Benjamin Coller RAF 1942 War Diary

 

Background

Aircraftman Benjamin Thomas Coller was born on the 14th January 1907 in Bristol England. He married Kathleen (Kay) Sylvia Case on the 1st June 1937. His best friend was called Dennis.

The diary starts in Liverpool in April 1942 with the author aged 35 boarding a troopship headed for Africa and ultimately Lake Victoria where he was servicing Catalina flying boats as an RAF mechanic for 209 Squadron.

What is striking in this diary though is the racial prejudice towards “natives” prevalent at this time… Shocking you may say, but real nonetheless. Make your own mind up.

He survived the war eventually passing away in March 1993 aged 86. He was survived by Kay who herself passed away in December 2004 aged 94.

Diary Extract

Liverpool Docks S.S. Duchess of Bedford

On Monday April 13th 1942, we travelled from Blackpool by train to Liverpool docks, where we boarded the S.S. Duchess of Bedford at 12.45pm, having been taken from the station in closed lorries.

We were taken four decks down, namely “D” deck, which was very close and stuffy & seemed to be part of the original hold, as the stored meat was in close proximity & stank abominably.

Built in tables had been erected with fixed planks for seats & held at a crush 18 men allotted to it. There were seven of these in a space of 30ft. by 15ft. and we had no means of storing our vast amount of kit, except in racks 9 inches from the ceiling where you had to bend two double with your head laying flush to put things in or out. Everyone’s kit got mixed up together & therefore everyone was losing things & “whipping” someone else’s.

At night you rushed for your hammock from a pile and hung them on hooks over the aforesaid tables head to feet & with no room whatsoever between.   It took you all your ability to undress, with of course nowhere to put your clothes except in the hammock with you and the struggle of 126 airmen rushing for hooks, so as not to be forced to sleep on the floor was more than a herculean endeavour especially to those who were late off the mark.

The rising in the morning presented the same difficulties (if not worse) & you balanced with one foot on 2 inches of clear space, while the ship rolled & pitched. When creeping or at least stooping very low, you tried to evade the swinging hammocks & the bodies on the floor, to the stairs, whence you climbed precariously to the aft promenade deck, on which was erected on one side a “troops washhouse”, bowls swinging on an axis with a catch.

On each side of the washhouse, with just room for each to stand up straight, but not to bend simultaneously, to swill your face, but this in no way mattered because as fresh water was restricted to one hour twice a day& as there were at least four thousand troops aboard, the queue was always so long that hopes of getting through in the hour seemed very remote.

Hence I at least went wash-less in the mornings except on very few occasions. I made a great effort to wash and shave at night by standing in a queue long before the water was due to be turned on and even then as the clock kept moving backwards and forwards as we travelled from late spring into winter across the equator, it was more often than not too dark to see to shave, so you performed by trial & error or sense of feel.

Even then, in the space between the participants of both bowls, was an anxiously waiting airman who pounced on the bowl every time you reached for your towel, which incidentally you held between your knees with your other toilet accessories in great danger of being “whipped” when your eyes were shut.

All this was accompanied by shouts of “get a move on” or similar remarks, with a mixture of obscene & foul language & a great pushing of contestants to & fro in the struggle for cleanliness.

On the other side of the deck was a similar construction labelled “troops latrine” & consisted of a continuous plank with the necessary apertures over a drainage way sometimes flushed with sea water & to which you perched yourself in the row, like budgerigars on a perch, by means of a lower continuous plank, which formed a resting place for your feet whilst attending to nature’s call.

Facing you & too close to be comfortable was another drain which was in constant use, whilst you soliloquised upon your seat. After the first few days, no paper was available & added difficulties were thrust upon us.

After this started the queues of the day. Breakfast at 7.30am meant that the hungry and eager fellows were in formation on stairs & walks as early as 6.30am, this queue extended to the aft prom deck and around the hatch culminating in a large mob around the inlet door where, on the queue moving, each and everyone tried to avoid the long wait & dip into the queue, amidst yells and howls from those behind.

Upon reaching the mess door, which had been the 3rd class dining room in peace time, you produced a card previously given to us & marked “first sitting”, as there were three sittings, breakfast went well on in the morning & the 1st dinner queue was not many minutes behind the last breakfast. Upon reaching the mess you made your way to the kitchen, which was stifling hot even in the North Atlantic & a perfect “Hades” in the tropics, & collected your breakfast.

The food was terrible & repugnant in most cases. At first the rolls of white bread were the only things you could eat & enjoy & then even these as the journey carried on into weeks developed through the stored flour, a crop of large white maggots with black heads & this continued despite all complaints, as of course the maggots developed in the heat of cooking & was alive when you received it.

At one meal while at port in Freetown West Africa, we were given some meat of indistinct “nationality” & which was decidedly unfit for human consumption. This seemed to be a breaking point & we staged a sit down refusing to eat it, or move, until something was done. In fact it seemed likely to develop into a mutiny of the first order, as even officers of high rank were pelted with the bread rolls, when they said nothing could be done.

The reason chiefly for this was the knowledge that the officers were having very good food, even to egg & bacon, turkey, duck, grapefruit and ices, this the orderlies who served them could tell us and which was thrown back in the officers faces at that meal time. Also sundry menu cards collected through the same source were produced to prove the fact. Eventually we were given extra rolls and marmalade, but even then things did not subside by any means, although we were promised a good dinner, which needless to say, never materialised.

It was nearly half past ten before we came out & we had been in the queue at 6.45am. I had sweated & sweated until my shirt was wet through and I was completely “browned off”. Afterwards we heard that the Captain of the ship had wanted the hoses turned on us, but had been prevailed upon by the officers, who I honestly think had been very surprised.

Anyway, after this description I will go back to the beginning & how on Wednesday, April 15th we sailed off from Liverpool & travelled in convoy with such ships as “Cape Town Castle”, “Reina del Pacifico”, “Empress of Japan”, “Highland Princess”, “Dempo” & lots more with suitable naval escort sailing up the St. George’s channel, past Scotland & turning due West after nearly reaching Iceland, continuing across the N. Atlantic for three days during which we put the clock back 1 hour every night, until we turned due South. For days we sailed in this direction with the weather getting warmer and warmer. Then one day April 23rd we were ordered to put away our “blue” & don our tropical kit with topees.

Freetown Harbour West Africa

Then on Wednesday morning the 29th April exactly two weeks from leaving Liverpool we sighted the coast of Africa & at 12.30pm the whole convoy anchored in Freetown harbour, Sierra Leone, West Africa where immediately the natives, practically blue black in colour rowed out to us, in small canoes of flimsy construction & dived continuously for pennies thrown from the ship by the troops.

Some of these were stark naked & entirely unabashed & they resorted to suggestive actions and filthy language (learnt no doubt from proceeding English travellers) to cause a laugh & subsequent throwing of coppers. After a while they demanded “tanners” silver ones & not Glasgow tanners & would not dive.

