by Rhodesia Remembered, published: Mon 09 Dec 2013 12:23:00 PM CET.
The Story of CAA 1946 - 1961
"For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Sow the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be ;
Sow the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales."
CENTRAL AFRICAN AIRWAYS was officially formed a year after the Second World War, and this brief history aims at telling the reader some of the facts concerning present operations and the early days of aviation in Rhodesia and Nyasaland. It also tells in short form of the pioneering elTorts (with aircraft which today qualify as museum pieces) which culminated in the establishment, by Parliamentary Act, of "a Civil Air Authority for the Central African Territories". In other words it is the story of CAA—the National Airline of
Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
There can be no doubt that aircraft have played a primary part in opening up the territory which is now known as the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasa land, but before dealing with the actual evolution of civil aviation in those parts, let us give you an idea of the area now served by Central African Airways, with its present fleet of five Vickers Viscounts, six Douglas DC.3's and six De Havilland Beavers, which have their main base at Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia.
|Central African Airways routes - 1961|
The Federation What might be described as the home territory of CAA is the large area coming within the geographic boundaries of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, a Federation which was born on September 4, 1953. The accompanying map shows the area in question, an area with an overall population (I960 figures) of 8.355.000. of which 8.000.000 are African. 314.000 are European and 41.000 arc members of other races.
Southern Rhodesia has the greatest number of Europeans (227.000). followed bv Northern Rhodesia (78,000) and Nyasaland with 9.200.
In addition to its home territory, CAA also serves the Republic of South Africa, liasl Africa, the Congo and Mocambique. At one time, the trip by road with ox-wagons from Johannesburg to Salisbury Look five and a half months, whereas today a CAA Viscount does the same journey in comfort in 2 hours 25 minutes.
Many people, of course, nurse a nostalgia for the "good old days", but you can't halt evolution, and with present-day Africa changing rapidly. CAA is a symbol of that evolution which has transformed, in a short space of years, the picture of Rhodesia and Nyasaland from a vast bush country to a thriving area of civilisation where a modern pattern of social and industrial life is taking over.
But let us start at the beginning.
The global history of civil aviation is one of very spectacular advance. The First World War saw the stumbling but heroic efforts of countries involved in that war to provide practical weapons in the form of aircraft.
The War was a tremendous stimulus to the aircraft industry, but even in 1918 when the War ended, the idea of the wholesale transporting of air passengers on regular schedules was little more than a dream.
|An Imperial Airways Armstrong Whitworth Atalanta G-ABTH at Mbeya. Tanganyika.|
Aviation in Rhodesia It was in 1920 that Southern Rhodesia first came into the civil aviation picture, with the formation, in Bulawayo, of Air-Road Motors, Limited, a title which seems at this distance to offer a certain hesitant compromise between air and ground.
This pioneering effort was followed, later in the "twenties, by the formation of the Rhodesian Aviation Syndicate, in Bulawayo, by a group of miners, ranchers and industrialists, and the Syndicate's first aircraft was a veteran wartime De Havilland 6B. To this was added a Cirrus Moth Mark II. which was bought and assembled in the Union of South Africa and flown from Durban to Bulawayo.
Meanwhile, Britain was seriously studying the possibility of operating services to the African Continent, a study which first began in 1919. The first successful flight from England to Central and South Africa began on 4th February. 1920. The pilots— Lt-Col. Pierre van Rynevcld. D.S.O.. M.C. and F/Lt. C. J. Quintin Brand, D.S.O., M.C., D.F.C. (both were later knighted)—landed at Abercorn, Livingstone and Bulawayo on their way to the Union.
As time progressed Imperial Airways, which was founded in 1924, came into the African picture and Alan Cobhani carried out a pioneer survey flight to South Africa in 1925 in a de Havilland 50J. In 1927 Sir Alan Cobham undertook a further
|RANA Dc Havilland Fox Moth VP-YAD at Beira in 1935.|
Weekly Service On 9th December, 1931, thc second half of the African rouie, the extension to Cape Town, started experimentally when the De Havilland Hercules "City of Karachi"— piloted by Captain H. W. C. Alger and Major H. G. Brackley -took Christmas mail through Rhodesia and Nyasaland, arriving at Cape Town on 21st December. A weekly service between London and Cape Town was inaugurated in January, 1932. In 1933, Armstrong Whit worth Atalanta aircraft were introduced on the route; these were high-winged monoplanes and powered with four 340 h.p. Armstrong Siddeley Serval engines. These aircraft were designed to carry ten passengers at an average speed of 120 m.p.h. Their route from North to South traversed the Rhodesias through Mpika, Broken Hill, Salisbury and Bulawayo.
In 1930, another important event had occurred in the history of Rhodesian civil aviation, and that was the granting of the first exclusive De Havilland Agency in Southern Africa. The new Agency was granted to the Rhodesian Aviation Syndicate for Northern and Southern Rhodesia, and in April. 1931, the Rhodesian Aviation Company Limited which absorbed the Syndicate was registered with the modest capital of £7,500.
