Luangwa Valley 1st July 1946
THE GODS WHO FELL FROM THE SKY
The true story of the life of Dick Mawson
Avro Anson lifted into the air effortlessly from Mybeya airfield in Tanganyika
and we were off on the last leg of our charter flight to Southern Africa it was
the 1st July 1946. We were eight days out and the weather was hot
and humid even at that early hour.
Flying over the
Serengeti herds of wildebeest massed in their millions as they prepared for
their annual migration, we watched this spectacle in awe and fascination from
above as our little Anson flew overhead.
Nowhere in the
world is there a movement of animals as immense as the wildebeest migration in
Africa, over two million animals migrate from the Serengeti National Park in
Tanzania to the greener pastures of the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya
during July through to October.
experience of seeing Kilimanjaro's snow-capped summit so close to the equator
was still fresh in our minds, as we watched the herds congregate this being a
unique spectacle and I believe we were some of the first ever to see it from the
We flew on to
Fort Jameson in Northern Rhodesia. Being a small aircraft we were well aware of
activities in the cockpit and my husband whispered to me that he recognised the
Mayday emergency signal being sent out by the navigator. With that Chalky White
stuck his head out of the cockpit, “I have been trying
to contact Fort Jameson for some time now but can get no reply, I need to
obtain a fix on our position in relation to the airfield to find out exactly
where we are.
are out of fuel and have to make a forced landing”,
My heart sank in
other words we were lost and had no way of knowing exactly where we were, only
that we were flying over an African jungle and about to crash.
The navigator looked around the cabin and continued talking,
“Strap the children in tightly within your seat belts and pad around them with
clothes and blankets”.
did not have time to think about what could happen so busy were we attending to
the children as he had suggested. We felt the plane bank and drop; it had been
used in the war and for reasons unknown, had two sirens attached under the
wings; which were now switched on and creating a frightful noise inside our tiny
were trying to comfort and secure two little boys as the African bush loomed
ever closer and as I felt a prayer would not be out of place I began reciting
the Lord’s Prayer. The ground rushed towards us at a terrifying speed as I went
about protecting our two precious children from impact. We were heading for a
dry river bed when our very observant pilot spotted a small clearing off to the
left covered with elephant grass. He immediately lifted the nose and banked the
aircraft away from the river bed, dropping expertly into the 10 feet tall
elephant grass covering the clearing. Thank God! (As well as a very good
Pilot), who was able to expertly guide the plane to land safely. The tall
elephant grass took off a little speed before the wheels contacted rather
heavily with the African earth looking out of the window all I could see was the
propeller on the left of the plane chopping the grass which was flying up and
over the cabin accompanied by clouds of dust. The plane must have hit an ant
bear hole as we felt it drop and the propeller folded back over the engine cowl
after striking the ground. We finally came to a very jerky halt.
up at the shiny silver bird spiralling out of the sky. It was the screeching of
the bird that had attracted his attention, and as it fell lower and lower to
earth, he ducked under a Mopani Tree, hoping it would offer him protection from
the white gods who were certain to be in the bird’s belly. As it approached the
ground at greater and greater speed and the wailing grew louder and louder,
Nikanya became convinced that the bird had suffered a mortal wound.
watched this frightening spectacle being played out before his eyes and
pounding heart, the boughs of the Mopani tree offered a measure of comfort.
The bird was looking for somewhere to perch, and it seemed to Nikanya that
the dry riverbed was where it was heading. As it disappeared from view, a
huge cloud of dust and debris rose into the sky, and he knew the bird had
finally fallen to earth. Silence reigned in the Luangwa valley once more.
Since Nikanya was the local chief, it was his duty and obligation to
greet any stranger to his part of the world. He stepped warily out from the
protection of the tree and gathering his headmen around him, proceeding in
the direction of the dissipating dust cloud to meet these gods who had
fallen from the sky.
My Mother wrote this account for a magazine article in Rhodesia
was a coal merchant and a senior NCO with the home
guard on an Anti-Aircraft battery at the Liverpool docks during the war.
