England to Africa, 1949



This account is based on a letter written by Eileen Howcutt at Hotel Beatrix, Dar es Salaam on Saturday 22 October 1949.



Eileen Howcutt at Kilimanjaro


I arrived safely yesterday – one day late – our trip out having been most interesting but extremely fatiguing and full of mishaps. The only day that ran to plan was Tuesday. We saw nothing of England as we left it but the clouds cleared as we crossed France and we had a perfect view of everything right down to Malta. The pilot kept sending round little communiqués about where we were and when we were arriving where.


We saw Paris and Lyons and the French Alps, which looked magnificent, and landed at Nice in the most marvellous weather. Then after miles of sea, we passed a craggy rocky little coastline – very little green and rather like a terra-cotta relief map on a brilliant blue sea. We soon passed right over it and over sea again. I had a hunch it might be Corsica and was very triumphant when another note from the pilot arrived in due course to say it was. Malta was lovely with strange looking little towns and buildings. When we landed we were taken by coach through narrow roads with high walls each side into the old town and on into a modern quarter. It was most fascinating – obviously France and England were miles behind. Lola said it was very similar to Jerusalem.


The next day we landed at El Adem, an RAF station in the middle of miles of desert, after being called at 3.45 for breakfast at 5.15!! The idea seemed to be to take off at the crack of dawn or even a little earlier every single day.


We had another stop at Wadi Halfa in the Sudan and were then to go on to Khartoum for the night. Wadi Halfa turned out to be a God-forsaken hole, still in the middle of the desert and stiflingly hot. We piled back into the plane with great relief and joy to be leaving the joint. The plane careered around and we were all set to see the ground receding at any moment when the engine suddenly stopped, the crew started dashing and leaping around and we all had to disembark as something had dropped out of the engine. We had to hang around and go through Customs, although I must confess that, contrary to all I have been told, the Sudanese officials were most courteous and helpful. Everyone tells me that that is probably because it was a tin pot little joint and it would certainly have been different in Khartoum. They laid on transport for us – lorries – and took us to what turned out to be an astonishingly classy hotel a little way off – but the notice was so short and the hotel was so full that we were all in annexes or – like me – in railway sleeping coaches. No one was in the main building. You had to trek around the grounds to find bathrooms and lavatories. I found the sleeping coach had its advantages over the annexe rooms (although they were less cramped) as the coach had running water and no spiders, ants and stranger specimens of animal life.


Nairobi - seen from New Stanley Hotel

Anyway the pilot finally decided to work on an amended schedule and cut out calls at Juba and Tabora the next day and instead to call at a place called, I think, Malakar and from there make a long hop to Nairobi and from there to Dar. They called us at 2 a.m. to make a very early start – we flew in the dark for 2 or 3 hours and everyone slept. You can imagine our chagrin when we arrived at Malakar and felt the plane suddenly skid right round and bump and, on alighting, saw one wheel was buried in the ground. It took them 3 hours to dig the thing out and we gradually began to realise as time went on that we had had Dar. It was terribly hot and there were thousands of flies and a French official told us lions came over the landing ground at night and there were snakes in the undergrowth at which Aylmer, aged 2, started to tear hell for leather straight for the undergrowth! They finally got a lorry affair and took us to a nearby hotel. Actually, it was very interesting and our first view of really primitive Africa – complete with native types wearing either nothing or something slung over one shoulder and a shield and a spear. As we went along the road you would see a head and shoulders above the grass and a spear and out would step the complete article as we looked back after we had passed.


They finally decided we could get no further than Nairobi that night and, in fact, we only just made that. They drove us in a coach right through the town in the dark and out into the surrounding country to what turned out to be a very beautiful sort of country hotel but we were dogged by misadventure and the electric light chose just that evening to fail with the result that we were led down paths and through mysterious doors into strange rooms dimly lit by candles. Again, it was last minute and, therefore, scratch accommodation. The men slept 4 to a room and they put Lola, her two small children (2 and 3 years), myself and the other woman joining her husband in one quite moderately sized room. And there was one bathroom and one WC between all the lot of us. It was fun in a way amongst all the irritations and we did at least know that we were having, for us, a good lay-in the next morning and not being called until 6 a.m. for a 6.30 breakfast.


Askari Band, Dar es Salaam

We did rather wonder whether something else would not go wrong but it didn’t and we arrived at Dar on Friday morning and were through immigration and Customs by lunchtime.


Dar is beautiful place with the loveliest beach and bay but it is a little humid in patches. There is a marvellous breeze from the sea but, away from it, it is sometimes uncomfortably hot and close. They tell me Kongwa is much cooler but, of course, there is no beautiful beach and bay.


We are staying here until Tuesday next and should arrive in Kongwa on Wednesday, via Morogoro.



Frank & Eileen Howcutt's home at Kongwa


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