Fireman in Africa - Chapter 2
From Great North Road
Sakabona Northern Rhodesia!
January 15th 1951. Livingstone: Until 15 years ago, the capital City.
Population: A tad over two thousand, or about the same as the entire European population of the whole country in 1916.
Altitude: A couple of feet short of 3000ft, which means that, theoretically, being a little higher than the river, it will be cooler up here, (it says ‘ere in the tourist guide).
Today, I was officially gazetted as being on the payroll as a government civil servant (Airport Fire Officer) and began my first tour of duty at Livingstone Airport. This had been built on the top of the highest hill near the town, and from the control tower one can see the spray of the Victoria Falls and catch glimpses of the river between the trees.
I should mention a little bit of history before finally letting go. Whilst keeping a listening watch up near Kandahar Island I would occasionally see a line of elephants crossing the river a bit further upstream. When I later explored by dinghy and on foot I came across the old drift, the original crossing used by David Livingstone which would, of course, have been the original route for the Great North Road before the road/rail bridge was built across the gorge. There were a few marked graves where early pioneers who had died on the journey were buried and a plaque that reads,
This is the site of the first European settlement (1898) near the Victoria Falls and was formerly a site of the village of the Toka Chief SEKUTI under whose guidance David Livingstone first viewed the Falls. Until the arrival of the railway in 1905 it was the gateway to the North and all supplies were ferried across the river to this point.
To put this into some sort of perspective, it records a time and place exactly 50 years before I went there, and I am now writing of that latter event almost exactly 60 years later.
My first house on the airport was a standard 2 bedroom bungalow, of timber construction, with a tin roof that keeps you awake when it rains, an outside kitchen and an outside ‘thunderbox’ loo. This had been standing empty for several months. There was a big tree overhanging the veranda, which was nice and shady, but it harboured a large number of boomslangs and these had to go.
I had made friends with the airport immigration officer, in those days an Inspector of the Northern Rhodesian Police, who brought along a shot gun and with a few blasts the neighbours took off for pastures new. In due course PWD cut the tree down to ensure their non return. The inspector and I also bought a second hand 1937 Ford Prefect car between us for £100.
So now, with a permanent job with ‘prospects’, a house and half a car, I could set about plighting my troth with better effect. We married 18 months later, June 1952, with the policeman friend, Frank Martin, as my best man. He went on, I believe, to become the police Commissioner in St Helena in later years. I eventually bought out his half of the car, and Marjorie used it to drive to work each day down at the Government Stores.
The wedding took place at St Andrews Church in Livingstone with the reception at the Fairmount Hotel and it seemed as though half the town came out to join us. Harry and Bella Sossens, a well known couple in local theatrical and music circles came along with their musicians to provide music to dance to. Looking back, I think we must be one of the few couples to turn down the opportunity of a honeymoon at the Victoria Falls Hotel, but this was because it was right on our doorstep, and in my case had recently been my local pub. We went down to the Matopos Hills instead after a fairly typical rowdy send off from the railway station at Livingstone.
People familiar with the railway layout in the area will recall how the train would take a slow, circuitous route once over the falls bridge, to take account of the steep gradient up to the Victoria Falls station. This gave time for our send off party at Livingstone to drive over and be waiting for us as we pulled into the Victoria Falls station to have to go through it all over again.
However, all that is still ahead of us. For the moment, back to the Airport. The recently constructed one at Livingstone was the most modern in Northern Rhodesia and indeed, better than many in Africa. Up until now, air travel internally had been limited by the facilities available and most runways were too short, unpaved, unlit and quite unable to cope with the landing weights of the then current intercontinental aircraft. In those days these were mostly civilianised versions of wartime aircraft, such as the Handley Page ‘Hastings’ becoming the ‘Hermes’. Day time long haul flights, i.e. intercontinental ones, were usually made in short haul aircraft making short haul hops from country to country, a bit like the flying boat service but nowhere near as luxurious. Central African Airways operated a service in those days using the Vickers Viking, but most of the worlds’ airlines seemed to use the Douglas Dakota, or DC3, known affectionately throughout the services as the Gooney Bird. I believe there were more of these built than of any other aircraft type before or since. They have an excellent safety record, and can land and take off from short grass or gravel runways, these were also widely used by Central African Airways as they could get in and out of most of the airfields within a days flying of any of the major centres in the Rhodesias. Because of its safety and versatility, it is still in use in some of the remote parts of the world.
