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Wednesday, June 1, 1955
"The Glorious First of June", I don't feel any older either. Just a bit more fed-up perhaps. The Captain has decided he wants me to run the ship's internal entertainment programme, over all the loud speakers you know? I'm not a volunteer, but I suppose the more I do of this sort of thing the less normal work I need to do, and there's enough of that. Heigh Ho!* I'm sending you another photo, it's taken in Malta near the top of that cathedral, with the village down below, but the chap who took it also took a picture of a ship in the harbour through his port-hole all on the same film. Interesting really, it looks as though I've got a big halo! The other two are the Royal Marine Lieutenant and the doctor.
It's looking very stormy tonight, I expect we'll have some rain; that will cool us down, it's been warm again today. We have a children's party next week, and another show of our concert party, a really slap-up one this time. I'm in another sketch now, as the film director in a slapstick film scene. I do everything including getting a custard pie, get covered in flour, and soaked in water, I should enjoy that; if it's done well it should be very funny. Now my love I'm going to leave you, loving you as ever,
Your own Ken xxxxxxxx
[Later in life my Father never took part in any amateur dramatics, but he did like a good joke and although he talks down his new entertainments role, I believe he enjoyed it as a good alternative alongside the electronic obligations each day. At school he had been drummed into Gilbert and Sullivan musicals so he wasn't a total stranger to musical drama. I have no idea if he was involved in the sketch writing.]
HMS Gambia in the Indian Ocean - Thursday, June 2
Hello My Love,
I must write another letter before the mail closes in the morning. It's a dull old day today, it rained heavily last night and this morning, hard luck on the chaps sleeping on the upper deck, they were flooded out. I crept to bed at half-past eight last night, and read an Agatha Christie book, the time drags heavily really, after I've been to rehearsals and so on. I hate wasting time!
I'm afraid that the last seven days hasn't been so pleasant as our earlier long trips, for instance, now the Admiral's on board we're not allowed to have our canvas swimming bath rigged, and what with painting everywhere things are so annoying in minor ways. Some of the novelty has worn off, I like seagoing but not the Navy way at the moment.
It's much later in the day now, with a very stormy sky, and the last minute preparations (scrubbing and painting) for our entry to Port Louis the capital of Mauritius at 7.00 in the morning, are going on by electric light. Nonsense it is really! I laughed this morning, there was a crowd of officers and PO's standing moaning about some paint they'd put on yesterday that had dried peculiarly and one of the PO's said, "I reckon the trouble is you've put it on inside out." It's nice to find someone retaining a sense of humour, they're all so serious about trifles, much too serious.
We stopped for a couple of hours again this afternoon, so that we could lower the darkies over the side to paint it again. Although it wasn't very bright, the water was a lovely colour, light blue, just like "Quink." I'm listening to the news, and you seem to be in a shocking plight, a state of emergency, with rail and dock strikes, it all seems so remote, I hope you manage alright. I'll write a letter to Penny and Susan, and then I'll leave you dear, loving you as usual of course. I've been very discontented these last few days, I expect it will wear off. I hope so, it's too soon to start moping yet. Cheerio my love.
Your Own Ken xxxxxxxx.
[Quink was a type of ink. My Father clearly felt fed up about having a birthday away from home.]
HMS Gambia at Port Louis, Mauritius - Friday, June 3
Hello my Lover,
A wonderful day today! Four letters from you, all my birthday cards, and a letter from Grandma and Grandad. Jolly good, after eight barren days at sea! It was a lovely morning, cool too, and we arrived here at half-past six, just as it was getting light. The island is the same size as the Isle of Wight, but it looks more impressive, mountains rise straight up behind the town and what a shanty town it is too! Squalid! But I must answer your letters first.
I think my throat doesn't trouble me as much.* I expect it's because the warmth and sun are doing me good, I don't know, I still get swallowing troubles at times. I don't think much about it really. I've had no more trouble with my ankles, just those few days, I'm "tropicalized" now. It's funny I said I was cooler this morning, it was too, quite cloudy, I had to have my sheet over me in bed last night, and my fan was switched off, the first time for a month, and yet the temperature was 80 degrees. I suppose it does feel cold after the nineties, (and I was in the engine room last night where the temperature was 125 degrees.) It's surprising what you can get used to.
Grandma was thrilled with her flowers apparently. You're determined to have some animals aren't you, tortoises are a good idea; you ought to be able to keep up with them anyway. I'm glad Andrew amuses you, it's time he had a lot to say. You're jolly good you know, writing so frequently. I notice a lot of wives write those forces letters, at 2½d a time by air mail, I don't know whether you want to economise and try those, you'll have to write small though. Incidentally, do they put 2½d stamps on mine, I'm sure they're overweight, I hope you don't have to pay excess on them.
We had some fun tonight, I'd just sat down to supper when the lights went out. I had to dash down to the control room, the steering failed too, a proper shambles, however, it was all cured within twenty minutes, and being in the open sea, it didn't matter much, nothing to bump into. Afterwards though I had to roast in the engine room (at 125 degrees) while we tested a main generator. The first bit of excitement we've had for a long time.
This morning I witnessed (officially) the payment of all our black Somali seamen. It was funny, they're nearly all called Mohammed, either for a Christian name or surname, and those that aren't are called Hassan. What a queer bunch they are! All shapes and sizes. I noticed one of them in his pay book against "Date of birth" had put "MUNDAY." We had one long procession this morning, of guards and bands and firing salutes, while the Admiral and Captain called on all the dignitaries ashore, and then they all returned the calls on board. Then we had a whole shower of local VIP's in the wardroom, what with one thing and another I was an hour and quarter later than usual for lunch
Afterwards though I went ashore with "Schoolie" to look around. You've heard of people saying "as dead as a Dodo" which is an extinct bird, well when there were dodos this is where they lived, so we went to the museum where there are a couple of skeletons and two reconstructions of a dodo. It's a queer thing about two feet high with an enormous fat body and little tiny wings, it couldn't fly, which is why it is extinct, other animals killed it. It has a big beak too. (cartoon drawing)
A Dodo:Frederick William Frohawk's restoration from Walter Rothschild's 1907 book Extinct Birds
Public Domain - Wikipedia
The town here is squalid. There are English, French, Indians, Chinese and all sorts, and it's a real shanty town, one look is enough, and quite an experience. French is the main language spoken, although, most things are written in 3 or 4 languages (street signs and adverts) in English, French, Chinese and a "curly" language like my air mail envelopes. Picturesque, chickens and goats in the streets, smelly, all the rubbish is thrown in a sort of gutter between the footpath and road, and very interesting in the market. Nothing worth buying though, some native baskets, very cheap, shopping basket, complete with lid, about 1.50 rupees (2s/3d) but not worth bringing all the way back to England. Otherwise everything is very dear, about half as much again as in England. Sugar is very cheap, sugar growing is the main industry here, as I believe I said in my last letter.