Whilst here, others also came with fruit which we were forbidden to buy, due to prevalent diseases, rife amongst the population. We were afterwards told that one in three either had V.D., leprosy, typhus etc.

We were not allowed ashore & at first we had orders to remain below decks from tea onwards due to the mosquito & resultant malaria. Anyway the same day this was cancelled & we were allowed on deck until 10pm if we wore our long khaki slacks & covered ourselves in mosquito ointment which was provided.

This was quite a pleasure as previously we were not allowed to smoke after black out, because of enemy action & this varied between 6pm & 7.30pm. Incidentally the only cigarettes available was an awful Rhodesian cigarette called C to C (or Cape to Cairo) an awful cigarette which in the end we had to smoke although after a week or so we were provided with 20 Ardath a week for 6d. It appears the ship had stocks of English cigs aboard but as the C to C was a gift from the Cape Town firm they made more profit selling them at 1/3- for 50.

Freetown was only under a partial blackout & the lights from the nearby shore & the lighted ships at anchor with all port holes open gave us a glorious reminder of peace time. The full moon as well made things quite pleasant for a few hours.

On Sunday May 3rd at 10.30am we drew anchor & sailed through the minefield into open water & continued our journey to an unknown destination. As I mentioned before, breakfast started our daily routine of queuing, as after breakfast you stood in the queue for the latrine followed by half an hour’s boat drill (stood to attention), standing alternately on one foot and then the other, due to the roll of the ship.

You then rushed with thousands more to the canteen which sold lemonade at 5 ½ d a bottle, 2d retuned if you felt inclined to go round the queue again with the empty bottle. Sample biscuits plainly marked “sample” & tasting fusty of being kept in a ships hold for months, these cost 3d a packet and held 6 biscuits. Cigarettes, one sort only, C to C an awful blend of Rhodesian costing 1/3- for 50. Sweets sometimes & chocolate of S. African manufacture.

After a few weeks, tea was introduced at 1 ½ d a cup & this proved so popular that queuing started immediately after dinner at 1.45pm for opening of afternoon canteen at 4pm. This was due to the limited supply which most exasperatingly ran out three ahead of you after waiting an hour & a half or more.

After the “mutiny” which had happened at Freetown, a messing committee had been formed, which met the messing officers at 11am daily, & to which all complaints were given & subsequently divulged to higher authorities. This in reality was to stop a repetition of the former affair as except for one thing no betterment of food or conditions resulted.

This improvement was the issue of “Carr’s” English biscuits at the canteen, of much better quality & larger packets for 2d instead of 3d. Even this was preceded by a notice to the effect that all 3d packets of biscuits had been sold out & from that date only 2d packets would be available, this despite the knowledge that the night previously the bins were piled high with these inferior things.

On fine days you could not without great difficulty, find anywhere to sit on deck, as even the rails (used as leaning posts) & the decks themselves were full with sitting & recumbent figures, with just a space here and there to gingerly pick your way from one place to another, unavoidably stepping on someone’s toe in the process.

On cold or wet days, the decks below were crammed to overflowing & you sweated abominably seated (if possible) as close as the proverbial sardine in a tin. Sea water was used for baths and showers, but this left you very sticky & not even clean as the soap would in no way lather although after a while we could obtain sea water soap at the canteen which was certainly a little better.

Continued a month later.

On the night of May 4th we crossed the equator & again began the same boring time as we had experienced. On one particular day in the late afternoon the date of which I have forgotten, a cruiser which was sailing on our left or port struck a mine, we later heard that 30 men had been killed although the ship was saved & towed into a port.

Except for the appearance one day of a hostile plane which did not attack us, this was the only enemy action we witnessed on our stay on the “Duchess of Bedford”. I was between decks at the time of the explosion, which made our own 20,000 tonnes shudder & we rushed on deck to see the aforesaid cruiser belching smoke & flames amidships.

Soon after, the ensigns were flying at half mast, in respect of the causalities. On May 11th we changed again from tropical kit into service blue, although except for the sea breeze the weather was still very hot.

English money changed to South African on board May 17th 1942.

Durban, Clairwood Camp South Africa

Then early on the morning of May 18th, a fortnight from Freetown & a month from England, we sighted land once more & at 12 o’clock am we were in the bay at Durban, South Africa. It looked a very pleasant place from the ship & later we found how true our impressions were. The same evening, sailors & our own fellows found one of the hold doors open & promptly they raided the stores including grapefruits, chocolate, jam & many other things, all of which we had never seen let alone tasted.

Eventually, as was bound to happen, the authorities heard of the raising parties & an officer came down & locked the door of the hold on those unfortunates still down there. These were later given 14 days “jankers” & a sum of £3 odd each for the value of the property stolen & damaged was stopped from their pay.

At 10pm the same day, after watching the army disembark & the goings on of the native boys on the quay, we had orders to put on packs and kit bags & disembark on to the quay. At 11.50pm we got into a train on the dock side, a typical native one at that, consisting of wooden seats with wooden backs & most uncomfortable, we were taken 8 miles from Durban to a camp called Clairwood consisting of hundreds of tents with rows of electric light standards all ablaze.

There after much to-do & the usual inefficiency we at last got a tent between 8 of us, but no blankets. At 2am we turned up in hundreds for a meal but by the time I got in we had some scraps of bread butter with half a mug of tea certainly not worth the fighting or wasted time. I think we got into our tent lying fully dressed on our ground sheets at 4am.

At 6am we were up again shrammed to the marrow & neither of us having had a wink of sleep, in fact at 5am I myself took a walk around the tents to get myself warm (the lights were still on). At 6.30 the sun rose & by 7am it was simply scorching.

We again stood in a long queue for a breakfast which proved quite good, after our weeks of uneatable stuff. Then at 1.30pm we were provided with passes to proceed out of camp. These had to be signed & there was a frantic dash for the orderly room & the resultant long queue. After a while we walked out of camp to the station & there were thousands cramming the road & the very long platform of the station.

In turn we were bunged into trains, one of which pulled in as soon as the last had started off. No money or tickets were given & we found later you obtained your ticket at Durban on your return. All the trains were packed, goods vans & all, & as you got it, so you remained the whole way. Only once of many subsequent journeys did I ever get a seat, except once on the floor of the guard’s van.

Once at Durban we walked around the fine streets & looked at the shops, calling at a restaurant for a bacon & egg tea. Then visiting a cinema to see “City for Conquest” catching the 10.30pm train back to camp. On the Wednesday & Thursday we did much the same. Although we were late on the Wed as I was on a cookhouse fatigue for the whole morning & early afternoon.

(Sent Kay 1 pair silk stockings, 1lb of tea & 2 airgraphs – mum & dad 1 airgraph)

On our last evening at Durban whilst waiting in a queue for a service canteen, a lady invited a friend and I to her house for tea. There we found she was a Scotswomen & had a son & daughter but no husband (deceased) & we had a hot bath & a good tea & spent a very pleasant evening.

