Part Two: Narratives from the white settler community in colonial Tanganyika

Life in Tanganyika in The Fifties
Author: Godfrey Mwakikagile
Paperback: 418 pages
Publisher: New Africa Press (16 November 2009)
ISBN-10: 9987160123
ISBN-13: 9789987160129

Narratives from the white settler community
in colonial Tanganyika

From Pam Sparrow, Gloucestershire, UK, 6 May 2006:

Dear Godfrey,

Just had an e-mail from Dick asking for a paragraph (attached) to be inserted to what he has already provided. I remembered it just in time to save it as rtf.

He wants it inserted AFTER the para starting "Cricket was a popular game ... ending ... the many Asian teams." and before the para starting "In the days just after the war...

Also, he has quite a large website with various memoirs, the Merchant Navy Officers' website, and he has sent these latest ones off for inclusion on that and has asked me to let you know what he has done.

If you go to you will find all his writings and also there you can view some of his paintings. He has given me a couple though not of ships and he has just painted 2 using 2 photos I sent him as a base.

Hope you are able to enjoy the w/e and relax. Now I am retired w/es don't have quite the same relevance as before. Spring has arrived and everywhere is looking nicely green at last after a very long and very cold winter. Thursday was unbelievably hot though today it is distinctly chilly.

Must off to bed.

Hope all's well.



Tanganyika in the 1940s/50s

By Richard Crow

Reminiscences of a marine pilot serving initially with the Tanganyika Railways and Ports Services which, after amalgamation with the Kenya and Uganda Railways, became the Tanganyika arm of the East African Railways and Harbours, mostly in the port and capital, Dar-es-Salaam, but also in the port of Tanga during the late 1940s and 1950s.

Between the wars and until the early 1960s Tanganyika was a U.N. Trust Territory administered by Great Britain.

It was run on the conventional colonial paternalistic pattern headed by the Governor from Government House in the capital at Dar-es-Salaam.

Between the wars it was a very much male-orientated society as very few of the junior officials or commercial staff were accompanied by wives. This was reflected by the type of housing provided both by Government and commercial firms for their ex-patriate staff.

The East African Railways and Harbours was a quasi-Government organisation, the ex-patriate officers were recruited through the Colonial Office and enjoyed salary scales and service conditions, i.e. three year tours of duty and home leave, similar to Government officials yet dealt on a commercial basis in the port department with the ships of many nationalities that traded with Tanganyika and their Agents, so that they to some extent bridged the gap between the Official and Commercial communities.

The Government officials were mostly British and the commercials comprised mostly of British and other Europeans and many Asian traders. The work force was predominantly African with European and Asian supervision.

Whilst English was the official language Swahili was the lingua franca of the country and for government officials a degree of proficiency in it was necessary for promotion.

A series of topical cartoons by Geoff Green were published in the 1950s in the local newspaper, the Tanganyika Standard which highlighted and reflected every day life as seen from the Government and Commercial view points.

The trials and tribulations suffered by Government officials swotting for their Swahili examinations, offset by the award of a Cost of Living Allowance to Government salaries, and the romantic repercussions occasioned by Flag Showing visit of a R.N. ship were all grist to the cartoonist’s mill.

A few typical cartoons are attached and some of the figures depicted could, at the time be related to well known personalities in the communities.

For example, the toga clad figure wearing an official plumed solar topee presiding over the arena in which the Commercials are being fed to the Cost of Living lions bears a striking resemblance to His Excellency Sir Edward Twining, the then Governor of Tanganyika.

Membership of the Dar-es-Salaam Club was restricted to European males and even in the 50s ladies were only admitted to parts of the club on special occasions and then as far as some of the “old timers” were concerned on sufferance.

Many of the single Europeans, or those whose wives were on home leave, would use the Club’s facilities for lunch and dinner etc. The Gymkhana Sports Club with its cricket, tennis, golf and other sporting facilities had a more liberal attitude and allowed ladies as members. Cricket was a popular game, the Europeans had the country-wide club of the Tanganyikan Twigas (giraffes) matched by a similar Asian club, the Tanganyikan Tembos (elephants), whilst at a local level the European Sports Club and the Railways and Harbours Clubs fielded teams that played the many Asian teams.

In those days, just after the war, such luxuries as refrigerators and other electrical appliances, new cars and many other manufactured goods were often in short supply. It must have been quite a shock for my wife when she arrived in 1949 from the UK to such conditions, especially as she found that, as a junior pilot our quarters were across the harbour entrance at the Signal Station and had no electric power or lighting.