It was a stout effort, and pilots landed their aircraft on a piece of waste ground near the Bulawayo Cemetery. Soon after the formation of the Rhodesian Aviation Company, a Government subsidy of £750 a year was voted "to be earned by the instruction of seven pilots a year up to the level of an 'A* licence". Things were beginning lo move! The Rhodesian Aviation Company began a weekly Bulawayo/Salisbury service in 1931, operated only as required, and on the 27th July, 1933, they began operating a weekly passenger and freight service with a D.H. "Fox Moth" on the route Salisbury/ Gatooma / Que Que / Gwelo / Bulawayo / Johannesburg.
|Some of the staff of RANA in 1935(Left to right) Bill Stokes (Traffic). Percy Barry (Acct./Sect.). "Pop" Rawlins (Traffic Supt.). Daisy Ward (Typist/Hostess), W. S. Dobbie (Chief Engineer). |
C. I. Thompson (Manager).
In Nyasaland. Mr. C. J. Christowitz, a road transport contractor, from Worcester. South Africa, started Christowitz Air Services (Nyasaland) Limited, with two D.ll. "Puss Moths" and a D.H. "Gipsy Moth", and commenced a regular Blantyre - Beira service on the 5th August, 1931.
On the 3rd August, 1933, a scheduled weekly service was commenced between Blantyre and Salisbury when the D.H. Puss Moth "Nyasa I" piloted by Captain R. Bourlay carried two passengers. The pilot was virtually a "flying uncle" who, in addition to his more serious duties, benevolently undertook shopping commissions for Nyasaland residents.
It was soon seen that there was a need to coordinate flying activities in this part of Africa, and in 1933 Rhodesia and Nyasaland Airways, Limited, was formed to absorb local companies, with a capital of £25,000 provided jointly by Imperial Airways and the Beit Railway Trust.
With four D.H. Puss Moths and one D.H. Fox Moth, RANA's first main commercial air route joined Blantyre. Salisbury. Bulawayo. Victoria Falls. Lusaka, Broken Hill and Ndola.
In 1934, a Westland Wessex, fitted with three Armstrong Siddeley Genet engines, was chartered
|Rhodesian school-children boarding a RANA|
De Havilland Rapide in 1936. from Imperial Airways. This aircraft carried four passengers and hail at one time belonged to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales.
RANA took over the Salisbury-Blantyre weekly service previously operated by Christowitz Air Services, and on 5th May, 1934 began the weekly Bulawayo - Livingstone - Lusaka - Broken llill- Ndola services.
The next move might be said to mark the serious approach to increased passenger flying. This was the acquisition of a De Havilland Rapidc, in 1935, followed by the purchase of three Dc Havilland Leopard Moths, and air routes were extended from Salisbury to Beira and Beira to Blantyrc. In 1936, two De Havilland Dragonflys were purchased, and in 1938 a De Havilland Dragon.
|RANA Dc Havilland Rapide "R.M.A. City of Salisbury" —1937|
Pioneer Aircraft in the light of today's near supersonic air travel, let us take a quick look at these pioneer aircraft. The D.H. Puss Moth was a 3-seater cabin monoplane with a cruising speed of 100 m.p.h. (maximum speed 120 m.p.h,). It was powered by one 120 h.p. Gipsy III engine (or by a 130 h.p. Gipsy Major engine).
The D.H. Fox Moth was a biplane carrying four passengers in a cabin, and the pilot in a cockpit behind the cabin. It was powered by a 130 h.p. Gipsy Major engine and cruised at 90 m.p.h. (maximum speed 110 m.p.h.).
The D.H. Leopard Moth was virtually a redesigned Puss Moth, and was a 3-seater cabin monoplane with a cruising speed of 105 m.p.h. (maximum speed 120 m.p.h.). It was powered by a 130 h.p. Gipsy Major engine.
|Capt. Mike Pearce, Chief Pilot RANA (centre) at Beira 1935|
The De Havilland Dragon was a twin-engined biplane (two 130 h.p. Gipsy Major engines) capable of carrying six passengers and luggage or freight. Alternatively, up to 10 passengers could be carried on local flights. Cruising speed was 100 rn.p.h. and maximum speed 120 m.p.h.
The De Havilland Dragonfly was a twin-engined biplane (two 130 h.p. Gipsy Major engines), with a five-seat cabin and performance higher than that of a Dragon.
I'he Dragon Rapide, as its name implies, was a "hotted up" version of the Dragon, and was a biplane powered by two 200 h.p. Gipsy VI engines. It had a cruising speed of 120 m.p.h. with a still-air range of 475 miles.
These, then, comprised the fleet of RANA, which on 23rd May, 1938, opened the twice weekly "bush" route Blantyre-Lilongwe-Fort Jameson with the Dragonflys.
The carriage of mail played an important part in RANA's operations and, with the introduction of the Empire Air Mail Scheme in 1937. three more Rapides were bought and they flew Central African mail to and from Beira in Portuguese East Africa, where it connected with the Imperial Airways "C" Class flying-boats, which had replaced the Alalantas on the African route. Services were also extended from Salisbury to Gatooma, Que Que, Gwelo, Bulawayo, Pietersburg and Johannesburg.