One little known fact about this remarkable aircraft is that it is the only one that has ever been recorded to fly backwards. This occurred during a flight across a mountain range in America. The pilots noticed that their visual reference point of the mountain peak in relation to their wingtip was going the wrong way. They were flying through a gorge at the time because of height restrictions, and the wind funnelling down the gorge was obviously faster than the aircraft speed over the ground, but going the opposite way.
Among the new aircraft now able to come to us was the Lockheed Constellation, surely one of the prettiest of the time with its curvy streamlined shape. It also had a feature, unique in our experience, of being able to reverse the pitch of its propellers when on the ground, and whilst still under power, which enabled it to reverse into its parking bay. This was demonstrated on the occasion of its very first visit when, in honour of the occasion, Ted Salmon, the first Airport Manager, personally marshalled it into its appointed slot on the parking apron, using a pair of marshalling bats. Poor Ted was caught unawares, lost his hat and was nearly blown off his feet by the sudden slipstream as the aircraft reversed into position.
Ted also came in for a bit of stick later on when Time Magazine published a tongue in cheek article on the proposal to erect an electrified fence around the airport to keep wild animals out. Wildlife was always a risk as there was no way to anticipate or control their movements. A particular nuisance at the time, and which led to the story of electric fences, was a troop of baboons that spent many an evening trying to rip out the flare path lights which were of course, buried in concrete. The electric cable connecting them were not so protected and so before each night landing, the fire crew would drive up and down the runway in a jeep making a hullabaloo with flashing lights and sirens. The baboons soon cottoned on to this and would retreat to the side of the airfield, where from the safety of the undergrowth they would watch the evening entertainment but stopped short of ever actually applauding us. When we left they came back again and so we had to take sterner measures.
We had observed that their antics did not start until the runway lights were actually switched on, and so we would park a jeep near to the scene of operations, and as soon as the lights came on and the evening performance kicked in we would fire off in rapid succession a number of Verys cartridges, a bit like a big firework fired from a special pistol. This rapidly cleared the area of baboons but caused as many grass fires to start as we fired shots, so the fire crews were kept busy either way.
There were also buck, of several varieties, which kept some people in fresh meat, an occasional elephant or two, and always, always snakes, mostly Puff Adders. Another name for Livingstone Airport became ‘Puff Adder Ridge’.
Some of the people of the time I can just remember. At the top of the pile, so to speak, would be our Boss, the Director of Civil Aviation in Northern Rhodesia, Lt Col Muspratt-Williams. He was based in Lusaka and when he came to visit us, he flew himself in a light twin engined aircraft. Some people said of him that he navigated this route by lining up the Chilanga Cement Works factory chimneys (after climbing out of Lusaka City Airport) with the grain silos at Mazabuka and then aimed at the spray from the Victoria Falls. Others, less kind, claimed that he always followed the (one and only) railway line which explained why he only flew in daylight.
There must be some sort of affiliation between army officers and aviation because the Director of Civil Aviation in Southern Rhodesia, who we now worked for, was also an ex soldier, Col Barber. I believe it was a son of his who, in May of 2007 was the first blind pilot to fly a micro light aircraft from the UK to Australia.
