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‘Get Your Knees Brown!’ S


outhern Rhodesia as it then was – Zimbabwe as it now is – was a British Colony. It was chosen, together with Canada and South Africa, as a suitable base for flying training because its climate was marvellous and because it was a very long way from the hostilities which interrupted flying training in the United Kingdom. The Rhodesian Air Training Group of which we were part operated six airfields in all where flying instruction took place, two each in the neighbourhood of Salisbury the capital city, Bulawayo to the south and Gwelo, a much smaller town than these, half way in between them. Each centre had an EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School) and an SFTS (Service Flying Training School). I had been posted to No. 22 SFTS at Thornhill, Gwelo, which became my home for the next two years.


Getting aboard the train at Durban had its own difficulties. In South Africa, where the sympathies of the vast majority of the Afrikans population were with the Germans, the state-owned railways, the Post Office, the civil service, the police and the army were all preponderantly staffed by Afrikaners. I found myself on the station platform, with a not inconsiderable stack of luggage, left to struggle with it myself. No porter would have been seen helping someone in the uniform of an RAF officer, even in Durban, the premier city of the Province of Natal which, alone among the South African provinces, with its high proportion of immigrants from Britain and the descendants of British immigrants, was decidedly on our side. The journey north was an overnight one, climbing the route to Johannesburg


up the steep slopes of the Drakensburg mountains which I was to get to know rather well from the air in the coming months. From Johannesburg the 3'6" gauge railway struck directly east to Mafeking, then almost due north through tiny stations in Bechuanaland with names like Palapye Road and Francistown, on into Southern Rhodesia and its scrub-infested ‘bundu’ to Bulawayo and finally Gwelo itself. The countryside was uninteresting, just brown scrub with small trees, and everything looking dry and parched. I crossed the border from Bechuanaland into SR on October 10th 1941.


No. 22 SFTS Thornhill was less than a couple of miles outside the town


itself. I doubt if we would have called Gwelo a town had it been in Britain, for the white population was a mere 1,300, but it had a broad main street, plenty of shops, a café or two, a cinema (called the bioscope) and a Meikles Hotel. The Meikles family had early in SR established a chain of hotels and it was a popular cry that Rhodesia was a country fit only for black men, white ants and Meikles! None of these was held in high regard and I hate to think now of the attitude we all had to the local natives who were the hewers of wood and drawers of water for the whites, including ourselves. ‘They were up the trees fifty years ago!’ was the common cry. They were indeed uneducated and in the


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