Joining the Kenya Police

Copyright: G J Wright 2018

Joining the Kenya Police

After two years in Aden and Oman I found it difficult to settle to a job in England.  In early 1955, scanning the situations vacant in the Daily Telegraph, I saw a job of the kind I had been looking for, that for Inspector of Police in Kenya.  I contrived a plausible application which I sent off to the Crown Agents in London.  A few weeks later I found myself for interview before Sir George Abell, the famous Worcestershire and Indian cricketer.  I was offered a position.

I had no idea of what I was getting myself into but there had been a wave of Hollywood films shot in East Africa and so I had some idea of the kind of country that comprised Kenya.  We were issued with guidance on what to take and I decided to travel light, just basic gear and replenish as necessary.

One item of which I was rather proud, was a BSA .22 Hunter Hornet centre fire rifle had from Gallyons Gunshop in Cambridge.  For its calibre, it was quite a powerful rifle and I had managed to put about five rounds through it before I left.

A few days before I was due to leave for Nairobi, Harry Cotton the St Ives stringer for the Hunts Post called and said that he wanted to take a photograph of me and Brian Cooper who, it transpired, was to fly out in the same aircraft.  Thus, I learned that I was to be accompanied by a fellow St Ivian.  Brian had recently been demobilised from his National Service in the Corp of Royal Military Police and had joined an army colleague, Alec Abell, in applying for a position in the Kenya Police.

Brian & Alec
Brian Cooper (seated) and Alec Abell

After a night in a hotel near Victoria Station, Brian and I arrived at Heathrow and on the 14 June 1955 boarded a BOAC Argonaut aircraft.  This was before the days of passenger bridges; one just walked out to the aircraft on the apron and climbed the mobile steps.  The aircraft was reasonably full and taking stock of the passengers, I would have categorised them as businessmen, farmers and big game hunters, one in particular stood out in jodhpurs, riding boots, a well-cut sports jacket and carrying a riding crop — a white hunter surely.  I remember passing over Mont Blanc and landing at Rome, Benina (Near Tripoli), Khartoum, Entebbe and then Nairobi — all in 27 hours!  I recall that I sat next to Jim Blackburn,  former Lancashire polioceman.

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The BOAC Argonaut

We disembarked at Eastleigh Airport, Nairobi, and a gentleman in police uniform invited all Kenya Police recruits to board a five-ton truck which was parked nearby.  To my amazement almost all of the passengers boarded the truck — including the elegantly dressed ‘White Hunter’ and several seeming Mayfair toffs, one sporting an elegant cigarette holder.  From the airport, we were driven to the South Hill Inspectors’ mess, allocated rooms and told that we would be collected the following morning for a visit to the stores.  My rifle was taken by customs and I was told that I should contact the Central Firearms Bureau about licensing.

At the stores, the next morning we were first sworn-in on a two-year contract as Inspector Grade 1 and then issued with uniforms and equipment which included a Baton Metropolitan (which I still have), a pair of Hyatt handcuffs and an enormous Webley .45 calibre revolver and ammunition.  The revolver and ammo we were told were to be carried at all times and safeguarded at all costs.  The issue stiff leather holster was designed to be mounted on the Sam Brown belt and so it was necessary to acquire a cowboy holster for use when in civilian clothes.  The loop of a blue lanyard dangling below the hem of a jacket was, at the time, de rigueur for men about town.

Back at the Mess the intake tended to hive off into groups of people with common backgrounds and interests.  One of our group, which included Brian Cooper and Alec Abell, was Dick Terry who was knowledgeable about Kenya.  During his National Service in the RCMP, he had been personal escort to General Sir Gerald Lathbury, GOC East Africa.  Dick announced that he had been born in Nairobi and that his mother was at Thika at the time — he was never allowed to forget that.

Examination of the revolver and much dry shooting occurred and another recruit, Jack Sullivan, a former Swansea Dock policeman and sometime Para, undertook to instruct anyone interested in the correct use of the Hyatt handcuffs.  The demonstration ended with Jack handcuffed to his bed and unable to release the cuffs.  He was finally released after a lot of effort and the handcuffs were ruined!

