Tales from the Bundu – A funny thing happened

This article is the first in an anthology of stories (Tales from the Bundu) written by Brian Parnaby and two former colleagues and members of the British South Africa Police, about their memories from their respective Police days:

The story below was contributed by Hamish Harvey, ex member of the British South Africa Police of Southern Rhodesia (Force No. 4617.)

Hamish Harvey was born and educated in Scotland and attested in the Force in 1950, serving until 1970 and rising to the rank of Superintendent. Between 1970 and 1982 he served as a volunteer Reservist in the Police Air Wing, retiring as Deputy Unit Commander and Flight Commander of the Salops Flight.

A member of the District Branch of the Force during his regular service, he rose through the ranks from Constable to Inspector and was Member in Charge of five District Stations in the Umtali, Salisbury and Victoria Districts of what was then Rhodesia, before being commissioned in 1967. He served as Staff Officer (Liaison and Recruiting) to the Commissioner at Police Headquarters prior to his retirement in 1970.

Although the Force was proudly responsible for Law and Order throughout the country from the time of Colonial self-government in 1922, and also during the Ian Smith era of political ‘independence’, it remained completely apolitical and loyal to Britain and her Majesty the Queen Mother, and was, without doubt, one of the finest Police units in the world until being disbanded at the time of Zimbabwe’s Independence.

The majority of its command elements were drawn from twenty-year contract men recruited in the United Kingdom and trained in Salisbury (Harare). A substantial proportion of these men have retired and still live in Zimbabwe or in neighbouring South Africa.
His by-lines are ‘Overheard in the Bar’ and ‘Before I Forget.’

Overheard in the Bar. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .By 4617

“A Funny Thing happened…”

“Twenty-four Down” was the Night Mail Train from Umtali to Salisbury in those days. I had been in the Force for a little over a year when I finally won a transfer to District Branch, and I was a passenger on Twenty-Four Down when it steamed out of the Umtali Railway Station just after three-o‘-clock on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, hauled by a huge Beyer-Garrett locomotive.

I had been posted to a little village called Headlands, which stood astride the main Strip Road to Salisbury about the half-way mark, and if the Train was on time, we should arrive somewhere around Midnight.

The last twelve months of my then nineteen-year-old life had been a marvellous, kaleidoscopic experience involving continental travel, a totally different culture, many new faces and places, a helluva lot of discipline, training and new life-skills and, above all, lots of sunshine. As you can imagine, the impact had been hugely beneficial, and I had even learned to enjoy Castle Beer with the best of them.

Headlands was hardly impressive at that time of a very dark night – no platform, just Station offices and sheds, a few empty trucks and a lot of stored agricultural goods and equipment. I was met by a formidable figure in semi-mufti, who introduced himself as “Taff Morgan, Hi!” as he hefted one of my bags, and led the way to a newish green Ford Pilot Pick-up standing in the Station Yard.

As soon as we hit the main Salisbury Road, Taff turned the vehicle towards Macheke and announced: “there’s only us two and the Member-in-Charge, so we’re going to join him and his wife at a party – at a place called Eagles Nest, just along the road a bit.” Hey, it was New Year’s Eve, 1950. Where I came from I’d have been wearing a kilt and sampling Malt Whisky by this time, and I’d already had a couple of hours sleep on the train. This sounded good. . .

And so it proved. The `celebration’ involved a large and diverse contingent of the local farming community at a farm where two brothers `did’ maize and cattle. The Clough brothers lived with their wives in a single building – which was really two houses joined by a connecting hallway – and, from all immediate appearances there was absolutely no need for a master-of-ceremonies. The place was `jumping’.

My impressions of “Taff” improved by the minute. Nothing fazed him, and he was obviously held in high esteem by the locals. Where necessary – and where the individuals concerned were sober enough to realise what was going on around them – I was very civilly introduced. I met my Member-in-Charge, for example, as he lay entwined – a mite too closely, I thought – with some lassie behind a couch. He was good enough to acknowledge my presence, although I had the distinct impression that he was more interested in ensuring that our `meeting’ would not attract any undue attention from his wife, who was apparently sitting close by. A `wild’ Colonial, obviously.

The whole atmosphere was `cordial’ – perhaps even leaning towards `boisterous’ – and conversational noise-levels were high, as you can imagine. However, within half-an-hour or so, I found myself standing next to “Taff” in the bar, which was in the narrow hallway between the two houses. This was, I thought, fairly `safe’ territory, being populated by the serious drinking fraternity, most of whom were still on their feet and maintaining a reasonable semblance of civilised and interesting conversation – but I could have been wrong.

But now we get to the interesting bit. I have said that Morgan had impressed me as a redoubtable individual much respected and not easily fazed. Hey!, he had been in the Air Force during the War, and had obviously seen a thing or two. The important thing in his life was not to allow yourself to be distracted or diverted from the things that really mattered. Like drinking beer. Or being respected as a policeman. Now that, to me, was impressive – perhaps, even, to be emulated. This was fascinating stuff. But, more was to come. . .

Most of the crowd in the `bar’ area were men, and the conversations were of masculine affairs; like growing tobacco, playing rugby and the quality of the beer. Suddenly, I became aware of a female voice and turned to see the wife of one of the brothers who owned the farm, making her way towards us.

Now, up to this point my youthful hormones had been quietly hibernating, relaxed in the generally pleasant atmosphere and spirit of bonhomie which prevailed. Not even the sudden “blip” of meeting with my erstwhile Member-in-Charge otherwise engaged at floor-level had disturbed their equilibrium. Suddenly, however, the sight of our obviously “well-stacked” hostess naked to the waist and weaving towards our small group challenged my otherwise well-mannered sensibilities to the utmost. As it happened, I had been warned that this lady was apparently well-endowed with a capacity to shock – and obviously much else besides – but her sudden appearance, deshabille, had me staring open-mouthed. On the closer inspection made possible by her almost immediate proximity she was, clearly, suffering from incipient inebriation, but otherwise in superb form I thought. . . However, any further mental speculation I might have entertained was interrupted as she proffered a very shapely left mammary towards Taffy and said, quite clearly and with obvious provocation: “Have a drink, Taff! ”. Now what? For crying out loud!

Morgan didn’t even turn the proverbial hair; looking past her at the wall clock, he barely interrupted what he had been saying, glanced at his watch, and said loudly:
“No thanks, Pat, I never touch the stuff.”

No that was what I call cool !

Like I said, the in-service training we acquired in the BSA Police was absolutely second-to-none. That little episode has stood me in good stead, I can tell you . . .‘

Tales From The Bundu

Photo Credit
The Main image of the train was taken from the cover of the excellent book called Thundering Smoke: A Comprehensive Review of the Locomotives of Rhodesia Railways and National Railways of Zimbabwe

It can be found on Amazon in the UK and USA:

Thundering Smoke on Amazon.co.uk

Thundering Smoke on Amazon.com