Posted by: eppingstrider | 14/03/2011

5d: Cairo to Kampala …

In Cairo I took over as Senior Traffic Operator at Cairo Station.  That meant I was responsible for all the traffic handling and organisation for the station which covered of course not only Rod El Farag the flying boat station, but the land plane base at Heliopolis and the new station we’d opened up at Cairo West which was out beyond the Pyramids which was the station for serving the Western Desert.

Throughout that year I was of course having correspondence with Frances who was settling herself down in the nursing organisation in Kampala, and I was trying to settle myself down in Cairo, because one of the things if I wanted to get married and bring her up to Cairo or alternatively bring her up to Cairo and get married, was that I’d got to have accommodation.  This was one of the immigration rules, that any ladies coming in had to have accommodation and any wives joining husbands, the husbands had to have suitable accommodation for their wives to join them.  In the course of this part of looking around I actually took over a flat in Gezira for the other lads that were working out there, so instead of having to maintain the mess which was originally on the island, but on the west side of the island, so therefore inundated by the noise from the nightclubs on the river bank, this flat that I rented was on the other bank, it was much more accessible into Cairo Office but of course it gave us better access to the Gezira Club which is the place where all of us used to spend most of our off-duty time.

Throughout this period too I was trying to organise the fact that I wanted to get down to Kampala to get married, and Maxwell seemed to frustrate every effort that I made to do that sort of thing.  Quite apart from keeping up the one about ‘not being able to take leave in other than a house resort’ or ‘health station’ he called it, but ‘house station’ was something only something that Maxwell defined himself, and as I previously mentioned [??] he only referred to Teheran as being a health station and never considered anything else, still ruling out any possibility of me being able to go down to Uganda.  Then of course we had this other one now of the reinforcement of the Western Desert and the Middle East generally, plus of course feeding through Cairo to the Far East for the Burmese campaign, which of course also meant that all channels of transportation were pretty heavily in fact completely priority booked.  So that he used that also to indicate that we couldn’t have civilians coming out and saying they’d got priority.  So I had to settle down as best I could to getting on working and doing the best job – in the job – and trying to forget about the fact that I had problems on the personal side.  In fact we were working very hard and with the possibility of Rommel breaking through on the Libyan borders into Egypt we were also having to consider the possibility of having to evacuate Cairo.

[the next section sounds as if it as been edited by over-taping, so a bit disjointed in places]

One of my jobs during that period was to assess on the basis of a report by Douglas Grey [trainee with Geoffrey] who actually did a car trip from Cairo through to Aqaba in the Arabian Gulf to plan the possible evacuation of Cairo and use Aqaba as the turning point on what we then established as our Horseshoe Route between South Africa and Australia, and West Africa and Australia, and West Africa and South Africa, so that we then became a real terminus, not a terminus, a junction point for the airlines.  But if we had to get out of Cairo it was felt Aqaba was probably the most suitable but of course Aqaba was completely desert.

… One or two go-downs there, because there was very limited dhow traffic into the port there, because there’s no transport from the port except camel trains further north.

As required I drew up plans for the evacuation of Cairo, which included of course transport of vital things through straight away in order to establish a base for the ‘boats to fly across and build up the movement of the boats there.  But we had of course to put a primary station down first, which was similar to what I had to do when I moved from Butiaba up to Lindi, so except for the transport problem, which route was an absolute shocker, some of the photographs that Douglas Grey had incorporated in his report of the trip, it really made one’s hair stand on end.  I noticed earlier on I said …[end of side A]


Its now 2004, in September, and I’ve been going through these tapes and doing a bit of editing on tape 6 [to be transcribed] I suddenly find that the second side, this side of tape 5, is a blank and its taken me a bit of a while to sort out where I was and what I was doing.

But what I’ll do now, is on tape 6, the editing tape, I’ll make comments of what I want to edit on the A side of this tape 5 and then later on I shall come back to this tape (I hope) trying to follow up what I normally should have carried on with on tape 5A.

Right I’m back now and I’ll try and catch up and to follow up with where I was on tape 5A.