After independence, Jack Sullivan joined Ian Henderson and others in the Bahrain State Police.  When I resigned in 1969 from my position in Naval Intelligence, based at HMS Jufair, Bahrain, Jack stepped into my job and became Lieutenant Commander Jack Sullivan RNR.  During which time, he wangled a trip to Mombasa in a submarine.

The gentleman in riding attire, one ‘Piggy’ Taylor, turned out to have been a trooper in the Household Cavalry.   If I knew his first name, it’s gone.  He only lasted a few weeks because he proved to be functionally illiterate.

At South Hill, a covered veranda ran the entire length of the building overlooking the Royal Nairobi National Park with nothing to be seen after dark, just a threatening, uninterrupted void well larded with strange and unusual animal noises — or was it Mau Mau signalling to each other in preparation for an attack!  The stars were magnificent.  In the early hours of the following morning we were rudely awakened by the passage of a steam locomotive and train immediately below the veranda and on the Nairobi to Mombasa line.

With no time to take in the sights of the capital, a couple of days later found the group, 16 Squad, on a bus heading for Kiganjo and the Kenya Police Training School.  The PTS, standing at the intersection of the Nairobi road with that from Nyeri to Nanyuki and sits between Mount Kenya and the Aberdare Range at about 5,700 feet.  It was set in a WWII army camp and, for the Europeans, centred upon the “The Tavern”, itself a pub dating from those days.  The genial landlord, Pop Perry, had seen it all.  A feature of The Tavern was a really large ingle nook with bench seats set into the wall on either side of the log fire.

The inspectors’ mess, a concrete block post war structure, stood opposite The Tavern and across the Nyeri Road opposite the main camp.  The mess was run by Mrs Doig, a no-nonsense lady, the wife a local farmer, who ruled with a firm but fair hand.  About 25 men comprised 16 Squad and were truly a mixed bag from every imaginable background and occupation.

The course lasted 13 weeks and covered law, evidence, police procedure, elementary Swahili and first aid, all interspersed with periods on the square and some instruction in small arms.  Introductory Swahili was conducted by Assistant Superintendent Les Cummings.  He started by pointing out that although it was possible to get by on the basic Swahili, known as kisettler or ‘kitchen’ Swahili, it was better to learn the grammatical Kiswahili and drop to ‘kitchen’ as occasion demanded.

Occasionally Les Cummings would bring in an African constable to ask questions of the class.  On one notable occasion, the constable turned to Piggy Taylor and asked, “Je, umetoka wapi?” who replied, “Mimi natoka malaia”, at which the constable collapsed into laughter.  Piggy should have replied “Nimetoke ulaya” (I come from Europe) rather than “I come from a prostitute”.  Some of our number simply could not get their tongues around some words — strange, because Swahili is largely pronounced as it is written.

Whilst it did not then affect us, permanent and pensionable staff had twelve months to pass the preliminary oral examination to gain confirmation in their appointment and gain an annual salary increment.  Staff could then go on to do the Standard written and oral Swahili, followed by advanced Swahili, an African vernacular, or preliminary oral Arabic, Urdu or Hindi.  On becoming permanent and over the following years, I passed the Standard written and oral Swahili and oral Arabic.

Swahili is an amalgam of several languages with a basis in Bantu, and additional words borrowed from Arabic, English, and Portuguese.  The borrowed words are usually adapted by adding a vowel suffix — viz; bisikeli, jaili, gazetti.  Kiswahili boasts a literature and poetry and until the arrival of the missionaries in East Africa in the mid-19th century, had been written in Arabic script with the purist forms of the language used in Zanzibar and on the coast.  Although Swahili is the lingua franca of East Africa, the five ethnic groups among the Africans also use some fifty distinct tribal languages.

On Saturday mornings the whole school, Europeans and Africans, turned out for a formal parade which consisted of an inspection, a march past with the commandant, an assistant commissioner, taking the salute, and culminating in an advance in review order.  In the latter, the order was given; “Parade will advance in review order”, the band played for 13 paces and the parade came to a halt without a further order.  It wasn’t just some Africans who couldn’t count!  A highlight of the parade would be when the Chief Inspector commanding the African contingent marched up to report his troops ready for inspection — he would march up with his sword at the carry and his legs oscillating inside his well starched, wide cut shorts without disturbing them.