Well tomorrow I hope to go on a bus tour of the island to see the more interesting towns (where the Europeans live, this place is mainly the native quarter) and some of the natural countryside, there are extinct volcanoes and waterfalls. I'm glad I have my tropical suit, I couldn't wear anything else, and it's customary here for Europeans to wear jackets. There's little opportunity for swimming I'm afraid, so the sooner we return to Trinco the better I shall feel. I'm putting in some stamps for Penny, nine actually. Different money of course, I now have four different sorts of paper money and coins! Cheerio my Lover, Keep cheerful won't you,
Your Own Ken xxxxxxx
[My Father caught Polio in his late teens and lost the use of his lower swallowing muscles which aid food on their way. This in later life caused some situations where he might choke and he had to be careful what he ate. Once he was rescued by his secretary using the Heimlich manoeuvre.]
HMS Gambia, Port Louis - Sunday, June 5
Hello My Love,
The airmail arrives twice a day here, and today is the day, and I've had a letter from you, jolly good! It's the only bright spot of the day though. Yesterday afternoon I went for a 6 hour bus trip. It was interesting in many ways, but I'm afraid I don't like Mauritius on the whole, and will be very glad to move on (which we don't do until Friday though). I've seen acre upon acre of sugar canes growing, and been over a sugar factory, where they crush the canes and make molasses and so on. Unfortunately it's the wrong time of the year, the harvest comes in August I believe, and no work was going on. I've been to the three big towns here too, ramshackle old places they are too; mostly corrugated iron huts though they have some more civilian shops. I find the native huts in the plantations very attractive built of palm trunks and thatched with the leaves, they look very picturesque and so do the natives too.
The Indian women are so colourful in their saris, with jewels in their noses. I also saw an extinct volcano crater, a perfect cone, inside and out, quite large, it hasn't erupted for about 200 years though, and it is covered in trees and bushes. There aren't many bathing beaches here, so it's a dead loss as far as I'm concerned. Incidentally, it was quite cool up in the hills and I felt cold here yesterday for the first time (in shorts and shirt) especially as it rained frequently during the afternoon.
I forgot to tell you in my last letter that this is the place for giant tortoises, they're one of the few animals in this place, quite large, and I saw the largest ever in the museum, it was the size of the dining room table. I hope yours don't grow too big. The other crop here is tea, and I saw a lot of that growing yesterday too. The local army garrison is the King's African Rifles, English Officers but all Negro troops, you know, real African Negros, wider noses and large lips. They have their families here, and add yet another type to the mixture of races here. We had an "open for visitors" afternoon, about 3,000 came on board, and it was quite interesting to watch them, all in their Sunday best, brilliant colours, very quaint. In general, as far as I can see it's a land of contrasts, a few Europeans living in extreme luxury, and the others living in squalor. A typical British colony I suppose.
This evening we've had the usual film show, with many guests, "Magnificent Obsession" the film was, with a blind Jane Wyman, a typical corny American tear-jerker. I haven't seen a good film for ages, although I suppose our idea (or my idea) of a good film wouldn't meet with general approval. It's twenty past twelve, and I have to be up at 6.15 in the morning, so I must hurry. I forgot to say that it was gusty and the screen fell down three times, the only entertaining parts of the film.
I can't think what else I have to tell you, I wish I could post myself off by airmail. I've been away long enough, the longest we've been apart for eight years, how lucky we've been! I'll have to arrange for another eight I can see. I hope the infants' colds are better by now, and that you start to have some summer. Let me know when you're going to Troon, so that I send my letters to you there.
Cheerio now honey, I'm despondent tonight, and need your comforting, as ever.
Your Own Loving Ken xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
HMS Gambia at Port Louis - Thursday June 7 (3 stamps inside)
I'm exhausted, but I must write because there's an air mail collection early in the morning. First of all, I've put three more stamps in for Penny, they're dearer ones but I bought them because one shows a mountain (not very clearly), one shows deer (which are the subject of a local sport "La Chasse," * in which hundreds are shot every year; a "chasse," or hunt, was arranged while we were here and various officers went), and the other shows the Dodo I was telling you about the other day.
Well I think I'm beginning to like this place, probably because I've started to find my way around and have met some of the locals, who are very hospitable. These last two days I've spent the mornings with the concert party up in the Garrison Theatre at Vacoas (pronounced "Vakwah") which makes a pleasant change from the ship, and have been asked each day by a local army captain to his MQ for lunch, which has been very pleasant. There's no doubt that life abroad can be very peasant with a married quarter, a family (they have 3 boys and a girl) and a native cook, a maid, a nanny, and a gardener, oh yes and a batman to look after him. They've been here four years and came from Egypt, so they're fully used to such a way of life. I've a standing invitation to eat with them each day while we're here, and very pleasant it is too. It's funny how pleased they are to see us, they get one warship in a year, and are so pleased that all the houses are open houses, both to the officers and ratings.
There's a succession of cars every afternoon that come down to the jetty, and take away loads of the lads for an afternoon and evenings' entertainment. It's wonderful really. They even give us free travel on the railways! This morning I went to Vacoas by train, about an hour's journey, very interesting scenery, and the trains are so quaint! There are four classes, I travelled first, and really I've not seen a third in England as bad. The 3rd and 4th classes are just wooden seats, the natives seem to use those. And there aren't many trains about 3 a day, and the motor boat that was taking me to jetty by the station broke down, and we had to get another one, which made us late, so the midshipman of the Watch rang up the station and asked them to hold the train for ten minutes which they did! Can you imagine that happening in England?
After this morning's rehearsal I ate with these people, and then fell asleep in an easy chair until three o'clock, and then left them and caught the half past three train back to Port Louis (they call it Port Lousy) it was the last train of the day too. This evening we've had a cocktail party on board for over 200 officials from the island, very pleasant (it passed quickly which was the main thing), and the band, floodlit on the jetty, beat the Retreat, jolly good! It's quite chilly in the evenings here, and we actually went back into full blue uniform this evening, the first time for a long time, only for this evening though. It will get hot next week when we go up to Mombasa.
Incidentally the local broadcasting company are recording our show for re-broadcast and I had a long yarn with the Chief Engineer this morning who belongs to the BBC and is on loan for two years to tidy this place up. He's called Peter Murray but he's not the chap who plays gramophones on Luxembourg. He says there are 3 well known Peter Murray's at the BBC, himself, The Luxembourg one, and Phyllis Calvert's * husband, and their letters to the BBC often get mixed up. He's an interesting chap. It's funny the odd people that end up in the outposts of empire.
Tomorrow I expect I shall go up to Vacoas again, it's as good as leave really, I can get away from the ship from 07.30 to after tea, I'm really looking forward to going up to Nairobi though when we get to Mombasa. We may have to take guns up there if the Mau Mau are active, apparently everyone, including the women go armed up there.