With the advent of the Second World War, RANA was taken over by the Government and, under the title of Southern Rhodesia Air Services, was operated as a civil carrier and also as a Communications Squadron of the Southern Rhodesian Air Force. Frequencies were intensified, additional aircraft purchased and a fairly extensive air service was operated throughout the Rhodesias and Nyasaland. also 10 Beira, Nairobi and Johannes- burg on a regular scheduled basis.
|CAA Viking a Belvedere|
|CAA Viking a Belvedere|
|CAA Viking a Belvedere|
CAA is Formed On October 1st, 1945, SRAS was demilitarised but continued to operate under the same title until 1st June. 1940, when the enabling Act constituting CAA was promulgated, Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland subscribing to its capital and Air Vice-Marshall Sir Charles Meredith was appointed Chairman. The initial fleet comprised 13 D.H. 89's, 5 Avro Ansons, 1 D.H. Tiger Moth and 1 D.H. Leopard Moth.
During this intervening period, much forward planning in anticipation of the Constitution of CAA was completed, and orders for the purchase of 3 Vickers Vikings and 5 De Havilland Dove aircraft were placed. The first act of the new Corporation was to confirm the provisional order for these aircraft, and as a result the new licet began to arrive within six months of the Corporation being constituted.
The Vikings were designed to take either twenty-one passengers (Mk. IB) or twenty-one passengers (Mk. 1) in the de-luxe seating standards that then applied. With the general growth of Tourist Class, the seating density was increased, and in 1958, when the Vikings were finally withdrawn, up to thirty-live passengers were being accommodated.
|CAA De Havilland Dove "R.M.A. Hoepoe" at Chileka Airport. Blantyre—1951|
In the war years, it was possible to serve the "bush stations" with the same aircraft which were being used for the main line routes, i.e. Rapides and Ansons. With the purchase of the Vikings, this was no longer possible hence the Doves were intended to fill a dual role as a "bush" aircraft and to supplement the Viking fleet as required. It transpired that the aircraft was not entirely suitable in either role, and it became necessary in 1951 to purchase De Havilland Beavers to operate the "bush services". Additional Vikings were from time to time added to the licet, and the Doves were sold.
At a later stage DC.3 aircraft were purchased. As in many other parts of the world the DC.3 rapidly made itself indispensable, and when it was decided to purchase Vickers Viscounts it was retained as a second line aircraft in preference to the Vikings.
|Lord Pakenham opening, the new Livingstone Airport on 12th August, 1950|
Further Progress CAA progressed until, by 1953. the Corporation owned 10 Vikings, and air services linked Johannesburg, Bulawayo. Salisbury, Livingstone, Lusaka, Ndola, Kasama, Abercorn. Elisabethville, Blantyre. Dar-es-Salaam, Nairobi, Lourenco Marques and Durban.
Also, in 1953, CAA launched into the wider international sphere by inaugurating the Colonial Coach Service between Salisbury, Lusaka, Ndola and London, operated by Vikings.
No airline, however, can afford to sit still, and on 25th April, 1956, CAA look delivery of its first Vickers Viscount. VP-YNA "Malvern", which represented another leap forward in carrying capacity. The Viscount is powered with four Rolls-Royce Dart jet-prop engines, and at that time cost CAA over £300.000 each.
It is fitted to carry 52 passengers and has a cruising speed of 300 m.p.h. at 18,000 feet and a range, with full tanks, of 1,100 miles. Each aircraft is fitted with storm warning radar, and CAA was probably the lirsi airline on this side of the Atlantic to have Viscount aircraft so equipped.
On 1st July, 1956. a new Salisbury Airport was opened, and. as a result, CAA's main base was moved from the historic Belvedere Airport to a site of about 48 acres at the new airport, inclusive of buildings and taxi tracks. Improvisation was the order of the day at Belvedere. where staff were obliged to cope with unsatisfactory working conditions and the lack of proper facilities—the engine repair and propeller shops were half a mile away from the maintenance section. However, the new base at Kentucky was planned with every care. A hanger having the distinction of being the largest single span building in Africa was erected as a docking area for all CAA aircraft. This hangar was previously used for the Rhodes Centenary Exhibition at Bulawayo, where it was known as the Theatre Royal.
|Col Sir Ellis Robins, now Cot. The lord Robins of Rhodesia and Chelsea K.B.E.. D.S.O., E.D. (Chairman of CAA. I949/I957), signs contract for the|
purchase of 5 Vickers Viscounts— 4 August. 1954.
Adjoining this large hangar are the stores, housed in a modern building with a floor area of some 200 ft. by 225 ft., designed and situated so that stores can be fed easily to the maintenance hangar and the workshops. These workshops are contained under one roof with a floor area somewhat larger. In this vast workshop can be found all the various engineering activities that ensure the highest degree of servicing and construction of component parts for CAA aircraft including a complete engine overhaul base.
The administrative offices were previously situated in small buildings originally designed for the R.A.F., and spread over a large area to suit wartime disposal ideas. This, of course, prevented close minute to minute contact between all the divisions and branches, but today they are all housed in three adjoining modern buildings.
The opening of the new Salisbury Airport exposed CAA to severe competition from the large international airlines operating Trunk Services between the Federation and Europe who had previously been precluded from using Salisbury due to (he limitations of Belvedere Airport. It also permitted South African Airways to introduce its regional services between Johannesburg and Salisbury. As a result, a large volume of traffic between Johannesburg. Salisbury and Nairobi, wholly carried by CAA in the past, had to be shared with other carriers, and this had a serious effect on the Corporation's economy for some time.
|CAA Viscount undergoing inspection at the Corporation's Maintenance Base at Salisbury Airport.|
|Left to Right; The Hon. W. H, Eastwood. C.B.E., M P.. Federal Minister of Transport The Mayor of Bulawayo, Councillor J, S. McNeillie. O.B.E.. M.M.; The Mayor of Salisbury, Councillor L Pocket and Mr, A. E, P. Robinson. Chairman of CAA [1957 - 1961) |
On the occasion of the opening of the new Bulawayo Airport on 5 January, 1959.
