, but this time the farmer was ready for them. He killed two of them with his shotgun and the others escaped.”
“But who or what is behind this?”
“A good question, to which, so far, there has been no answer. Johnstone Kamau, alias Jomo Kenyatta, seems to be getting the blame, but apparently there is a lack of solid evidence against him.”
“Ah yes, Professor Williams mentioned that man, said that he had read in the Times about the British government’s reluctance to let him return to Kenya.”
“Right. Government House has been keeping us up-to-date on developments, but so far, apart from the attacks, there has been little to report. The indications are that it is some kind of Kikuyu secret society, as yet unidentified. No one has claimed responsibility or declared any objectives, but it is well known that Kenyatta has made several speeches in Nairobi on the topic of Independence for the colony.”
“Is that realistic, could Kenya really govern itself?”
“At the moment, probably not, but given time the idea is not impossible. But the people presently behind the current push want it to happen instantly. I doubt that violence is the answer though.”
“All that apart, is all this likely to affect our hunting safari?”
“Well, I have been thinking about this and believe that if your proposed trip keeps well away from Meru and Central province, then I can’t see any reason why it shouldn’t go ahead. But, I believe that it would be a good idea for you to take a couple of tribal policeman with you. I’ll asked Ibrahim to select suitable men. How does that sound?”
“I’ve been talking the idea over with Michael and Abdi and we feel that we would like to make the trip using pack mules. More authentic. We did think about using camels, but decided that they would just be a hassle.”
“Oh, I had been going to offer you the use of my old Land Rover, but if you prefer to use mules, so be it. Not a bad idea really.”
“That leads me to the next question, since we intend to hunt only antelope, the .270 would serve, but I wonder if you would agree to let us take the .375 as a precaution?”
Sir Michael smiled to himself at the thought that the boys had it all worked out. “I don’t see why not, but why not take the .22 as well to use on Kanga for the pot. Anyway, when do you propose the trip and how long would you be out?”
“Well, since we have only eight weeks until it’s back to the Hall, we thought perhaps leaving the weekend after next and be out for perhaps 10 days.”
“Right then let’s work toward that. By the way Thomas, you and Michael will need outlying districts passes – see Patel, he’ll fix you up. Thomas, no drama on this trip, okay?”
“Naturally, thank you, now I’d better go as I am meeting Abdi and Michael at the club tennis court.”
The boys met at the court, played several sets and both Thomas and Michael were trounced by Abdi. “I really don’t know how you do it,” said Michael, “particularly since you had hardly heard of tennis at the beginning of the year.”
“Sheer native talent” grinned Abdi.
“More likely brute force and ignorance” suggested Thomas, “By the way, dad has agreed that so long as we stay north of Isiolo our hunting trip is on…”
“That might be a problem for me,” said Abdi, “Dad has very kindly arranged for me to teach at the school three days a week.”
“What?” Said Thomas and Michael simultaneously.
Abdi laughed, “He says that after almost a year at school in England, I probably know more than the teacher. He believes that since I have been so lucky, I should be ready to give something back. Fair enough really, but I’d hate to miss the hunting trip. I must talk to him about it.”
“More a case of the blind leading the blind, I’d say” suggested Thomas with a grin.
The repartee continued as they walked slowly back to their respective houses, agreeing to meet later in the afternoon.
On arriving back at the house, Thomas was surprised to find Amina with his mother in the lounge. Amina rose from her chair and Lady Freeman said, “Amina was just leaving, she says that she has to think about dinner for her men.”
Thomas told Amina that having roundly beaten both he and Michael at tennis, Abdi was on his way home. “Has he told you about our proposed hunting trip?”
“Yes, he very happy about that, when you go?” Said Amina.
“We are planning for the weekend after next, but Abdi tells me that his father has arranged for him to work while he is home.”
“Ah, the school, I don’t think he is keen, but Ibrahim insists. I think we must talk to his father about the trip, it would be sad for him to miss it. I think I must go now.” She said turning to Lady Freeman who took her hands.
“Thank you for coming Amina, same time next week?”
Thomas saw Amina to the door and watched as she pulled her shawl over her head and set off for home. Back in the house Thomas said to his mother, “What was all that about?”
She explained that since Abdi had left for school in England at the beginning of the year Amina had visited her once a week when they would they would take tea and cake, exchange news about their boys, and air local gossip. “She took losing her boy rather hard, but accepts that it is a marvellous opportunity for him and she does not want to stand in his way”.
Over the next week the trio finalised their plans for the hunting trip. Towards the end of the week Ibrahim produced six fine mules complete with pack saddlery and introduced their leader and his toto. He also confirmed that he had selected the two Somali tribal policeman who would join them on the trip.
When Thomas asked about paying for the hire of the animals, Ibrahim assured him that this had all been taken care of. Thomas made a note to check with his father as he suspected that Ibrahim would try to fork out for this.
The boys inspected the mules and discussed a loading plan with the leader. One animal would carry a balanced load of two 10-gallon coated copper water tanks. They had decided not to take tents, to just use mosquito nets, and sleep under the stars. The list of supplies was carefully checked, bearing in mind that they hope to supplement rations with fresh meat daily.
The day before departure, the trio had gone down to the police rifle range, put half a dozen rounds through each rifle and adjusted the telescopic sights to 100 yards. They had agreed that Thomas would carry the .270, Michael would handle the .375 Magnum, and Abdi would carry the .22. The two tribal, policeman, Omar and Mohammed, would of course carry their .303 service rifles.