Well my love I must go to bed, I know then I shall think of something else I meant to tell you, maybe I'll remember when I get home, and will be able to tell you in bed! Goodnight dear, kiss the infants for me,
Your Everloving Daddy xxxxxxxx
["La Chasse" still takes place and can be found on Youtube. Phyllis Calvert was a film, stage and television actress. There is a website www.colonialfilm.org.uk which says it has film of the rehearsal of the Fleet concert party. I haven't had time to chase it up yet. I searched under "Mauritius HMS Gambia concert party 1955 film."]
HMS Gambia at Port Louis - 2 o'clock Friday Morning, 10th June 10
Hello My Love,
I'm exhausted, I've had two hours sleep since Thursday night, but I must write to you now because the mail closes at five, and we leave here at nine, so there'll be no collections until next Tuesday when we arrive at Mombasa. These last two days have been a whirl! Ending with putting on the concert party show ashore tonight, which everyone thought was magnificent.
To start with Wednesday I left the ship at seven in the morning, and went up to Vacoas by train, there were some rehearsals in the morning and then in the afternoon and early evening I was frantically busy finishing off the electrics for the dress rehearsal that evening. I actually made 20 light shades from sheet metal for the band's music stands, and my poor right hand is covered in blisters raised while doing it. All came right in the end though, and after the show I went on to the Officer's Club to a special evening's hospitality they laid on for the ship's officers, and had a feed and a yarn and there was dancing which I contented myself with watching, and eventually got back to the ship at quarter to four in the morning, up at six too!
Today, or rather yesterday I had lunch on board for the first time since Saturday, in fact I feel as though I've had several days leave. I've had a wonderful afternoon this afternoon, I've been picnicking by car, by the sea, and had a swim. It all started at the thing the other night when someone overheard me say I hadn't had a swim since we've been here, and how much I'd like to see their best beaches. It was a couple, he's English, and she's German and strikingly attractive. They arranged to pick me up this afternoon, with anyone else to make up the fourth seat for the car, so I asked a Midshipman along, and they came at two, to the ship and took us up to "Grand Baie," the local rich people's paradise, all private bungalows they call "campements" where we swam. White sand, beautiful green water inside a coral reef, and magnificent scenery generally, the ideal place for a holiday. We had sandwiches and tea made on a primus, (our ideal form of country outing) and then we came back a different way, inland, through the mountains, magnificent scenery again, and they dropped us at the concert hall in Vacoas at seven.
It was a marvellous afternoon, my ideal form of pleasure, car, sea, picnic, sun and scenery, the best afternoon I've had here. Tonight we've done the show, and we're all exhausted. I'm tired of carrying around a bag of clothes, these last two days, I've had to take tropical uniform, blazer and flannels, my wren's kit, and evening dress around with me. I'm looking forward to a few quiet days at sea.
In Mombasa though I should have a good time because there's a swimming gala, so I'll be able to spend every afternoon towards the end of next week at the baths (because I'm the swimming secretary) and the day it finishes we set off for Nairobi (at least the concert party does) for five days to put on shows there. The programme looks very interesting too with displays of native dancing, barbecues, etc. We shall have to work hard I expect, but it will be pleasant work, and the time will pass quickly. I'm sorry it's such a muddled letter dear, I'm tired and dopey, I love you and will write something more sensible tomorrow. Goodnight my love.
Your Own Ken xxxxxxxx
HMS Gambia in the Indian Ocean - Saturday June 11
Hello My Love,
Well I'm nearly back to normal now, after a full night's sleep last night, although I've been cheated of my usual Saturday afternoon at sea in the sun, because it rained, and I also had a lot of writing to catch up on my neglected work on board. My last letter must have been a shocking jumble of nonsense, I've no idea what did go into it! I was so tired at the time.
We really took our last farewell of Mauritius last night, because at eight o'clock they played a selection of recordings of our concert party on "Radio Mauritius," very good it sounded too, quite a professional touch, and the programme ended with a touching farewell to us. It's funny, I've never realised before how a small white community abroad really welcomed visitors, especially the navy. In fact it's the first time I've heard anyone say (and I mean it) that their hospitality was the least they could do for the Navy which had been their salvation during the war.
I'm afraid Mombasa and Nairobi won't be the same because they are larger places, and probably far more "colonial" and snooty. The more I see of these colonials the more I think of the Holdens, * who have to live so simply in England, and yet live as the aristocracy in places like this.
We're getting further west now, approaching the African coast, we should see Madagascar soon, and we put the clocks back an hour this evening, which will make us only three hours different from you. I should get your photos at Mombasa, I've waited long enough haven't I? It's getting warmer all the time again, now we've started moving up towards the equator, I'm reduced to my pants again. There's quite a heavy roll too, but I just don't notice it now, I'm getting really acclimatised to this sea-going, although I'd know where I'd rather be right now. We didn't get any more mail at Port Louis, in fact there's a suggestion that a bag was missing, because mail that was definitely expected didn't arrive on board. Maybe it will be waiting for us when we arrive at Mombasa on Tuesday, early in the morning as usual.
I've got "Radio Newsreel" on now, on the Overseas Service talking about the new polio vaccine. I haven't much idea of what is going on in the old country though, I suppose the strike is still on. I expect there will be English papers for sale where we are going, about a week old. Goodnight Honey xxxx
[I assume this was an ex-pat family my family knew in England.]
Hello my Lover,
I've just come from the film show, "Happy Ever After." Do you remember it, we saw it in Camborne at the King's. Davis Niven and the old place in Ireland he inherited, and all the local inhabitants trying to polish him off. There was that Spanish wench Yvonne de Carlo and Noelle Middleton. It was still funny, quite cheered me up in fact, although it was very hot in the cinema. I've had a busy day again, got up at 6.30 too, I can see I'm going to have a hectic week with swimming, concerting and getting to Nairobi, it's actually 300 mile inland, in the heart of Mau Mau territory too, I reckon I'll have to take a machine gun.
Incidentally, starting today we have to take a daily tablet of paludrin,* a new drug which makes you immune from malaria. Where we've been up to now malaria has been stamped out, but in East Africa it's still very common, and by taking this stuff every day they reckon we'll be OK. I've had my daily dose. It must be important because everyone was fallen in this morning to have a talk about it by the Surgeon Commander.
We've actually seen land today, two largish islands covered with palm trees, and beautiful white sand all around. We never seem to see any ships, I reckon we've got the Indian Ocean to ourselves. Although it was cloudy early on, it cleared up this afternoon and I managed to snatch 2½ hours on my camp bed in swimming trunks in the sun. It will be nice to get our full tan back again, after the cooler weather down in Mauritius. I haven't told you yet, but there's a swimming gala next Sunday at Mombasa at a lido on the coast (the photo looks marvellous) and as swimming organiser I have to set up a team, so I've asked for use of the pool every day from Thursday onwards (when we arrive) and hope to spend a time each day at the pool getting wet and brown. One drawback though is that I'm supposed to be leaving for Nairobi at four that afternoon (there's only one train a day and it takes 17 hours) and yet the swimming goes on until six o'clock.