Today's Fleet Today the CAA licet consists of live Vickers Viscounts, six DC.3s and six Dc Havilland Beavers, the former two aircraft types making a daily link between Salisbury. Bulawayo, Lusaka, Livingstone, Ndola and Blantyre, while Viscount flights also connect Salisbury with Johannesburg, Lourenco Marques, Durban, Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam.
CAA's "bush services" have for many years played an important part in the daily life of the remoter parts of the Federation. Today these services arc flown with Beavers, which are single-engine aircraft powered by a 450 h.p. Pratt & Whitney engine; capable of carrying live passengers plus mail and freight with a range of less than 500 miles and a speed of 120 m.p.h. They are responsible for air communication on two networks, one of which covers the Barotseland Territory of Northern Rhodesia, with 10 stations over 800 miles. The other embraces the west coast of Lake Nyasa, linking 11 stations over a 775-mile network from Blantyre to Mbeya in Tanganyika.
| CAA Viscount "R.M.A. Mlanje" at Salisbury Airport|
| De Havilland Beaver "R.M.A. Eland" at a typical Bush Station in Nyasaland|
Hacked from Bush
It would be an overstatement to call the airstrips on these Beaver routes airports. They are literally strips hacked from the hush, with the "Airport Building" often no more than a single thatched hut. In many cases, the duties of "Station Officer" are carried out by the wives of local officials, and their lives arc made more interesting by meeting the Beaver crews and passengers, who arrive with news from the outside, with mail and perishables and often all the shopping for the week!
The Beaver, and its predecessors, have and continue to provide a very definite social function as well as bringing an end to isolation for such lonely places as Balovale on the Zambezi River, which is 450 miles from the nearest railhead in the Federation. It has meant cutting travel to a matter of hours and sometimes, in the long rainy season it is the only means of travel.
This is of particular importance to the isolated communities when medical supplies are required or medical assistance needed.
In a sentence, CAA has opened up huge stretches of African Territory, and is busy keeping isolated points as well as main centres within easy touch of one another by regular flights.
To maintain a service of this nature means constant planning, expansion and anticipation, and the day-to-day study of improved standards of training for pilots. Flight and ground engineers and staff generally, while ensuring the greater availability of the aircraft for commercial usage. It is gratifying to record that, while there have been very occasional mishaps, there have been no fatal accidents in the whole history of the "bush services", which have been operated continuously for close on 20 years. The "Airmail Loaf"
An increasing function of importance with CAA is the transportation of freight, and it will be appreciated that, in a territory like the Federation, this service has a greater impact on the lives of people than a similar service in, say, Europe, where the lines of communication do not offer the same problems.
The importance of this service in the daily lives of scattered communities can be gathered from the types of freight which are commonplace on the CAA routes. Fresh fish is flown south from Lake Nyasa to Salisbury for sale in the shops, and fresh meat and even loaves of bread are flown to the remote parts of Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia.
|Central Reservations Control at the Airways Terminal, Salisbury|
Every season half a million day-old chicks form part of the freight loads, which also include fresh fruit and vegetables as well as leopards, cheetahs, snakes, car spares, industrial and electrical equipment and drugs.
In 1960, CAA introduced a new Freight Advisory Bureau to assist business executives in analysing the problems arising from the transport of goods and from insurance costs to the packaging of the product. This service has been welcomed by business people as another valuable service provided by the airline.
And, most important of all, CAA has kept and enhanced its reputation as the friendly airline that keeps people in isolated parts of the bush in touch with friends and relatives in other parts. This is done through an air-letter service which, for a small surcharge, allows mail to be handed in at the last possible moment without going through the normal processes of postal collection
|Federal manufacturers and shippers find it pays to airfreight their products|
Like any other airline, every day sees new problems to confront and new ideas to be studied in the overall picture of closing the large land gaps between the communities in the Federation.
One important service was introduced in January, 1960, to eliminate a tortuous overland trek of nearly 400 miles. This was the inauguration of low-fare "Skybus" services. This is a weekly DC.3 service, which takes 40 passengers between Salisbury and Blantyre, the commercial capital of Nyasaland.
By land this journey can take a week, but the "Skybus" does it in two hours. The aircraft arc operated by European pilots with African "conductors".
The service was a great success from the start, so much so that it was extended to cover Northern Rhodesia in October, 1960, with a second weekly flight on the route Salisbury- Blantyre-Lilongwe-Fort Jamcson-Ndola-Fort Rosebery. This is just one more service offered by CAA, which is today the fast commercial link over a territory stretching more than 485,000 square miles.
To give this figure some meaning, imagine an area larger than the British Isles, France. Germany and Holland combined—or larger than the States of New York, Texas and California rolled into one.
