John’s Life in Kenya
I first came to Kenya when I was just 22 years of age. That was back in 1965 and I had come from Aden where I was working as a pilot for Aden Airways. I gained a flying scholarship at school and when I was 18 and obtained a commercial pilots license and got a job with Aden Airways that year and for the next six years flew DC3s around the South Arabian Protectorate.
I flew into desert strips all over the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula which was a British Protectorate in those days. Aden Airways was a part of BOAC - later British Airways - and its job was provide air transportation between the many different Sheikdoms. I am sorry that I did not realize at the time how honoured I was to witness those sights that would soon disappear forever. I watched camel caravans five-mile long carrying great blocks of salt from the salt-pans in Little Aden to Mecca, Bahrain or beyond and frequently we would carry a family member of a local Sheik on our aircraft without knowing it. After landing at a sand strip, a mounted honour guard of the Sheik’s soldiers would surround the airplane and fire their rifles into the air to welcome the Sheik’s son or brother. There would always be a member of the British Foreign Office nearby on these occasions, who would come over to speak to us.
It was not to last. In 1967 the bugle played the Last Post over Aden for the last time and the Union Flag came down. It was the end of an era and the end of an Empire. It had had its ups and downs with most of the ups in the beginning and the downs at the end. I had only seen the last few moments and was very pleased that I did. In the end, I guess, it had become rather self-indulgent but overall the Empire gave more than it took and was not too bad if you compare it with - say - all the rest. Now, fifty years later Britain has moved on. The Empire has been relegated to history and a new urgent energy is fuelling Britain’s affairs and achieving remarkable results. Today Britain is one of the world’s major economies and she again has a significant role in the affairs of the world. Ask any young Brit today about ‘the empire’ and he or she will probably think you are asking about the Romans or more probably Star Wars! It has been quite a turn around.
It was while I was in Aden that I visited Kenya for the first time. I was just 22 old and had only seen the Essex village I grew up in and volcanic sun-baked rocks of Aden. I was therefore completely unprepared for the astonishing vegetation and animals that met my eye when I in Nairobi. I had flown one of our DC3s down to Wilson for its annual maintenance overhaul and the Mr. Savage - the then Managing Director of Wilken Aero Services who were to carry out the work - was going through the papers with me. As it was lunch-time, he asked me if I would like to join him for lunch at his home which, he explained, was close to the airport. As I was driven up to his house I was amazed by the beauty of the place. A cold lunch was laid on the patio and as I say there looking over the broad sweep of lawn toward the game park beyond I saw, to my astonishment, two giraffes walking by. I knew then that Kenya was going to feature much in my life in future.
After the closure of Aden Airways I returned to England briefly before joining East African Airways with whom I was to fly for the next twelve years. Initially I flew only the internal routes which spanned Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The route-structure was - even by the standards of today when aircraft are so much faster and fly so much higher - impressive. For the first several years I flew only these routes, cruising along slowly and watching Africa pass below, sometimes very close beneath the aircraft. To fly a DC3 from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma which is on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and back in a day took longer that flying from Kenya to London in a jet and a lot noisier and hotter, but it was enormous fun. I got to meet so many different people all over East Africa in a saw great multitude of different landscapes. From the Rwenzori Mountains to the Udzungwa Mountains in southern Tanzania, from the Indian Ocean to the Great Lakes this was Africa at its most spectacular. I enjoyed a unique view of this from my ancient pre-WW2 unpressurised aircraft, flying along day after day at 120 knots at low level with the windows open. But like everything it couldn't last. As the years passed and I worked my way up the seniority list I was moved onto more modern aircraft and then onto jets. By the time East African Airways became Kenya Airways I was flying the Boeing 707, a great four-engined jet from Nairobi to London which was probably the best job in the airline world. It was a beautiful route in near empty skies that crossed the Mediterranean, the Alps, the great Sahara Desert and had my two favourite cities - London and Nairobi - at each end having a very small time-zone difference.