The fire service contingent here was a bit larger than my little Jungle Junction Fire Department down on the river. For a start, we had two crews of eight firemen in each. Each crew, or ‘watch’ had a station officer, these being myself and Harry Balsdon, an ex London fireman. The head of this little outfit, or Chief Fire Officer, was George Bennison, OBE. He had been a pre war London Fire Brigade superintendent and was a senior officer in the National fire service during the war, serving at one period as the Commandant of the Fire Officers Training College at Saltdean, Sussex, now reverted to its former role as a rather posh girls’ school. He was responsible for the rescue/fire services at all government aerodromes in Northern Rhodesia and so did not run a watch as duty officer, this being done by Harry and me. Soon after I arrived, George, because of his wide experience in such matters, was given the task by the Colonial Office of assessing the ‘civilian’ fire service needs of the whole country, and so he was away travelling for that survey for several months.
As mentioned earlier, there were no professional fire services at that time, apart from Livingstone which had only recently been formed, and George was required to visit every town to assess their particular needs. The outcome of this, the ‘Bennison Report’ is the basis on which the provision of today’s emergency services throughout the country was built. Prior to that provision, the only purpose built fire fighting vehicles in the country were the comparatively recently acquired airport crash tenders at Livingstone, Lusaka and Ndola airports.
There was often a deep sense of frustration in that we were unable to respond, (or very rarely) to calls for help when a fire occurred in the local towns. The availability of emergency services at an airport was an obligation under international agreements. If at any time it was not possible to provide full fire cover at any airport, for whatever reason, an International signal, or NOTAM (notice to all airmen) had to be radioed immediately so that any inbound aircraft were made aware of this and would over fly to an alternative destination where full protection was available.
Understandably, these occasions were viewed rather seriously by the airlines, who in turn were prompted by their insurers, not to mention our own Civil Aviation authority, all of whom would be called to account in the event of a serous accident were it to be shown that the airport fire service had left the airport to help put out someone’s chimney fire, get the cat down from a tree or get some kids head out of the park railings.
There were a couple of occasions though when we bent the rule, as described a bit further on.
The vehicles – ‘fire appliances’ in the jargon – available to us at the time at Livingstone were two Crash tenders based on new Commer commercial chassis, another one was built on a wartime Austin six wheeled chassis, formerly used to lug trolleys of bombs around airfields, an elderly American Dodge water tender and a Willys Jeep light rescue tender.
This last was the personal transport of the duty fire officer. Wherever he went, the jeep went too. This carried an assortment of fire/rescue/first aid equipment, a two way radio with enormous lead-acid batteries and, of all things, an all enveloping asbestos suit. These suits were mostly used in places like oil refineries where it may be necessary for a fireman to enter a flame area to close down a pipeline valve etc, but at an air crash fire? Apart from the time it took to get into the thing, if the fire was that intense to make wearing it necessary, there was not going to be much left for him to find and bring out. There was also a very strong risk of a serious scald if the asbestos got wet, which is bound to happen at a fire. The gloves came in handy though when opening doors with very hot handles, or at a braai.
One of the main differences between a municipal fire appliance and an airport crash tender is due to the two different needs. In general, it is the use of water as an extinguishing agent that decides this. Within a municipal area water is piped under pressure through a system of underground pipes inserted into which are hydrants, or controllable outlets, that the fire service can tap into. The amount of water carried by the municipal machine is, therefore, small. On the light machines such as in Livingstone, this would probably be in the order of 30 gallons to allow for an immediate attack on the fire whilst the crew were connecting to the main supply – where there was one!
Airfields, however, had no such supplies in those parts of the airfield where accidents were likeliest to happen, i.e. the ground at both ends of the landing area, and you had to carry as much as possible on the vehicle. The usual load was 500 gallons of water. In addition would be carried a further liquid payload of 100 or more gallons of a foam making liquid concentrate which, when introduced in the water stream, produced large volumes of a soapy looking foam substance that was used to quell petrol fires, one of the principal risks with aircraft. (Down on the river in my fireboat I could pump Zambezi water until the river ran dry, or until the engine wore out.)