We were dependent on a wood fired dover stove for cooking although our African “mpishi” (cook) did very well with it. However, my wife bought herself a Valor kerosene oil cooker but it was not very successful as the sea breezes at the Signal Station kept causing it to “blackout” covering everything with oily smuts.

She did produce some rock cakes with it once, but unfortunately they were true to their name and when I dropped one it nearly cracked the cement floor. We gave it to our dog who received it with delight, but when she thought we were not looking went and buried it in the garden. Lighting was also by kerosene Alladin pressure lamps (which gave out a lot of heat in the hot season) and of course we could not have electric fans.

Our first motor car was a 1938 Morris 12 which had been cannibalised with lorry door handles and Standard car wheels. It sometimes refused to start, broke down at inconvenient moments and on one occasion the steering wheel came off in my hand, but my wife and I, and the dog, had more fun with that old car than any of the new models we had later. It cost just £100 in 1949 and we sold it for £75 two years later when we went on home (UK) leave, so it was certainly also value for money.

The local butcher’s “duka” (shop) was painted red, presumably to hide the bloodstains of the animals slaughtered in the early hours and in the days before we had a refrigerator we used to buy our fresh meat at daybreak. The meat was still warm and the joints were often unconventional cuts although we found fillet steak was usually a good buy.

There were no such things as T.V., videos etc and the old-fashioned wireless, or radio, was the only contact with the outside world and often a not very good contact at that, so people were in general dependent on making their own entertainment.

As was to be expected in a tropical climate, sailing and swimming were popular past-times catered for by yacht clubs and organised outings and picnics to off-shore islands and other beaches were popular at the week-ends. Friends within their own circles and level would give, and reciprocate, with small dinner parties or with children’s outings and such occasions often helped to make useful official or commercial contacts.

I recall that at one such dinner party my wife was complimented on the flower arrangement of her dinner table.“Oh, that was Ali, (our house-boy) he got them for me” she replied. “And I can guess where he got them from,” one guest remarked, "Government House has masses of those flowers in their gardens”.

Horrified, my wife denied that her Ali would steal from G.H., but next week she was mortified to find that the truth was even worse. Going for a walk with a friend who was staying with us, they passed a small Missionary Cemetery nearby where some of the graves were decorated with the self same flowers.

Even in the ports of Dar-es-Salaam and Tanga there was a certain amount of wild-life. During my first tour of duty as the junior pilot we lived in the Signal Station flat at the other side of the harbour entrance and a large baboon took up residence in our garden one week-end.

On another occasion my wife was advised to stay indoors, and keep her dog in too, as a lion had been reported in the area, this was just after a resident only a mile away had his dog seized from the verandah of his house by a leopard. Snakes were usually quickly and effectively dealt with by the Africans.

One year when the rains failed hippopotami were found in the south creek of the harbour at Dar-es-Salaam and we had one in our garden at the port entrance. The following day whilst servicing the channel leading lights I was startled by a hippo-potamus rising up out of the water at the edge of the reef in front of me.

That afternoon I was piloting an American ship to sea and remarked to the Captain, “There’s a hippo in the channel just here”. Right on cue, disturbed by the beat of the ship’s propeller it stood up again.

A fair-sized crocodile was shot in the harbour at Tanga while I was there. My wife, convalescing up-country at The Lawns Hotel, Lushoto, shooed away what she thought was a large ridgeback dog from outside her banda (hut/room), but when it turned round and looked at her she realised that it was an adult lioness. She quickly retreated to her room and spent the rest of the night there.

One of the principal exports of Tanganyika in those days was sisal, especially through the smaller northern port of Tanga. The sisal plants, after being decorticated and processed, were baled in large oblong bales for shipment.

The sisal industry was controlled by the Tanganyika Sisal Growers Association and Mr Hitchcock was the President. The only other name I recall in that connection was Bennett of the Amboni Estates near Tanga. Each year they held a grand white, or at the very least black tie dinner function at which senior Government officials and the managers of the main commercial firms were guests.

When I was Pilot i/c Tanga in 1952 or 3 I was a guest at the dinner which was held that year aboard the British India Steam Navigation Co brand new passenger vessel, the “S.S. Kenya”. His Excellency Sir Edward Twining, Governor of Tanganyika, was the guest of honour on that occasion and Captain Hamley, the Superintendent of Ports, was the senior representative of the E.A.R. & H.

Coffee grown in the Arusha area was another export from Tanga.