A recent innovation for the training of CAA's pilots is the installation of a flight simulator at Salisbury Airport for Viscount conversion and testing. The new simulator saves CAA thousands of pounds, which normally would be expended on operating a Viscount for special training flights.
Big Challenge It is a big project . . . and a big challenge.
|Passengers boarding a CAA Skybus|
There can be no silting back when operating a national airline. One of the latest schemes to be launched by CAA ... a scheme unique on the African Continent . . . was the introduction of "Flame Lily" Packaged Tours in the Union of South Africa. There are more than l00) of them covering the Federation and Mocambique, and they arc likely to have an important bearing on the future tourist habits of people in Southern Africa.
CAA pioneered Package Tours on the African Continent some years ago, and further plans are now being made to extend this scheme to East Africa and Mocambique.
In the same year CAA launched the Skycar Plan, a plan which caters for an important scction of CAA's passenger traffic . . . the businessman. It can also be utilised by holiday makers and ensures that passengers flying on the three regional airlines of South, Central and Fast Africa can book cars to await them at the airport when reserving their air passages.
Thus, again, communications are being speeded up and improved facilities offered.
As CAA grows, so will further services be added and greater facilities be offered in line with CAA's motto: "Conservimus Africae Alis" which means ... "We serve Africa with Wings"
Legend 1- Central African Airways Headquarters. 2 - CAA Display and Distribution section. 3 - CAA main maintenance hangar. 4 - CAA base workshops. 5 - Salisbury airport terminal buildings.
|An aerial view of Salisbury Base|
| It is interesting to note that the CAA egret symbol, which was designed by Cppt. Ross Ktrkman—one of RANA's first captains—is still in use today with only minor alterations to the original design.|
|Account staff ot work in the computing and tabulating room|
|CAA's latest aid in training—the flight simulator|
|CAA's new bookings and enquiry office—Salisbury|
|The Operations Planning room where aircraft movements are planned to meet maintenance requirements.|
SOME AVIATION MILESTONES
|The new air-start unit purchased by the Corporation for servicing Boeing 707 and DC-8 aircraft.|
1920 4 February - 20 March
First successful night from England to Central and South Africa. By It.-Col Pierre van Ryneveld. D.S.O., M.C. and Flt.-Lt. C. J. Quintln Brand. D.S.O., M.C., D.F.C.
1925 16 November
Alan Cobham begins commercial route survey flight from London to Cape Town and back In the D.H. 501 G-EBFO.
1929 November 11
Air Ministry. Imperial Airways and Cobham Blackburn Airlines begin operational and technical survey of Cairo Cape Town air route. Completed 11 April, 1930.
Rhodesian Aviation Co. Ltd. is formed and begins weekly Bulawayo-Salisbury service.
1931 5 August
Chriscowitz Air Services (Nyasaland) Ltd. begin regular Blantyre-Beira service.
1932 20 January
Start of first London-Cape Town regular service of Imperial Airways.
1932 27 April
Imperial Airways' England-Central Africa- South Africa route open in both directions for passenger traffic.
1933 27 July
Rhodesian Aviation Co. begin weekly passenger and goods service Salisbury - Gatooma - Que Que - Gwelo - Bulawayo - Johannesburg.
1933 3 August
Christowitz Air Services begin Salisbury. Blantyre service.
1934 I February
RANA take over the weekly Blantyre- Salisbury service previously operated by Christowitz Air Services.
RANA start Salisbury-Beira and Blantyre- Beira services.
1937 2 June
Imperil Airways first through flying-boat service to South Africa leaves Southampton.
1937 29 June
Empire Air Mail Programme inaugurated by Imperial Airways' C class flying-boat G-ADVE RMA Centurion.
1938 10 August
RANA begin weekly Lusaka - Fort Jameson service.
1940 I February
Southern Rhodesia Government acquire the assets of Rhodesia and Nyasaland Airways and found Southern Rhodesian Air Services as a Communication Squadron of the Southern Rhodesian Air Force.
1941 1 June
Southern Rhodesian Air Services begin weekly Johannesburg - Bulawayo - Salisbury - Lusaka - Ndola - Kasama - Mbeya - Dodoma - Nairobi - Kisumu service.
1946 1 June
Central African Airways Corporation (hereinafter referred to as CAAJ constituted by the Governments of Southern Rhodesia. Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland as successor to Southern Rhodesian Air Services.
1946 19 November
CAA introduce first Viking scheduled services in Africa.
1946 9 December
CAA introduce first D.H. Doves on scheduled services in Southern Africa.
1948 4 May
B.O.A.C. begin Southampton-Johannesburg (Vaaldam) service with Short Solent flying-boats. The route is via Augusta - Cairo - Luxor - Khartoum - Port Bell and Victoria Falls.
Extracted and recompiled by Eddy Norris for use on Our Rhodesian Heritage site that Orafs administers.
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Whatever Happened to May?
By Angela Hurrell, Bob Manser and assisted by Eddy Norris
| May with flowers|
MAY MANSON THOMSON ( Allan Wilson's Fiancé’ )
May Manson Thomson was the second eldest of six children.