These heavy loads meant the need for heavy duty chassis and powerful engines, plus multi wheel drive vehicles as most of the running would be off road, or bundu bashing. What with all the other specialist equipment that had to be carried, the compromise with the commercial vehicles then available meant that accelerating up to speed was not our strongest point, unlike the elephant. With all that liquid on board though, cornering and stopping could send the pulse rate up a bit. However, since by definition an airfield is mostly level ground, once we got going and built up speed we could keep it up, with one notable exception.
That occurred on one of the rare occasions when we were able to respond to a request for assistance. A serious fire had broken out at the Zambezi Saw Mills, just out of the town, and one of its principal industries, and was spreading through the stock piles of timber. The small town appliance was struggling a bit to get water on to the fire. We took the Austin Crash tender because, unlike the Commer appliances, it had the advantage of a separate heavy duty fire pump driven by its own 6 cylinder engine. As an emergency vehicle it was very underpowered with regard to speed, but as long as we arrived, we could provide help with boosting water supplies to the town appliance.
People familiar with the airport road will remember the fairly steep hill down a valley soon after leaving the airport. With the advantage of this downhill slope and a following wind, we hit the bottom at a speed above any we had seen it reach before, but slowed right down as we climbed the other side of the valley. Here we suffered an event that still makes me blush. As we climbed the hill, with me driving and the engine screaming away in low gear and Harry banging away on the bell, for the one and only time in my eventual 30 plus years in the Fire Service, we were overtaken on the way to a fire by a bloke on a push bike!
I bet the cyclist dined out on that story for weeks. This is the first time I’ve mentioned it since it happened.
In the meantime, behind the scenes, The Bennison report was being implemented with the appointment of Vic Love, a former Divisional Fire Officer with the Kent Fire Brigade who came out to fill the first appointment as Government Fire Advisor. He was eventually replaced by Fred Kemp, also from the Kent Brigade I believe, and he was still in post when I eventually left some twenty four years ahead. Vin Lourie came out to start up Ndola, Jim Cregeen and Reg Bolton, both former members of the London Brigade came out to start up Lusaka, and ‘Ruddy’ Rudram, in Livingstone recruited Sam Liversage from the Jo’burg Brigade as his deputy. Sam and I became close friends and a few years later he came to join me as an Airport Fire Officer at Lusaka. To replace George, who was totally committed to getting the local authorities going, we had Cory Kreissel as our third Watch keeping officer and he was another ex Jo’burg hand.
I cannot recall the name of the Chief Officer at Kitwe but I have a piece of 8 mm film I took of him at a State house ceremony when he was presented by Kenneth Kaunda with a medal for bravery following a major fire at the Kitwe oil refinery. On the same film is the lady who designed the Zambian Stamps receiving an award.
Although this article started out as ‘A visiting Fireman in Africa’, it is not intended to be a record of the day today activities of the service, but rather a history of how it started and developed. Every emergency service throughout the world has a catalogue of the situations and events that people can get into ranging from the tragic through the bizarre to the comic. I will try to avoid that route but will touch on two fatal incidents at Livingstone that I have cause to remember because I knew the people involved.
The first was the crash of a flying club aircraft in heavily wooded country close to the airport. The pilot was sadly killed on impact and his pupil was injured. There was no post impact fire and so it took a little while before we found the wreckage. The pupil was ‘Timber’ Woods, the Central African airways Traffic Manager at Livingstone, a very likeable chap who will be remembered for his party trick of drinking a pint of beer – if you bought it - whilst he stood on his head in the airport bar. I believe he made a recovery from his injuries which were quite severe.
The second was the crash of an RAF Chipmunk trainer which had been part of an air display put on by the RAF that day. After the events were over, the pilot offered to take up for a flight a former colleague of his who was now working on the airport as a civilian air-traffic controller. The aircraft crashed and caught fire on take off and although we were on scene very quickly and dealt with the fire, sadly both were killed on impact.