The Captain has suggested that I try and get the RAF to fly me up to Nairobi on the Monday morning. I'm in great demand! The other thing I have to do is contact the local broadcasting people to see if I can get some records from them to play over our interval system. I shall be worn out after the next fortnight I can see. I'm going to sleep now my lover. I must write to the infants tomorrow though. All my love, dear,
[Paludrine – still used today]
HMS Gambia in the Indian Ocean - Monday, June 13
Just a brief letter to night, I've just written to the brats, after a hard, very full day. I still haven't finished really, but I'm anxious to get one more letter off to you to catch the airmail tomorrow when we reach Mombasa. You know this touring is a hectic business, all idea of date and time is lost in the constantly changing scenery. I'm certainly packing lots of new experiences into a short time. It's funny though, there's very little that surprises me, I suppose it's because I've read about things and seen pictures of them at some time or other, even if it's years ago, and most things seem vaguely familiar.
The other funny thing is my attitude towards these natives. I mean after seeing all sorts of films and reading about the jungles the natives seem very frightening, but seen life-size, even in their finery they look very ordinary and harmless, and I always feel very sure of myself, even arrogant. A typical British attitude abroad I suppose, superior to everything in sight. Maybe I'll change my mind if I manage to go to a full native Ngoma, or tribal dance, with medicine men, spears and drums. We're going to have a party of African Chiefs and notables on board too.
Now my love, I'll leave you, and I'm really looking forward to getting my photos here if they've arrived. All my love dear,
[It is strange how my Father is wrestling with the attitude of Empire and its arrogance towards other countries. I always got the impression that the voyage was much about flying the flag for the Empire. Much of the Empire was already having other ideas.]
HMS Gambia at Mombasa - Wednesday, June 15
Hello My Lover,
What a wonderful day it was yesterday! Four letters from you, and guess what, the photos at last! You look handsome * in technicolour, and such a nice smile, and beautiful soft shining eyes. Just the expression I like. You know, I'd completely forgotten what Andrew looked like. It's a pity you all got caught in the rain. Was it difficult to get them to part with the studio toys? The next thing I must get is frames!
Now then your letters, you know one was posted on the 10th and I got it yesterday the 14th, jolly good. The others were 2nd, 6th, 8th, not so quick. Penny should be swimming in the pool, I'm glad she's a bit thinner, she did look so uncomfortable. I hope you are not losing weight incidentally. I'm sorry Susan has been unwell again.
The tortoises shouldn't need to come in every night, it's not cold now (it isn't here anyway, although they call it winter and complain because the temperature is down to 72 degrees, and say it's too cold for swimming. I don't know the name of your lighter fuel, I should go into a tobacconists and ask to see some different sorts. The next time you send up some Insurance money I should put a note in asking them when it's due and how to claim. Incidentally did the policies come, we wrote for? It probably tells you in them how to do it. Or you could look up the address of their office in Plymouth and take it there and ask them; that would be best. I'm glad you managed to get around the shops.
I've had a hectic two days, starting too early in the mornings for one thing, quarter past five is too soon to get up. I've had an awful lot of rushing about the docks and Naval Base too, culminating this afternoon in going to sea in a minesweeper! As I'm going up to Nairobi next week, Commander L. has gone this week (the Captain won't have us both away together), so this afternoon I and five other officers had to accompany the Admiral to sea in the "Rosalind" a South East Africa Navy minesweeper (a converted trawler really). You've seen pictures and film of trawlers fishing at sea haven't you, well we had 3 hours like that, really vicious rolling and pitching, with the nose digging in the sea. I thoroughly enjoyed it, even when we had a tropical rainstorm, which was so heavy you couldn't see anything but rain. Some were unwell but I reckon I'm immune from seasickness now. Incidentally, there are two white ship's officers (lieutenants) the others are all natives. They even went to action stations and fired their guns.
This evening I've been to the Mayor's "At Home" for officers of Gambia, and frightfully dull it was too, although in pleasant surroundings, with all sorts of people, all colours and sizes. This place is much more civilised, a flourishing port, with good roads and real shops, although away from the main road you're back to mud huts and palm leaf thatching again, and thousands of Negroes. The interesting thing I've found though is the magnificent physiques of many of the natives, they must be Zulus or something. They're big and upright and very heavily muscled, the warrior class no doubt.
Tomorrow I must get postcards and stamps, I really haven't had a chance yet. I shall be glad when I've finished with all this concert party and swimming. I have too much to do at the moment. It makes the time pass quickly though.
Now my love I must leave you, it's very late. Kiss the infants for me, and don't spoil the fair-haired one, he does look handsome!
Your Own Ever loving Daddy xxxxxxx
["My Handsome" is a Cornish expression of endearment.]
HMS Gambia at Mombasa - Saturday, June 18
Hello My Love,
It seems ages since I wrote to you, and I really am in such a daze again, I've had such a busy time lately, and yet I can't remember what I've done. I remember telling you I'd been out in the minesweeper and to the Mayor's Party, now what's happened since?
Thursday morning I spent mostly at Naval Base trying to find out why certain things were going wrong on our programme, such as transport and swimming arrangements, and also dealing with electrical problems. In the afternoon I took a party to the swimming club to practise for the Gala on Sunday, it was a poor afternoon though, and eventually it poured with rain, really heavy tropical stuff which stung, and drove us out of the water. Later on it cleared up and I walked around the town.
It's difficult to describe really, modern in many ways and backward in others, the buildings are modern (in the main shopping centre) but the people are backward. There are many Negroes here, jolly big women dressed in gaily coloured cottons, curly haired men, and some Indians mainly shopkeepers, (Asians as opposed to Africans). In fact the tension has died down a lot out here, and the bad feeling of the natives for the English has turned somewhat against Asians, who are really infiltrating and taking the best jobs. The Asians are well-dressed with magnificent cars, the Africans are all a barefooted lot doing labouring jobs. The native quarters of this town are proper shanty towns too, so the modern buildings are just camouflage really. On the whole I don't like Mombasa.
Yesterday I had a busy morning on board and in the afternoon and evening (and half the night) was at the Theatre where we put on two performances of the Concert Party, to packed audiences, who laughed themselves silly and thoroughly enjoyed it. By the time I and another officer (Schoolie) got down to the jetty, after being entertained by one of the local theatre chaps, the last boat to the ship had gone, so we hired a native boat, whose engine broke down halfway and we were adrift in the middle of the harbour for about twenty minutes, while the goon tried to start it. After a bit another one came in sight (it was one o'clock in the morning by then) bringing some more officers from the theatre, so I hailed it and it came alongside and took us off, and back to the ship. And so to bed at two o'clock after eating some of the Officer of the Watch's sandwiches.
Up early this morning too, with much to do, and this afternoon, a wonderful afternoon, spent it at the swimming club with some of the team, warm sunshine, beautiful, it seems ages since I've sunbathed, and much rushing up and down the bath, and a game of water polo. I asked the Captain if he would go in for the veteran's race and he came up for a practice run, and he can do a length very nearly as fast as our best swimmers, so I think he should walk away with it tomorrow.