Having started out at dawn, 10 a.m. the following day found the group resting under a thorn tree 10 miles north of Isiolo. The toto soon established his worth by having a billy boiling in no time and preparing tea. Although they had seen plenty of game during the morning, they had decided not to hunt until a camp had been set up in the afternoon, and the mules had been unburdened and tethered. They had agreed that it would be best to follow the NFD custom of walking until 10 AM, resting through the heat of the day, and then resume walking mid-afternoon. Thomas was confident that they could be within spitting distance of the Uaso Enyiro river before it was time to make camp.
After spending the rest of the morning cleaning the rifles and sharpening hunting knives, the team made lunch with a tin of sardines each, a strip of biltong, and a couple of hard biscuits. More hot sweet tea was consumed to wash it down. The meal was adequate, but they all look forward to the evening meal of barbecued fresh venison and posho. Posho, the African staple, the thick porridge made from maize meal, made a good substitute for potatoes, especially with gravy.
Thomas also took the opportunity to make the first entries into the safari diary and to record sightings of game. The game warden, Frank Parsons, had been particularly keen that they should record all sightings of big game; elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo and lion, with numbers, age and condition – date, time, and a rough location. Frank had said that over the past 12 months there had been isolated reports of poaching along the river and asked them to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity.
In the late afternoon, the group selected a campsite on a low bluff overlooking the confluence of the Isiolo and Uaso Enyiro rivers. The mules were unloaded and Hussain, the leader, and his boy took them down to the river for water, keeping an eye out for crocodiles. When they returned, they cut and erected a small pen of thorn branches.
The boys tossed a coin to determine who should get the dinner and who should remain in camp to get things rolling. Thomas, Michael and the TP Omar set out to look for game, knowing that they would not have to go far. Back in camp, Abdi set up a fireplace and soon had a good blaze which should have burnt down to the necessary embers when the hunters returned. TP Mohammed busied himself getting a billy on the boil for tea. About 15 minutes after departure, those in camp heard a single shot.
As he added more wood to the fire, Abdi was startled when a twin engined aircraft passed low overhead. He turned and watched it until it disappeared beyond a low hillock on the far bank of the river. He waited for it to reappear and climb out, but had to conclude that it had landed. TP Mohammed volunteered that there was an old wartime airstrip in that direction, but as far as he knew it was no longer used.
At that point the hunters returned with a Tommy slung on a pole hanging by its legs. “Did you see that?” Said Thomas, “We lost sight of it, it must have landed.”
“Yes, Mohammed says that there is an old airstrip across the river, but that he thought that it had fallen into disuse.” Said Abdi.
“Well we didn’t get a good look at it, but I did notice that there appeared to be no identification marks and you’d wonder what an aircraft was doing out here, landing, just before sunset”
“Are you thinking what I am thinking?” Said Michael
“Well, you have to wonder, especially after what Frank Parsons said.”
“Quite a coincidence that it should choose today to make its appearance,” added Michael.
“It would have been interesting to see which direction it came from, but anyway I think that we should have a look at the old airstrip which can only be a couple of miles or so on the other side of the river.” Said Thomas.
Michael added that he thought that the aircraft was a Beech 18, quite a common type, and that he thought that it had a range of about 1000 miles, “So it could have come from anywhere. Asmara, Khormaksar Aden, Addis, Djibouti or possibly Mogadishu — all within range.”
“Well Asmara and Khormaksar are RAF stations, Djibouti is French, so I would go for Mogadishu. But how about Nairobi? Maybe we can find out tomorrow.” Said Thomas pensively.
While the boys had been talking, the TPs and Hussain had slung the kill from the branch of a tree a short distance from the campsite, where they had gutted and skinned the carcass. They cut strips of fillet from along the back of the animal and carefully saved the offal, the liver, kidneys, and the intestines. The mule boy had in the meantime been preparing the posho and adding fuel to the fire.
Abdi selected and cleaned suitable branches from nearby trees and having sliced the fillet to a more manageable size, draped it over the twigs and set it over the hot coals where it would barbecue.
The TPs and Hussain prepared their own meat, cleaning the intestines and likewise draping over branches to cook over the fire. When Michael queried this, Mohammed laughed and said simply, “Tamu sana effendi.”
After a good meal from the best meat offered by the Thomson’s gazelle, followed by a handful of dates each and plenty of hot, sweet tea, the group sat around the fire yarning into the evening. “Maybe we should have a singsong,” suggested Michael.
“If you want to do that, you should join the Boy Scouts,” commented Thomas.
“Well, it was only a suggestion.”
“I think that we can leave it to Hussain and the boy to keep an eye on things through the night – they have their mule boma and will keep the fire going to keep predators at bay.”
“What predators?” Asked Michael.
“In case you hadn’t heard, this area is renowned for its lion population. Every year the administration has reports of locals been taken by lions, and they’re only the ones that they hear about.”
“Now you tell me,” said Michael
“Did you hear the story about the chap up in Sotik district a couple of years ago, he was taken from his camp bed by a lion while on a hunting trip?”
“Well there were two of them, they only went out for an overnight trip. I believe they both worked on a tea estate at Kericho. Amateurs obviously. It seems that they settled down for the night and in the early hours one of them was seized by the head and dragged away. Opinion is, that had they rigged mosquito nets over their camp beds they wouldn’t have been touched. This all happened without the second chap being disturbed, but in the morning, he found his colleague missing and saw lion spoor all around the campsite.”
“Not surprising,” said Abdi, “it happens all the time out in the bush but seldom makes the news. Just one of those things…”
“Well I think that we should turn in, early start in the morning and I think the first thing is to check that airstrip.”