The feelings aroused after dealing with any incident are made more difficult when you know the people involved. Also, whereas the other emergency services usually attend an accident after the event, the airport fireman will often have to watch it happen.
Off now to something more light hearted. The largest aircraft to suffer an accident at Livingstone during my time there was an Avro Tudor. At the time it was said to be the largest Civil Airliner operating out our way. The former British South American Airways used to operate these between the UK and South America. Those with long memories will recall how two of them, named Star Tiger and Star Ariel disappeared without trace whilst en- route. Because of its long cigar shaped fuselage and polished aluminium finish, as opposed to the coloured paint jobs used by many airlines, the Americans referred to it as the ‘Aloominum Toob’.
When our one ‘crunched’ in, after suffering a collapsed undercarriage on one side whilst landing, there were no casualties or fire involved but it did close the airfield for a very long time because its sheer size and weight made it difficult to move. One of the ground engineers was heard muttering about sticks of dynamite and a couple of big brooms, but fortunately, with the help of several tractors and a couple of bulldozers, it was dragged clear of the runway, permitting limited flying operations to resume.
Eventually, a trench was dug under the wing with the collapsed undercarriage, the wheel lowered into the trench and locked in the down position, the wing gradually jacked up and the trench progressively filled in under the wheel until it was back on level ground and could be towed to a maintenance area.
It was about six months before it was airworthy again as, apart from airframe repairs, the engines on the ‘dropped’ side had to be stripped down and rebuilt.
This aircraft used the same engines, the famous Rolls Royce Merlin, as the Spitfire and Hurricane fighter planes and the Avro York and Lancaster bombers. We had a visit around that time by a York, now a civilian work horse designed to carry heavy loads, when it delivered ground engineering equipment for the BOAC Base being established at Livingstone. This one was reputedly the aircraft used exclusively by General Jannie Smuts, the South African War time leader. For several months also we had an RAF squadron of Lancasters stationed on the airfield whilst they carried out a country wide photographic survey of Northern Rhodesia.
The distinctive Merlin roar was to be a part of the background sound for several months, especially the ‘Dawn Chorus’ at some unearthly hour when daily ‘run-up’ pre-flight checks were made by the ground engineers prior to the days operations. These involved running the engines at full take off power and then switching off alternately the twin magnetos fitted to each engine to see if any loss of revolutions was within prescribed limits when running on one magneto. If there was a ‘mag drop’ it could produce some fairly spectacular backfiring, and since the checks were conducted on the apron immediately in front if the Hangar, which acted as a giant echo chamber, anyone living close by, as I did, was treated to the benefits of a full surround, stereophonic sound system long before the music industry discovered it.
Another famous aircraft of the time was the Comet, the world’s first jet engined commercial passenger craft. Sadly their time was short lived, and who amongst those present will ever forget that awful feeling that came over the whole airfield where we were expecting its arrival, when news filtered through of the disasters. The accidents to these two aircraft, in quick succession, led to the most thorough, extensive and expensive accident investigation ever undertaken up to then.
Yet another aircraft from the De-Havilland stable made us a visit that was in its own way unique. During the recent war, the RAF had set up Empire Flying Training Schools in parts of the world where the average climate was more conducive to training pilots than the cloudy foggy skies over the UK, (which also carried the additional risks for trainee pilots of meeting a flight of German air aces up there). There were a couple of these schools in Southern Rhodesia, as well as Canada, and many pilots will remember their training days there.
The machine mainly used was the famed DH Tiger Moth, a dream of a machine for schoolboy aero modellers, many of whom, like me, would have spent hours gluing fragile Balsa wood strips together before covering the whole thing with (always) bright yellow tissue paper and steaming it tight over a kettle in the kitchen. Mine was pinned to the ceiling over my bed.