Born 6th October 1860 in Corskie, Garmouth' Scotland, she had three sisters and two brothers. Her father was Andrew Thomson, a farmer of Corskie Farm, Garmouth, Scotland and her mother, who died when May was a young girl, was Charlotte Duncan (nee) Manson.
|Major Allan Wilson|
(Commanding the Victoria Column)
Born 1856 - Killed at Shangani 4th December 1893
Engaged to Major Allan Wilson of Shangani Battle fame she became known as the lady who later married James Dawson, a close friend and comrade of Allan’s. It was he who retrieved and transported the remains of the Pioneer men after the ill fated battle against the Matabele.
On his first, very difficult journey to the site, accompanied by James (Paddy) Reilly and five Matabele, he buried the remains and carved a memorial into the trunk of a nearby tree ‘to brave men’. Later he returned to the site and transferred the remains to Zimbabwe Ruins where they were reburied. On that trip he also transported grain and other foodstuffs to the starving widows and children of the Matabele who had been killed by the Patrol.
After some time those remains were again reinterred at Worlds View in the Matopos in the Bulawayo area where Cecil John Rhodes was later buried.
|Site of the original burial place of Allan Wilson's patrol at Shangani|
|The remains were later removed and buried at Zimbabwe|
|The Shangani Memorial at the Matopos. The last resting place of Allan Wilson's Patrol|
In 1896 James visited his home town in Scotland. A long time friend of Allan Wilson, he must have met Allan’s fiancé May much earlier during Allan’s lifetime.
|Left to Right Mr. James Fairbairn and Mr. James Dawson|
James was reputed as knowing the native Matabele better than most, having enjoyed the complete confidences of Lobengula and Khama who he included amongst his friends.
He was one of the few trusted whites as it was said that he never 'trifled' with the natives. His word was his bond and he did much to inspire the respect that the natives had for the Englishmen (all considered English, even the Scots!) He was a brave man, courteous to a fault and bore himself like a true gentleman. He appears to have been a caring man, one on whom unpleasant duties were often undertaken when no one else wanted to carry them out.
Of interest was the foresight he had on the occasion of his wedding when he arranged to have his guests, locals and from Rhodesia transported in first class carriages from Garmouth to the school house where his marriage ceremony took place.
Married in October 1896 when May was aged 36 and he 8 years older, the wedding attracted much publicity and descriptions of the wedding were published in the newspapers of Elgin, Scotland and also in Bulawayo, Rhodesia. James was described as a prosperous South African merchant. A kind man as evidenced by his journey to rescue the starving Matabele widows and children after the Shangani Battle, transporting them back to Bulawayo.
The wedding ceremony, considered something of a ‘modern romance’ took place in Fochabers and was celebrated by the townsfolk who revered Allan who was a son of the village. Much interest was manifest in the burgh of Macduff when flags floated from the Municipal buildings, from the crafts in the harbour and from a large number of public and private houses throughout the town. With the events of the Shangani battle still fresh in the townsfolk’s minds, it was reported that the story of their union was of interest the world over.
May's father had passed away by this time so she was given away by her brother-in-law Mr Alexander Geddie. May's three sisters and two brothers and families attended the ceremony. Her nieces were bridesmaids.
Many gifts were given and of particular interest was a cheque received from Holloway Gaol from Dr Jameson and Sir Willoughby. They had been jailed for the parts they played in the Jameson Raid in South Africa.
|Leander Starr Jameson|
|Major Sir John C. Willoughby Bart.|
(Chief Staff Officer to His Honour the Administrator)
After the wedding James and May returned to Rhodesia where James, who had given up his military duties, revived his business interests while farming in Essexvale. These, which he and his brother Alexander had previously established in the name of Dawson Bros. were based in an office on the corner of Fife Street and Market Square in Bulawayo. James was the manager and Alexander, the London based buyer for the enterprise. Eleven branches were formed in such places as Khami River, Filabusi, Geelong, Balla Balla, Fairview and Essexvale. An early map of the Essexvale area shows a farm named Fochabers which was apparently the property of the Bechuanaland Charter for whom Allan Wilson had worked. This same farm was later given to Allan and his family posthumously)
Reports of parties held in the Dawson's home included friends such as the hunter Selous, Sam Lee (who had accompanied Livingstone to Lake Ngami) Bill Finaughty, ‘Old Mahogany’ Ware (who went with Dawson's brother Alexander when they penetrated the Chobe in 1872) Edward Swimborne and van Rooyan, (who killed more lions than any other hunter including one put up for Randolph Churchill's last shot) Crewe and Farrell, all talking the night away with their tales of hairbreadth escapes from wild beasts, drought, natives and disease.
It was reported that James pegged out Livingstone Falls as his farm but was persuaded by Rhodes and Jameson to give it up to the world. He had no clear titles to the spot and the other men interested in the venture blamed his Highland munificence in surrendering the prize with no compensation.
One wonders why the marriage did not last but sadly it did not appear to have been successful. May returned home to Scotland in 1905 with son Ronald Maurice aged four (born in Bulawayo on 18th August 1901) which is the date that James moved 800 miles away to Barotseland’s capital Lealui. His friend King Lewinika welcomed him and later when the king died his death notice described him as an old and staunch friend of Britain and the missionaries in his country. A description of a couple of Scottish men living there at the time, and another Scottish settler (unnamed) was included. That was probably James.
James lived in Barotseland some 16 years and is mentioned in records and books on Susman Bros. as one of their most important partners and the biggest cattle buyer in the Valley. He later apparently experienced financial difficulties as a result of huge cattle losses from pleuro pneumonia in 1921 and shot himself when he was 70 years old. He was buried in Mongu Cemetery near Lealui.