They rose as one and headed for their camp beds, Thomas had a quick word with Hussain the leader who agreed that he and the toto would be keeping the fire burning and would watch through the night.
Thomas walked a short distance from the campsite to relieve himself, and as he returned a lion coughed, not very far away either. He listened for a response, but heard none. The night was clear and dark, there was no moon, and the stars put on an awesome display. After carefully arranging his mosquito net, he zipped up his sleeping bag and was soon asleep.
He awoke early, when it was not yet light and struggled to place a roaring sound that sounded like a heavy lorry approaching. He found that Hussain already had the billy boiling, “keleli namna gani?” He asked.
“Ni mtoni effendi, imejaza maji katika usiku.”
Of course, thought Thomas, it’s the river in spate. There must have been heavy rain upcountry overnight. His first thought was that a visit to the old airstrip was out, but then he remembered that the flow seldom lasted very long, probably back to normal by this evening. As dawn broke he took his mug of tea and ambled over to the edge of the bluff where his suspicions were confirmed. He remembered that years ago his father had warned him about stopping or camping in a wadi overnight. It seemed that nomadic tribesman who should know better, but carelessly camped in a dried-up watercourse were often washed away. Dad even mentioned on one occasion when trying to cross a lugga in spate losing a five-ton lorry which was washed fifty yards downstream.
He was soon joined by the others who, although familiar with this phenomenon, were impressed by the weight of water flowing down the wadi. “It looks like cold tea” observed Michael.
“Rather rules out a visit to the old airstrip,” said Abdi.
“No, no, ever resourceful, we’ll just build a bridge,” jested Thomas. “Actually, I’m quite sure that if we just wait a few hours the river will return to normal.”
“Interesting, that there has been no sign of the aircraft, you would have thought that whatever it delivered or collected, they would be anxious to be on their way.” Said Michael.
“Well, it’s pretty early yet. Even if they have left before we arrive, there’s bound to be tell-tale marks on the ground. Abdi is the swimmer in the party, maybe he’d like to hop across and take a look.” Suggested Thomas.
“I may be a swimmer Thomas, but I ain’t an idiot!” grinned Abdi.
“What say we do a bit of local exploring, leaving Mohammed, Hussain and the boy here to keep watch?”
“Sounds good,” said Michael and Abdi together.
The boys and TP Omar trekked south along the bank of the Isiolo river which was also in spate. Predictably, they saw the full bag of big game and even spotted a couple of lion stalking a heard of Tommy. “You realise that people pay big money just to do this?” Said Thomas.
Michael observed that while tourists might like to see big game, they usually did it from a specially adapted Land Rover chaperoned by an experienced white hunter.
Thomas had hoped to catch sight of oryx or greater kudu, but these had both proved elusive. Besides a special licence is needed to take either. He still had the nagging thought that he would like to bag a decent trophy for his study, but enquiry had revealed that having a head mounted and transported would be quite an expensive business. Besides, he had come to the feeling that using the head of a dead animal as a decoration was somewhat bizarre, even macabre.
The party walked along the riverbank for 5 or 6 miles and then described a loop through the bush before arriving back at the campsite about mid-afternoon. Thomas was right, the river flow had reduced by more than a half and could probably now be forded in the right place. The watchers reported that there had been no sign of the aircraft. The consensus was that even if it had taken off away from the river it would still have been seen and heard. Curious.
Consequently, it was decided that with time in hand and plenty of meat left over from yesterday’s kill, they would try to knock up a stew for the evening meal. Abdi retrieved a few vegetables and the makings from one of the packs, and they set to.
The evening passed slowly and again they vetoed Michael’s suggestion of a singsong. “You really ought to get that Boy Scout stuff out of your head Michael,” laughed Thomas. After a few more yarns of daring do, they settle down to a repeat of the previous night.
The next morning, they found that apart from some mud, accumulated silt, the river had returned to almost its normal flow. The time had come for their check on the airstrip. Hussain and the boy would remain in camp, but TP Omar and TP Mohammed would go with the boys and cross the river. They descended from the bluff to find a family of elephants enjoying a mud bath immediately in front of them. As they were downwind of the herd, they cautiously moved a few hundred yards downstream and, keeping an eye open for crocs, they cross the river without difficulty.
They decided to approach the airstrip from the East where there was a small hillock. This would give them a good view of the airstrip and any activity, with the sun behind them. The approach to the crest of the bluff, they made on hands and knees, before cautiously taking a look. To their surprise, the aircraft was parked almost immediately below them amid what seemed to be a hive of activity. A Land Rover had been backed up to the port wing and was being used as a platform where two men appeared to be working on the engine. The cowling had been removed and lay nearby on the ground. Nearby, two Africans appeared to have been roped to the base of a tree while another, armed with a Kalashnikov rifle, stood guard.
The scene spoke for itself. Clearly those with the plane and the Land Rover were engaged in some illegal activity, probably, given the location, ivory smuggling. Work on the engine confirmed why the plane had not left right away. The sequestered Africans were probably being held until the aircraft was ready to leave. The group pulled back from the crest and the boys were all for taking on the smugglers right away. However, the senior tribal policeman, Mohammed, counselled caution, pointing to the Kalashnikov rifle and the fact that the group probably had other firearms.
Common sense prevailed and the boys reluctantly agreed that Mohammed’s plan was the best. Michael and TP Omar would head for Archers Post which was only 10 or 12 miles to the East and raise the alarm. They should be able to walk this distance in about three hours. In the meantime, Abdi would return to the campsite to collect some rations and some water, while Thomas and Mohammed would keep the airstrip under observation.