The ill-fated Groundnuts Scheme after WW II did provide a welcome impetus to the trade of Tanganyika and a new port, Mtwara, was built in the Southern Province.

Until the 50s Dar-es-Salaam port had no deep water quays so that vessels had to be manoeuvred under their own power and anchored in the harbour to discharge and load their cargoes by lighters.

In the early 50s, after the amalgamation of the railways and ports into the East African Railways and Harbours, a ship handling steam tug was provided for Dar-es-Salaam which greatly expedited ship movements and enabled moorings to be laid in the south creek to accommodate larger vessels and an oil tanker berth for the importation of fuel oil for the railways.

By the late 1950s deep water quays had also been built at Dar-es-Salaam thus providing the port with all the up-to-date facilities expected of a modern port.

The central line railway to Kigoma provided a link to the Belgian Congo from Dar-es-Salaam via Lake Tanganyika which allowed trade to and from the Congo to a Belgian enclave, “The Bel Base”, in the port of Dar-es-Salaam.

Dhows from the Persian Gulf have traded with the west coast of India and the east coast of Africa since biblical times. “Dhow” is really a generic word similar to our “ship”, but there are many different types. On the Indian coast you will find “baggalas” with more pronounced and ornate poops, influenced no doubt by the 18th century European ships then familiar to those waters.

In East Africa the large sea-going dhows were usually “booms”. They were of a more traditional design with one or two masts and lateen sails. The larger ones with their raked stems and sterns could be well over 100 feet in length. Originally they would have sailed down from the Gulf with the northeast monsoon and return with the first of the southwest monsoons. Nowadays most of them are fitted with diesel engines.

They would bring from the Gulf such goods as Persian carpets, (I still have one such at home bought from an Arab dhow in Dar-es-Salaam) and return with biriti poles (there is little timber in the Gulf) and no doubt in the old days a full quota of slaves.

Bagamoyo, a road-stead port some miles north of Dar-es-Salaam used to be the principal port of the area before Dar was established in the 19th century. It was also at the end of one of the slave trails to the interior and when my wife and I visited it in 1950 the remains of the slave pens could be clearly seen and there was an abundance of mango trees planted, we were told, by the slavers to feed their unfortunate captives.

Tanganyika was, I think in general more rural and African than neighbouring Kenya with its larger towns, commercial atmosphere, tourists and numerous white settlers.

Life in Tanganyika seemed to be lived at a slower pace and the Tanganyikan Africans were also, in my experience less sophisticated, more rustic and more susceptible to old traditions and superstitions than their more city-dwelling counterparts in Kenya. For example, one day our shamba (garden) boy and some of the younger boat boys did not turn up for work and Kombo, the head signalman, told me that they were afraid to leave their village as they were frightened that the Mumiani would get them.

He explained that the mumiani were bloodsuckers who originated long ago in the days of the Portuguese occupation of the East African coast. (The standard Swahili/English dictionary defines “mumiani, a dark coloured gum-like substance used by some Arabs, Indian and Swahili for medicinal purposes”). I was later told that the scare was started when the Sewa Haji Hospital sent out a team seeking volunteer blood donors to replenish its blood bank. Q.E.D.

On another occasion a rather deadly snake of, I believe, the mamba family was killed at the Signal Station. The Africans cut its head off and buried it and the body separately quite some distance apart otherwise, they told my wife, the two parts would join up at sunset and chase them for killing it.

In the circumstances I suppose it is not surprising that after the amalgamation of the Railways and Harbours our colleagues in the big port of Mombasa used to refer to Dar-es-Salaam as “The Sleepy Hollow.”


From Pam Sparrow, 12 November 2006:




Pamela Sparrow nee Mostyn

Why were you born in Africa?” asks my friend and I thought she was intelligent, to which I answered, “Well, my parents were there”. However, I did really understand what she meant to say.

My Mother, Muriel Teitlebaum, was born in Essex, UK and went to Africa as a result of joke. Someone on her behalf answered a job advertisement for a dispenser in Dar-es-Salaam and Mum was the successful applicant.

So, in 1940 she set sail for East Africa travelling via The Cape and so running the gauntlet of the U-boat hunting packs in the Atlantic. She arrived in Durban and there had to wait a month before there was ship northbound for Dar-es-Salaam where she was to work in the dispensary of the Sewahaji Hospital which was the African and Asian hospital.

I remember the hospital as being a yellow building near a railway level crossing with a huge tree (probably a mongo tree) nearby and I know the hospital still exists but no doubt in a new location.