May lived in Scotland and sent her son Ronald to school in Spymouth from where he progressed to Milnes Institution where both James and Allan Wilson had been educated.
On leaving school in 1919 he went to Malaya where he worked for Penang Rubber Estates. He married Dolina Barbara Falconer on 26th August 1937.
According to the Garmouth Register he was a rubber planter, as registered on his marriage certificate. She was the daughter of Donald Falconer, clothier, and Christina (nee) MacLennon.
Ronald and Dolina had a son James who was born in Malaya in 1941. He never married and retired as a Dundee lawyer after which he moved to Forfar in Scotland. Apparently he had no interest in the part that his grandfather played in Rhodesia and passed away aged 60 after a heart attack in 2003.
The apparent lack of interest shown by both Ronald and his son James was only explained recently by a cousin of May’s, Ian Mackenzie. He gave the reason for May having left James as being the result of his ill treatment of her, due he thought, to the worry and stress of losing all his cattle. As he had moved to Lealui at the same time that May returned to Scotland, it is not clear whether he had suffered this loss in Rhodesia which led him to move to Barotseland .
At the time of her death at the age of 86 May was busy writing another book dedicated to her grandson. A lover of flowers she took care of the local war memorial in Garmouth tending it since its erection after the first World war. She was survived by her son Ronald in Malaya. He was reputed to have been a prisoner of war of the Japanese and at the cession returned to work in Malaya where he died some years later. May was well loved and recognised as a Moray authoress and a frequent contributor to journals and magazines, and widely read in the Northern Scott Newspapers and the Milnes Institute magazines. Of an arresting personality she was held in great respect in the district.
AUTHORS QUEST 2010
When Allan Wilson of Fochabers, Scotland died during the Shangani Battle in 1893 he left behind his fiancé May Manson Thomson who was a local girl from Corksie, Garmouth in Scotland. She must have suffered greatly upon hearing of his fate as Allan was considered a ‘man amongst men’. One can only imagine her deep sense of loss.
I had so often wondered what had become of her so in 2010 placed an advert in a Scottish newspaper calling for information of her family.
Amongst people who responded were the grandchildren of her sister Isabella Geddie, Angus and Charlotte (nee) Christie. Correspondence followed and I received photographs and copies of newspaper cuttings. Another great nephew Ian Mackenzie had known May well in his young days. He sent me wedding photographs of May and James.
Mays siblings were as follows.:-
Jean, the eldest, was born 24th Feb 1859 and married Alexander Geddie, son of a Speymouth shipbuilder and headmaster of Balnacoul School.
Isabella ‘Tibby’ Thomson born 21st October 1862 was married to Dr. William Stewart Geddie. They moved to Queensland, Australia in 1894 but returned to Scotland in 1900. In 1903 Phoebe (their daughter) was born and Phoebe had four children, Angus and Charlotte (Sharley), Emma and Magaret
Angus is in Scotland, and his sister Charlotte, now living in Esperance, West Australia. It was Angus, the family member most interested in genealogy, who contacted me and has proved a most helpful source of information. He was able to procure copies of the two books that May wrote as well as many of her poems and short stories. His other two sisters Emma and Margaret remembered May as being a ‘feisty lady and of fairly cheerful disposition’. Some of Mays wedding gifts are still held by the family
John Thomson born 13th April 1864 – no further details given.
Charlotte Thomson 4th April 1806 married Hugh Spencer.
Andrew Thomson born 17th April 1869 and married to Charlotte Duncan Manson, daughter of Capt. Sinclair and Mary Ann (nee Walker)
I located the ‘engagement’ ring that Allan gave to May, (but described as a signet ring in A.J. Smits story ‘’The Shangani Story’’) It had been found amongst other Allan Wilson memorabilia that had been presented to the Allan Wilson School Archives in Rhodesia by May. One wonders, however, whether there was a ‘proper’ engagement ring as the one in question does look rather more like a signet ring. Was there perhaps another ring that May treasured too much to send to the school?
Peter Dawson, of Fochabers (no relation to James Dawson) wrote an article ‘’There were no Survivors’’ which was published in the Northern Scot Christmas Number of 1989. He forwarded many articles and newspaper reports that he felt were of interest and assistance to me, as have a few older folk who have stories of May and her son Ronald and grandson James. Most of these have been handed down from their parents who lived near May.
A biography of James Dawson was written by John O’Reilly and called 'Pursuit of the King’ but sadly I have been unable to find much relating to James after he left for Barotseland in 1905 where he lived until his death in 1921.
Hugh Macmullins book ‘An African Trading Empire Story of the Susman Bros and Wulfsohn 1901-2005’ in the chapter on the Sesheke War and the Cattle Trade 1909-1931 mentions James as the most important of their partners and the largest cattle buyer in the Valley, and a contemporary of George Westbreech who had been working in Central Africa since 1870. Page 114 describes Susman's one time partner Jimmy Dawson as having ‘‘got into financial difficulties as a result of the collapse of the cattle trade and died tragically aged 70 in 1921.’’