I'm resting on board this evening, and catching up with writing to you and washing my socks. I hope the infants have got their postcards and stamps OK, I expect there'll be some better animal ones in Nairobi. I'm putting a concert party photo in this letter. It's not a good one, it was taken at Mauritius during the recording for broadcasting, (can you see the mikes hanging down) and the costumes weren't quite right and we had no make-up on. But I'm the extreme right hand woman! I'm just telling off a man found on board one of my ships. I'm getting slightly tired of it all actually, and intend to retire from the stage before very long.
In some ways I'm not looking forward to going up to Nairobi tomorrow, because we are virtually on duty and have to take uniform, blues too because it's cold up there (9,500 feet high, and people suffer from oxygen starvation up there and are half dopey) there is a large official programme laid on, and what with that and the concert party shows, I'm wondering if I shall even get out to see the countryside, and the animals. I missed a good one yesterday, starting at five in the morning, 300 miles over rough country in jeeps, with all the wild animals you would want to see. I'll have to see what I can organise. Anyway, it's all fixed, I'm flying up tomorrow in an RAF aircraft after the swimming gala. I'll let you know how I get on.
We've had a certain amount of unpleasant excitement this week. The doctor had to cut an appendix out on Monday night, and yesterday morning a lad got severely scalded over ¾ of his body in the engine room, and had to be landed to the shore hospital seriously ill, and a French sailor off a merchant ship who jumped into the harbour was killed by a shark. So things seem to happen here, violently, and suddenly. Goodbye now honey, I hope you're managing everything, I love you.
Your Own Ken xxxxxxxxx
Nairobi - Tuesday, June 21
Hello My Love,
I'm in quite a daze up here and have so much I'd like to tell you, and so little opportunity to write it down. I'll have to go back and start with what happened last Sunday. I had a shocking morning then because I had lots of things to do before I left the ship, and at the same time I was trying to pack to come away, and in the middle of it all had to search through all my belongings for my keys to lock my case, because my case had to come up by train whilst I came up by air with only a zip bag. In the end I couldn't find my keys, and I've come to the conclusion that I left them at home with you probably on the shelf in the cupboard in our bedroom. I know I left my stainless steel mirror behind. I didn't mean to but it doesn't matter I've bought another one (glass though).
Also I was trying to be certain that the swimming team would be OK for the afternoon. I managed it all by midday, and although the swimming didn't go very well (because the locals here are pretty hot at it, we did have the consolation that the Captain won the veteran's race, which pleased him and the lads there too. When that was over I shot off to the airfield and into the Valetta * aircraft and off to Nairobi. We got a wonderful view of Mombasa and the harbour as the aircraft circled and climbed, eventually up to 10,500 feet at which height we flew up here, 300 miles.
Since we didn't start until six o'clock and it gets dark here about half-past, only the first half of the flight was interesting, after which I dropped off to sleep until they came to tell me to fasten my safety belt before landing. The one most interesting thing I did see before falling asleep though was two magnificent rainbows. We were flying into the setting sun, and my seat was facing the back of the aircraft (it's safest with your back to the engine) and looking behind, there was the most brilliant rainbow I've ever seen, and because we were so high it was complete, in other words it extended right round in a circle, and outside it, not so brilliant, and with the order of colours reversed, was a second one, so that looking back there were two complete circular rainbows one inside the other. It was magnificent and I've never seen anything like it before.
The organisation when the aircraft landed at Nairobi was wonderful, incidentally it felt quite cold up here. As soon as the aircraft had stopped taxying some cars drew up and members of the local Naval association were there, including my host with his enormous 3 1/2 litre Jaguar. He is a lawyer who was in the Navy during the war and is now a Lieutenant Commander RNVR, and the Registrar General for the whole of East Africa, a most important legal character! He's not very old and is considered very lucky to have the job so young (£3,500 a year I'm told, house etc. provided). He took me home where his wife (very recently married, younger than he is) had organised a dinner party just to settle me in. In fact I'm in the lap of luxury, my bedroom in their large bungalow has bathroom and lavatory attached, all self-contained.
On Monday morning I went down to the station with the local officials to welcome the rest of our party who'd come up overnight by train (it took them 17 hours!), and it took me 1 1/2 hours by air). They were in good spirits, and were split up in twos and threes to stay in houses here, the concert party ones in and around Nairobi, and those on leave all over the place, some 200 miles up country on isolated farms.
The station was very interesting full of natives of all sorts, many of them travelling with all their worldly goods, the women in gaily coloured cotton garments, their babies carried in slings on their backs, enormous bundles balanced on their heads (where they carry everything, even small things like a handbag) and live chickens under their arms. It was most interesting, especially as Nairobi is such a modern looking city, large, well-laid out with lots of fine new buildings and shops.
The Mau Mau trouble is not so bad now although quite a few men and women carry guns in holsters on their belts, especially all those you see coming in from lonely farms. Where I'm staying, all the windows have metal grilles over them and the large veranda at the front has bars all round with big double doors that are locked at night. In fact everything is carefully locked and bolted at night including the inside doors of individual rooms too. So far all has been quiet.
On Monday afternoon I roamed around the shops and market and odd curio shops. I'm living about two miles out, but the Cowards, my hosts go in to work (both of them) by car in the mornings, back at lunch, and tea, and so they pick me up and take me to and fro. Incidentally, many of the wives here work, even though their husbands have very good jobs, because the rates of pay for secretaries are so high here, £65 a month, so it is cheaper to work and hire more nannies and servants (anything from £2 to £7 a month!) to run your house and look after the kids
I've met all sorts of people here, including many retired Naval officers, and they are all exceedingly prosperous, fine houses, cars, servants, and so on, and they all agree that East Africa is a wonderful place full of opportunity. The climate is wonderful, it's not too hot but clear and pleasant, we all find it such a pleasant change after what we've been used to lately. And I've not been looked after like this before, I've had the most magnificent food these last few days. All the lads are thoroughly enjoying themselves, some are in houses with two or three cars, and one of them has even been given a car to use as he wishes throughout his stay. Of course there are bugbears, such as rehearsals and official functions that we officers have to attend, so that it's not a week's leave really but has quite a bit of duty in it.
However, I don't mind that so long as I see some of the surrounding countryside as well. I'm very anxious to see the game reserves, and the lady of the house has arranged for the game warden to take me on his morning tour of inspection by jeep on Friday, starting very early, having breakfast on the way and carrying on after. There is every sort of animal to be seen on the outskirts of the city. Also Mount Kilimanjaro looms up like an enormous Christmas pudding, covered in ice at the top, it makes a wonderful background to many of the views here. Now my love I'll love and leave you, wanting you here of course.
