Into, and Out of Africa…

1967

England – Sold the Old Blue Truck, packed change of clothes, met with the OVC Employment Agency. New job at Sheraton British Colonial Hotel, Bahamas – Start in June.  Shipping Line wanted a ‘Supernumerary Stock Officer’ – cattle trade to East Africa. “It’ll suit you perfectly – spend some time in Africa and then fly to the Bahamas.”

I became Supernumerary Stock Officer on the Clan MacTaggart carrying breeding cattle for Kenya, military vehicles for the Zambian Army, and lots of unmarked 44 gallon drums.

Five Aberdeen Angus cows and two BIG Poll Hereford bulls – one cow was pregnant but not ‘due’ (they said) until after we got to Kenya.

We sailed 3 days after my interview. A few days in the Canary Islands then South around the bulge of West Africa…  Off Windhoek in South West Africa – we entered the ‘Cape Rollers’. One of the cows became terribly seasick – London had identified the wrong pregnant cow! Seas rising, glass falling, serious storm building…

Around the Cape…

‘MacTaggart’ was born in a force 9 gale – 40 foot seas. Not an easy birth – labour lasted 2 days. Camped in the box with the mother. When it was over she must have considered me ‘family’ – she licked us both clean!

Still in ‘the rollers’ – off East London, the second crisis – a crew man fell in the engine room – lost a hand.  Pilot service sent out a boat and winched him aboard.  Calmer seas off the Natal Coast – North between Madagascar and Mozambique, past Tanzania, bunkered in Tanga – then on to Kenya.


306aTrucksKenya –
Offloaded cattle in Mombassa – 10 days shore leave. Traveled to Arusha with cattle, spent a few days in Tsavo game park with the purser. Both pilots, we chartered a Piper from Port Reitz airfield. On landing, given an intentional 180 degree error in wind direction – we nearly bought it…

Tanzania – Dar es Salaam, unloaded trucks and drums, met the British Officer in charge of Zambian Army unit. He knew the father of one of my friends in London. They were returning to Lusaka via the ‘Hell Run’ through Morogoro (North Korean troops known to be training ZANU and ANC forces). Acting as guards to an oil convoy breaking the oil embargo on Rhodesia. Asked if I would drive a Landrover in the convoy – Army would provide my travel, from Lusaka to Johannesburg.

Not the smartest decision I’ve ever made. Convoy became famous. Ambushed by ZANU forces west of Morogoro – just 7 survivors. Our last three vehicles were delayed 20 minutes behind convoy – that delay probably saved my life. Fires still burning, small arms fire still crackling in surrounding bush, lead Zambian army unit returned with the body of the guerrilla commander. British Field Rank hat band and a monkey skin battle kaross. The pornography of death. Not pleasant.

Neither was the Tanzanian Military Police debriefing back at Dar es Salaam. What was a civilian doing with a military unit? An armed civilian? Couldn’t hold the British Major, released him and he went to British Embassy, reported my plight. Embassy negotiated my release, advised to leave Tanzania immediately. Captain of the Clan MacTaggart agreed to take me back on ship’s company. Sailed on tide that night. So much living in one day.

Had left a suitcase in the Landrover at Morogoro, total possessions, what I stood up in, a Wakamba wood carving and a £9 bar bill in the officers mess – but could have been worse…

We sailed South… Stopped by Royal Navy Blockade just off southern Tanzania. “Are you carrying embargoed goods for Rhodesia?” “Of course not…”

South Africa, Docked in Durban and took a train to Johannesburg. Stayed with friends in Bryanston and Sandton, then took an apartment in Tygerberg and got a job at the Skyline Hotel in Hillbrow. Began searching for Hazel (friend from OVC in London, seriously injured in Aden). No luck, family connections closed me out.

A new lady entered my life, Dutch, with little English. I had no Dutch – a little Afrikaans. No common language, but we communicated perfectly… She was also Jewish. It was May, tensions building in Israel, Topol (still the star of Fiddler on the Roof) left London for Israel with several flights of young Jews. Young Jews in South Africa wanted to do the same, she wanted to go too – we went…

Israel, Not a place to be, last week of May. We traveled North, driving a supply truck, towards the kibbutz beneath Golan Heights. Nearly made it. I recognised the sound of incoming mortar – but screamed in English… Back in JHB 2 days later. No photos, I had lost my camera, and so much more.

South Africa, Couldn’t settle, couldn’t leave – drifting…

New job at The President Hotel, friends in Pretoria – Transvaal Pistol Club and trophies.  Renewed my search for Hazel, at a Braai (BBQ) – a stranger offered help and I found her sister…

I never did get to the Bahamas – it didn’t seem so important anymore…

1968


South Africa
– Hazel’s sister helped me in preparations for first meeting, what to expect, how not to react.  First meeting – Four Seasons Hotel Durban.  A week of separate ghosts, together but alone – dragging each other down.  We promised to stay in touch – but we knew we couldn’t…

A promotion at The President, A week in Swaziland to celebrate… Mrs Robinson…

An invitation, a 21st, in Brisbane. Time to go home. Had to be there by August 28, booked a berth on P&O Arcadia – Durban to Sydney.

Australia, felt good, peaceful, warm, the air breathable – after so long at 6,000 ft.  Friend from London met me at the ship.  She was appearing at the St. George Leagues Club. I won a jackpot on the poker machines – $500 – a good start in a new country!

A train to South Brisbane station – in 1968, not Queensland’s most attractive gateway, driven to Clayfield – the leafy side.  An introduction to the real Queensland – EKKA week, Black & White Ball, show jumping – and her 21st at the Belleview Hotel. We had grown apart – too much in two years.


Bus to Gold Coast – Frank D. “Meet me in the PE” – up the stairs, through Chevron Poolside tropical gardens. By the time I found the Pink Elephant Bar, I knew where I wanted to live. An afternoon drink with George Schofield – an invitation to dinner. Next day I became the Food & Beverage Manager of Chevron Hotel…

New Zealand – just for a week – it didn’t feel like home any more. It had only been four years – but a different lifetime…

Australia – Chevron Paradise Hotel. A house with Frank – began preparing for annual International Air Hostess Quest. New colleagues briefed me on the ‘benefits’ of the event. During welcome cocktails, Anders and I compared notes. Seems we both saw potential in Miss ** Airlines… Following night, Poolside Luau – I was supervising drinks staff, Anders ‘spearing’ a keg, it rolled over my leg – I spent the night in Southport Casualty. Anders won Miss ** Airlines…

1969

Australia – Chevron Paradise Hotel – Settled into a quieter corporate life and resumed hotel management studies.  Food & Beverage Manager – 4 restaurants, coffee shop, room service, 2 night clubs, 6 bars and banqueting facilities for 600.  The era of the Maori Show Bands.

A holiday on Hayman Island – first game fishing experience, and last diving trip… blew an eardrum diving for lobsters in Blue Pearl Bay.

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1970


Australia
– Chevron Paradise Hotel – more of the same – studies continue – a new house at Moana Park – a week in New Zealand for a family wedding.

Another quiet year – quiet was good…

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More from John’s Story…

From To.. Page Name
 1967 1970  Into, and Out of, Africa
 1971 1980  A Quieter Life
1980  Offshore Racing
 1981 1990  The IVF Years
1987  It takes Three to Tango
1990  Cassy’s Story
 1991 2000  Going it Alone
 1991 2005  Tourism Marketing
1998  A House Somewhere
 2001 2010  A Change of Pace
2001  Fishing Trips
2005  More Fishing Trips
 2011 2020  Three Score Years and Ten?

 

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