Later, at about the time that Abdi returned from the campsite with the supplies, a Land Rover could be seen heading for the airstrip at some speed. It stopped just short of the aircraft and an Asian left the cab and rushed over to those working on the engine. Gesticulating, he pointed to the Land Rover and appeared to call to someone. Another Asian, carrying a rifle, drop from the rear of the vehicle, closely followed by Michael and Omar.
“Oh shit!” Exclaimed Thomas, “how did that happen?”
“I think that they asked for a lift,” said TP Mohammed, “They chose the wrong vehicle. The driver of the Land Rover is Iqbal Firoz, a trader from Isiolo. I know him well, and the other is his younger brother.”
“Damn, now what? Asked Thomas, “I think that we now have no choice, we have to get Michael and Omar out of there. The question is, how?”
“Well we can’t expect any help from Archers Post or Isiolo” observed Abdi.
“No, we have to go down there and demand the release of Michael and Omar, and the Africans bound to the tree.” Asserted Thomas.
“Couldn’t we just pick them off from here? Asked Abdi.
“Hardly, they must be 5 or 600 yards away, and the rifles are sighted in at 100 yards, and a guess at elevation on the sights wouldn’t do either. Anyway, as far as we can see they haven’t yet harmed anyone and so we would hardly be justified in shooting at them. No, I think it’s more a case calling for surprise and bluff.”
“I think it is time for something to eat and some tea,” suggested Abdi.
“More likely something to eat and some water,” countered Thomas, “smoke from a fire would be a dead giveaway. I doubt that Michael and Omar would reveal our presence and so we retain an element of surprise.”
The group sat back under the shade of a nearby thorn tree and ate a scratch meal, accompanied by some tepid water. It was now approaching noon, and they had been busy since dawn and Thomas felt that an hour or so of rest would give them time to gather their thoughts. It was not to be.
Barely had they settled when they heard the unmistakable sound of an aircraft engine. Taking care to remain concealed, they crept again to the edge of the bluff and took in the scene below. The starboard engine appeared to be running normally and as they watched, the port airscrew started to turn, coughed smoke, and spun to a stop. The pilot applied more power to the starboard motor, and again spun up the port, with the same result, the motor didn’t catch. After one more try, the starboard engine was shut down. Silence reigned as the pilot hopped out of the cabin door and join the others who were staring at the wayward engine. After a short consultation, Michael and Omar were led to the tree where the Africans were secured and they sat down under the eye of the sentry. Iqbal Firoz and his brother climbed into their Land Rover, turned, and headed down the track. The pilot and the other man spread a tarpaulin in the shade under the wing of the aircraft and settle down, presumably for a nap.
Thomas, Abdi and Mohammed, watched these events with growing optimism. This surely was the chance they had been looking for.
“This couldn’t have turned out better,” suggested Thomas, “I think that Firoz has probably gone to try to find an aircraft engineer or some spare part. So, although he’ll have trouble finding either other than from Nairobi, we have to act now to secure the release of Michael, Omar, and the Africans.”
They shifted back from the edge of the bluff and Thomas outlined his simple plan. “The pilot and his offsider do not seem to be armed, so the only danger is from the sentry with the Kalashnikov and I’m betting that he hardly knows how to use it. I suggest that we descend from here, go around the end of the airstrip and approach just off the vehicle track. There, we split up, and when the sentry finds himself looking down the barrels of three rifles he’ll just quietly surrender – especially when he sees Mohammed in uniform. With any luck, we may be able to do this without attracting the attention of the pilot or his mate. We can deal with them afterwards.
“And then?” Asked Abdi.
“Well if all goes according to plan, we bundle every one into the other Land Rover and head for Isiolo.”
“Well, let’s do it…” Said Abdi.
“Mohammed, I’m assuming that you agree with this plan?” Asked Thomas.
“I think it is the best plan Sir, but what about Hussain and the mules?
“Damn, I’d forgotten about them!” Thomas thought for a moment. “Okay, if we pull this off, then we should leave Omar to go back across the river, pack up the campsite and return to Isiolo with Hussain and the baggage animals.”
With that, they set out, around the end of the airstrip, keeping to the bush and approached the aircraft as planned. When they were about 50 yards from the sentry, Thomas signalled that they should split up. He was not surprised to see that the sentry had sat down beneath an adjacent tree and that his rifle was hanging by its sling from a branch.
Thomas approached the sentry from behind, carrying the .270 at the hip, he said sotto voce, “Nymasa” (silence). The African, a down country tribesman, leapt up and yelled. By this time, Abdi and Mohammed had their rifles on the two men under the wing of the aircraft who had also leapt to their feet. Meanwhile, Thomas had collected the Kalashnikov and noted that it was not cocked. He wondered if it were loaded.
Michael and Omar took in the scene and leapt to their feet excitedly. “Thank God you came; how did you know?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll explain later. Just now release those Africans and give them some water. We have to secure this area. Where’s Omar’s rifle?
“Firoz took it,” said Michael.
“Okay, you take the .270 and I’ll hang on to the Kalashnikov.”
Thomas went over to the aircraft where Abdi and Mohammed were holding the pilot and his offsider. Both were protesting volubly in accented English, that they had no right to hold them at gunpoint. As he approached, Thomas wondered if the duo would carry through with the threat of the levelled rifles if it became necessary.
Thomas climbed into the cabin of the aircraft where he found a cargo of lengthy items, covered in hessian, all neatly strapped to the cabin floor. He drew his hunting knife and carefully opened the end of one of the packages and was not surprised by what he saw. He estimated that there must be several dozen elephant tusks of various sizes, probably amounting to more than a ton.