The pharmacist was Sydney Cox and after his wife Dorothy joined him from the UK the two families remained friends for over 50 years until after Sydney’s death. I was the oldest of the 4 children.

My Father, Nigel Mostyn, was born in North London and in the war was called up, joining the North Staffordshire Regiment and was posted to Ethiopia to fight the Italian campaign. The regiment was attached to the KAR (King’s African Rifles) and when de-mobbed in 1945 he joined the East African Railways & Harbours in the Stores Department being posted to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanga, Mombasa and Nairobi and remained in the department until he finally returned to the UK in about 1964

As was usual during war-time when service personnel away from home had leave, social events were arranged for them and local women were asked to volunteer as partners for the arranged dances etc.

The designated partner for my father was unable to fulfil this particular engagement and my Mother took her place. They were married in August 1943 and years later looking at the wedding photographs I felt so very sorry for Mum as all the guests were Dad’s male army colleagues.

It must have been a sad day for Mum in a way not having her parents or sister with her on such an occasion and she did not even have any girl friends from Africa to be with her either.

Fifteen months later I was born in the German-built European Hospital along Ocean Road in Dar-es-Salaam for what was going to be a happy, carefree and privileged childhood until the age of ten.

With my father being away in Abyssinia I was about 4 months old before he saw me for the first time. Thirteen years later I had my tonsils removed whilst on a school summer holiday from the UK and the ward I was in was the labour ward when I was born

My first recollection is when I was about 2½ in Tanga and was nearly a tragic one. As was usual the ayah (nanny) was taking me and my brother, who was then about six months old, to the beach in the afternoon and we were walking on the inside of a right hand bend with a hedge and a sheer drop down to the beach to which we were heading. A lorry came round the bend towards us, the brakes failed and my brother, who fortunately was lying down in the pram, went underneath the lorry.

The Africans tried to extricate him from the tangled wreck of what had been the pram only to succeed in catching his legs against the hot exhaust pipe. As luck would have it our next door neighbour who was the doctor drove passed and was able to prevent the situation from being really tragic. I used to look at the photo of the pram and wonder how anyone could have survived in it.

We lived in many houses, at least 4 in Dar-es-Salaam alone because each time Dad was given promotion it meant the standard of the house improved along the quality of furniture.

On the coast the houses were mainly bungalows with deep overhanging eaves to keep out the sun and so keeping the building cool. The floors were red cardinal polished concrete with just a central rug or carpet and the dogs found this heaven as they would lie on the concrete on their stomachs with their legs stretched fore and aft trying to keep cool.

The windows were not glassed but were covered in what we called XPM, expanded metal. This was a largish diamond mesh of very strong metal which was secure from the point of view of preventing someone accessing the property but was nothing against the pole cat burglars. The thief would have a long pole which would easily go through the diamond mesh because at its widest it was about 2” and this would then be used to grab articles from the room.

So, it was always necessary to ensure small removable articles were either not in sight or within reach of the pole.

The only house we lived in when in Mombasa was in fact a two story one and the sitting room was upstairs with a balcony. Whether it was because the Tanganyika houses were pre-First World War German-built and the Kenya houses British-built, between the two wars and post 39-45, but the windows had horizontal louvered glass.

We lived in one house in Nairobi up a hill which we called El-Shack because of its construction. The house was built of corrugated iron and when it rained the noise was deafening and of all the houses we lived in it was the darkest, all the others being very light and airy. Being on a hill the front of the house was about 6’ above the ground with a flight of fairly steep steps up to the veranda, thus making the underneath of the house a perfect play area for me and my brother.

Heaven alone knows what dudus (insects) and other livestock inhabited this area but we seemed to survive unscathed.

My father had obviously moved up the promotion ladder because our next Nairobi house was a bricks and mortar one, a lovely L-shaped bungalow with parquet floors which our poor dog found lethal as my brother and I would throw balls for her to chase along the passage and she slipped and slithered unable to gain a purchase on the polish and came to a Tom and Gerry halt to much laughter from us. In the sitting room there was a live fire because Nairobi is at an altitude of 5,500 feet and in the winter at night it became really quite cold.

All the houses had big gardens, though none of ours I seem to remember looked like an English garden even in Nairobi where the climate was more suited to horticulture. The grass was generally a very tough, almost spiky, sparse rye type and the flowers I remember most are the beautiful bougainvillea, the bright purple being the natural one, the delicate sweet smelling deciduous frangipani tree with its white four petaled short trumpet flowers with yellow centres. The “wood” of the frangipani is very soft and spongy thus making it a totally unsuitable tree for climbing.

