A Boyhood in Africa

Africa in the early 1960s as experienced by a young ex-patriot

Archive for August 2015

The Queen Mum’s Visit

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QueenMum

For the entire time my family resided in Kenya it, along with the rest of East Africa, was a British Colony and part of the Commonwealth. A Union Jack flew over Government House and the realm was ruled by a colonial governor. Shortly after we left to take up residence in Rhodesia in 1962, Kenya, though still part of the Commonwealth, become an independent country. Since it’s often in the news and I know a lot of people who either live there or have relatives who do, it must be doing rather well.

They were then and still are given to driving on the wrong (left) side of the road. Although this doesn’t seem to be an issue in Kenya, I suspect that driving on the left side of the road may not be optimal given that drivers in India seem to have a difficult time adhering to any one side of the road long enough to garner an advantage. So much for thousands of years of civilization.

Back to Kenya…

Since there were no foreign community schools, my parents enrolled me in Nairobi Primary School. Because the British school system is somewhat more advanced than the US system I was obliged to be tutored over the Christmas-New Year’s holiday to catch up with my classmates. There was a compounding factor. The school year in Kenya coincided with the calendar year. So, even though I’d just started the second grade in a US school months earlier, the school year in Kenya ended just weeks after our arrival. Fortunately, unlike now, I was a quick study.

Most of my classmates were the sons and daughters of British expats who had been lured to the colonies by the prospect of inexpensive land and otherwise attractive businesses opportunities. By all appearances, most were doing rather well, far better than they would have been doing had they remained in the then still excessively socialistic UK.

School started promptly around 7:00 AM and concluded at 1:00 PM. There was a lot of emphasis on sports. In keeping with tradition, everything stopped for Elevenses (tea at 11:00 AM) when we were served tea and oversized slices of bread spread with butter and Marmite (nasty salt-laden concoction derived from an extract of yeast).

Just as was the case in the UK, things were subject to a discipline and order that was enforced with tennis shoes and cane switches. If you got out of hand the schoolmasters could whack your backside with a tennis shoe. If you were especially unruly they could ramp up the severity of the punishment by whacking your backside up to six times with a cane switch, a ritual commonly referred to as “Getting Sixies”.

Things were reasonably British, so much so that members of the royal family were given to visit from time to time. These visits occurred with some regularity. In fact the current reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, while still a princess, visited Kenya in 1952 and while staying at “Treetops” learned that her father, King George VI, had passed. So most were not surprised to learn when the Headmaster announced that we were all destined to greet Her Majesty the Queen Mother the following week.

When the appointed day arrived, shortly after arriving to school, we were marched by class to a fleet of busses that had been commandeered to transport us to the Nairobi Trade Fair grounds where we would see and hear Her Majesty from a grassy field. The trip didn’t take very long. Shortly after leaving school the busses turned onto Ngong Road for the two to three mile trip to the grounds. Once there we were ushered by class to sit cross-legged on the grass. When we first arrived the sun had some ways to go before reaching its zenith. If memory serves, I think our school may have been one of the first to arrive so we had to wait for almost an hour before all the other students had assembled, long enough for the sun to ascend high enough for it to be hot, so hot that some kids started to faint.

There were kids from every school for miles around Nairobi. There were kids from primary and secondary schools. There were kids from the European schools as well as the Indian and African schools. All told, there were thousands in attendance. And there in that field we all waited patiently for Her Majesty to arrive. And all the while we’re being baked to crisps.

After what seemed like an eternity, some school master stepped up to the dais to announce that the Queen Mother’s entourage was running a “bit Late’ and commanded us to exercise additional patience and keep the ruckus to a minimum. I think this may have happened more than once.

Eventually the royal entourage turned into the grounds and we were commanded to stand up and cheer Her Majesty’s arrival. This noisy pandemonium went on for quite some time as it took a long time for the Queen Mother to get from her car to the dais. And then, as she approached the microphone, somebody called us all into action by yelling out “Three Cheers for the Queen Mum!” Hip hip hooray, etc., etc. or so it went.

Finally, after those in attendance quieted down sufficiently, the Queen Mum spoke. She didn’t have much to say and from where I was standing, she was difficult to hear. I seem to recall that she thanked us all for being there and expressed hope that we’d all do well in school. Then there was another round of “Three Cheers” after which she and her entourage left the dais. The whole address lasted no more than two minutes. I don’t remember for sure, but I suspect we may have sung “God Save the Queen” while she was there.

And once she left it was time for us to return to our schools.

That was not the last time that my life was touched by the royals. About a year after seeing the Queen Mum, the Queen gave birth to Price Andrew, the Duke of York. And then, about four years later, while my family resided in Rhodesia, the Queen gave birth to Price Edward, the Earl of Wessex, an event of sufficient magnitude that the day was declared a school holiday. Yea! No school!

I can’t speak for you but the Queen Mum always seemed like a nice lady to me.

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Written by GW Abert

August 23, 2015 at 14:21

Posted in Uncategorized