H.M.T Empire Woodlark

The following morning Friday May 22nd we were awakened at 4am & told to pack & be on parade at 6am. There after many roll calls which lasted until gone 8am with us standing in full sun with full packs we marched & were once more taken to the docks. Here we embarked on H.M.T. “Empire Woodlark” (7000 tons) which was an old cargo boat which had been out of service many years (so we were later told) & had been re-serviced for troop carrying.

The first impression as we went down the rough iron staircases into the holds were to say the least, awful, especially as this time we held tickets for F deck the deepest of all, on the keel of the ship at least 15 feet below water & no portholes or ventilation except of the shaft system. The place was dark, dismal & damp and we were again cramped for space & with the mess table arrangement as on the Bedford.

Here we fed, not in a dining room as the Bedford and three orderlies were appointed to fetch the meals & wash up all plates & dishes etc. I was among these & we had our work cut out in the doing of it. We fetched the food in tin wash bowls & had to divide out the food as evenly as we could. This meant that there were many grumbles because someone had a little more than the grumbler. It also meant that by the time the first eating such as the meat & veg for dinner, or porridge for breakfast had been served out, they were all ready for the second course & the servers (all 3 of us) had not even started ours & which at all times was cold & cleachy.

Many is the time when I did not eat a thing, although the food was certainly better than the Bedford. When we fetched a meal, only two of us were allowed in the kitchen & we had to wait in a queue in a stifling atmosphere until our deck and section was called by an N.C.O.   Then we precariously carried soup, meat & potatoes, sweet & tea and gingerly made our way down the wet & slippery iron staircases against the roll of the ship. After the meal all slop had to be carried up six of these stairways & empties over the ships side. The orderly that fetched the water for washing up was at least ½ hour waiting in another queue.

The lavatories where in the fore part of the ship, as originally it was the crew’s conveniences and not a made up affair, but even this at times was disgusting as the runways got blocked though constant & continual usage & when the ship rolled the contents were slopped all over the iron floor & you had to wade through this whilst it eddied backward and forward with a swish and a swirl.

There – we didn’t take much notice much notice of this as well all considered that it was a much better ship than the Bedford, the reason that the food was at most times eatable, had done this. The canteen was terrible; just one small hole in the aft of the ship & the queue went along the length of the ship. Once more the only cigarettes available was C to C & now you could only obtain 20 & as I was orderly & had to be back early for fetching the meal there was quite often when I stood in the queue for an hour or so only to leave it before nearing the hole in the wall.

There was no seating accommodation on deck at all & being a smaller ship very little space on the deck. A couple of days out we passed the coast of Madagascar on our starboard side & here part of the convoy left us during the following night.

By this time all my clothes were absolutely filthy, including all my winter underwear, with which I had left England. The towels I had tried to wash in salt water absolutely stank, & the more so, because you could not leave them out to dry off a bit, but had to pack everything away in your kit bag, as soon as you had finished it. All my tropical kit, shirts etc. were dark & heavy with the continuous perspiring which dried on you each successive time.

On May 24th & on May 26th we advanced our time an hour on each occasion, this brought us to within one hour of British Double Summer Time.

About this time I stood in a queue one afternoon to have my hair-cut by a member of the crew who it seems had made a practice of hacking off the crew’s hair when needed. Now it seemed it was his opportunity & ours for you could not stand it when you hair became too long in this climate. We all took our turn to sit on an upturned box on the deck & have it sheared off with some clippers. The last time I had had it cut was on the D. of B. but there we had used the regular barber’s shop of the 3rd class passengers which had not been altered & a regular hairdresser had been appointed.

Another thing that was instituted on this boat was a 24 hour guard, both for above & below decks. The above deck guard, in most of the appointed spots, were to keep a bit of free deck space for the officers. The below deck was guarding all sorts of odd places & not needed at all. All personnel had to take their blankets & sleep by their post on the floor.

South African money changed to East African on board 30/5/42.

Mombasa East Africa – Port Reitz

At 2.30pm on the 30th May we left the convoy & proceeded on our own entirely. Then, early in the morning of May 31st, two destroyers came out to meet us & at 9am we docked alongside a small quay at Mombasa East Africa.

First of all swarms of native boys in rags & tatters & bearing a waist band marked K.U.R.H. this standing for Kenya & Uganda Railway Harbour. These boys carried all the ship’s cargo out from the hold (which was in our Sections of F.2.) on their heads.

Then during the morning the army personnel on board began to disembark & we watched them being taken away by lorry. We ourselves had dinner on board which I remember was not very special & when we were emptying the remains the nigger boys asked for some, & they all set to eating all the rubbish imaginable. Then after we had washed up we hurriedly packed all our stuff into kit bags & carried them up on deck.

Then we all lumbered into lorries & were taken from the docks through one part of Mombasa & on through a native village, which looked very grim indeed, past innumerable stretches of water composing the estuary & at 5pm we pulled into Port Reitz aerodrome 8 miles from Mombasa.

(Sunday May 31st 1942)

Here we were detailed into parties of 22 & taken to huts which were already full of airmen composed of ground gunners & who had been there three weeks. There were also many sailors and soldiers, the sailors being part of the fleet air arm. We were provided with a thin flock mattress & a mosquito net & had to arrange our beds on the ground floor between the other’s canvas camp beds. Afterwards we made our way to the mess hut & were provided with a meal & we were waited upon by native boys.

In the morning we paraded at 9am & after various instructions were dismissed for the day. We then found out that the camp was full of coconut, lemon, orange & banana trees & the fellows promptly fell to, collecting the fruit, which was not yet ripe & unfit to eat.

There was a canteen serviced by the South Africans of whom there was quite a number on the camp & was open at 10.30am for tea & sandwiches & sometimes fruit, oranges costing us 3 for 10 cents and again at 6pm at night. Cigarettes were plentiful & Woodbines as big as our English Gold Flakes cost us 1 shilling 10 cents. There was a wireless in an annexe of the hut, where at 6.45 & 8.45pm we could hear the news from London via the Nairobi wireless station.

The animal life at the camp, consisted of a few monkeys in the trees & one tame Busk, but there were numerous reptiles & insects including some snakes, some of these being the dreaded black mamba, scorpions, lizards, colossal spiders, white ants which eat anything & everything, grasshoppers of a super variety quite 2 ½ “ to 3 “ long & which could fly as well as hop, thousands of kinds of insects crawling, flying & hopping & once I saw a chameleon.

Despite all this on the third day we were moved into small marquee tents (six in a tent) with canvas camp beds for sleeping. Each six men or tent were provided with a native boy to do our washing & for which we paid him 5/- a month & a 1/- a month for soap & charcoal, the latter being used in their flat irons. We found that these boys came to the tent at 6am & brought us tea in our mugs a few minutes later, then he cleaned our shoes & buttons & made up our beds when we went to breakfast. He again brought us tea in the afternoons & made up our beds for the night.