Around this time having done my stuff in the way of preparing for the evacuation of Cairo, and we’d placed the equipment which we would take with us in strategic places so that if it happened vehicles would be available and this stuff we were taking with us would also be available and we would waste no time dashing around trying to collect bits and pieces, we then settled down to wait and see what happened, carrying on our normal working.

Of course after the Battle of Alamein the idea of the evacuation of Cairo was dropped and we got back to normal working except of course that with the success in the Western Desert we increased our civilian flights from the airport out of Cairo West with Lockheeds out to the Western Desert moving up just behind the front line as it captured more territory in the Western Desert. Quite apart from this of course we carried on our normal operation of the Horseshoe Route and one thing I’ve forgotten is we were operating an ordinary air service with Lockheeds up to Teheran from Cairo.

Well, this time of course I was looking around  to see what I could find in the way of accommodation, suitable accommodation so I could think more of my personal affairs namely getting married to my girlfriend who was sitting down in Kampala carrying on her work.  I don’t know whether she was thinking of coming up or whether she was just enjoying herself down in Kampala!  Anyway in the middle of March 1943 I was granted three weeks local leave as a result of the time that I’d spent without any leave at all.  This was obviously the time to get myself down to Kampala and organise things down there.  I had at that time fortunately been able to rent a flat in Gezira which I hoped would be suitable for a married couple, and then did my planning to try and get down and get married.

There was quite a lot of amusement about this, because the staff around knew jolly well that Maxwell had been objecting to my getting married and objecting to me going down to Kampala which of course was outside his area of control, and wasn’t what he called health service [station], and then he put a ban on me using our own flights as well, so it was suspected that I really was in trouble!  But on the other hand my usual friends the South African Air Force chaps, they rallied round and I was offered a place down south from Cairo and with just a local leave I started off by being taken by the South African Air Force Transport Squadron southbound down towards as far as they would take me.  Actually they took me all the way down and I arrived in Kampala on the midday about the 28th March.  I checked in at the Imperial Hotel saying I’d be there just a few days, then I went down to the hospital to find Frances, who of course was then always known as Mollie [edited], went down to check up and find out if she was still willing to say ‘yes’.

At the hospital I was told she was on night duty; she was over at the nurses’ home sleeping as she’d recently, earlier on that day, come off duty.  But as it was early afternoon by that time I went down to the nurses’ home and mentioned to the receptionist there that I wanted to see her, and apparently she told her that there was a ‘gentleman in uniform asking for her at the entrance’.  Of course when poor old Frances came along she saw me, having… not realising, well, not knowing that I was going to be there, and to her it was a great big shock!

That it was to both of us of course.  We then discussed the possibility of carrying on to get married but she was going on duty in a short time so we then arranged that I would meet her the following morning when she came off duty before she went and had her sleep and try and work out the details of how we would get ourselves fixed up.

The next day I went down to the Celtic church to see the local priest who I found was a White Father, and who was Father Hughes.  We had a chat and he said when did I want to get married, and I said “by the end of the week!”

And he sort of giggled and said, “you don’t really mean that.”

And I said “Yes I do, I’ve only got a fourteen day leave and I want to get married and go off on our honeymoon and then I have to get back up to Cairo.”

So he appreciated that but said “you’ll of course need a special licence.”

And I thought, ooh-ahh, “well where do I get that from?”

And he said “you’ll have to apply through the local district office to get the Governor to sign it, and if you want a nuptial mass I’ll have to get permission from the Archbishop in Nairobi because of course this is during Lent!”

So that really sort of started a bit of panic, but we hoped everything would work out, and I was able to tell Mollie that things were working, but, I couldn’t indicate what day we’d be likely to get married but I was hoping that as things were starting to work out it would probably be at least a week before we got the permissions through and be able to arrange the ceremony.  Thinking about this of course I gave my arrival at Kampala as the 28th March but it must have been earlier than that as it took me several days to get the licences.