He walked over to where the men were still standing under the wing tip and asked, “Mohammed, do you have the power to arrest these two gentlemen?”
“For what offence Sir?”
“For attempting to smuggle illegally obtained ivory out of the country, under the Game Ordinance. The aircraft is ready loaded with about a ton of elephant tusks. That’s just the starters, I suspect that there are many other possible charges.”
“I can do that, but first I would like to see the ivory.”
“Go ahead, just climb up into the cabin of the aircraft.”
“Do not point gun at us, we not citizen, you have no right,” said the individual who Thomas took to be the pilot.
“Judging by what I saw in the cabin of your aircraft you have forfeited all your rights.”
Mohammed returned from his inspection of the ivory, addressing the men he said, “You are under arrest for possession of illegal ivory under the Game Ordinance.”
“Right, thanks Mohammed, I think that does it. Now let’s see if this Land Rover will start.” Thomas climbed into the Land Rover and it started first time. He backed away from the aircraft, drove around the wing tip, and parked on the track, switching off the engine. The fuel gauge showed a tank more than half full, more than enough to get them to Isiolo.
By this time Michael and Omar had freed the Africans who had been tied to the tree.
They gathered out of earshot of the pilot and his companion and Thomas explained what he had in mind. “Michael could you and Omar apply your Boy Scout rope work skills and secure the pilot and his offsider and load them into the back of the Land Rover. I think it advisable for us to get out of here before Mister Firoz returns from his errand.”
Thomas climbed back into the cabin of the aircraft and checked to see if he could find filled magazines, or any more ammunition for the Kalashnikov, but as far as he could see there was none. Anyway, he gauged that the magazine held about 30 rounds, which should be more than enough even supposing that he had to use the weapon. The only possibility of that, was if they met Firoz on the track, even so he thought it unlikely that Firoz would resort to violence.
When he returned to the Land Rover, Michael said that the pilot demanded to speak to him. He went to the rear of the vehicle and saw that the two men were neatly secured at the rear of the cab and to the canopy frame.
As soon as he saw him, the pilot started loudly protesting. “You have no right. When embassy know, you in trouble.”
“Embassy our country.”
“Yes, but which embassy?”
Michael, who had been listening to this exchange said, “I think they’ve been speaking Russian.”
“Could be, but it really doesn’t matter, I think that we should get moving.”
Abdi return from where he had been talking with the two Africans who had been released. “They say that they work for Firoz and had been brought here to help load the ivory. They also fear that when the plane had left Firoz planned to kill them.”
“Okay, let’s get moving. Omar, it would be helpful if you could return to our campsite, help Hussain to pack up and then return to Isiolo with the mules.”
“Ndiyo effendi, I go now…”
With that, Thomas walked over to the aircraft, set the change lever on the Kalashnikov to single shot and put two rounds into the left hand tyre which immediately deflated. “They’ll now need more than a mechanic to get the plane of the ground.” Thomas rather liked the AK-47, it felt good in his hands and he had been itching to pull the trigger. He wondered idly if dad would let him keep the rifle. So much for the drama free hunting safari, he thought.
He was about to suggest that they should set off for Isiolo when TP Mohammed suggested that it might be advisable for someone to remain behind and guard the aircraft and its cargo. Thomas kicked himself for not having thought of that. The aircraft and the cargo would be needed as exhibits in the court case and it would not do at all for the machine or its cargo to have been tampered with. He thanked Mohammed for the suggestion. Abdi said that he would be happy to stay with Mohammed and he wondered if it might be better for them to return to the bluff and keep observation from there to avoid any possible confrontation with Firoz should he return before the police arrived. Thomas agreed that that was good idea and opined that the police would be on the scene within a couple of hours or so.
The journey to Isiolo was completed in under an hour and was without incident. Thomas drove directly to the police station where he reported all that had occurred to Inspector Bennett. He mentioned that TP Mohammed and Abdi had remained to keep observation on the aircraft. Bennett noted the AK-47 that Thomas was carrying, but in light of events chose not to comment. The Inspector sent a sergeant and six men to locate and arrest Iqbal Firoz and his brother Ahmed.
While Bennett organised a party to go directly to the scene, Thomas and Michael crossed to Provincial Headquarters where a surprised Mister Patel welcomed them profusely. Thomas explained that he needed to speak with his father urgently and Patel conducted them to Sir Michael’s office. By this time Thomas had the chain of events well-rehearsed in his head and Sir Michael listened patiently to his account.
“I think,” said Sir Michael, “That this is really a case for Frank Parsons and the Game Department, so perhaps I should give him a call.” As he reached for the telephone. “By the way Thomas, I thought that we had agreed that your hunting safari should be drama free?” He added with a grin.
“Dad I can assure you that nothing would have pleased me more, but would you have been happy if we had ignored this whole deal?”
With that, Sir Michael had Frank Parsons on the line and was repeating the account of events. Frank confirmed that Inspector Bennett had already been in touch with him and that a party was being organised to go to the scene. He was leaving now with a party of game scouts, and the police would follow in about half an hour. He asked if Thomas would be returning to the scene.
“Frank asked if you’re going back to the old airstrip?”
“Well, I would certainly like to be in for the finish of this business and so yes I think that if he agrees, I will.” Said Thomas.
Sir Michael reported this to Frank Parsons who asked whether Thomas would like to go back with him or wait for Inspector Bennett. Thomas elected to join with the Game Department.
“Thomas, I can see that Michael has the .270, where did you get the AK-47?”
“I took it from an African who I found guarding some chaps who were secured to a tree. Apparently, the prisoners had been taken out by Firoz to help transfer the ivory into the aircraft.”