The camp contained excellent washhouses & shower baths which we indulged in frequently. After a few days, our own squadron cooks started our own messing & we dined in an open palm covered hut & had to wait on ourselves using our own mess tins.

Once a week we were allowed a pass to visit Mombasa & were taken there & back by the camp lorries. These lorries leaving the Regal cinema at 11.30pm at night. The town itself was very native & contained very few white people. There was an excellent Service Club ran by white people & the navy where you could obtain cold meat & salad or sausage & mash & fruit salad with tea & bread & butter for 1 sh. 10c.

Except for one or two shops, they were entirely Indian or native & sold anything & everything & which if buying, you tried to beat them down in price.

At night the touts pestered you to have a “good time” “very nice girls” “very cheap”. These girls were of course native girls & we were instructed to leave the brothels severely alone as disease was rife amongst these women. Needless to say the majority of us took this advice, although I think it would have taken great courage & a very passionate feeling to enter one of these evil smelling places, even to those that dared.

The town contained 2 cinemas, the Regal & the Majestic which gave a 2 hrs performance with a main feature & news for 1/6. All European upstairs & natives down. On Sundays only native films were shown these were generally of Indian origin.

One Sunday evening a few friends & I took advantage of a lorry going to Mombasa for Church. This was a beautiful building, all white & topped with a minaret like a mosque, the windows were just open lattice work & large fans were revolving. After the service, we all went to the canteen for tea & cakes.

In the first few weeks of our stay at Port Reitz we had nothing to do, as we were still waiting for the Catalina’s to arrive, & after morning parade we were dismissed to do as we like & we took many walks to the beach & also we had many a sleep on our beds. On some afternoons parties were arranged & we went to a swimming beach a couple of miles from the camp, where the water was very warm & generally reserved for officers.

One morning we were taken for a gas bomb demonstration on the outskirts of the aerodrome & in the firing of one gas shell it fell short only a few feet from us & exploded, with the result that one fellow standing directly in front of me & also a couple of native soldiers were hit. The fellow by me later lost his eye & was taken to Nairobi.

Nyali Transit Camp

Then on Monday June 5th at dinner time after having had our names called out the day before 18 of us out of 100 were told to pack as quickly as possible & after much toil & sweat we boarded a lorry with all our kit & were taken to Nyali transit camp 5 miles from Mombasa over the Nyali bridge. It was a camp in the wilds full of army personnel & under their command. When we arrived the rules & regulations were read to us by an Officer & then we were left to fend for ourselves.

Small tents were there which held 3 at a pinch but the difficulty seemed to be beds, there seemed to be only iron bedsteads all dilapidated & broken of which we took the best. Then we rushed for tea in the army’s mess built with planks from Chevrolet packing cases & back to erect our mosquito nets as best we could.

In the morning the rest of the party arrived with an officer & sergeant both of whom seemed very surprised at the awful conditions of the camp. Washing was the chief cause, 6 taps in an old thatched shed for numbers of personnel which splashed on a flat board as you washed. Our luxury of native boys was gone, & you had to wash your own clothes (if you could).

Then we had to take our meals in the shelter of two tents joined together with rough tables & forms, & meals consisted of a piece of meat & bread & butter as we were lacking the army rations & they could not spare much. The food was nearly as bad as the D. of B. & certainly not the same amount. The tents being just a top covering, allowed all the dirt & dust to blow on what food you did have & the butter was gritty to eat after only a few minutes of the table.

Afterwards came the difficulty in washing your mess tins of the grease, in one cold water tap used for everyone on the camp. Of course removal of grease was hopeless & in the morning after the late meal at 5.15pm & even after hanging the mess tin on the side of the tent wall, it was full of ants attracted by the food residue. We afterwards counteracted this by scouring it with dirt & grit & giving the tin a swill before each meal.

Fatigues came every other day & entailed duty of washing greasy pots & pans from 9am until 9am the next day. The only consolation about this camp was the canteen & the swimming beach of beautiful white sand which incidentally was covered by land crabs at night.

The sergeant in charge of us was a very good fellow & organised several things to make it brighter, one of these was a sports afternoon & at this I won a 10 cent packet of cigs (all competitors subscribing 1 cent) coming in third in the 3 legged race.

Snakes – black mambas (the most feared) & puff adders were in great numbers at this camp & you had to keep your eyes open in the grass & lavatories especially after dark. When you were free from fatigues you could obtain a pass from 2.30pm to 23.59 & on three occasions we took advantage of this although it meant a 5 mile walk to Mombasa & back, unless you took a taxi for the return (12/-), a charge of 2/- being made to cross the Nyali bridge.

Stationed at this camp was the band of the K.A.R.’s all natives except the conductor & on many evenings they gave us a selection of music in the evening the only trouble being that the canteen only opened for ½ hr on these occasions & as you could not remain in your tent unless under the mosquito net & there was no light at all we always spent our evening in the canteen, generally playing solo or crib.

Received telegram from Kay which had been lying at Port Reitz for over a week.

Kipevu – S.S. Manela

Things went on like this for nearly a fortnight & then on Sat June 27th at 8.30, lorries were sent to take us to Kipevu our new camp, but which had only been started for the “kites” and which had nothing but a few offices & the slip.

So from here we boarded a power boat & was taken to the S.S. Manela which was lying at anchor some way off the slip. Here we had to eat & sleep, being taken to work by power boats daily. Again we came back to the Duchess of Bedford conditions except that the food was very good, but we had to deposit our kit bags in a locked room & store our daily needs on the racks above the mess tables. Again we had to sleep in hammocks & after the first week when innumerable cases of malaria had occurred we also had to sleep under a mosquito net, most precariously arranged over the hammock & erected every night & stowed away each morning.

Then as the main party arrived, this business of getting us to the slip for work became a farcical nightmare there being only one power boat beside a refueler, which towed two or three lifeboats & which was running all day & night & soon became the worse for wear & always breaking down.

In the early beginnings although waiting on the ship’s stairs at 8am it was 11.30am before we arrived & then as dinner was from 12 till 1 they were soon struggling to take us back. Of course this could not last for long & then they decided to bring our dinner from the ship to the shore, all of us having to take our mess tins & irons & eat it picnic fashion wherever we could. We were also given two bottles of lemonade each day until the fellows did not return the bottles & it dropped to one.

When the rains came the whole place became one sea of mud & the dishing out of dinner & the finding of a place to eat it became an annoyance. On days when the power boat was unserviceable we rowed ourselves the 2 to 3 miles with 10 oars & fifty in the lifeboats. The M.B.C. caused us to swear many & many a time with their efforts to get us to work and back to the ship again to say nothing of waiting & waiting for the power dinghy to be taken to moored aircraft for our daily work.

On one occasion the power boat had towed us to within easy distance of the slip when as the practice was, they ease off the lifeboat tow ropes & instead of drifting to the slip we drifted onto the rocks & we all had to take off our shoes & socks & jump off & wade to the shore, midst heaps of oil & mud.