Piggy Taylor could be a persuasive character and, I don’t know how, but he persuaded Superintendent Eric Lindsay, who commanded the African wing, that he should lead the parade mounted, with Piggy also mounted, as his aide.  So, on several occasions we had the cavalry on parade.  This continued until Piggy’s want of literacy was rumbled and he was returned to Blighty.

At mid-course, we had a long weekend and most of the squad headed for Nairobi.  A half dozen of us decided on a trip north to Isiolo, the headquarters of the Northern Frontier Province, and to Buffalo Springs which lay just beyond.  Normally, one needed a permit to enter and travel in the NFP, but permission was granted for a visit to the springs which consisted of several pools of deep, crystal clear water, ideal for a dip.  We travelled courtesy of one Digby Price (Who later became a BOAC pilot) in his rather dilapidated Standard Vanguard.  A few miles north of Isiolo we had a puncture and as we were setting the jack, a large herd of elephant crossed the road about 100 yards in front of us.   I think we were downwind and fortunately ignored.

After a dip in the springs we decided to take a look at a location where Victor Mature and Janet Leigh where shooting a film called “Safari”.  An acquaintance of Digby’s was on the safari contractor’s staff.  Having found Digby’s buddy, we found the stars taking a break at a camp table and having coffee — we were invited to join them.   As we sat there I asked Victor Mature if I could take a few pictures at which he flung out his arm and said “Shoot” — which I did and I still have those pictures.

Victor Mature
Victor Mature at Buffalo Springs

By this time, it was late afternoon and although we didn’t have much in the way of supplies we decided to camp the night a couple of hundred metres from the film location.  We lit a large camp fire and after a bit were visited by the friend who, out of the blue, brought several large bags of goodies from the contractor’s supplies.  The next morning, just after first light, we were visited by the friend’s boss who made it clear in no uncertain terms that we were no longer welcome — the supplies were not mentioned.

We returned to Kiganjo where the course continued with a round of lectures, which included practical role playing, Swahili, drill and first aid.  In the latter, one of our number passed out at the mention of blood!

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At PTS Kiganjo – The Tavern in the background

One must do, a short trip was to visit the Royal Lodge, situated by a trout stream deep in the rain forest on the slopes of Mount Kenya.  The Colony had presented the Lodge to Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip on the occasion of their wedding.  The Lodge was in the care of an elderly former military gentleman, who delighted in showing visitors around and pointing out a string of bullet holes, each picked out with silver paper, across a timber wall adjacent to the main entrance.  These, said the caretaker, were the work of the Mau Mau, but the less charitable pointed to a distinct similarity to the work of a 9mm Sterling SMG which the guardian carried.  One thing no visitor could miss was to sit on the same throne as Her Majesty.

New African recruits from many different tribes, mostly selected by their chiefs, would arrive in drafts from the regions.  Some of the pastoral tribesmen had never slept indoors, seen running water, or flush lavatories, and once introduced to the showers had to be persuaded to turn off the water and exit!  Most recruits were teenagers of indeterminate age and with some exceptions, most were illiterate.  Almost all took to the life and seemed to enjoy it, revelling in drill and what was always described in the British services as ‘bullshit’.  They were happy, friendly young men and some of our numbers were fascinated by them.  Although they were obliged to shed their animal skin cloaks, ochre paint, and tribal charms and dump their spears and shields, and were scrubbed up, nothing could stop them from dancing, especially the Masai.  The Masai would, in a group circle, leap several feet into the air from a standing start and at the same time making a rhythmic grunting sound at each leap.  Mr Alec Abell would from time to time join them in these antics.

The PTS was responsible for providing a night guard for the water pumping station on the Kiganjo River, consisting of one European and half a dozen Africans.  Pump duty was on a roster basis but for some reason Brian Cooper drew two nights in a row, so on the second night I volunteered to replace him.  Brian was already down at the river by the time that I was kitted out and drawn a Sten gun and ammunition.  There was a well-defined track down a gentle slope, but it was dark moonless night.  The exchange was accomplished and I settled in for the night sitting on a large concrete block which projected from the pump shed and staring at what I took to be the dense edge to the forest.