“Well, don’t you think that perhaps you should hand it over to Inspector Bennett, it might be needed as an exhibit.”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. I had been meaning to ask you if I could keep the AK as a souvenir of events?”
“Well you’ve probably destroyed any evidential value by removing it from the scene. Anyway, we can talk about it later.”
At that, Thomas and Michael joined Frank Parsons’s whose men were loading up a Land Rover and a five-ton lorry. “Okay, you chaps, we’ll be leaving in about five minutes. Why don’t you grab something to eat and drink from the duka?”
They wandered over to the local shop which was emblazoned with a sign, “Iqbal Firoz & Brothers”. “Oh, do you think Mister Firoz would mind if we just took something on credit?” jested Michael.
Meanwhile, at the old airstrip and not expecting any excitement until the police arrived, Abdi and Mohammed were beginning to feel a little lethargic. Although they had water, neither had had any proper food since the day before. They had found a spot on the bluff where a small thorn tree offered some shade and took it in turns to keep an eye on the aircraft. While Abdi kept watch, Mohammed laid aside his .303 service rifle and was keenly examining the .375 Magnum. He asked Abdi how the rifle compared with the 303, but Abdi had to admit that he was no expert, but he did know that the rifle was considerably more powerful, especially at short range. This exchange was interrupted when a Cessna aircraft appeared and flew low down the length of the strip, climbed out at the end and set up for a landing.
The touchdown was very smooth and the little aircraft taxied up to the stranded Beech 18 where it shut down. Almost as if on cue, a Land Rover appeared from the bush and out stepped Mister Iqbal Firoz. He walked around the aircraft and then climbed into the cabin only to re-emerge a few seconds later and stood, arms akimbo, looking puzzled. The other Asian, presumably his brother, exited the Land Rover and together they walked over to the Cessna where the pilot and his companion were just stepping down. While his brother again walked around the aircraft and the nearby bush, Firoz engaged in conversation with the men from the Cessna, presumably explaining that the pilot and his companion seemed to have disappeared.
The group walked over to the Beech at which, the pilot of the Cessna pointed to the deflated left-hand wheel. They all stoop to examine this, and then the pilot climbed into the aircraft, while his companion examined the decowled engine. After a couple of minutes, the starboard propeller rotated a couple of times and the engine emitted a puff of smoke and died. After a pause the propeller again turned through one rotation and stopped. Evidently the battery was flat.
Although it was not clear whether Firoz and his brother were armed, Abdi suggested to Mohammed that perhaps they should descend, walk around the airstrip and up the access track warn anyone approaching that Firoz had returned to the aircraft. Just as they were about to leave, they watched the Cessna pilot descend from the Beech and walk over to Firoz where the pilot shrugged and presumably offered an explanation as to why the aircraft would not start. He then turned and with his companion walked back to the Cessna, climbed in, and as they were strapping in, Firoz emerged from the cab of the Land Rover with a Kalashnikov rifle. He hurried over to the Cessna with the rifle at his waist and gesticulated at the pilot who was now hidden from view by the aircraft wing. The response was clear when the aircraft’s engine started and the aircraft turned rapidly and taxied to the end of the airstrip, preparing to take off. Firoz aimed the Kalashnikov at the Cessna as it flashed past, but he did not pull the trigger. Abdi noted and recorded the registration letters of the departing aircraft as “CPL”.
Even more convinced that they should warn any approaching party that Firoz was armed, Abdi and Mohammed hurried to descend from the bluff and get as far down the access track as possible.
As the Game Department lorry bounced off the Isiolo road onto the airfield track Thomas caught sight of a smudge of smoke on the horizon, honey gatherers he thought. Damn, he had promised Abdi and Mohammed some food and drink, they will be starving and dying of thirst. Oh well, it would all be over in an hour or so. After all this, it would be difficult to return to their hunting safari, probably endless tennis for the next few weeks. He again checked the change lever on the Kalashnikov, making sure that it was on ‘safe’.
Frank Parsons changed down as he negotiated the rough track and wondered whether, as a precaution, the party ought to approach the old airstrip on foot. On the other hand, as far as he knew Firoz and his brother had only two rifles and they were certainly not trained in their use, certainly not in the use of automatic weapons. He tried to recall whether the Kalashnikov had right or left hand rifling. Either way, Firoz would not be aware that unaimed, on automatic, shots tended to rise and pull to the side. He was startled from his reverie by two figures emerging from the bush. He stopped the lorry.
Frank Parsons stopped the lorry and he and Thomas jumped down as Abdi and Mohammed quickly approached.
“We were hoping that we would catch you before you drove up to the airstrip,” said Abdi, “Firoz and his brother returned to meet a Cessna which landed an hour or so ago. The passenger in the Cessna inspected the twin engined plane, tried to start the engine and then left in a hurry.”
“Where is Firoz now,” asked Frank Parsons.
“When we left the bluff, we lost sight of him. I think he is probably still at the airstrip.” Replied Abdi.
As if to prove Abdi wrong, a Land Rover swung into sight about a hundred yards ahead, travelling at some speed. The vehicle slithered to a stop on sighting the party around the lorry, tried to backup but could not get traction in the soft sand. The door was flung open with some force and Firoz appeared levelling a Kalashnikov toward the lorry. He hesitated for only a moment and then loosed a burst of fire. The party sank to the ground as one, but Frank Parsons was a second too late and although he was hit, he yelled to the game scouts in the back of the lorry to get down — “lala chini”.
Firoz’s brother remained seated in the cab of the Land Rover as if frozen. Firoz himself backed down the side of the Land Rover seeking shelter.