There were the yellow trumpet flowers, hibiscus, cannas with all their rich earth colours and of course roses. With having such large gardens there were of course trees and I remember in Mombasa we had a huge mango tree but do not ever remember eating mangos from it. We also had a paw-paw tree just outside the kitchen door and what a joy it was to eat paw-paw for breakfast that had been picked only half an hour earlier.

Another fruit tree that also grew in the Mombasa garden was a guava and my mother went ballistic one day when she discovered that I had stripped the tree of all the fruit and eaten every one. I still love guava today.

In the Nairobi bungalow garden we had a banana palm but that never seemed to produce fruit or perhaps I was not there when it did and there was also a variety of blackberry which grew just outside my bedroom window. There was another shrub, the name of which I do not know, but it had the most wonderful small florets of exquisitely multi-coloured flowers and when each flower was over it turned into very hard round small green seed which we used to put into the ends of our bicycle pumps to use as pea-shooters. Probably highly dangerous but once again we survived unscathed.


Food was always “fresh” as distinct from frozen as there were no domestic freezers in the 40s and 50s so shopping was done almost on a daily basis. There were of course refrigerators which were the size of large wardrobes as everything that was of a perishable nature had to be kept there. Other non-perishable foodstuffs were kept in meat safes. These were large cupboards covered in a fine wire mesh to protect against the flies on high legs which usually stood in containers of water to stop the ants climbing up the legs.

However, the water had to be regularly changed to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.

Other non-perishable items such as flour were kept in airtight containers but this did not prevent the flour weevil from penetrating and taking up residence so regular inspections had to be made and many a pound of flour was dumped because of an infestation.

There were of course the meat, grocer and green grocer shops etc usually run by Asians, but there were also the markets where all the foods could be purchased.

Meat could be questionable as to it variety and age and in Mombasa there was a notice outside a butcher announcing “Shoats” and no-one really ever discovered exactly what this specie was. Meat was not often naturally tender and we often used to say it had walked to the abattoir and to soften it the mpishi (cook) would have beat it tender and cook it for a long time.

There never seemed to be a shortage of local vegetable and the one thing I remember is the delicious smell of roasting mealie (corn cobs) on the braziers set up along the pavements by the Africans. Fruit was always plentiful with a wide variety of local fruit though of course there was little English fruit and I remember pleading with my mother to be allowed to eat an unpeeled apple.

One of the fruits that was regularly bought was ndimu (lime) and Mum would squeeze dozens of these so we could have fresh squeezed lime drink.

We lived off bananas, guava, pawpaw, mango, pinepapple, oranges and probably many other fruits.

Living on the coast of course there was plenty of samaki (fish) which boys would hawk around in baskets made from banana palm leaves on the backs of their bicycles and I remember my mother going through these baskets looking at the gills to see which were the brightest pink before buying.

Eggs were also hawked from the back of bicycles and I can see my mother now with a large jug of water dropping egg after egg into it to see which floated and which did not in order to get a dozen fresh ones. At two houses in Dar we did keep chickens but they had to be kept in large wire pens as protection from hawks and other birds of prey and were also prone to attacks from snakes.

One day my mother heard anguished cries from the Africans shouting “nyoka, nyoka” (snake, snake), there was one in the tree in the chicken run. Not one of the Africans would go near the run, Mum had to despatch the reptile

Water for consumption had to be boiled and filtered and it my mother’s Sunday afternoon job to boil up gallon upon gallon of water which then had to be filtered in a large ceramic cylinder with 3 filter cones in it. However, before it could be filled with fresh water these cones had to be cleaned of the debris that had accumulated from the previous batch.

There was always plenty of water kept in the fridge for drinking and water for consumption included teeth cleaning. The only time raw tap water was used was for bathing.


The academic year followed the calendar year and I remember in the January after I was 5 my mother asking me if I would like to go to school and replying that I would not. The reply I received was that I was going whether I like it or not, so that was that.

At that time we did not own a car and we lived on the outskirts of Dar, but our next-door neighbours owned a bull-nosed Morris with a dickie seat and Lady Muck was duly perched in said dickie and taken into Dar for school at the Burton Street primary school.

This building was a fine old colonial 2 storey one with a veranda around both floors. In the grounds at the back were other school “rooms”, one was no more than a polished concrete floor with poles round the edge holding up a conical “makute” (I think makute is dried banana leaves) roof. This was in fact my first class room though there was another walled-in room which was subsequently another of my class rooms.