Anyway we did eventually get the licences: for the special licence I went along to the district officer and he took my details down and checked my passport and said he would check, he knew Frances (or Mollie as she was then) as she was a nursing sister in the hospital and he accepted our planning but the Governor, who had to sign the special licence, was in fact on safari doing a tour, therefore I’d have to hire a runner to be able to take the licence out to him, catch up with him, get him to sign it and the runner bring the licence back again! So there was at least two days lost in the runner going out and coming back.  I see that the special licence for which I paid £5, number 206 was in fact signed by the Governor dated the 27th March 1943, and it accepted that I could get married under that licence within seven days of the date of the licence.  Just as an aside I mentioned hiring a runner, well this was quite a known thing about that period of the administration.  You’d get this runner, he’d go to deliver his message but he always carries a stick which is a split in the end, and the message or envelope or whatever it was would be slid in this split cane and so when he was running along (or walking, or trotting, going along however he’d go) he’d be going along and he would be given priority under all circumstances because he was a runner on official business.

I remember earlier on when I was down in Mbeya that at one time I was out in the car and I saw a lad running along with his cleft stick with his message at the end of it, and I stopped and asked him where he was going and he told me, so I said “Well, ok I’m going there” so I picked him up and drove him along and I dropped him where he wanted to go (I forget now where the village was).  And when he got off he said “Thank you very much” and was very grateful, and would I give him back the rest of his day?  Now this sort of fluffed me, I didn’t know what he really meant, but subsequently I found that his mentality was that he normally would have arrived at that destination in the late afternoon of the day, whereas I was dropping him there at midday.  So therefore I had stolen the time from midday to the evening, which he would normally be travelling, I’d stolen that time from him because I’d delivered him early….  Amazing thinking but, well you can quite understand, well, I don’t know whether you understand but, it’s the sort of thinking when it’s explained to me I could rather understand it, rather like the earlier story I told you about the boy sleeping in the shadow of the building and saying when I told him to go off he bowed and said thank you very much!

Anyway things were working; Father Hughes had sent off his request for permission for the nuptial mass and the runner had gone off with the licence, so things were working out, and it was rather a question of fixing the day for the wedding.  Well, we wanted to fix it, and I had to plan as much as possible on knowing that I had to get back to Cairo so that I could report back at the end of my leave on the 11th April, which was the first day I had to be back working, in other words my leave terminated on 10th April.  So I had to plan doing what I want to do and then getting up to Cairo by the 10th.  And I had to worry about getting back to Cairo as everything northbound was priority traffic.  But I had previously made an arrangement with a flying boat pilot that he would come and pick me up at Lirope, so that another thing I had to do was go and see the emigration and health people to get permission to be picked up at Lirope because that was in a prohibited health area and it wasn’t an official port!  This was fine and I’d anticipated that would happened somewhere around the 6th, 7th or 8th of the month but subsequently I got a message through from Lagos via David Paton who was the station superintendent at Kampala, saying he was not on the service and therefore he wouldn’t be able to do the call.  So that rather stymied my plans for what day I’d be able to be picked up and taken up through to Cairo, and instead I had to think that instead of being on that plane I’d have to find some means by which I could get up via alternative transport.  I remember that the passport I was using at the time had a special endorsement in it by the health people and also the emigration people saying ‘permitted to be uplifted up from Lirope in Uganda’.

Except for the plans that I’d made with the government official and the church, Frances was wanting to do her stuff of course!  She wanted to get a dress for the occasion, she wanted to make sure the staff weren’t too inconvenienced by her wanting to take some time off for the wedding and of course for a few days honeymoon!  So she was quite busy because at the same time she was still carrying on nursing, she kept doing her normal duty and occasionally when she got time off-duty and before she went to sleep we used to have a chat and get ourselves up to date.  We were talking about a honeymoon, and the problems that were there, the trains, either eastbound or westbound through Kampala, only operating eastbound on the Friday and westbound on a Saturday.  It was the same train actually, it went eastbound as far as Rwenzori and terminated there and came back through Kampala the next day.  As a result of this problem, I made up my mind that if we got married on the Friday we’d get the train and go up to the Mountains of the Moon, which I though sounded romantic, and I suggested therefore to Frances that we got married on the 1st April.  This I thought was always a convenient date, I’d always remember the date and not miss out on remembering the day I was married!  But unfortunately she said oh she couldn’t do that, not that she was worried about the date of the 1st April, but because she wouldn’t be able to do all the work of the reorganisation of the nursing schedule etc in time, but she could do it for Saturday 2nd, so that really fixed that we would have the wedding on the 2nd providing we got all the permissions.  But Father Hughes was still happy about that if we didn’t get the permissions through that he could still marry us anyway, it just wouldn’t be a nuptial mass.