I was born at home: 14 Larchwood Avenue, Maghull, not
far from Aintree. Life started with an adventure in 1946 for my younger brother
Clive aged two and me at the ripe old age of four
After World War
II, our parents decided that a better future lay in Africa for us. I am
thankful my mother recorded her account of our adventure below.
husband had decided that there would be more opportunity in a new land. Our
house and coal business were sold, and we went to London to procure passage to
Back in 1946, it seemed impossible to book any sort of passage to South Africa
without long delays.
spending a futile week in London, we were on
the verge of giving up, when we heard about a MTB (Motor Torpedo Boat) which was
being converted for passenger use in Portsmouth. After about an hour of viewing
the facilities available, we left and caught the train back to London. George,
my husband, was quiet all the way back but he did not tell me at the time the
misgivings he had about taking his family on a journey of some 6,000 miles
across three oceans to South Africa in a plywood boat. By the time we reached
London, he had decided that the boat journey would be too great.
our arrival at our London hotel, a message awaited us: “Would we contact the
travel agency we had seen earlier in the week”? So, arrangements were made for
us to be there the next morning,
and we were offered various alternative passages, none
of which suited us. We were just about to leave the travel agency when we were
"Were we interested in a private charter”?
small Avro Anson
(twin-engine used by the RAF during WWII) was
available, the cost of which would be shared with a prominent businessman, also
having the same difficulties regarding travel as we had. With the optimism of
youth, a meeting was arranged for the next day at the offices of CL Air Surveys
in Cromwell Rd, where we met with Lt Col Lloyd. We immediately liked the
proposed charter and took up the option.
returned to Liverpool to finalise our departure and to bid farewell to friends
and family. At last we were on the move and had some direction in all our
lives. We said goodbye to Liverpool, friends and family and caught a train to
London. George bought a newspaper at Lime Street Station and a report on the
second page caught his eye. A chartered MTB, which had left from Portsmouth a
few days earlier, had floundered in the Bay of Biscay with the loss of all on
board, and he wondered if perhaps it was the same one we had looked at.
Our adventure that nearly ended in tragedy started on the 25th June 1946. The
Anson was waiting for us on the tarmac at Gatwick where we met our pilot,
navigator and our travelling companion for the first time. The formalities
taken care of, we took off about midday and landed at Le Bourget for a late
to Marseilles “Mariguane” Airport for the night stop.
The fuel capacity necessitated having to make frequent stops for refuelling, and
for the passengers to partake of any refreshment available. Hotel accommodation
also had to be arranged for the coming night stop.
spent our first night at a comfortable little French inn in Marseilles and, with
a dawn start planned for the next morning, retired early. Taking off around
seven after a flight plan had been filed, we flew over Sardinia, which looked
picturesque nestled in the middle of the Mediterranean. The sea was the most
beautiful shade of blue, which turned to a brilliant turquoise as we landed in
Tunis for lunch. Then on to Tripoli where we were sent on by the Yanks to
Castle Benito, landing just after four in the afternoon. An army barracks was
our accommodation for the second night.
Our son Richard was fascinated by the camel trains leaving for their long
journey across the desert, but being intimidated by the size of the camels, he
kept his distance and a tight hold of my
bed early for a dawn start again the next morning.
Benito for lunch and on to Eli Adem near Benghazi for fuel. We
saw lots of burnt out planes in the desert around
Benghazi and flew on to Cairo where we landed at Abmaza Airport.
stayed at the Heliopolis Palace, which was spacious and cool after our hot and
dusty trip. With the children bathed and asleep, we went down for dinner, served
outside on a marble terrace with millions of stars and a crescent moon hanging
overhead. It was a magical night, and as we were not leaving until the
following afternoon, our pilot suggested a trip to Cairo the following morning.
After breakfast, we boarded a tram, which proved to be hair-raising. The
passengers swarmed aboard and hung on to every conceivable inch like flies on
The driver of the tram hurled us down the hills at breakneck
speed, the tram bell ringing constantly in our ears as
pedestrians dived for cover in all directions.
visit to Groppis Ice Cream Parlour, a favourite with the tourists, where the ice
cream was superb and cooled us down considerably. Given our hair- raising ride
into town, we decided to take a taxi back, which was
in itself. I don't know which was the lesser of the
two evils and was thankful the driver had a good horn. We were eager to be on
our way, so we packed and caught a taxi to the airport for an afternoon flight
today, we did not reach a very high altitude, so
passing over the desert we could see the camel trains criss-crossing below. The
burnt-out wrecks of planes and tanks brought home the realities of the war,
which had been fought so recently on the desert below us.
stopped for the night at Luxor on the banks of the Nile with the
the distance. We had arrived late and were seated at dinner with the
manager of BOAC, Mr Frank Edge, who was fascinated to hear about our journey so
far. I did not get a very good night’s sleep as the ceiling was alive with sand
left at 8.30 for Wadi Halfa where we landed for fuel and a lunch it was too hot
to eat. It had been 150 years since the area had last had good rains and
everything looked very parched.