Your Own Ken xxxxxxxx
[The Vickers Valetta aircraft was a British twin-engine military transport aircraft of the late 1940's]
HMS Gambia at Mombasa - Saturday, June 25
Hello My Lover,
Well I'm back on board after a wonderful six days, and now I must catch up on my letter writing. And try and tell you some of it, but I'm afraid there are so many things I'd love to tell you and I shan't be able to write them down, it would be like a book. First of all I've three letters of yours to answer, did you know, on those forces letter things, you can write on the insides of the flaps you turn in too. I'm glad you've had some summer weather, I hope you're getting brown, you'll have to go down and have a swim! Janet's mother has been doing you well with her Xmas port.
I wish I were home too dear, it's funny I was talking in the train last night with another 2½, and he was saying although he's had a marvellous time in Nairobi, he'd much rather be at home. It was OK for the first month after leaving England, the novelty hadn't worn off, but as the time drags on the homesickness grows. I know just how he feels because it's the same with me, and I find myself counting the weeks to next March 2nd. Never mind it will come round eventually.
Back to Nairobi however! We gave three concert party shows, one on Wednesday evening, and two on Thursday, and it was a great success! The Thursday afternoon show was an extra we volunteered to give because we heard that lots of people were disappointed because they couldn't get in, and the extra one was announced on the radio at midday on Wednesday and all the seats (450) were taken by teatime. You can guess how popular it was, and the Navy's show was the talk of the city for the rest of our time there.
Socially (ahem!) I've had a busy time too, cocktail parties on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday (sandwiches in between the shows with rapid changing and dashing to and fro in a fast car) to meet all the nobility of East Africa (I'm not kidding either!). I've met the most interesting and important people, from the Governor of Kenya and his wife at Government House (very magnificent!) down, through all the various Brigadiers in the army locally, the Chief Justice and Attorney General, Mayors etc., etc., and curiously enough they are all genuinely anxious to meet the Naval officers and entertain us.
I'm really most impressed by all the offers of hospitality, and only sorry that the Concert Party had to leave so soon. However, back to earth, and to tell you about the most exciting event of all! I've been out big-game hunting! Yesterday, being my only free day, was saved for the big treat, and my hostess who's a great friend of the Game Warden arranged for him to take me out to see the animals, as I believe I mentioned in the last letter, and I also wangled it so that Schoolie could come too because he's very keen, and has a movie camera. We got up at quarter to six and tore off by car (70mph most of the way) and reached the Warden's camp at quarter past seven, where we transferred to his jeep.
He is a wonderful chap, an excellent tracker, very knowledgeable about animals, as you can expect, and always has to take the VIP's out who come to Nairobi. He was telling us about some of them, Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, * the Archbishop of Canterbury, and even the Queen when she was here a couple of years ago. He was expecting Sir Edmund Hillary, the Everest chap on Thursday, he was flying through and was expecting to spend three hours at Nairobi, but he didn't go out to look for animals after all.
I feel very honoured really that this chap was prepared to spend most of his day with us. Well first of all we set off to seek out a lion and lioness that his chaps said were in a certain section of the forest. We went and examined the tracks first, and then the natives circled the area and no tracks were coming out, so they must be in there. It was quite a large area actually of waist-high grass and bushes and areas of trees. Well we had a marvellous demonstration of the capabilities of Land rover jeeps! He just engaged the special 4-wheel drive and drove straight on, we went over bushes, tree trunks, rocks, flattening out everything in the way, just like a tank. I was amazed, in fact the jeep ride would have been sufficient entertainment for me. We didn't go fast generally, walking pace often as not, but I never would have believed a jeep could be driven like that, it just went over everything.
We spent an hour in that patch, going to and fro, stopping at times to examine tracks and drop the natives off for a quick search, and eventually had to give it up. In many places the bushes were so thick and the grass so long (see Susan's elephant postcard) that they could have been within a few yards without being seen. We saw other animals which we disturbed (list at the end), and in one particularly dense part we followed rhinoceros traces newly made (including some warm rhino dung). This chap was good, he showed that the track was only a matter of hours old because in the dust the veins between the toes had left a mark, and in soft dust such marks are quickly blown over by the wind.
Anyway, we followed this rhino, and then found a dusty patch where he'd lain down and rolled in it, it was all scuffed up and there were perfect imprints of his scaly hide in the dust, it must have been very recent. We had to give up though because the forest was getting too thick with difficult undergrowth, and rhinos are dangerous and charge without warning. The warden had his gun, but we didn't have any, we only wanted to watch. Then went to his camp for bacon and egg breakfast, very good followed by a conference with some of his natives who said there were lions in another section.
We set off, by jeep again, and after some rugged riding were lucky, a lion and four lionesses together, and they were stretched out, just like pussy cats, in long grass under some bushes. We went to within ten feet of them, and Schoolie took some wonderful shots with his movie camera. Curiously enough they don't associate the jeep with humans, and so long as you don't get out it's perfectly safe (so they say!). We didn't get out anyway! We pressed on then to try and find an enormous black-maned lion which had been sighted earlier that morning by one of the trackers, but again we were unlucky, although we tried to locate the exact spot over which a heap of vultures were circling, which looked as though the lion had made a kill, and they were waiting their share.
Then he decided to go down onto the plains, lovely rolling grassland, which he said stretched for hundreds of miles, and across which the jeep could do 40mph comfortably. Then we had a magnificent time, it was just like the old film "Bring 'em back alive," great herds of zebra, and gazelles, and gnus, and ostriches and giraffes. We chased after them and it was so funny, the ostriches tearing along with their silly eyes starting out of their heads, and giraffes apparently going in slow motion with their long legs, but actually going very fast.
We came to one water hole where there must have been 3 or 4 hundred animals grazing, all mixed up too, a wonderful sight. Finally we went down towards a river, where hippos and crocodiles lurk, the vegetation was much thicker, and we had to leave the jeep, and walked along animal tracks, well defined paths, for about a mile alongside the river and saw turtle and an evil looking crocodile sunning himself on the mud, and monkeys, and most beautiful birds, but unfortunately no hippos, and because it was getting on in the afternoon we had to give up and come back. It was a wonderful experience though, we must have covered 100 miles that day in the jeep, because we ended up 40 miles from where we started, let alone all the detours and searches we'd made.
I really feel now I've been to Africa, and been 350 miles inland. I was writing down the animals as we sighted them, (there were whole herds at times) but the types were turtle, crocodile, impala, hartebeest, giraffe, gnu, ostrich, zebra, golden crested crane, bustard, vulture, gazelle (both Grant and Thompson gazelles) bush buck, monkeys, hyena, waterbuck, eland (an enormous animal, as big as a horse with great horns, it's the biggest of the water buffalo family) and of course lions. No elephants unfortunately, it's too high up for them there.
Incidentally, we'd prepared for the trip by snatching an hour at the museum on Thursday, where they have all the African game stuffed, as well as displays of all the native stuff, spears, shields, armaments and do on, very interesting, can't tell you in detail though.