Apart from David Paton who was the station superintendent of Imperial Airways down in Kampala, that was the only person I knew down there, so a bit of the socialising side was left to Frances.  But she had a limited knowledge of people there, it was restricted to the nursing fraternity.  As we were not having anything elaborate in the way of our wedding or anything just the nuptial mass and that was it.. we weren’t going to have a major reception afterwards or anything like that we hadn’t got the number of people there anyway to do it with.  But I just didn’t believe we ought to have anything, and if it was a nuptial mass or if it was a wedding mass at all, we would of course as we had to in those days, fast before communion, so after the wedding ceremony we really wanted anyway was some breakfast, it was the first time we’d have something to eat!  So I arranged with the hotel that we would have a wedding breakfast, which would be just an ordinary breakfast from the menu of the hotel.  Some people thought it was rather extraordinary, particularly David Paton I remember making some comment about it subsequently, that we didn’t even had any champagne!  Who ever had champagne with breakfast anyway?  The mass was going to be at 8 o’clock, we didn’t want it later on when the heat was really stoking up, we had it in the morning at a reasonable time.

Anyway the morning of the wedding I walked down from the hotel down to the Church of Christ the King which was the Catholic church in Kampala, I found a flight lieutenant in uniform who said “Are you Geoffrey Pett” so I said yes, and he said “Oh I’m Morris Walter, I’m your best man.”  That was the first time I met him!  I don’t know who organised him but apparently he was the Met Officer at the RAF station there and it didn’t worry me at all, if he was to be the official witness then fine, he was the official witness, so that was grand!  Frances of course had a Maiden in Waiting [sic], it was one of the wives there, Mrs McHugh.  I don’t know what her first name was.  So we had two official witnesses, Flight Lt. Walter and Mrs McHugh.  Quite honestly I don’t remember if there was anybody other than David Paton and the two official witnesses there.  I’m sure there must have been one or two other people there but I can’t remember who they were.

Oh I forgot to mention earlier on, that because we were getting married on the Saturday the train service was in the other direction; we couldn’t go to the Mountains of the Moon, we’d have to go in the other direction, because we didn’t want to stay in Kampala.  So the nearest place that I thought might be suitable was in Jinja so I rang the hotel in Jinja, I didn’t know what it was like, we had to take everything as we found it.  So I rang the hotel in Jinja and booked a room, and that was ok, that was all right, and then after the ceremony we packed ourselves up and went onto the train and went down to Jinja.  And it was actually a lovely little hotel.

Actually it was on the road, well I call it a road but I suppose people that don’t know the country would have called it a track, it was on the road along the waterways where the water tumbles out of Lake Victoria at Owen Stanley Falls, which run up to Lake Kirga, which then carries on westbound and goes into the Murchison Falls and tumbles down into the Albert Nile.  That earlier part of it is called Victoria Nile, incidentally.

One or two things I remember about being in that hotel is firstly the sound of the natives walking past and when there were several of them going about their business they used to chant; you had this wonderful African chant, it really was most impressive.  The other thing that Frances noticed most particularly was the hippos because there were quite a lot of hippos in the waterways around there and they used to snort during the night and used to wake her up with this snorting! They used to wander close up to the hotel and almost walk in through the windows, and snorting just outside the hotel!  And the other thing that I remember too was the table at breakfast time, on the table was a vase of white gardenias, which I thought was very very nice of the hotel people to have done that for us!

Actually the gardenias were growing around in the garden of the hotel so it was only a case of picking them, but you know, to particularly pick the white gardenias and make a little spray of them on our breakfast table I thought was very very kind.

[Tape 5 completing side A and starting side B]



  1. Para 4. Aqaba is not on the Arabian(or Persian) Gulf but on the Gulf of Aqaba which is part of the Red Sea.
    Para 5. The Hejaz railway, which was blown up in WW1, ran either through or near Aqaba between Medina-Amman- Damascus.

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