Khartoum was the next
where we stayed in the Grand Hotel. Despite huge fans
whirling all over the hotel, the heat was intense. Our early arrival allowed us
time to visit a small zoo, a welcome change for two small boys unaccustomed to
the tiny cabin of a small plane.
Off early the
next morning, we arrived at Malakao on Lake Victoria for lunch where a flying
boat landed just in front of us. The trip was a very bumpy one and the worst
part of the journey so far. Horrible desert country
below, changing dramatically to green swamp.
couldn’t land at Nairobi so we put down at Kisumu and booked into its only
hotel, where we met our friends from the flying boat. It was very hot and we
saw lots of elephants as we passed over swamps. From Kisumu we headed to Juba
for more fuel and a lousy sandwich. It was very pretty green country as we flew
over Kenya with Mt Kilimanjaro looming skywards in the distance that seemed to
dwarf our tiny plane. We had not
long ago crossed
the equator and the heat in the tiny cabin was
stifling, but it was breath-taking to see a snow-capped mountain so close to the
equator. We had at last left the desert behind. It now turned very cold as we
left for Tabora and then on to Mybeya in Tanganyika. We had been travelling for
seven days and it was now July 1st.
In Tanganyika we were accommodated in chalets and warned not to move around
outside, as leopards frequently came down from the hills. Thankfully, we left
the following morning without incident, not realising that by nightfall, we
would be placed in a very precarious situation.
It was the
intention of the pilot to refuel at Fort Jameson, then in Northern Rhodesia,
which we should have reached by midday and in time for
Flying low, we were now in thick bush country and could see many herds of
elephant roaming around the scrub and wallowing in the rivers. We had been in
the air for some hours now and lunch hour was nearly over. I heard our navigator
tapping out a message on the Morse key.
Suddenly, George gripped my arm and whispered.
‘We’re in trouble, lass, I have just heard the “May Day” call going out’.
Before I realised the implication of this remark, the door of the cockpit opened
and our navigator appeared.
‘I have been trying to contact Fort Jameson for some time now, but no
said. ‘We are out of fuel and have to make a forced
landing’, confirming what my husband had heard going out on the radio.
The navigator looked around the cabin and continued talking, asking us to,
‘Strap the children in tightly within your seat belts and pad them around with
clothes and blankets’.
There was no time to think about what could happen as we attended to the
children. We felt the plane bank and drop. It had been used in the war and for
whatever reason, had two sirens attached under the wings; these were switched
on, creating a frightful noise inside our tiny cabin.
We were busy trying to comfort and secure our two little boys as the African
bush loomed ever closer. I felt a prayer would not be out of place
and I recited
the Lord’s Prayer. The ground rushed towards us at a terrifying speed as I went
about protecting our two precious children from impact
were heading for a dry river bed when our very observant pilot spotted a small
clearing off to the left covered with elephant grass. He immediately lifted the
nose and banked the aircraft away from the river bed, dropping expertly into the
10 feet tall elephant grass covering the clearing.
Thank God! (As well as a very good Pilot), who was able to expertly guide the
plane in safely. The tall elephant grass took off a little speed before the
wheels contacted rather heavily with the African earth looking out of the window
all I could see was the propeller on the left of the plane chopping the grass
which was flying up and over the cabin accompanied by clouds of dust. The plane
must have hit an ant bear hole
animal with long snout that feasts on termites)
we felt it drop and the propeller folded back over the engine cowl after
striking the ground. We finally came to a very jerky halt. The silence was
profound for a few moments. The door to the cockpit opened, and a very
apprehensive crew looked out and saw that their
were all in one piece.
George scratched through Richard’s bag before going to the door with the
navigator. They walked along the wing and jumped down and around to the front of
the aircraft, and when they came back after their inspection I noticed that
George had one of Richard’s toy guns stuck in his waistband. I burst out
“What were you planning to do with that”? I chortled. I didn't get a reply.
George asked the pilot why the sirens were switched on and it was explained to
him that they would attract the attention of any persons within a ten mile zone
of our crash site.
“All they did was scare the daylights out of any wildlife hereabout”, replied
George. “There's not a human being within fifty miles of here”, he continued.
We were now faced with a big problem. We had landed in the heart of the Luangwa
Valley in the district of Jumbe, a very big game area, close to the border with
the Belgium Congo. The aeroplane was shattered, we had no food or water and
most important, no guns or ammunition to fend off any attack by wild animals.
The inspection of the Anson had shown cracked wings and a badly damaged
propeller. As we were sorting everything out inside the aircraft, when suddenly
I saw the tall grass waving and in a few minutes we were surrounded by natives.
The plane's sirens must have attracted all and sundry from miles around.