At 12 o’clock a native arrived with baskets full of bananas, oranges, pineapples, mangoes & coconuts which he sold very cheaply & for which there was always a good queue. This fruit when purchased had to be dipped in a solution of permanganate of potash to kill any lurking germs. As of course we had lost the luxury of the native boy for washing, arrangements were made for a Mombasa laundry to collect our washing & for which we paid ourselves at the rate of about 25 cents an article.

The position of this camp was the most aggravating by being on the mainland in easy view of Mombasa docks & the road to town, but separated by the sea, so this entailed about a 6 mile journey by road or rather cart track to reach the town. When the motor boats were available liberty boats were run from the ”Manela” at 7pm & 7.30pm & returned at 10pm & 11.30pm. This was none to certain & on one particular night we missed the last boat by 3 minutes, it going back before time & we waited until 1.35am when we were lucky to get a native boat back for 2/-a head (there being 6 of us) saving us a most unpleasant night out amidst the dangers of the mosquito.

We were also given to understand that being aboard a British ship our 6d a day colonial pay & free issue of cigarettes would now be stopped. But anyway after just over a week the cigs were issued again being “Bears Honeydew” & the 2nd week “Springbok”. Some said that the issue of 2 bottles of lemonade covered the 6d a day.

The corporal of the section at this time had had an operation & was taking 14 days leave at Nairobi, so a L.A.C. was in charge & days off were arranged but which did not work out so successfully, many the day when we had to idle away the most of the day & yet look busy & yet we could not officially receive a break.

Then after a week the issue of the lemonade was stopped altogether & the order was to take our water bottles. After a while we were given a section, & by this time a corporal had arrived, but two of our fellow instructors had gone to Kisumu & two more to Dar es Salaam where operational & major bases were being formed.

About this time we were given to understand that quite a number of all sections were being removed to Kisumu on Lake Victoria leaving 4 or 5 at Mombasa & according to a list made out by the NCO in charge I was one of those to remain at Mombasa.

Attended a military funeral of one of the fellows who died at Mombasa English Cemetery.

Our first few days of having a section of our own was spent by myself playing an active part in erecting tables etc from the store of timber being used to build the camp.

The S.S. Manela had by this time had several berths in the harbour, caused by the Navy being in or out, but eventually we were permanently anchored quite near to the ship & near to shore but the comedy of getting to & from by lifeboats still went on.

As things progressed so did the work & on some days we were very busy but on others, when “kites” were out we spent our time in “making things”. Red tape or bullshit soon began to make an appearance but the fellows did not take too much notice of it.

On July 21st 1942 I had my first real delight when I received an airgraph from Kay & then on the next day I received one from mother & dad.

Nearly every week we had a day off & we usually caught the boat to the slip in the morning & then walked to the main Mombasa – Port Reitz road where we usually got a lift into town. We spent our time visiting the native shops & buying curios etc. or needed articles, having meals (dinner & tea) at the Services canteen & spending a couple of hours in the pictures.

Kisumu Lake Victoria

On Thursday July 30th I heard I was included in a party of 60 to go to Kisumu on Lake Victoria for the purpose of major inspections. On Friday July 31st we left the old Manela at 1.30pm for the slip, where we caught a lorry for Mombasa station. At 4.30pm we drew out with 6 in a compartment that really slept four, the seats being used for two & the backs pulled up to make a bed each side.

As we got into the more sparse districts the natives lined the railway route (a single line) & ran alongside for pennies & cigarettes. The native women, some only in grass skirts, gave impromptu can-can dances on the banks. Each station, generally a collection of huts, was thronged with natives, all come for the excitement & for what they could obtain.

The party carried rations and at 6.30 we had bread & butter with cold meat, tins of damsons & a cup of tea. Then we bought a dinner ticket for the 3rd sitting at 9pm. When we went to the dining car & had soup, fish, braised tongue, meat peas & potatoes, fruit salad, cheese & coffee for 2/-.

After this we made up our beds & slept fitfully until 6am when we washed & shaved & began to take notice of the countryside.   In turns we saw gazelles, wildebeests, ostriches, vultures, zebras, parrots & many other queer birds & animals of which I do not know the name.

At 9am we drew into Nairobi the capital of Kenya 6000 feet above sea level. Here we spent a couple of hours in the town a most excellent place with a large white population & also plenty of services. We had a small breakfast at the services club & then entrained again at 11.50am. From here we were still climbing until we were in the midst of an array of mountains with glorious scenery on each side.

The station here was called Escarpment & the air was quite chilly. This second stage of the journey unfortunately was not provided with a dining car, but we had a few rations & tea was made for us. At 8pm we arrived at Nakuru, where we had an hour & half stop, here we went into the town & had a mixed grill supper with tea for 1/-. Once more we settled down for the night & at 5.30am we were roused & at 6am we drew into Kisumu station & was met by an officer & lorry.

We piled the kit into the lorry & we were taken through the small town to what had been an Indian hotel here we had beds of a canvas type & made up boards. It then appeared that this was an annexe of an English hotel called Hotel Marina in which the small previous party were living & in which we should all be eating. Here we had breakfast of porridge & crab being waited upon by natives in white with green sashes.

The hotel had been commandeered by the government & was for our sole use. It contained a nice lounge & bar & things looked very promising. In fact it was the best conditions I had ever encountered in the R.A.F. After breakfast we sorted ourselves out for bed & spaces.

We were told that as the last major (service) had just been finished, there would be no work for 2 or 3 days. So we dressed into khaki, the sun making it very hot, (although we were 3,490 feet above sea level & being situated right on the equator) & then took a stroll into town.

It was a very clean place, the roads lined by trees & situated on the edge of a small part of Lake Victoria but only containing one main road of shops. After our stroll we made our way back to the hotel for lunch which was most appetising but not of great quantity. In the afternoon we took another walk to the native market & at 6.30pm we had dinner at the hotel.

On Monday (Bank Holiday) a party of 12 or so were going out to the jungle 150 miles away to salvage a Stuka, so once again we had a holiday. Continuing with days off, the Thursday two friends and I walked along the main Uganda road to a village called Kibos 5 miles from Kisumu, where we created quite a mild uproar the villagers turning out in force to see us, the women being either dressed in bright colours & only wearing a loin cloth & most of the children being in the nude.

A rather strange thing I noticed here at night was a fly (probably a firefly) or insect which intermittently flashed a green light from its body this being very peculiar when flying just in front of your eyes.

Attended the English Church at Kisumu for morning service on 9th August just a small place with a civilian congregation of 6. On Tuesday August 11th we started work on a major on aircraft L after having a week & one day’s holiday. We left the hotel at 7.45am & were taken to the Imperial Airways hangar & airport by lorry 3 miles from Kisumu, being brought back for lunch at 12.30.