The one I remember most clearly is in the house itself because of one incident that took place.

We were I think all seated on the floor and the question asked was how many days are there in a year. I shot up my hand and Miss Cameron-Walker asked me for the answer which was incorrect. To my dying day I shall never forget her vengeful rebuke to me for putting up my hand when I did not know the correct answer and not to do it again unless I knew the answer.

In Mombasa the school was a modern one built as an open-centred rectangle with the corridor running on the inside of the open square. I was only there for little over a year as Dad was posted to Nairobi from Dar in June 1953 for a few months and then down to Mombasa from where we sailed just before Christmas 1954 for the UK where I was sent to boarding school for the rest of my school-days.

The school day started early because of the heat and then we all went home for about a 2-hour lunch and returned for a couple of hours. During this time there was “homework”, we had little notebooks with all the words listed we had to learn to spell and my mother loved having her hair brushed, so I would brush her hair while she tested me on my spelling.

Sports days were always fun with many of them now considered old-fashioned activities such as the sack race: the egg and spoon race and the three-legged race, biting the bobbing apple hanging from a string. Of course the best was the Mums’ and Dads’ race.


In those days entertainment was self made and as children I never seem to remember being bored. Television was still in its infancy even in the UK, and of course it was non-existent in Africa and to us children we had not heard of it.

My father had a colleague called Mr Tavee (I assume that is the spelling) and one day I was reading a paper magazine which I think was called something like Picture Post and on the front page was a large blurred photograph with the headline “T.V. goes under water for the first time”.

“Oh look Mummy”, I said, “Mr Tavee has gone under water”. She then had to tell me about T.V.

We would listen to the wireless on the big Marconi set to the various children’s programmes like Children’s Hour and some being broadcast from the UK. Of course with the climate being as it was it was very much an outdoor life. On the coast of course there was plenty of swimming and in the afternoons the ayah would take us to the beach where we would meet up with all of our friends and play making sandcastles and swimming.

I remember in Dar-es-Salaam on Sunday afternoons the whole family would go out to Oyster Bay crossing on the way a small inlet crossed by a low bridge called Selander after a pioneer engineer and I loved to hear the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh as we sped passed the low pillars of the balustrade and today if I have the car window open I listen to the same whoosh sound of the oncoming cars and remember those journeys over Selander Bridge.

At Oyster Bay there was a small concrete swimming pool made into the rocks and we would play around in it followed by a picnic. When the tide came in the water would wash over the walls of the pool and so there would be a change of water.

In Mombasa there was the Florida Swimming Club which had a big pool built again into the rock and we used to sit on the high wall with our feet dangling over the sea.

There are two particular moments I remember at the Florida, one was when a few of us swam in the rain and is the only time I remember being blue with cold in Africa, what fun it was though being wet in the water and out of it.

The other was when I lost my bathing costume; my mother had made me a navy blue with large white dots 2 piece with rather voluminous pants and as I dived so these pants filled with water like a balloon and they floated to the surface where I hastily retrieved then when I surfaced.

In Nairobi play was rather different and it was a world of make-believe and we made our own games.

As Mombasa is a coral island there were no beaches and so people had to cross to the mainland either on the ferry south to Whitesands Hotel or north over the exciting floating bridge to Nyali. This bridge would be almost like a switch-back depending on the tide and it was always a thrill to hear the wooden slats of the bridge rattle as the car made its slow way over the humps created by the movement of the sea below.

The ferry was equally exciting as it was just a pontoon supported by a collar of oil drums making it float, there was no form of power other than manpower and hope that it would in fact reach the designated ramp the other side. Many a time the current carried this pontoon way off-course and then there was mayhem to get back to the correct position. There was even greater panic and mayhem when this drifting pontoon was in the way of an approaching ship either entering or leaving port. Getting on and off this ferry was an adventure in itself if in a car due to the fact that tide ruled how far up or down the concrete ramp the ferry rested.

If the tide was high then the ferry would be far enough up the ramp so as there not to be much of an angle as the cars drove onto the pontoon. However, if the tide was low it meant the angle for the cars was much steeper and sharper and many a cars scraped and crunched front and rear ends. Today there is a modern ferry with an engine.

Of course in Nairobi our Sunday afternoons were spent in the National Park when sometimes it was a rather unexciting visit if the animals decided not to show themselves, other times it would seem we had seen all the animals there.