Terrible thoughts of cannibals crossed my mind. George made a grab for
Richard’s toy gun, which he had returned to its bag and went to stand in the
open door of the aircraft. My fears proved to be unfounded, when from the back
of the crowd of milling African locals, one pushed forward and announced,
“Me Augustine! Mission boy, I speak English”.
Greatly relieved, our pilot asked “Where might we get help”?
replied that there was a mission in the hills 40 miles away, but he would fetch
the chief whose name was Nikanya. The chief must have also heard the sirens as
he and his entourage arrived a short while after. We ascertained through
Augustine, acting as interpreter for the chief, that there was a white Padre at
a local village about 35 miles away to whom he would send a message immediately.
took photographs of them all around the aircraft which pleased them greatly and
with their help we rigged up an outside aerial and made contact with flight
control centre at Salisbury airport.
informed us that a rescue operation was being set up and help would be arriving
in the form of an air drop as well as a foot operation from Fort Jameson. We
could only give them a vague idea of our location which was approximately 86
miles Northwest of Fort Jameson. The village reference given to us by Augustine
was Katemo which was the small kopjie (hill) just above the village.
Augustine had suggested we trek to his village where his family would be pleased
to house us, which left me with the distinct feeling that as far as hotel star
ratings went, we would be lucky for a twinkle. No 5 stars where we were headed.
He also suggested that the Nkosi (male chief/my husband), Nkosikas (female
chief/me), and the picannin’s (our children) follow him. A runner was sent off
to the village and a convoy of excited Africans followed carrying our luggage.
was late afternoon and we were trekking through thick forest, the ground strewn
with Mopani leaves, the favourite diet of elephants. Bearing in mind the vast
number of elephants we had seen before crash landing, I was very apprehensive of
possible herds, but subdued my fears as nobody else seemed particularly worried.
our way to the village upon walking across the dry river bed we would have
landed on, our pilot noted and commented that the sand was very loosely packed
with deep ruts running across it. If we had landed on it the probability would
have been that the aircraft would have dug in and flipped nose over tail almost
certainly resulting in a number of fatalities. I had been praying fervently as
we were about to crash and there was no doubt in my mind who had guided us to
our safe landing site.
came out into thick bush terrain and the Africans who accompanied us were
carrying the children on their backs. I remember in particular the Head Man
leaving our party to erect a small grass enclosure where food and water was
provided for these important and strange visitors. The local people, many of
whom had never seen a white man before peered through every chink in an attempt
to see us.
was early evening and we were all quite exhausted after walking for hours over
the rough terrain, which had taken its toll on our feet.
The few miles to the village seemed interminable and it was to our great relief
when we spotted the lights of many small fires lighting up the darkness. When
we finally arrived at Augustine’s
of round huts) we were immediately surrounded by the
inhabitants and a big “indaba” (meeting) took place to agree the etiquette that
should be shown to these “Gods who had fallen from the sky” or to translate into
their language these “Amilungu Anagwa Kumwamba”.
know Africa will be aware that an indaba can last
days. Eventually though, we were conducted to a native-built thatched hut, the
sole amenities of which were two low native-made beds with no mattresses but a
kind of interwoven animal hide thong. This was a luxury that was usually
reserved for people of note. Apparently we were people of note.
After our crash landing and the long trek through the jungle, we were all on
the point of collapse, but some effort had to be made. A decision to bring with
me three tins of Ostermilk, a small pan and a packet of tea, proved to be a
God-send, as I was able at least to give the children a nourishing drink.
Having no blankets, we had to use whatever clothing we had with us to bed them
down and eventually they slept. Outside, the other members of our group were
discussing the best way of affecting a rescue in the event that we could not be
found. This proved to be pointless, and we could only hope that the coordinates
we had given to Salisbury were close enough that the rescue party would be able
to locate us.
Dawn comes early to the African bush and the inhabitants, human and otherwise
are up with first light. Young Richard took one look around at the foreign
looking habitation and said, “Let’s go home, Mom. I don’t like this hotel.”
That was easier said than done, and we were only too thankful that we had not
provided a meal for some carnivorous animal on our recent trek to this small
While the men folk were debating how to get us back to “civilisation”, as we
knew it, I had more domestic issues to deal with, i.e. facilities for bathing,
food and washing, to say nothing of the language difficulty. The nearby
“spruit” (stream) was our water supply and the children splashed happily in it,
surrounded by an admiring group of local piccanin’s. My washing was accomplished
by rubbing and battering clothes against the large stones in this small stream;
my blue wool Jaeger suit was never quite the same again.
