On the Coast, 40 miles North of Mombasa.
In early 1959, I was transferred from the shadow of Kilimanjaro at Taveta to Kilifi on the coast north of Mombasa. On arrival, I found that I was to share a house with a Ministry of Works official, Jack Gibberson. This appeared to be a good arrangement until I discovered that Jack was the owner of an ancient dog with an odour all of its own.
Mr Gibberson was about twice my age and soon transferred his professional management style to the house. He declared that the kitchen boy, Malemba, was surplus to requirements and should go. I had to discharge him, and he left much to the annoyance of my cook, Mtuku. I suspected that he was a relative of the boy, possibly his father.
Predictably, I soon tired of this arrangement and started to search for an alternative. This came in the shape of a bungalow owned by a Mrs Gedge, situated on the north beach just out of Kilifi township. This consisted of a large central lounge with bedrooms on either side and the essential facilities. The whole building sat upon a large water tank which was kept filled by rain off the roof. As was customary, the kitchen and staff quarters were situated to the rear of the house at about 15 yards. A door on the seaward side gave access to the beach only about 10 yards away.
Kilifi was the Divisional Police Headquarters for the North Coast, commanded by Assistant Superintendent Andy Andrews – I never knew his actual first name. The Police Station was separate from Divisional Headquarters. It consisted of different buildings, my office, a report office, a lock-up, and an armoury.
Compared to Taveta, Kilifi was a very social Boma, sporting a club situated on a cliff overlooking the creek and, to the east, the Indian Ocean. Kilifi was the North Coast administrative centre with all the usual government agencies, A District Commissioner, who also acted as a first-class Magistrate, agricultural officers, a game warden, and a fully equipped and staffed hospital. The resident doctor, a young man, Dr Brown, was supported by an Indian, Dr Bauri and, unusual at that time, a young, newly UK qualified African Doctor who was a Kikuyu.
Shortly after taking over the police station, I visited the report office one night at about 1 AM. I found the corporal in charge and two constables asleep. I carefully opened the shutters at one end of the office, climbed in, extracted three rifles together with the ammunition belts, and took them home. These were .303 Lee Enfield No.4 rifles.
The following morning while I was having breakfast, the Sergeant Major appeared and reported that the three rifles and ammunition had disappeared from the report office, presumably stolen. He added that the staff on duty could offer no explanation and that it must be presumed that they were sleeping. I then produced the rifles and ammunition belts. I told the Sergeant Major that I would see the corporal and the two constables at 10 AM.
I cannot recall the punishment, but at that time, with Kenya in a state of emergency due to the Mau Mau insurrection, losing the firearms was almost a hanging offence. The station staff was then paraded, and I read the riot act.
Curiously, the police lines were open to all and very much a thoroughfare for everyone. I resolved to see the living area fenced. Later I was able to effect the fencing and planted a hedge on the inside of the fence. At the same time, we built a communal hall and canteen. All of which added considerably to the amenities.
Kilifi township, homes, and commercial buildings were about half a mile from the police station. When checking constables on the beat at night, I became familiar with the smell of cannabis being smoked. Apart from shop premises, most of the buildings were crude and thatched with makuti; the thatch comprised carefully folded coconut palm leaves and were far from airtight. Although a banned substance under the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, Cannabis Sativa was endemic throughout Kenya.
The station staff comprised a mixed bag; a proportion mainly from the nomadic tribes was illiterate. Others from more settled parts of the colony would be literate in Swahili. At the top of the pile, a few were literate in Swahili and English. They would receive an allowance of a few shillings a month in recognition.
The establishment of all stations and posts would include a signaller, possibly two, trained to operate a basic HF wireless system using Morse code. Interestingly, it was not essential for the operators to be English literate to read and record the message in plain language.
Every week I would lecture the station staff and explain the ramifications of a particular law. In the week or so following a lecture on a specific ordnance, the station would be inundated with offences dealt with in the weekly sessions.