On these days of holiday 3 or 4 of us took long walks of 10 or 12 miles into the less frequented parts causing great concern among the natives who shouted, stopped & stared. The children generally naked followed behind us at a reasonable distance & stopped as soon as we stopped to look at them. Twice we walked to a village called Kibos having a lemonade at the Indian store. On another day we walked for about 7 miles on the Kisi Road & came across a band of natives all dressed up with 8 foot spears in their hands doing a sort of war dance, the women beating tom toms.

An English man who subsequently picked us up in his car & took us back to Kisumu told us they were probably going to kill a cow that day & were taking advantage to have their “fun”.

After we had started work we got down to the major & practically finished it in a week & whilst other sections were still working we took it in turns to have a day off. Then two of us started off from the hotel at 8am & walked along the edge of the lake as far as we could meeting a fishing village ran by Indians & Arabs the natives operating the Arab dhows for the fishing, here we could not follow the lake anymore because of vast swamps teeming with mosquito & impassable, so rather than take the same way back we cut across the bush land through the native hamlets seeing many interesting things especially at the waterholes & taking photographs of the natives.

Our hopes of a few days off between majors were dashed when the next “kite” came up on our first day off from the 1st inspection, also rumours began to float of all civilian amenities being taken away from the hotel & soon after the female manageress & bar lady were the first to go.

On Monday August 31st 1942 a new scheme started whereby reveille was at 4.15am, roll call in the lounge at 4.45am, breakfast at 5.45 & 6.10 & start work at the hangar at 6.30am with two sandwiches 7 a cup of tea at 11am & finish at 2pm for the day. Lunch being served at 2.45pm & 3.15pm & dinner as usual at 6.30 &7.10pm. This entailed getting to bed very early at night & even then feeling very sleepy at the start but enabling us to miss the afternoon heat which certainly was rather overpowering in the hangar.

Then on the following Tuesday our mattresses were taken from us & we had to sleep on the bare boards of the made up bedstead. On this same afternoon Mr Russell picked us (Dennis & I) up in his car & took us to his home for a cup of tea, gave us a number of books to take back for the lads, & then drove us round the lake edge back to the hotel for dinner.

On Thursday Sept 3rd three friends and myself attended church for National Prayer on the completion of three years of war. Then Friday at pay I was only paid 25/- as the officer reckoned that myself & others had been overpaid (just as I was getting right too), life seemed not so good on that day.

On the following Sunday having a day off & sitting in the lounge it being raining the mail was brought in & of all the large amount not one was for me again. It seems now that things are indeed bad as I expected my wife to at least write to me. It is now nearly 5 months since I left England & I have had 2 airgraphs & 1 telegram from her whilst other Bristolians are having mail at each delivery which is twice a week.

I realise of course that Kay is writing but the sending of surface mail once per week that never arrives this end is no balm whatever. As always in life the following Tuesday I receive 2 airgraphs from Kay & 2 from mother a most glorious change of outlook.

Large chameleon in van at slip, spend half an hour putting it on a different colour backgrounds to see it change.

Heard that aircraft “P” had blown up at Mombasa – depth charge dropped from main plane. Two days after this heard that aircraft L was lost with all the crew of 10. Heard that two ground staff were lost on “P”.

Start to play tennis Nyanza Club during next rest spell between majors Sept 16, 17, 18 & 19th. Find difficulty in serving. Afternoons spent in the lounge dozing or playing chess with Dennis.

On Sept 29th I did my third hangar guard. This necessitated having lunch at 3 o’clock and another meat tea at 4.45pm leaving for the hangar by lorry at 5.15 & remaining on guard all night (sleeping in the plane) 7 going back to breakfast on the first lorry returning in the morning 7 then you were given that day off.

We started a major on “N” on Sunday September 26th after nearly a fortnight’s rest, and then on Monday Sept 27th the kite “M” came up for modifications & a 90 hr – this was the first occasion when two Catalina’s were in the hangar together.

Today Sept 29th the rumour was strong that in 14 days we should all be moving to the transit camp which is being built by the swimming baths, a couple of miles from Kisumu. I only hope this is not true.

On October 10th went on test flight of Catalina “N” at 3pm whilst on the slip, 800 gallons of petrol, 400 in each tank was pumped on & at 4pm we were towed on to the lake. We took off quite well & flew at an altitude of 6,500 ft. We dived & banked & turned, it was all quite thrilling, but the noise of the engines was not at all pleasant.

The machine guns were fired when over a deserted part of the lake & at Meosina, where the pilot had some friends, we dived low over the house & you could plainly see them waving & on the last dive a parcel was dropped to them from the blister.

Several times the pilot dived low of native villages & made the natives & their animals run away like mad. The impression of height was not at all as I imagined it would be. We gracefully landed on Lake Victoria at 6.10pm & was taken by boat to the slip.

On October 12th the riggers started a double shift at work 6am-2.30 & 2.30-10.30pm as the kites were coming up for major in twos and threes & there being many rumours of the squadron getting ready for a move to Durban.

A letter sent up by Sgt. Ryan from Mombasa told us of 3 Inst Reps having already gone there but no-one knowing for what purpose or for how long. Also we were informed that aircraft “M” was on the rocks at Pamanzi & that “S” had landed through lack of petrol & having gone of course, at some Vichy owned islands near Madagascar & the crew etc had been interned. This would make a loss of four kites out of the nine we started with.

Plenty of work these days & Oct 16th a full day from 6am to 6pm was started at the hangar & this in tropical summer heat right on the equator. October 18th this full day discontinued & started 6am – 2.30pm on the 19th.

On Oct 28th received parcel of cigs from mother & 3 letters & 2 airgraphs from Kay & mother. On Nov 5th, Dennis & George leave us to return to Mombasa, leaving Ken in charge of John, Ray & myself. Nov 13th – arrears of payment made up & the stoppings of Sept 4th paid. Received 100/- in a £5 note.

At this time all kites had received a major at Kisumu bar “K” & there was no work (or much) to do. Mr Pearson had left for Mombasa with Dr. George & a young Pilot Officer named Willis was in charge of our detachment with another austere looking man as Commanding Officer being a Squadron Leader. This person immediately changed things & whether there was any work or no, we had to go to the hangar every alternate days in two parties.

Also at this time numbers of fellows were coming from Nairobi, Lakura etc to join us at the marina they being sent to form a M.U. this does not look too rosy for us that may be left.

Nov 14th – this day 20 of us had been drawn from a long list to have a crocodile hunt in a motor launch which was kindly loaned by a Mr Riddoch.   At 2.30pm we left the hotel for the docks & there boarded the launch which had a crew of 3 natives we set off at full speed for a group of islands called Crocodile Islands which we reached about 4.30pm & slowly cruised around each.

On the first the native silently pointed to some rocks & there, very difficult to see, where two large size crocs, probably 10 to 12 ft in length. Each of us had two bullets apiece & the fellows who at that time had the rifle took aim & fired. Both crocs opened wide their jaws showing a bright red mouth against their drab colour & with a quick wriggling gait they slithered into the water.