In Dar I remember visiting one friend and we made a house by turning the dining chairs over and resting the backs against the dining table and covered it all with blankets and other such coverings, somewhat dark and hot but we had great fun.

There were also Brownies, Guides, Cubs and Scouts and I was a Sandpiper when a Brownie. I was also a member of the Junior Red Cross and to this day still have my badge and certificate. Years later I was to be a member of the adult Red Cross for 12 years.

Bonfire night was not really celebrated and the only year that I remember it being marked was during the height of the Mau Mau so of course fireworks were banned.

The only thing we could have were sparklers and I remember standing on the upstairs balcony of our house waving these sizzling sparklers around making patterns in the warm dark African air and being entranced by the sight and sound of these very simple lights.

We were living in Dar-es-Salaam when I had my 5th birthday and for it was given a Phillips 2 wheeler bicycle. In the morning I remember my father taking me to the front door, looking down the steps to this gleaming black and chrome machine and saying he wondered what it was doing there. We then descended the steps for a closer inspection and he pointed to the P of the Phillips and said it must be for me as it had a P for Pamela.

The Railway Club was just round the corner which had a tennis court and I shall never forget it as in the evening I learnt to ride it with Mum hanging on to the saddle running for dear life puffing and panting whilst I peddled furiously shouting, “Mummy, let go, let go” until she had to because she could no longer keep up the pace.

I was off and away.

There was the cinema and on a Saturday morning there would be the children’s programme when we all went, Europeans, Africans and Asians and I remember being very annoyed when the Asian and African children would whistle, hiss and boo at the relevant scenes.

I don’t really remember anything particular about Christmas which of course we did celebrate. Of course for us it was mid-summer so there was no cold, no snow, just hot sunshine.

I do remember one particular Christmas and that was the only one we spent in Mombasa, though why that specifically I do not know. The hall of the house was large with a highly polished red cardinal floor and just inside the front door there was this huge Christmas tree, where it came from or what its real species was I do not know.

The one thing I do remember are the barley twist red candles in butterfly clip holders and the smell of resin from the needles as they were singed by the candles. I suppose highly dangerous, but I still am taken back to that wonderful time when I smell the smell of burning pine needles, alas not that often in this day and age and health and safety etc. and artificial and fibre optic trees. I remember nothing of the food but assume we probably had turkey etc.

Miscellaneous Memories

Whilst in Dar the news came through that the King had died and I well remember being in the Dar bookshop on the Askari roundabout and seeing the neat notice on the counter saying THE KING IS DEAD.

In June 1953 we were on the move again, due to sail to Mombasa for Dad’s next posting, soon after Coronation Day and I can see Dad now with his head in wooden packing cases packing up and the last thing to be packed was the old Marconi wireless which crackled out the service from London.

In the event we had to stay another week or so as there was some problem with loading the ship and this meant that we were able to see the Coronation parade as it made its way along the harbour road (Secretariat Road) and the only particular memory I have of it was the Roland Emmet engine float and whenever I see a picture of a Roland Emmet engine my mind is always taken back to June 1953 in Dar-es-Salaam.

My idyllic and privileged childhood ended when we embarked in Mombasa on 20th December 1954 for the UK and it was during this voyage that I spent the happiest and most memorable Christmas of my life.

In the January of 1955 I was put into a boarding school and what a culture shock that was, not only the way of life, but arriving in a cold, damp, grey and miserable weathered country having three weeks earlier left brilliant sunshine and warmth.

Two of my life’s great regrets are that I was not schooled in Africa and that I left when still so young.


What A Life

Life in Tanganyika before it secured its independence was untamed and unpredictable, much like the children themselves, who were now being raised by their ...

The Evening Press, UK

First published Tuesday 4th Feb 2003.

JO HAYWOOD talks to Easingwold author Joyce Thackeray about her childhood in East Africa and the brutal slaying of her beloved mother.

"Just when I thought the good life would go on forever, my husband was told he had a year to live."

JOHN Thackeray died in 1997. After 35 very happy years together, his wife, Joyce, was understandably devastated. Her friends and family provided valuable support, but it was an unusual source of solace that really began to draw her out of her grief - her computer.

She decided to write a personal account of her life and soon found tapping out her thoughts on her new computer was a therapeutic pastime.

"You can bare your soul," said Joyce, of Apple Garth, Easingwold, whose autobiography, The Woven Basket, has just been published. "It's like talking to someone; a someone who is completely detached, who just sits and listens and allows you to cry without passing judgement.

"The experience was warming, exhausting and therapeutic. It helped me restore some emotional balance in my life."