The ferry ramps became a favourite target for constables on patrol, where vehicles piled up awaiting their turn to board the ferry. Among them would inevitably be several country buses with piles of luggage on the roof. Black painted tin trunks were a favourite receptacle for moving cannabis. The trunks were hauled off and opened, frequently revealing a consignment of the drug. The weed would be wrapped in tinfoil, about the size of an egg, called a Bomba. Each would sell for a sumuni, about five cents, and since there were 100 cents to the East African shilling, they were remarkably cheap.
After a lecture on the Traffic Ordnance, attention would be turned to vehicle registration, driver licenses, overloaded vehicles, and vehicle defects, and so on. So the cycle would continue after the weekly examination of sundry laws.
The District Commissioner received a report of an incident in a Reserve about 20 miles north of Kilifi. It appeared that an individual had killed and buried his wife. The DC resolved that the woman be exhumed and the cause of death established. I set out with a couple of constables accompanied by the young African Doctor, Dr John.
The grave was open to the requisite depth, and the corpse wrapped in sheeting was found in a cutaway to one side. The body was relatively fresh, but in the absence of any visible signs of trauma, it would have taken a pathologist to determine the cause of death. It was clear that young Dr John was out of his depth. Soil returned, case closed.
On the return journey, Dr John opened up, lamenting that he had found no one from his tribe, the Kikuyu, in Kilifi. He was particularly concerned that he had no female companionship. The women of the local tribe, the Giriama, tended to be illiterate and wore no clothing but a grass skirt. Hardly an attractive proposition for a budding medical man.
Kilifi was not a demanding station, but curiously I was to deal with more sudden deaths and murders than at any other station. The explanation for this clearly lay in the proclivity of the coastal Wagiriama tribe for palm toddy. There was a veritable forest of coconut palms on the coast that the Giriama exploited to produce a strong alcoholic tipple. To scale and tap the palms, the wagemaji (tappers) required a five-shilling license from the African District Council.
Although the toddy was freely and cheaply available from licensed tappers, giving rise to much drunkenness, it seemed to incite lethal dispute. An essential tool for the tapper was a knife that was keenly sharpened on the outside of the blade’s curve. It was this that did most of the damage in the frequent drunken fracas.
One night a Giriama reported that he had killed a man on the Malindi Road a few miles to the North of Kilifi. Nothing surprising there, and the body was found slumped on the sand ridge to the side of the road. The scene of the initial encounter was found. The dead man had run about one hundred yards, depositing a spurt of blood at every heartbeat before he collapsed dead.
This offence attracted a nominal sentence in “Kingi Georgi’s Hoteli’’ which provided two square meals a day and a dry place to lay one’s head.
The sudden deaths invariably lead to a post-mortem which were usually conducted by Dr Bauri. The deceased were laid out on a steel topped bench in the mortuary. The doctor then sent in his two African assistants who prepared the body for inspection, laying out the relevant internal body parts beside the corpse. Then, holding his nose, the good doctor would duck into the mortuary and, after a quick inspection, pronounced that the subject had died of shock and haemorrhage. Shock and haemorrhage were clearly a dangerous combination where Dr Bauri ruled.
In front of my bungalow on the beach, the coastline was protected by a reef several hundred yards off-shore. At low water, the enclosed lagoon was sheltered and still, with almost perfect underwater visibility. Huge brain coral heads dotted the lagoon and were home to an amazing variety of sea life, including crayfish and enormous grouper. An occasional shark would be trapped behind the reef, the sight of which leisurely swimming, I always regarded as poetry in motion. I soon acquired all the goggling gear and a compressed air harpoon gun. We were never short of fish for the table.
A frequent fishing companion was Billy Duncan, whose stepfather was employed by the MoW. Billy was about 15 years of age, and his father had been killed in the war, which led him at some point during this time to revert to his original surname, Cousins. He was very fair-skinned, and with his back exposed when in the water, he suffered a good deal from sunburn
Andy Andrews was also a keen snorkeller, and he suggested that we should go out at night. Reluctantly I agreed to accompany him on an expedition. Barely had we entered the water when we encountered a confusing mass of phosphorescence, fish swimming in every direction unseen but for the glow that trailed like sparks. Andy agreed that it was not a good idea.