When these schools were closed, everything on them was put up for sale at mostly knock down prices. The Flying Club of Kenya, based in Nairobi, bought several Tiger Moths at a reputed cost of £25 each, together with a mass of spares which accompanied the flight of Moths up north in a Gooney Bird. They stopped off at Livingstone for refuelling and a rest, and anyone with an eye for Flying machines could drool over this once in a lifetime sight of - I think it was - twelve Tiger Moths, sitting quietly on our tarmac, all in their bright yellow colouring.
One other unusual feature of the Airport buildings should be mentioned. This was a fully equipped and furnished bungalow designated as a Quarantine Block, great care having been taken to ensure mosquitoes could not get in or out. The intended use was to compulsorily accommodate anyone arriving from Mongu, who could not produce evidence to the airport Health Officer, by way of a certificate, to show they had been inoculated against Yellow Fever. In those days, yellow fever was endemic in parts of Barotesland and no one wanted it to spread.
The underlying principle was not so much to isolate the person from the outside world as it was to prevent our Livingstone mosquitoes getting a bite at them and so spreading the disease amongst the local mosquito population. I don’t think it was ever used, and, thankfully, the Yellow fever designation was soon lifted from the area. Folk arriving from Mongu on the small Beaver aircraft already had enough to put up with as they were kept in the closed aircraft for several minutes after arriving here, and after the Health Officer had sprayed a heavy anti-everything disinfectant into the planes’ interior. If some poor soul had been suffering from air sickness and dying to get to the loo as soon as they were on the ground, this was sometimes the final straw.
On the subject of insects, who can fail to recognise the Stink Bug after their first acquaintance? My first meeting with these little horrors was one warm evening on the main street when we were walking down from the Fairmount to the bioscope. These bugs, like moths, seemed to be attracted to the light, so each street light, shop window etc had a swarm flying around. That was not the problem. As long as they were in ‘flight phase’ they seem to keep themselves to themselves. It was when they fell to the ground that you learned how the name arose. Every passing car, every footstep, squashed hundreds and it was then that they released this most pungent, acrid smell. You just had to get away from it. There was no point going to the bioscope any more as the bugs had already been in there and people were streaming out with handkerchiefs over their noses. I don’t think I ever came across them any where else in Africa, although I suppose they must be out there somewhere.
Being as we are in the main street for the moment, I try to recall faces and names over a 60 year gap. I remember Alec Slutzkin, a large genial man, who owned a store on the corner called, I think, Aufochs, and who, if I remember rightly stood for local office; Eve Banner at the opposite end of main street who had the town hairdressing shop and lost a pet dog to a crocodile, and Harry Rhynas who had a Hotel at the other end of town. Another ‘character’ of that time was a Mrs Wickwar who, I believe, had a newsagent’s store. She was a very small, quite elderly lady who drove a rather large elderly car. She had cushions on her seat to enable her to see over the dashboard, but from the outside, all you could see of her was a cloche hat, rather like an upside down basin, and a pair of eyes peering out from under. She was a bit of a law unto herself on the road with a tendency to do things her way. I don’t think she ever had an accident, mainly because other motorists knew and recognised her car and got out of the way.
Having started this reminiscing I have no doubt I shall remember some more once I have gone to bed. And then forget them when I get up!
Life rolled smoothly along for me and mine: there were moments of the odd adrenalin rush at work, and lots of peace and tranquillity at home. When we married, we were housed in a different bungalow, which had been built for the RAF doing the survey, and who had by then gone home. It was identical to the one I had under the snake tree, but in better condition. A couple of years on, with the birth of our first son due, we were re-housed in a ‘Kimberly Brick under thatch’. It may not sound very grand but to us it was heaven. We had an inside bathroom with a flush toilet, a fireplace to light log fires in the winter and a large garden.
The advantage of living under thatch became immediately apparent. In the hot weather in the old house, the tin roof turned the whole house into an oven and in the rainy season the noise could drown out the radio. Now we could sleep in the cool and quiet.