And what a life it has been. Born in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, her father Basil was a strapping Coldstream Guard who, at six feet five inches tall, towered over her diminutive four feet eleven inch mother Matty, a Maltese woman five years his senior.

"She spoke seven languages fluently," said Joyce, "was fashionable and chic, and when she wore her elegant high heels she could just about make five feet two."

The family moved to East Africa when she and her sister Joan were very young. Her father had secured a post as a senior colonial prison officer at Kingolwira, near Morogoro in the foothills of the Uluguru mountains in southern Tanganyika.

Twins Martin and Mary expanded the expat clan in 1948 - the same year that tragedy struck with devastating swiftness.

During the afternoon of October 14, the children were out enjoying a breath of fresh air with their Ayah (native nanny) when they heard angry, raised voices in the house.

Joyce, then five, ran into the kitchen and found Luke, their head servant, clutching his chest with blood pouring between his fingers. As he sunk to the floor dying, he managed to say that Joseph, a trusted prisoner allowed out to help with the gardening, had attacked him with a knife.

"His last words were for my mother," she said. "I ran towards the house and came face to face with Joseph, half naked and heavily bloodstained.

"I was unprepared for what I saw next. On the bedroom floor lay pools of blood, and in my eagerness to get to my mother's side I slipped and fell. Joan was at the top of the bed stroking Matty's hair."

Her mother had suffered severe face and throat lacerations. "Don't worry" were the last words she said to her girls before she died.

"It had not occurred to me at this point that she might die - mothers don't die," said Joyce. "I was sure my father would make her better when he came home."

The family returned to England for a while, but the lure of East Africa proved too strong and they set out on their travels again when Basil got a job at a new prison in Karanga.

Life in Tanganyika before it secured its independence was untamed and unpredictable, much like the children themselves, who were now being raised by their stepmother, Betty, along with their new brother, Peter.

"As children we were like the country we lived in, wild and free," said Joyce. "The loss of my mother was a traumatic experience in my young life, but the 1940s and 50s were generally wonderful.

"Growing up in the wild unknown, there was the freedom to travel and see wild game at close quarters before the advent of reserves and parks. My family grew up and experienced at first hand the warmth, culture and closeness of Africa's native people."

They also endured first-hand experiences with green mamba snakes, grunting warthogs, maniacal, laughing hyenas, and black centipedes which would fall dramatically into the bath after sneaking up the overflow pipe.

They saw many changes as Tanganyika struggled to gain its independence from the colonial power, changes that Joyce details in her book.

"My writing is not political, but it is interspersed with important political events," she said. "It is merely the story of a family growing up on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, where we had the opportunity to meet many fascinating people, from island governors to tribal chiefs.

"It was a wonderful life, but not altogether an easy time. The wildness of the place brought its tragedies and sorrows, and there was always that feeling of trespassing into the unknown."

Joyce met John, her husband-to-be, when she was 14 and he was assistant superintendent of police in Tanganyika. He rejoined the RAF and they married five years later in England, before spending the next 22 years at various flying stations around the world.

They eventually settled in North Yorkshire, where Joyce trained as a nurse in the Friarage Hospital at Northallerton, John became a tutor at the Civil Defence College at Easingwold and their three sons were educated at Ashville College in Harrogate.

John never returned to East Africa, but Joyce managed to make a nostalgic 11-day trip "home" with her brothers and sisters in 2000.

She was perturbed to see how human habitation had taken over and the wild animals had been pushed into reserves and parks. But some things never change.

"The sight of the snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro brought a lump to my throat," she said. "Perhaps there was not as much snow as I remember, but it was a magnificent and powerful sight nevertheless."

After such a childhood, service life, widowhood, the ups and downs of raising three boys and a successful foray into writing, what's next for Joyce?

"Funnily enough," she said. "I picture myself eventually looking out from some hotel balcony overlooking the great Rift Valley in Africa, watching the golden sunrise over the hill and uttering the words that Alice spoke in White Mischief, `Oh God, not another bloody beautiful day'."

Joyce Thackeray's autobiography, The Woven Basket, is published by Blackie & Co for £8.99. It is available at Borders in York, The White Rose bookshop in Thirsk, Northallerton Bookshop and Towlers in Easingwold.

Life in Tanganyika in The Fifties
Author: Godfrey Mwakikagile
Paperback: 418 pages
Publisher: New Africa Press (16 November 2009)
ISBN-10: 9987160123
ISBN-13: 9789987160129