One quiet morning I was in my office when a patrol constable appeared and reported that a vehicle had run down the ferry ramp into the water. At the scene, all seemed to be calm. It transpired that a gentleman who lived on the south side of the creek had parked his Land Rover and stepped out to look at the market stalls beside the ramp. Almost immediately, the vehicle began to roll down the ramp to disappear into the water. His dog jumped from the submerging vehicle and disappeared into the mangroves. There was no sign of the Land Rover. I closed the ferry.
I returned to my house, collected my diving gear and return to the scene. I found the Land Rover at about 30 feet beneath the surface, hanging precariously on a ledge over deep water. I gathered a rope from the ferry and secured it to the tow hook on the vehicle. Back on the surface, I found a 4 wheel drive three-ton army lorry that had been waiting to cross the creek. I asked the lieutenant in charge if he would use the lorry to pull the Land Rover from the water, and to my surprise, he refused. I declared that the ferry would remain closed until the vehicle was retrieved. I pointed out that the only alternative route back to Nairobi comprised a very long trip north to Garissa and then down through Central Province. After talking with his driver, the officer agreed that they would attempt to haul the Land Rover to the surface and onto the ramp. They successfully did so. Ferry reopened.
There was no question of running the Land Rover, so we pushed it off the ramp, and the owner said that he would arrange to collect it. In the meantime, he had found his dog, which had given birth to a litter of puppies.
The duty corporal received a report of a theft from a European estate to the West of the main north-south road. At the estate that I had not visited before, I found an elderly couple, Mr and Mrs Whitehouse. He told me that some tools and implements had gone missing that he assumed had been stolen. A store where they had usually kept the gear had not been secured. The chances of finding the offender or returning the property were slim. They grew cashew nuts.
In conversation, it transpired that the couple were originally from Huntingdonshire and that they had a relative, Mr Whitehouse’s brother, who lived in Fenstanton. I knew his brother by sight and had often seen him riding around the village on a trade cycle. Mr Whitehouse liked to play billiards but was often pushed to find a partner. This led to an invitation to call any time for a game and a meal.
Sometimes, my friend, Jim Cade, would visit and stay in my bungalow on the beach. On one visit, he produced what he described as the first scuba-diving gear in Kenya. He had no compressor and used a series of high-pressure cylinders, keeping one at full pressure to fully top off the dive cylinders. On this visit, he was accompanied by a friend, Terry Mulholland.
This was a complete novelty, and we each took a turn using the gear. One had to wear a lead weight belt to counteract the buoyancy of the diving cylinders. It was an incredible experience swim deep in these calm waters with such high visibility. I don’t recall that we had a depth gauge, but I estimate that we dived to between 80 and 100 feet. It was not until a few years later when in the Persian Gulf, I read a book on scuba-diving and promptly broke into a sweat. I hadn’t realised how hazardous the dives had been.
One day one of the European nurses from Kilifi Hospital appeared at my door clutching a dog, a puppy, a Jack Russell. She had decided I needed a dog. She was very persistent. I protested and explained that I didn’t like dogs, didn’t need a dog and anyway would not be able to care for the animal. She left the dog. All went well for a few weeks until I found that the dog had visited the Andrew’s house when their toddler had opened the fridge door. The dog made off with the Sunday joint!
One day, taking it easy on my veranda, I was startled by a gunshot. Investigation revealed two boys in the next-door garden using a .410 shotgun with birdshot to secure specimens for mounting. Aged about 15, the elder of the boys was Richard Leakey, son of Louis and Mary, and who was to become a prominent archaeologist and anthropologist.
Whilst at Kilifi, I took delivery of a new deluxe Volkswagen beetle. The registration number was KAQ529, and it was coloured dark green – why do I remember that? This car had always performed amazingly in the annual Coronation Safari. Teams exploited the fact that it had independent suspension. A grab handle was installed under the rear window, and when stuck, the navigator stand on the bumper, grabbed the handle, and bounce. This had the effect of releasing the drive wheels from the mud. The fuel tank was under the bonnet to the front and presented a fire hazard in a collision. The weight of the engine to the rear made controlling a skid more difficult on unmade roadss. No matter, I always said that wherever I can go in a Land Rover, I could follow in the VW.
It was not to last; I was ordered to take over the police station at Hola, the scene of an international scandal.