By this time, the group around the lorry had also moved to the sheltered side and from where he was laying behind one of the lorry’s front wheels Thomas could see Firoz’s feet. He wondered if he could wing Firoz. Although he had not had a chance to sight in the Kalashnikov, he estimated that at 30 to 40 yards this would make little difference. He took careful aim at the right ankle and fired. A hit was confirmed when Firoz yelled, dropped the rifle and rolled to the ground.
Banking on continued inactivity on the part of the brother, Thomas ran to one side where he had a clear view of Firoz rolling around on the ground and crying out. Abdi joined him and said that he would keep the .270 levelled on the brother. The pair approach the Land Rover cautiously, but it was clear that there would be no more resistance. Thomas guess that the burst of fire delivered by Firoz had been an instinctive reaction and that there would be no more trouble from him. He instructed the brother to leave the cab of the Land Rover with his hands placed on his head. Obviously petrified, he did as he was told.
Thomas then turned to Firoz who was sitting, propped against a rear wheel of the Land Rover moaning and rocking gently. Thomas picked up the Kalashnikov, extracted the magazine, cleared the breach and then handed the rifle to TP Mohammed. He set his own rifle to safe, placed it on the seat of the Land Rover and then turn to inspect Firoz’s leg. It was a neat wound, but the round had obviously shattered the tibia.
Just then, Inspector Bennett arrived with the police party and he moved to take charge. A quick inspection revealed that Frank Parsons shoulder injury were not life-threatening and a game scout had already applied a dressing and stopped the bleeding. The priority now was to get the injured to hospital in the Isiolo without delay. Parsons was made comfortable in the cab of his Land Rover, with Firoz and his brother secured in the rear under police guard. They set off at once for Isiolo.
Bennett made a quick check of the scene of the incident, paced out some measurements, and prepared a rough sketch. He then suggested that since the matter seemed to have been resolved, Thomas, Michael and Abdi should return to Isiolo in Firoz’s Land Rover with a police escort. Thomas agreed, amid questioning looks from Michael and Abdi. The police party set out for the old airstrip to inspect the scene and recover the ivory from the aircraft.
Thomas waited until the police had disappeared down the track and then started the Land Rover and turned it to follow. He remarked on the smudge of smoke that he had noticed when they had turned off the Isiolo road and saw that it had grown into a pillar of black smoke. His suspicions were confirmed as they approach the airstrip and saw only a mass of fiercely burning wreckage where the aircraft had stood.
They joined Bennett who was standing as close as he could get in the face of the fierce heat. He said nothing when they appeared, simply remarking that if the ivory was still on board then it had all been destroyed. “Anyway, there’s nothing we can do until this burns itself out. Just luck that it didn’t spread to the bush. To ensure that there no loose ends, I’ll get the men to take a look around in the bush for a couple of hundred yards in each direction, Firoz and his brother may have dragged the ivory from the plane and hidden it. Though I doubt that they would be too keen on hard labour.”
Thomas laughed, “I agree, Mr Firoz is not the labouring type. Will you leave it to just burn?”
“Yes, but I think I’ll leave a guard on the scene, although I doubt that there will anymore visitors until the Civil Aviation boys arrive. I expect they’ll want to do an enquiry into the loss of the aircraft. By the way, what did you say the registration letters were?”
“There were no registration letters on the twin, but the Cessna had the letters CPL” replied Abdi.
“You have good English, are you the Sergeant Major’s son?”
“You got it in one Sir.” Smiled Abdi
“And the idiom too, how are you enjoying school in England?”
“So far so good – another idiom.” Said Abdi.
Thomas laughed, “He’ll give you a good run for your money at tennis to.”
“Okay, there’s not much we can do here, so I’ll leave the Corporal and six men to guard the scene.” Said Bennett.
The run back to Isiolo was without incident and seemed like an anti-climax to the boys. They decided that they had had enough for the day and each went off to their respective homes for a shower, some food, and some sleep.
Thomas’s mother announced that there was some mail for him on the hall table. Two envelopes were postmarked Malaya. Thomas grabbed them and retired to his bedroom. His mother smiled quietly and wondered if and when she would be able to meet Sally Worthington.
Two days later, rested and recuperated, Thomas, Abdi, and Michael went to Isiolo police station where they each recorded statements covering events at the old airfield. Inspector Bennett brought them up-to-date on the investigation, and revealed that Iqbal Firoz had pleaded not guilty to all charges at a preliminary hearing. Firoz’s lawyer had argued that his client had been left with no choice but to exceed to the demands of two unidentified foreigners who had visited him in June. The two men, not those who had been arrested at the airfield, had initially just asked to rent storage space in Firoz’s warehouse. He had agreed to this request and it was not until the ivory was delivered that he became suspicious and had threatened to report the matter. At that, the foreigners had become aggressive, making all manner of threats, leaving Firoz with no alternative to go along with their demands hoping that the ivory would be removed as quickly as possible. The shooting and wounding of Frank Parsons, the lawyer pleaded, was done in blind panic. There remained the matter of Firoz’s assistance to the smugglers, in arranging transport, having aircraft engineers fly in from Nairobi, and the arson. The district commissioner, as a first-class Magistrate, had remanded Firoz and his brother on bail and transferred the case to the High Court for a jury trial.
The pilot of the Beech aircraft and his companion proved to be of Ukrainian nationality and had been charged with a range of offences including illegal entry, attempted smuggling and threatening behaviour. There were also likely to be charges under Civil Aviation law. They too had been remanded to the High Court, but remained in custody pending a date for the trial.