I'm afraid I was very sad at leaving Nairobi, it's a wonderful place this Kenya, no wonder the Mau Mau are fighting for it. I must write about the Mau Mau and the natives in another letter, this has been all about animals.
I'll have to stop too, or they'll refuse to send this airmail, I love you dear and wish I could tell you all about these things, I'm afraid I'll forget them all by the time I come home, and I can't possibly write them all down. Cheerio my love, until next time,
Your Own Daddy xxxxxxxx
[Hollywood Movie Stars.]
HMS Gambia at Mombasa - Sunday, June 26
They say bad new travels quickly, I had a letter from you this morning posted on the 23rd, isn't that wonderful, only three days ago. It's the one though telling me Susan has measles. Poor old Susan, she's the one (next to you of course, I hope) who's noticing my absence most, and she's having more trouble too. I expect Andrew will be the next. Yes I ran out of paper last night; this morning though I've got 3 pads and 2 packets of envelopes from the Naafi.
I'm resting today, I've had a sleep this afternoon and now I'm going to get up to date with my letters. A pity not to go ashore really, it's a wonderful day, hot sunshine, too hot really. In fact I'm beginning to feel the heat after the coolness of Nairobi. I came back by train, leaving at tea-time on Friday and getting to the ship at half-past ten yesterday morning. The railways here are jolly good, enormous engines, and modern clean coaches. I had a first class sleeper, and the food was jolly good, much better than British Railways. All coloured workers on the railways, Indian drivers and stewards and guards, African porters and attendants. The Station Masters are Europeans.
All the expenses of this trip were paid for by the local entertainments committee; that is all fares, meals on trains, and food, accommodation and entertainment on this Nairobi trip have all been free, I've had a week's leave and entertainment free. My hosts (and all the other hosts) are volunteers, and seem genuinely glad to be able to have us. It's difficult to repay them really, I presented the lady of the house with a large box of chocolates, and as my host had to fly down to Mombasa here on business yesterday, had him on board for drinks and lunch thinking it was a small gesture of appreciation. She has a married sister at Dar es Salaam where we go week after next and I had to promise to look them up too.
After lunch yesterday he asked if I'd been up the coast to Nyali, and as I hadn't, he had about three hours to spare before the plane left he suggested going up there. He'd borrowed a car for the day from one of judges, a Morris 8 like the Dickson's old one, and I happened to remark quite casually that I missed car driving very much, and he insisted that I drove there, which I enjoyed very much. I drove up to Nyali beach, so now I've driven in Africa! Dust roads too, once outside the towns, white hard-packed roads that send up dust clouds as you go over them, and hang in the air behind.
Nyali * is wonderful, miles of beautiful white sands, with palm trees down to the beach, blue water, and breakers over the coral reef which runs parallel to the coast about half a mile out. He left me there to dash back to the airport, and I had a swim and a long walk along the sand and back, and had some tea at the Nyali Beach Hotel, a magnificent place (tea was cheap though) with terraces and gardens down to the beach. The, when I saw a car about to leave I asked if they could drop me off in Mombasa, and they insisted on running me right down to the docks, which was just right.
After tea I wrote my letter to you. Well we leave Mombasa tomorrow and go to Zanzibar, not very far away, we arrive nine o'clock on Tuesday morning, and sail on Friday morning. Zanzibar is a funny, old world eastern place with a Sultan. I don't expect to do much there except look around the island and visit the markets and bazaars. More queer money to deal with and rubbing shoulders with the natives.
I was going to tell you something about the natives wasn't I. I've heard a lot about the Mau-Mau and although much of the trouble has died down it's still a big problem and nine were sentenced to death in Nairobi on Friday. Many people carry guns, including a lot of women, and on Thursday evening I went to the Operation Room at Police Headquarters for half an hour, just to see it, and a report came in then that a known Mau-Mau was seen getting in a taxi in the native quarter, armed with a revolver and a sten gun. Two radio cars were diverted to look for him, but without success at the time I left.
Incidents are far more frequent up-country, though in the Kikuyu * reservations, where the army is out on operational patrols all the time (some of our lads spent their leave operating with the army, just for the experience, and others went on RAF bombing and supply dropping trips over the jungle. I would have liked to, but there isn't time to do everything!), there are strict curfews, and control of the natives.
They live in little round huts, sometimes larger square ones, with mud-covered wattle walls (you know interleaved sticks covered with mud that hardens), with palm leaf thatched tops (drawing). The women do all the work, not only in the house but in their little patches of garden where they grow :mealie" a sort of maize which seems to be their only food, a sort of porridge really. The women wear a sort of wraparound cotton thing, always in bright colours, which in the towns they wear like a sarong, but in the country districts just from the waist down, and it's funny to see them, with breasts swinging free, kids slung in a bundle on their backs (which they just sling around the front at feeding time), enormous baskets on their heads, (or gourds full of water, see my sketch), or sometimes they carry enormous bundles on their backs, slung from a band around the forehead. The men just seem to sit around in the country districts. They all have these disfigured ears, the lobes hanging in great loops sometimes with ornaments in them, and in some places it seems fashionable for the women's heads to be completely shaven, and they seem to favour these patterns of scars on the cheeks and shoulders. An interesting lot on the whole, cheerful though.
It's funny to come back to the ship, I feel quite detached from it all, even after Divisions this morning. We have our usual Sunday evening film tonight, and it's "Pffft," I don't know whether you remember seeing that advertised, I don't know what it's about, but I'm bound to go.
Well my love, I feeling fit, and was glad to get back to your smiling photo. I hope the measles aren't going to put too great a strain on you, give the kids my love, I love you, and will write again soon.
Your Own Lover. Xxxxxxxxxxxxx
[Nyali is an international beach resort now. The Kikuyu are Kenya's largest ethnic tribe]
HMS Gambia at Sea - Monday, June 27
It's nice to feel the ship rolling again, it's a pity we haven't a week at sea to come instead of just 15 hours. We left Mombasa in a magnificent display of in-efficiency! Apart from the sailor who was badly burned the first day in and has had to be left ashore in hospital, one deserted on the 17th June and hasn't been seen since, and at sailing tome this evening two more were missing. The Captain hung on as long as he could, and eventually said, "Shore off" and when there was six feet of water between us and the jetty, they appeared, and were drunk to boot, so a party had to go and collect them, in full sight of all the people cheering as we left. When it came to dropping the pilot, they thought on the bridge that he'd got into the pilot boat, and steamed on until a great shout went up, he was still on board! To cap it all, it was pouring with rain, so we left in a blaze of non-glory.
One of my chaps has come back with a home-made Mau-mau gun made of half inch piping, and a filed down door bolt for the striker, powered by a coiled spring. I should think it would do more damage to the chap who fired it than the one it was pointed at. I walked along the jetties this afternoon to see the loading and unloading of all the merchant ships here. Onto one they were loading a huge crate with a zebra in it, and another one with 4 baby ostriches about six feet high. I suppose they're going to a zoo. Incidentally, I'm putting in a few Nigerian stamps I found on those old letters from the Holdens. I must get some from Zanzibar tomorrow. Some are the same but she can use them for swaps. I have little to tell you today of course, except of course that I love you!
