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SOME MEMORIES - KEN WILKINSON

Parades in No 1 Dress, black tie, Sam Browne and long puttees that went out of fashion in 1918 plus some often abysmal bugle playing at the evening flag lowering ceremonies are surely not memories common to me alone but do you remember, in 1959, the sombre announcement over the Police radio network that “R Day is upon us” by the Head of Special Branch, Philip Finney. This being the day, it was alleged, for the onset of violence and massacre throughout the territory by a general uprising against colonial rule. Blantyre Control were the first to react with the phlegmatic radio command, “Blantyre One, come in for refreshment”!
However, we had some excellent officers in the force but invariably there were “likes and dislikes”. Who was the senior officer known as “lantana camara” - a species of flowering plant (right) proscribed as a “noxious weed” under the Poisonous Plants Ordinance. It was envy only, perhaps, that suggested another senior officer received a Colonial Police award for “countless years of indecision” – one of the “Yes and no with reservations but don't quote me” brigade maybe.

It was very cheering for the often impoverished newly arrived officers to be able to take out a Government loan to purchase a motor-vehicle but there was the stipulation that, if necessary, it could be used for official duties. The powers that be were not happy, therefore, when a certain officer who used the money to purchase a Morris Mini. It was the first Mini bought by way of the loan scheme and very much a new model to everyone but hardly suitable for the Nyasaland terrain. But what amazed his admiring colleagues was that given the height of the buyer it was amazing that he was able to get in it at all let alone use it on the rough corrogated roads.

On the subject of the highways, their state of upkeep and condition of the variety of vehicles using them governed progress and speed in general. There was the occasion when travelling in the Northern Province, as a passenger in a Police Land Rover and in uniform, when we were being held up by a slowly moving lorry which enveloped us in great clouds of dust. On approach to a small hill I left my vehicle, ran the short distance catching up with the lorry in front, jumped on the running board giving the driver a massive shock, no doubt, to see a very sweaty Police Inspector peering through his window and commanding him to stop!

The variety of crimes and misdemeanours reported and investigated never ceased to amaze me but the most unusual arrest that I recall was that of an engine driver on the NTZR (The Nyasland & Trans-Zambezia Railway?) who was reported by the Railway Authorities for being under the influence of drink and having taken the train through two signals on the journey. He had control of the train until arrested when it eventually stopped at Limbe.

Drink, of course, has been the downfall of many a good man. I fell foul of the OC Division in Lilongwe when, having enjoyed a lunchtime social drink (well, several perhaps) with colleagues walked home and fell asleep in the dining-room. Some considerable time later I was awoken with some alarm by the clearly angry sound of the OC's voice. Having failed to arouse me he had climbed through a window and loudly berated me alleging that due to my influence one member of his cricket team had proved incapable of putting bat to ball! Although he stated his intention to report my "misconduct" to Headquarters I heard nothing more about it until a much later date when I was told that when the ACP heard about it he was highly amused and refused to take any action. A diappointing facet of this event was that my dog, Duke (picture right), had done nothing to see off this obvious intruder. However, it all became clear later when, attending a Divisional meeting, Duke came through the door, ignored me and went straight around the OC's desk and lay on the floor beside him. That's loyalty for you!

Fitness was a basic requirement for the Colonial Policeman and I have to say that I may not have always reached peak performance in this discipline. For instance, there was the occasion when I was dragooned into playing rugby in Lilongwe only to be told after the game that I resembled a set of traffic lights - started on red, turned yellow and finished up very green!

Driving in Nyasaland often left a lot to be desired, it was possible to get a full licence purely on production of a UK provisional for instance and often enough a very inexperienced OC district was the testing officer for new drivers. This lack of experince I recall being reflected in one of our new officers. Having got his Government loan, drove his car from Blantyre to Zomba without getting out of the lowest gear - it seems he had never owned a motor before. A car thief did much the same driving from Blantyre to Limbe and, as is the way of such a villian, speed was of the essence and apparently the noise thus generated was indescribable.

Driving was basically new to me too although I had passed my UK test some eighteen months before in an Austin A35 I had not driven at all since. So, when in my first posting, I found myself driving last in a convoy of five PMF Land Rovers, each with an NCO in front and six constable in the back, I was not without some apprehension. I was instructed by the Platoon Commander to make sure I kept up with the convoy and off he roared in the front vehicle with some speed. Being in the rear was bad enough but endeavouring to keep up with a full complement of passengers, never having driven solo before and in a totally strange vehicle was quite horrendous. I eventually made it to Liwonde with heart pounding and the sight of the ferry there was even more alarming. Expecting a solid ramp by which to board using the two loose narrow metal strips available filled me with trepidation. With all the other vehicles on board I just had to go for it and surely more by luck than judgement I managed to "bounce" my Land Rover (the passengers having had the good sense to debus) awkwardly on to the Ferry.

Still with the PMF, it was training in Limbe when carrying out tear gas drill that one hapless constable on hearing the command "Draw grenade" managed to pull out the pin whilst the grenade was still in the haversack. As the gas poured out it was his natural reaction to take off at high speed in the impossible attempt to get away from it. This let to a hot pursuit by the rest of the platoon and his progress being finally halted by a fine rugby tackle, the haversack was removed and, to the amusement of all present, his shorts as well - apart from his loss of dignity he suffered only minor burns.

Who hasn't made a mistake, we were all at it in Nyasaland, as an SB officer I received a servere reprimand for carelessness in relation to a classified document although it did not initate a national emergency. One of my SB sergeants, without my knowledge, decided to keep the duplicate key to his safe, where else, but in the safe! Needless to say when he lost the main key it needed major construction work to remove it from its concreted emplacement and shipment via the Ilala to PWD in Blantyre to get it open.

In retrospect, was it a mistake, too, that being aware now that Nkhata Bay was not a totally crocodile free area would I have been so carefree about taking my regular early morning dips in that beautiful lake?

This Nkhata Bay crocodile had to be removed after it entered the lagoon on the fisheries beach and was causing mayhem among the fishermen and others who bathed there. Given that crocodile bile is a very potent poison in demand by some it was decided to weight it down and drop it into deep water well offshore - hence the attached breeze-block. Can you identify the Police Officer whose marksmanship disposed of it by his stocking and shoe?

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