In all we saw 5 large crocs & several coming to the surface of the water to breath – but although many shots were fired they all seem to have got away unhurt. We saw many wonderful birds large & small & even got so close to see many of them nesting & refusing to leave their nests. About 5.30 we turned for Kisumu & reached the dock about 6.30pm & rushing up to the hotel we ate a hearty dinner.

November 16th 1942 – Two friends and I started off from the hotel with water in water bottles & sandwiches to an Indian cycle shop in Kisumu where we hired cycles for the day for 4/-. We made our way to the local market where we bought 42 bananas & 6 oranges for 60 cents then cycling through the town we made our way past the aerodrome on the Yala road, thinking all the time with wonderful views of the lake & the mountainous hills.

On our way we saw large monkeys of the baboon type & many primitive natives. At 12.30pm we came to a place called Maseno which is situated right on the equator & a notice board to that effect was displayed by the side of the road & of course we stopped here to record it in photographs.

Calling at the one & only store to see if we could obtain some lemonade, we were very surprised to find a white man behind the counter who informed us that he only had the large bottles of cordial syrup at 2 shilling 40 cents which he said we could make into many glasses or fill our water bottles.

He invited us into his home at the back where we drank the lemonade made with ice cold water in the glasses he provided. He told us that he had lived on the equator for 36 years with his brother (now dead) & that he came from Clifton, Bristol, on which we both shook hands for the meeting of two Bristolians on the line. He was very interested in the latest war news & wrote it all down as we told it to him & on stating that the convoys to the recent happenings in N. Africa had composed of 500 transports & 350 warships he jumped with excitement, saying “the natives will simply love to hear this” eventually we left him to cycle further along the line to have our picnic lunch of banana sandwiches, mangoes & lemonade.

We were so discovered by the local boys & girls; strangely all dressed in white with a red cross in a shield embroidered on the tunic. We found that the whole district was a well organised mission compound with a stone built church, workshops & book shop, a similar place to Dartington Hall at Totnes, Devon with a few white people in direct charge.

The whole place seemed cool & enchanting, this probably due to the very high altitude. At 3pm we turned back for Kisumu which was an easy ride as we descended the hills all the way to the lakeside for 18 miles, reaching Kisumu at 4pm where we returned the cycles & went for tea at the European Dairy.

Nov 17 & 18th – works very hard at station & transit camp, 5 of us unload 28 tons of camp material with only ½ hr for dinner. Looks as though it won’t be long before we are transferred to this camp. On this morning’s we started another bullshit parade & roll call. We have to be all poshed up to go to work. Things are deteriorating rapidly. We are even working all day at the hangar with no work to do. Have been cutting tins for stores & heavy work.

On Nov 20th I with three others caught the 2 o’clock train from Kisumu for Nakuru for dental, having tea at Morowani & dinner at Limuru, arrived at Nakuru at 12.30pm where we waited until nearly 2 o’clock for transport it being bitterly cold with a frost, it being nearly 7000 ft up.

Eventually we arrived at the camp at 4pm after having a supper in the mess. We reported next morning & saw the dentist making another appointment for 2pm on Tuesday. After a lot of bother we managed to get a sleeping out pass & left the camp by transport at 6pm the same day.

Having booked a bed at Toc H & having a meal at the services canteen we went to the local pictures. When we got back to Toc H where there were only natives in charge we found bed bugs in the beds and spent hours stripping the beds & mattresses.

In the morning we went for breakfast at the services canteen & spent most of the day there being cold & rainy journeying back to the camp by transport. On the Monday we lazed on our beds until the evening when there was a cinema show in the NAAFI. Tuesday at 2pm I had some more fillings & as the others had left when I had finished I walked 3 miles towards Nakuru (there being no transport) before being picked up by an army lorry after a meal etc. we caught the 9.15 train back to Kisumu arriving at 6am.

On Nov 28th we start doing majors on Blenheims from Nakuru, reverting back to the hours of 8am till 4.30pm with a half day off on Sundays. Reveille at 6.30am. Mail at this time is very sparse having only 2 letters in 5 weeks.

December 2nd – in the afternoon Ken & I are chosen to go & fetch beds made by the natives of the Doula tribe. We leave the hangar by lorry at 2.30pm & make our way to the native tribunal court where the chief of the (bed making) tribe is conducting a tribunal on a native who had taken the affections of another wife. We watched the proceedings from the lorry the court being open to view & saw them come out & perform their rites of swearing on oath.

Afterwards we picked up the chief & several men & women with & without cycles & proceeded to the village nine miles up in the hills. On arrival the rope & log beds were lined up & also crowds of natives. The chief had a stone built house & 2 rather good looking daughters to whom we were introduced & photographs taken.

Then whilst the beds were being loaded an English speaking native teacher took us to the mission church built by them in stone. The whole race seemed very intelligent & there were very few who were not dressed. Afterwards in a lecture by the M.O. we heard that this was a progressive tribe who had come from the Sudan & because the district was forest & the Nandi’s shot them up from the cover of the trees, they cleared the forest & drove the Nandi’s further into the hills.

He also told us that they all had their tribal markings (done even today) & one that anyone can easily see is the removal of 6 front lower teeth. If a woman contracts V.D. it is branded upon her & she is cast out from the tribe. The coming of age boys performing this with their spears for first blood. The other degenerate races found locally around Kisumu such as the Bantu’s & Kiliga’s circumcise the young females for their initiation, the girls apparently sitting in a cold running stream all night before to deaden the nerves.

We spent an interesting afternoon & after unloading the beds at the transit camp we arrived back at the hotel at 6pm. Just in time for dinner.

On December 19th at 4.30am an American Loadstar aircraft crashed into the lake after 2 explosions, later we heard that the South African General Dan Pienaar had lost his life with 11 others. On December 21st ten bodies were recovered all mutilated & blown to bits, others had been attacked by the crocodiles.

Being on the 2nd lunch party I just missed being on this gruesome party but on the next day the 22nd December I & 3 others were picked to take off 2 more bodies from the launch. Luckily they were mostly covered with the blanket we had to lift them by, but even then it was horrible & smelt abominably. Afterwards we had Lysol in which to douse ourselves & then as soon as I could I had a bath & changed my clothes.

In the afternoon several of the fellows had to go to the mortuary & solder up the inside lining of the coffins to help one of the fellows who had been doing this all the evening before. At 7pm the same day myself being on hangar guard was taken with a couple more to the mortuary where we loaded the coffins after weighing them on to lorries, these we took to the hangar & again loaded them into two Loadstar aircrafts having to turn & twist them always to get them through the door.

I noticed there was a marked difference between the officers & “irks” coffins & a great difference in other things as well, even in death. When this was done, everyone left leaving me guarding the 12 coffins all through the night. I slept for some hours in the “Catalina” & had no trepidation although in the hills the natives were chanting & beating their Tom Toms.