After about an hour there was suddenly an ear-shattering scream followed by what sounded like a series of guttural moans.  At this time, my Swahili was for all practical purposes non-existent, but the Askari made reassuring noises.  These screams continued at intervals, but since the Africans didn’t take them as any sort of threat, I relaxed.  It wasn’t until the next day that I learned that the source of the noise was a small, hare sized animal called a tree hyrax—allegedly a zoological relative of the elephant.  At dawn, I made two more discoveries.  Firstly, I found that I had been staring at the edge of a maize plantation all night and secondly that I did not know how to cock the Sten gun!  It is necessary to pull out the cocking handle about a centimetre before pulling the lever back to cock the gun!

One night we were at dinner when there was a single rifle shot — this was followed by another and then a fusillade.  The only conclusion was that there had been a large, successful ambush and we waited for the news.  The truth was somewhat different.  It seems that one of the Askari thought that he has seen a movement on the forest edge and fired at it with his .303 Enfield, and then of course all saw movement with predictable results.

Wednesday afternoons were set aside for games or sport.  About half a dozen of us opted to swim above a small weir in the Kiganjo River and on one of our first sallies to the river we ran into a bit of excitement.  Walking along the road we heard someone yelling “help” repeatedly off to the left and beyond a hedge of large sisal plants.  Drawing our revolvers, we ran across a paddock toward the hedge and peered cautiously through the sisal fronds — red faces all-round as we surveyed a small flock of bleating goats!  But it really did sound like cries of distress.  The river proved less than ideal when we emerged from the water covered in small leeches.

On one sports afternoon Alec Abell persuaded me to ride out with him on one of the establishment’s Somali ponies to visit one of our colleagues, Jesse James, who with his wife Joan, rented a cottage on a farm a few miles up the Nanyuki road.  Now the last horse that I had been on was a large, docile old cart horse during the harvest perhaps ten years before and I had no idea what I was letting myself in for.  We set off fairly sedately, but before long Alec put the boot in and was off at a gallop with my horse in hot pursuit — I couldn’t stop it.  I yelled for him to stop, but Alec thought that it was a hoot as he gave his horse its head, leaping the drainage cuts through the berm.  To this day, I don’t know how, but I managed to stay with the horse and we took tea with Jesse and Joan.

There was a sequel.  The following morning, we found enquiries were being made as to who had taken two ponies and had returned them to the stables in a sweating and distressed state.  We had rubbed them down and given them water, but apparently this was not enough for our resident cavalryman, Mr Taylor, who had elected himself master of the stables and had communicated his concern to the powers that be.  We had to admit that we had taken the ponies and for a bit it looked as if we would be cashiered and drummed out of the regiment.  It seems that we had failed to perform to the high standards of the Household Cavalry!

I had brought with me my Ikonta camera and having just left the firm of Ramsey and Muspratt, Portrait and Commercial Photographers in Cambridge, I soon found myself in demand as an authority on photography.  I managed to set up a darkroom and gathered a number of photography ‘pupils’.  I taught several to process and print films, among them Dick Terry, with whom many years later I went into partnership in Simba Pictures, a studio at Bunbury in Western Australia.

Another highlight of the course was when a busload of young ladies came out from Nairobi for the weekend to attend the course dance.  Why after all these years do I remember Jenny Baxter whose father edited a magazine in the city.

There were also occasional high jinks in the mess and on one occasion assistant Superintendent Alec Pearson planning to leave for his billet, found his car missing.  His Fiat Bambini was discovered perched on a billiard table.

The course pulled to a close and after the passing out parade the postings were announced.  The majority of the course went to general duties in Central Province and the Rift Valley, the area affected by the Mau Mau, a select few, for reasons unknown, went to Special Branch, and Inspector Grade 1 G J Wright to the Central Firearms Bureau at CID Headquarters in Nairobi.  I was 23 and to say that this was a big disappointment would be an understatement, but it seemed that I had no option.  I often wondered if my rifle, which remained in the hands of customs, played any part in this posting.

006 Kenya Xmas 1955
Christmas 1955



Copyright: G J Wright 2018