Part 3 - Bus Conductor!

When we left Kalungu we moved to Mpika to a 'real' house. It was like a stretched African kia with round ends linked by a length of straight walls between the round ends. It had a thatched roof and calico ceilings. The thatch harboured mosquitoes and many other insects which prowled around on top of the calico. The house had running water and a dover stove for cooking but only tilley pressure lanterns for lighting. Still no fridge.

We had a pet monkey called Junior which we had had to buy at Kalungu or it would have been killed as its mother had been. Junior had been too small to be eaten as his mother had been. One time when my father and I were working on our old car outside, Junior grabbed the glass fuel filter bowl and shot up into the roof with it. We chased after but Junior was running around above the calico carrying the glass and occasionally tore a slit in it to peer down at us. If the glass had dropped and broken we would have been stranded. At that time I felt like eating Junior myself.

We had recovered our old V8 Ford from Kasama where it had been parked since we came north and the clutch had seized. I drove it down without a clutch, including the Chambezi ferry, in those days pulled across by rope. A very interesting drive in the rainy season!! The clutch freed itself just as I arrived at Mpika.

We were there as a base for building three more bridges on the GNR, at Luanya, Lufune and Lukulu, between Mpika and Serenje. We built a bush house, similar to the one at Kalungu and used it when the rains eased off.

Mpika was quite civilised. The Crested Crane Hotel was run by A P Marriott (known as AP) who had been a big man on the old Bwana Mkubwa mine years before. The pub was very UK in style with a big bar, at one end of which was a stool reserved for George Watts, a wizened old man (probably only in his 50s) who was the radio operator at the airstrip nearby. The strip had been used by Imperial Airways before the war and George had been there all that time.

I was growing up now, almost 19, and was sometimes allowed to go to the pub with my father and his friends provided I ferried them home. I got my first driving licence through this. When I applied for it at the boma, the District Officer Desmond Bailey, simple wrote it out saying that I had demonstrated my ability on the drives home from the pub.

Desmond Bailey was married to Yvonne, who as Yvonne Baseden had been in the F.A.N.Y.s during the war and parachuted into France and captured. This was of course only 5-6 years later. She was lovely and I realise now that I rather fancied her. I told you I was growing up!! I heard years later that she had died of TB from her prison camp times and that Desmond had been murdered somewhere.

Just North of Mpika was an escarpment and the winding road up it was known as 'danger hill'. At the top was a sort of plateau which contained lots of game including buffalo and elephant which had not been too numerous at Kalungu. A very large mushitu known as chinika patali was at the top of the hill and there was always game in it. My father had acquired an assistant called Ross who was the son of a well known old hunter of the 30s always known as 'Bwana Ross'. He went out one day and shot and wounded a leopard and the backsight came off his rifle. I was called to go and finish it off. I was sitting comfortably on a small ant-hill while the African hunters found the tracks for us to follow. I suddenly saw the leopard running towards me. Quite a shock, they do not normally attack humans. I managed to dispatch it before it reached me. A beautiful animal. There had been no need to shoot it at all.

While there my father arranged my first 'job' for me!! He had a drinking pal, Jim Kitchen who ran a transport company from Tanganyika and was 'incorporated' with Thatcher & Hobson in NR. I was to join T&H for about £35 per month. I was to travel on a great big Bristol bus once a week from Broken Hill to Kasama and back to see that the drivers did not get up to any tricks and that they charged all the passengers. The bus was always filled with mainly women with children, dogs, goats, chickens and the top loaded up with bicycles, sewing machines and other goods bought at the line-of-rail. Babies strapped on their mothers backs had of course no nappies and the stench of that and the animals forced me to take up smoking cigarettes in an attempt to escape the smell, it did not work of course and I have been smoking ever since. It was not one of my best ideas!!

The bus spent two nights each trip at a village on the road near ??? and I slept under a blanket on a camp bed and ate my meals with the villagers. I came to quite enjoy such delicacies as the wild fruits of mpundu and masuku and roasted flying ants also the sun-dried , emptied out caterpillars.

When we needed some meat I would go out with my .22 rifle and shoot a duiker. This could be relied on when I used a chinyenye, a whistle made from a short length of duiker horn, open at both ends with the larger opening covered with a spiders membrane. When you blew across the smaller end it produced a call like the one duiker made and almost always called up a duiker to within a few yards.

I had two bouts of malaria within six weeks but did not stop, simply dosing myself with quinine and aspirin. I had had several bouts of malaria before but was then able to be put to bed with piles of blankets and sweated it out with my mother 'mothering' me. This time was too much and on my next trip to Broken Hill I went to see Jim Kitchin and told him I wanted to leave. I will never forget his reply. "Oh, so you can't take a bit of hardship. My partner and I did the trip from Tanganyika for years" I should have hit him.

So I went back to the bridges and hunting. One special place for me was chinyika patali, the very large dambo at the top of 'danger hill' 20 miles north of Mpika. There was always game there and I spent hours circuiting around through the perimeter trees to make the best use of the wind and cover. I took my father there one day. He had done no hunting before. When he saw a herd of hartebeest in the open ground in the middle of the dambo he set out straight towards them without trying to find cover or get on the right side of the wind. I was horrified but could not stop him. All my bushcraft was being ignored. Anyway he almost walked right up to them and fired at them. He missed but it taught me a lesson. If you want to know what lesson it was, give me a call!!!

My father was very keen that I should start thinking about working for a living and during his visits to Shiwa Ngandu Estate he found a job for me for Sir Stewart Gore-Browne. And that will be the next episode in this journal

Roy Williams