Things at this time at work were very binding, we were rising at 5.15am, starting work at 7am halting at the most ¾ hr for dinner & working until 6pm & being chased all day long. Group Captains & A.O.C.’s were visiting us nearly every day. Things went from bad to worse from more bullshit to move bullshit. We moved our sections from place to place nearly every week at anybody’s command.

All sorts of kites arrived such as Baltimores, Bostons, Blenheims, Loadstars, Battles & all manner of big wigs all with different orders.   Then lads from Nakuru & Nanyuki began to arrive 2 Inst/R’s coming to us. After a while we moved yet again to a stone built workshop placed away from the hangar & the 1st day Ken & others are put on a charge because “Beaky” found them snacking when he came in.

Rumours came& went of 209 Squadron returning to “Blighty” but things went on just the same. Leave was sought after, not having had any for 12 months, but although names were taken, nothing ever happened. The whole place seemed uncomfortable there was very little actual work but you had to appear to be working hard from seven in the morning till six at night. On one visit of a Group Captain because too many Inst/R’s were in the section we were told that two of us would be posted to the desert.

Beaky did not want to see anyone in the section, although when the work was there, it would have to be carried out there. Of course days off were stopped & we were given one Sunday a month, with 11/2 day on every other Sunday in the month.  The lads peacefully rebelled & very little work was done. Eventually after a few months they reluctantly allowed us to finish at 5pm at night this making a great difference. On some days life seemed pleasanter such as when we visited the mission school at Yala going via Maseno & playing the “boys” at football.

A Grand Interlude

On the 18th February 1943 I went down with my first attack of malaria being taken to the European Hospital at Kisumu. Being discharged after a week I with two others was granted 10 days sick leave but the difficulty proved in finding a place to stay. Eventually after seeing Mr Ruddock the promoter of leaves, an Aberdonian named Connor & I got fixed up with a gold mine owner named Mr Everett who lived near his mine called Muchang, 12 miles his side of Kakamega.

On Thursday 4th March he picked us up at the camp about 5pm & took us in a large Chevrolet car to his home. Here we found he was a bachelor & a man after our own heart. Near him lived his manager a Mr Rule who hailed from Redruth in Cornwall & we found that he had (Mr E) a most pleasant & simple home with a guest house as he called it situated in the garden. This was a thatched room containing two very comfortable beds where we were to sleep.

We fed of course with him in his house & we found to our delight that the cooking of his native cook was all that could be desired. There was a wireless, gramophone with pick up & a number of jolly good books. We could see that we should enjoy ourselves to the full & settled down to a home like atmosphere. In the evenings we chatted on various subjects & the talk sometimes turned to Africa & its customs to me always fascinating.

Here I will record a tale we had on one of the most widely treated custom of native Africa in circumcision. It appears that in numbers of tribes especially near & around Kisumu that both boys & girls are at a certain age circumcised & he told us that in the case of girls, which of course there I seldom any real cause for circumcision, that centuries ago a great disease spread among the cattle of the natives & the cattle being the currency as even today for most things, including wives.

It came that only the older men had cattle to buy with, the young men having lost the small number they may have possessed. This then gave only the older men the opportunity to buy wives who had ten & perhaps more, and the young men unable to have one. So a native would demand the young men just took their desire from the wives of the elders who could not satisfy so many wives.

On being found out by the old men, they or at first a few decided to circumcise their younger wives to make them less unfaithful, as this practice grew, those wives who remained uncircumcised began to acquire the stigma of a whore & demanded to be operated upon. This being usually done by an older wife with the aid of a sharp stone or piece of glass. So today when the custom is trying to be wiped out by the government & missions, the girls themselves are so anxious to conform to custom that even now it is in no way decreased.

On one evening whilst quietly reading we heard singing from the natives a way off which broke into a yodel similar to the Swiss & again the next night it was repeated again. So in the course of the conversation we mentioned this & were told that someone had died & for three nights this wailing & singing would go on & then the body would be buried about 20 feet away from the door of the hut of the deceased & amid much ceremony with the laying down of food & the walking of oxen over the grave the ceremony would end with the planting of a fig tree in the grave.

So now we shall understand the many great collections of fig trees in certain areas meaning a burial ground & as Mr E said he often in prospecting found gold quartz under these trees & often wondered at the apathy of the natives when he in the early years began to dig in the vicinity of fig trees. The natives say that a fig tree will never mature unless it has a body to feed on.

Another discussion one evening was on the cohabitation of Europeans & natives. We were told of a man named Ainsworth a pioneer of Kenya, who in earlier times when visiting the chiefs of local tribes was provided with food, a place to sleep & three virgin young girls, the result is that there are numerous light skinned, light haired & blue eyed natives still about & Mr E had employed one of these offspring not long ago.

He mentioned that about 1920 when all the natives were naked he had lived a virtuous existence for long time, & working in a Shamba near his home was a most beautiful native girl. He delicately enquired how it could be arranged for her to sleep with him & a native said that was easy, give her ten shillings & he would send her along. She duly came along & he showed her a concave & convex shaving mirror where upon she looked & giggled & he gave her a tablet of soap and the 10/-; but before he could look round, she had vanished from the house.

The next evening hearing wailing & chanting he looked out & there was a procession with this young girl in the middle & all the young lads & girls were beating her feet with thin green saplings, & he said her feet were cut to ribbons & terribly swollen. He called an elder, & asked what was going on & he said she has disgraced the tribe by sleeping with an interloper & being you Bwana, we bring her past your house.

He told him that she had not & what had happened but it made no difference & he later heard that the native that had arranged things was a rogue & had taken the 10/- for himself. Even today after circumcision the native men are allowed to have any unmarried girl unless they have a disease a special dance is held most all the time & he picks his fancy & at night all these girls are in one large hut.

He knocks upon the door & says I am “Ochanda Saman” & he is let in, there he lays with the girl of his choice & pays her a stipulated sum of money. It used to be 10 cents (a penny) now it is a 1/-. Prostitution of course is quite rife, but comes about in this way. A man pays say 5 ng’ombes (cows) for a wife who proves barren & he according to custom can give her back & receive 4 cows, then perhaps some other buys her for 3 cows & still having no children he gives her back & gets 2 cows in return. Now she is unmarketable & generally wanders off to a detribalised township & becomes the girl of easy virtue. This proves the story of the M.O. who told us that all native girls of easy virtue were in 90% suffering from V.D. being of course an outcast from her tribe.

After seven glorious days we left Mr E, Mr R driving us to Kisumu in the Ford V8. After being back at work for a week I was inoculated for T.A.B. & the next day I reported sick as I felt so ill then after two days on March 20th I had a temperature of 105 & was sent again to the European Hospital with a relapse of malaria, during my nine days there a new Squadron Leader was appointed in Beaky’s place & according to the lads things looked as though they   were improving.

On March 30th coming out of hospital the M.O. decides to give me 14 days sick leave so I spent a couple of days in great hope.

Benjamin Coller RAF 1942 War Diary

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