The following day we spotted planes flying grid pattern to the west of us; they
were flying low and had the roundels of the RAF on their wings and on the sides
of the fuselage, but they were too far away to locate us. Powder compacts
quite large in those days and I opened mine
with its large mirror and flashed it in the direction of the searching planes,
catching the sun’s rays in the mirror. Instant response resulted. All three
planes turned towards us and a message was dropped: “Stay where you are! We have
got your location”.
The next day the planes flew right to us and two sacks of supplies were dropped
by parachute and picked up by locals from the village. We were provided with
six blankets, which were more than welcome as it had been bitterly cold at
night. Also in the parachute drop was a loaf of bread, bully beef, oxo, bovril
and raisins but no butter, tea or sugar, which we could have done with, and a
303 rifle, with no magazine or ammunition.
George made a grab for the rifle and announced, “Don’t worry, Dot. We'll be
safe now we have this”. The absurdity of the situation struck me as very funny.
A rifle with no ammunition and a balanced diet of oxo, bully beef and bovril,
combined with a trek through some sixty miles of uncharted jungle. Home was
never like this.
The runner, who had been sent off to the Catholic Mission in the Hills,
returned three days later during the late afternoon with Father Robertson. We
made a huge fuss of him as he was the first white man we had seen since the
crash. I felt a little better about our situation.
told us that the rescue operation was under way from Fort Jameson and that he
had sent word via a runner as to our location. Mr Bernard Hesson, the chief of
police for Northern Rhodesia, and John Sugg, District Commissioner, were on
their way with two trucks, but because of the inaccessibility of the region,
they were having to cut the road, building bridges from cut down trees and
four-gallon paraffin tins. Father Robertson told us we had found the only
possible spot to crash-land within a fifty mile radius.
few days later John Sugg and Bernard Hesson arrived with a number of “askaris”
(police recruits). They had been unable to reach us with the trucks and had
had to leave them about six miles away.
Finally, after nine days in the bush, we set off on foot to find the trucks
after saying goodbye to our hosts. The whole village turned out to send us on
walked through dense bush in such intense heat that I thought we would have to
give up. Just as we were reaching exhaustion, we were delighted to see two
trucks under the shade of some trees. After a short break for tea, we continued
in the trucks through some extremely demanding terrain, down steep slopes and up
escarpments. In one very steep place, the truck slid back three times taking
100 or so local natives to pull and push up or down the slopes, a feat involving
several hours. How those chaps drove in the dark around those winding tracks
still amazes me as most of the time we were in first or second gear with a top
speed of 8 mph. At about 9 p.m. a halt was made for a meal and we were very
hungry. Eating in the bush is a fine art when properly done with the headlights
of the trucks left on and grass mats spread on the ground. We were introduced
for the first time to the popular “braai” (barbecue), a lovely meal, finished
a brandy, water or tea.
The trucks were packed and we continued on again over almost impossible terrain
for many more hours, until we arrived at Moore’s Mission after a day and a half
travelling. Sugg went to one of the bungalows to wake up the priest he knew, (a
Mr Heritage) who emerged not very ecclesiastically garbed and remarking that it
“was bloody cold”.
were given accommodation at the Mission, which was very comfortable considering
the preceding nine nights in the bush. After trying to sleep on a thong bed at
the village, I was beginning to feel like a zebra - so my nights rest at the
Mission was sheer bliss. The next morning after a good soak in a hot bath for me
and the kids, a leisurely breakfast, and a walk around the Mission Station, it
was time to say goodbye and to thank our newfound friends for their hospitality.
departed for Fort Jameson, which lay fifty miles away, that afternoon, arriving
in the early evening. Accommodation had been arranged at the
and after a hot bath and a good meal it was early to
bed in an attempt to recover from what had been a very arduous journey. It was
Friday, 12th July and we were looking forward to a relaxing weekend. We were
advised to stay close to the hotel as leopards came down from the hills at night
and one had recently attacked a man and his dog outside the Knowles.
Our arrival had caused quite a stir among the residents who were mainly tobacco
farmers, and on discussing our future plans regarding settling in South Africa,
we were advised to look at Salisbury in Southern Rhodesia. Fate had taken a
hand and our forced landing caused us to change our plans. After several days
rest, we flew to Salisbury in a Rapide, piloted by Mr Jed Spencer. We were so
impressed with what we saw of Rhodesia that we decided to settle in this new and
rapidly growing country.
Thanks to Dick Mason for sharing
these wonderful memories with ORAFs.
(Please visit our
previous posts and archives)
Labels: 1st July 1946, Avro Anson, Kilimanjaros.Fort Jameson, Luangwa Valley, Mason