Hello My Lover, we're at Zanzibar, where we arrived at nine this morning with much firing of guns to salute the Sultan. Zanzibar is the name of the island, a long low one, surrounded by a coral reef, and covered with palm trees, and Zanzibar is also the name of the principal town, off which we are anchored. I've been ashore to inspect it this afternoon, there are only 200 Europeans here, it's mainly an Arab place curiously enough, the centre at one time of the African Slave trade, and a big port for the Arab Dhows, or sailing boats. It's a wonderfully quaint old town, mostly with very narrow streets (about 5 feet wide) twisting and winding in all directions. We got lost several times, there were six of us, and had to be led around by some small boys.
Nobody lives on the ground floors of the buildings, where the salves and goats used to be kept once, and where there are no windows, and the doors are thick, heavily studded, and beautifully carved. They live instead on the first floor, the ground floors nowadays being empty. Most quaint. I've enclosed some stamps for Penny, although they're very dull, no pretty pictures, and a couple of postcards. There are no animal ones I'm afraid, there are a few leopards inland, but they are not often seen.
The main industry here is clove-growing and distilling, and in one place there were great heaps of cloves laid out in the sun and the smell was wonderful. Otherwise there doesn't seem much to do, although we did have a quick swim, as it's supposed to be quite safe here. I can't understand why, when it's so close to Mombasa where the sharks are deadly. This evening we've had our cocktail party for the local dignitaries, apart from the Europeans in the local government there were some very interesting Arab Gentlemen in full "Sheikh sets" looking very colourful. What a queer lot we have to be polite to! Tomorrow we're giving a big firework display to amuse the natives.
I'm all mixed up, I had a letter from you today written the day before one I got last Saturday (the one that came in three days) so I've had some of your news in reverse. Look, I did forget your railway voucher, I'm sorry, but I have written (two days ago) to ask them to send you one direct, so it shouldn't be long following this letter. Don't lose any more weight dear, or I'll have to fatten you up when I come back, until you're your usual sleek self.
The film "Phffft" was fairly comical, and the title is the sound a folding bed makes as tit slides in and out of the wall. As you can guess, a bedroom comedy almost, about a couple who get divorced and eventually re-marry again. Tomorrow I'm going to the Museum with schoolie and afterwards for a car ride round the island, and swimming in the lagoon with underwater gear to see the underwater life on the coral reef, all arranged by some of his opposite numbers in the local school.
I prefer that sort of thing to stupid cocktail parties, still if it wasn't for the cocktail parties we'd never meet the people who invite us to do these things. Now my love I', going to retire, after a shower, and read my thriller from the ship's library, and then perchance to dream. Try and cheer old Susan up for me, and keep cheerful yourself, the time will soon pass, I hope. As ever,
Your Own Loving Daddy xxxxxxxxx
P.S. It's the Sultan on the stamps.
HMS Gambia at Zanzibar - Thursday, June 30
Hello My Love,
Once again I've a lot to tell you, and it would be so much easier and far nicer to curl up beside you and talk about it. Yesterday afternoon Schoolie and I went to the museum, and the most interesting things were really outside in the garden. Three "baby" tortoises, at least babies as far as this sort go, even so they stood 18 inches high and measured 2 feet 6 inches from top to tail, very interesting, alive of course, Schoolie took a film of them with his movie camera.
The museum was interesting though, lots of Arab relics, including daggers, which the curator took out of their showcases for us to handle. Afterwards we went on this car trip up to Mangapwani 25 miles up the coast, through waving palm trees, banana trees, clove trees and mangroves, very colourful, passing the Sultan's summer palace and the house where Livingstone stayed whilst he organised his final expedition into the African mainland in 1866.
At Mangapwani the beach was empty except for some native fishermen who'd pulled their boats up on the sands and were unloading their catch. One of the notable things, there is a huge cave which opens up from the beach, into which the Arabs used to drive their slaves when the British Men of War came around trying to stop the slave trading. It wasn't a very suitable place for a long stay though, because, because if the tide came in, they were drowned (and the tide comes in very quickly sometimes you know!).
Well I had a very long exploration of the coral in the lagoon. I was in the water for over an hour with flippers and helmet on exploring the wonderful coral formations, of all colours and shapes, and pretty coloured fish. It's very interesting although I'm not altogether safe, because there are many unpleasant things in the sea in this part of the world. I haven't got to the state where I'm prepared to wrestle with an octopus and bite it between the eyes, even to keep up my prestige among the natives. It was very pleasant, I like there tropical beaches, lagoons and coral reefs.
We finished the evening with supper at the English club, eaten on a balcony over the harbour, with the waves breaking underneath. Very peaceful, no expense either, we were guests of the club, and then we went to the local cinema, just for the fun of it, where I think we were the only Europeans, and for the magnificent sum of two East African Shillings saw a terrible old film with Boris Karloff in it that must have been 20 years old, and so back to the ship, rowed off by a couple of natives in their hulk. We took back a drunken sailor too, who reckoned he was exhausted, because he'd been wandering in circles for the last two hours up and down the alleyways and couldn't find his way down to the jetty. He seemed to have enjoyed himself though.
This afternoon I've been with Commander L. poking around all the curio shops and jewellers in the bazaars, to see the local specialities. All sorts of things were turned out for our inspection, many from China and India, carvings in ebony and ivory (it was pay-day today actually) and we decided that we'd be better advised to wait until we get back to India for that sort of thing. The speciality here is filigree silver work, heavy silver jewellery, slave bangles for arms and legs, all Arab work and heavily carved and studded wooden chests. We spent a most interesting three hours and learned quite a lot.
This evening (after chicken dinner on board) I went ashore with most of the wardroom to a party at the English Club, attended by the Admiral and His Excellency the Governor, and all the local aristocracy, including the Earl of Oxford and Asquith and his wife (he's a secretary in the administration here), but apart from talking with some interesting goons here and eating a huge bacon and egg feed, which had to be forced down on top of my chicken, it was fairly dull, and I was tired, and left immediately after the Admiral and was driven back to the jetty in His Excellency's enormous car accompanied by his aide-de-camp, and driven by his native driver in fez. The car had awful trouble in the narrow alleyways, just enough clearance on the straight, and much backing and edging round the bends. Very smooth though!
It's quite funny to hear the locals referring to H.H. (His Highness the Sultan) and H.E. (His Excellency the Governor) and all the other abbreviations which are part of the Diplomatic and Colonial Services.
Well my love, it's one way of earning a living, this navy cruising, and I suppose it will be interesting to talk about one day. I'd like some "home comforts" right now though. We all agreed tonight it's time to come home. I love you dear.
Keep Cheerful, Your Own Ken xxxxxxxxxx