After they had to abandon their hunting safari, the boys settled for a weekend trip into the bush north of Isiolo in the old family Land Rover. They took the opportunity to visit the site and inspect the remains of the burnt-out Beech aircraft. The heat of the fire had been so intense that there was no sign of the ivory. Inspector Bennett had confirmed that Firoz had admitted leaving the ivory in the aircraft before setting the fire.
They again saw plenty of big game and Thomas recorded sightings in his Safari diary. For this trip, protests notwithstanding, Michael had brought his guitar and there was no avoiding a singsong on the final night. Thomas protested that the sound would interfere with his astronomical observations, and Abdi held that singing to a guitar was contrary to his religious beliefs! In the end, the duo had to admit that Michael was an accomplished musician. Each of the boys bagged a Thompson’s gazelle and the respective families received enough venison to last several weeks. A visit to the pools at Buffalo Springs for a swim in the cool, and unusually clear water, is was a welcome finale to the trip.
A few days after their return Sir Michael announced that a journalist from the East African Standard would be visiting Isiolo and had requested an opportunity to interview the boys on recent events. The trio had expected something like this and speaking for the three of them, Thomas told his father that they would prefer not to be interviewed.
“I understand how you feel, but in light of recent events in Central province, perhaps the press need a few good news stories.” Said Sir Michael.
“Hardly good news I would have thought, but for a bit of bad luck the smugglers would have got away with a ton of ivory,” suggested Thomas.
“Well they didn’t, and that’s good news.”
“Okay, I think I can persuade Michael and Abdi to join me in pulling the wool over the eyes of the press! By the way dad, what are the chances of some sort of reward for Mohammed and Omar, the tribal policeman? They did really well and I don’t think that we could have managed without them.”
“All in hand my boy, Mohammed will be promoted to Corporal, each will receive a commendation from the Provincial Commissioner, and there will be a little something from the goat bag.”
“Goat bag, what’s that?”
Sir Michael laughed, “I’m surprised that you haven’t heard of the mythical goat bag. I would say that every administrative centre in the colony has a goat bag which is a repository for small sums of an unaccountable money from which the holder may distribute largess to the deserving.”
“Right, I had heard the expression, but suppose that I really didn’t take much notice. Thank you.”
“I don’t suppose that you would care to make a small donation to the goat bag?” Asked Sir Michael chuckling.
“I’ll think about it, but unfortunately my personal allowance is not very grand. Anyway, on that note, I’ll depart to keep an important appointment, for tennis.”
“By the way, before you go, about the Kalashnikov. The police have agreed that you may keep the rifle as a trophy provided that it is deactivated. How does that sound?”
“Mmm, a bit pointless really, destroying a perfectly good rifle, but okay, it seems that I don’t have a choice.” Thomas reflected that anything that could be deactivated could easily be reactivated.
At dinner that night Sir Michael announced that he had booked the family into the Sinbad Hotel at Malindi for the last 10 days of the school holidays. He didn’t mention that apart from the pleasure of a rare family holiday, the idea was designed to break up the trio and allow the others some time with their own families. He did suggest that a trip to the coast was to prevent Thomas becoming involved in any more escapades.
“What about Michael and Abdi?” Asked Thomas.
“We’ll meet them at the airport on the day of departure.” Replied Sir Michael.
The interview with the journalist from the East African Standard duly took place with the boys trying desperately to play down the whole incident. Unfortunately for them, the journalist had already talked with Frank Parsons and Inspector Bennett both of whom were generous in their praise for the boy’s actions. Inspector Bennett mentioned that the single shot by Thomas which had disabled one of the offenders after he had opened fire on the Game Department party, had been treated as self-defence. He added that Thomas Freeman was to be commended for his quick thinking.
His reluctance to have any publicity over those events did not prevent Thomas from snipping the report from the Standard and including it with his next letter to Sally Worthington. Sally was already back at school and in her reply wondered if she and Thomas could arrange a meeting during term, preferably not with friends or relatives.
Three weeks later, the trio landed at Heathrow and reluctantly returned to Wauchope Hall for the start of the new term.
Thomas found a chit on the desk in his study advising that mail awaited him at the bursar’s office. Dumping his luggage, he went immediately to collect the mail. There were several letters, two from Sally and two packages. He thanked the bursar and return to his study. From the size and dimensions of one large package he believed that he knew the nature of the contents, but the second a much smaller parcel he decided to open first. It contained a card from Sally Worthington and on unfolding the packaging he found a beautifully engraved Kris, or Malay dagger. He read the message on the card with interest.
The second package, much more securely packed, revealed a Fulton regulated .303 match rifle, together with a United Kingdom firearms certificate. The card read simply “happy birthday, this should see off the opposition – with love, mum and dad”. The box was a work of art in itself, beautifully polished wood, green baize lined, with compartments for the Parker Hale match sight, gun oil, a rod and cleaning materials.
Each of the anti-smuggling team received a large official envelope embossed with the crest of Government House Kenya. Inside, over the signature of the governor was a beautifully inscribed Citation:
Thomas Michael Freeman is commended by the Governor and Government of Kenya for services to the Crown leading to the apprehension and conviction of a group of well organised ivory smugglers. Further, the aforesaid Thomas Michael Freeman displayed commendable courage and quick thinking in the face of rifle fire delivered by a member of the criminal group.
Later, Thomas was called to the Headmaster’s study when the Head enquired as to the nature of events in Kenya during the holidays. The Head mentioned official letters bearing the crest of the Kenya Government House which had recently passed through the bursar’s office.
“Oh, that Sir, that was just an invitation to a Government House garden party to be held during the Christmas holidays.” Said Thomas keeping a straight face.