Before the first week was out in the new house, I got stung by a scorpion whilst in bed. As a precaution, as did everybody there, we always checked our beds before getting in and paid particular attention to tucking in the bottom of the mosquito net so that it did not hang down on the floor. This one must have hidden, because I awoke with a pain like someone holding a lit cigarette against me and not letting go. After leaping around for a bit, I settled my behind, the part affected, in the bathroom washbasin, eventually applying a wet dressing of Condies crystals. I donnered the scorpion - several times - and flushed the bits down our new toilet.
The following day I went to see Dr Dunn, the Government medic at the hospital, who, in that jovial way they have, assured me that I had done ‘absolutely all the right things old chap’. I was not dead and the pain would soon go away. He was right of course but for weeks I carried a scar from the chemical caustic burn which made sitting down uncomfortable.
Soon we were approaching the end of our first tour of duty. In those days, as Colonial Civil Servants we were required to take ‘home leave’ of six months after completing three years. Because my son was borne in the February, when I should have already been on leave, I had an extension of a few months which meant we would be in England for the late spring and summer. It seemed strange to be packing up to go so soon after we had settled in. Unlike later years, when you just packed a suitcase and got on an aeroplane, back then you had to vacate your house, put heavy possessions into store for six months, take a three or four day train journey down to Cape Town, and then take the Union Castle Mail ship to Southampton, a fourteen day voyage. At the end of your leave, you did all this in reverse.
Marjorie had never been to sea before, much less been abroad, and, I suppose like most couples in this situation, I dearly wanted her to like the places I liked. Unfortunately, we arrived at Southampton during a dock strike and so we had to manhandle our luggage, including a folding pram, a baby basket, suitcases for a 6 month stay, and the baby, off the ship across the quay and on to a train. All in a typical English spring rain I had never thought about it before, but now could not help but notice, the railway from Southampton to London seems to have been routed at the start and finish through some of the unloveliest real estate one could find. It was always the backs of shops, tenements and factories etc. that were seen from the train, and the most rundown looking ones at that. The bits in between were pleasant enough when they could be seen through intermittent rain and steamy windows. As for the track, there was rubbish and paper festooning fences, trees and the track itself.
I think the modern way of arriving by air has a lot going for it if you are hoping to impress someone with the delights of the UK.
We had rented a cottage in Kent for the six months during what was to be described as ‘the wettest summer in living memory’. As everyone did, in those days, to take advantage of the tax duty arrangements we had ordered a new car which we collected soon after arriving. This was a Vauxhall Velox, a six cylinder engined car that was one of the early ‘Americanised’ cars following the purchase of Vauxhall Motors by General Motors. This had a front bench seat, and steering column gear shift. It had exceptionally high ground clearance and in fact I often took the car into places where Landrovers were getting into difficulty. It cost £560, and I eventually sold it on after it had done well over 100,000 miles, with all servicing and repairs done at home.
I often refer to that car when I hear people complaining over the ever increasing cost of buying things. ‘Keep things in perspective’, (I can hear my old mums voice saying), everything is relative, and she would know, because that was the title of one of those little framed motto things she had hanging up on the wall which said, ‘An earth worm would prefer digging the garden to going fishing’. In this context, my car cost me the equivalent of one year’s salary. At that time a house would cost about three years pay. Nowadays a new car costs less than the average year’s salary, so in real terms the cost has gone down.
On the other hand, because of the pressures of increasing population and the shortage of building land, the cost of housing has multiplied out of proportion. So she was only half right.
Eventually, we returned to Africa and motored up to Livingstone, a journey which was an adventure in its own right. However, we would not be staying there. Towards the end of my leave I had been told that I was to report to Lusaka Airport as Senior Fire Officer, and I learned that, because of Federation, I now had a new boss based in Southern Rhodesia.
So once again we pack and move, but still within Northern Rhodesia. We said our fond farewells at Livingstone in almost the same breath as we had said our fond hellos and head north for the Capital City and life under the Federation and beyond. See you there in Chapter three.
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