According to Mrs. Jean Smith of Banff-shire, Scotland, whose parents lived opposite May on the Brae remembers May as a very gracious lady who owned a small dog called Tegas, which, Jean thought, was a Scottie. She also recalled James, Mays grandson as a young lad always on his bicycle and later at Varsity where he qualified as a solicitor. She saw him last at Mays funeral.. Jean reports that Ronald, Mays son was a Japanese prisoner of war who worked 'east' to where he returned at the cessation of war and died there some years later. The gravestone in Essil states that he died in Malaya. Jean sent me a copy of Mays signature and notes that she had written in Jeans autobiography book when Jean was about 12 years old. Always interested in her reading May often suggested authors who she thought suitable for young Jean.
A few snippets of May’s book as it is 139 pages long
Extracted from her book
SPRING IN RHODESIA
Spring in Rhodesia! Away in the wide, solemn, lonely veldt; far from the haunts of men, spring comes to us in our peaceful solitude with something of home sweetness, and power, and charm. Nothing is just the same, it is true, but in fancy we try to believe it is April and spring in England, instead of September and spring in Rhodesia.
All over the ground is a faint flush of green;reminding me pleasantly of the "breer" (the briar) in the corn fields of Morayshire - the tender yellowy-green of the young mimosas, the deep funereal shade of the euphorbia, and the wonderful dazzling green of the wild fig trees - such a green as one never sees in our northern latitudes; a green that seems to have absorbed the very light of the sun into it and kept it there. Young figs, like tiny green
May wrote a small book called ‘Veldt and Heather’ described by Glass as ‘a trifling empty thing’ but which does give a glimpse of May's thoughts on her life in Africa at that time.
‘Twa Tinkers’ was her book of poetry. Many other short stories and poems were written over the years, most of which were published in the Northern Scot newspapers in their Christmas editions and the Milnes Institution magazine.
Letters held by the family include one from the War Office in Droitwich. Worcs UK dated lst Dec 1948 which records that ‘‘at the suggestion of the Rhodesian Sec. for Education, (Mr J Cowie) memorials be erected to Major Allan Wilson and the gallant band who fought at Shangani on 4th Dec. 1893. This has been done. A series of British War medals all of them representative of acts of heroism by British Regiments, have been presented to the Royal Norfolk Regiment, a section of this regiment served as Mounted Infantry in the Rhodesian Campaign of 1896. Mrs Dawson will doubtless agree that as the Regiment gained five Victoria Crosses in the war of 1939/45 they are the appropriate custodians of the memorial to the “These were men of Men and their fathers were Men before them ’ of Wilson's last stand’
Secondly, that the Regimental Assoc. has undertaken to forward to the Allan Wilson School at Salisbury, a memorial silver bugle (or drums if they prefer) for use with the Cadet Corps, particularly on each anniversary of Shangani Day. ‘Medals are displayed at the Royal Masonic School, Bushey, Herts in the hopes that some of the 400 boys there may be inspired by Major Wilson's example of devotion to duty in the service of the country’’
Another letter from V.W. Hillier from the govt Archives in Salisbury dated 10th Nov 1942 wherein May was advised that ‘’in April 1939 I wrote to you regarding the late Major Allan Wilson's ring and medal. At that time he was unsure as to whether they would be housed in the Archives or the Bulawayo museum.
He advised her that the medal, ring and a photo copy of a page from Major Wilson's diary, bearing his signature, were still there. It was formally presented to the Allan Wilson School at the end of their Shangani Day service. Accepting the gifts the headmaster of the school expressed his pleasure in accepting these items that would be treasured by the school stating that a small glass case was to be made to house them in the assembly hall.
|Allan Wilson School Badge|
These were men of men and their fathers were men of men before them (M’Jaan the Induna)
Recently it was found that the ring in safe keeping, it having been removed from the school when Zimbabwe became independent. With recent threats and discussions by locals in Zimbabwe of obliterating the Shangani and Rhodes graves and memorials in the Matapos it is with gratitude that these precious memorabilia are being taken care of.
Thanks to Angela and Bob, the long walk to get this story finished was well worth it Special thanks for your patience.
(Please visit our previous posts and archives
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By Mitch Stirling (Air Rhodesia)
Memories of Vickers Viscounts are deeply etched in the Rhodesian psyche. They played a vital role in the history of "our land of lost content".
If you lived in Salisbury, and listened carefully, you could even set your clock to the distinctive high-pitched whine of 4 Rolls Royce Dart engines, as RH 828 turned left off runway 06 and headed out across the city to Kariba, Wankie and Victoria Falls. Black or white, big or small, young or old, you loved the Viscounts — those elegant, graceful old ndege. "You could balance a coin on edge during flight". Millions of people travelled on the Viscounts; many of them were famous celebrities, prime ministers, presidents and monarchs. The Queen Mum was a favourite.
But, like any great love story, there was heartache as well. Central African Airways, forerunner of Air Rhodesia, lost its first Viscount in a part of the world that is making history today — Libya. But that was a long time ago and only the older Rhodesians, the madalas, would remember the shocking news on that fateful night of August 1958 when Viscount VP-YNE Mpika crashed on a scheduled Zambezi service to London. During a night approach in good weather at Benina airport, near Benghazi, the aircraft hit high ground approximately five miles short of the runway and broke up. Miraculously 15 passengers and three crew members survived the crash; tragically 32 were killed. Captain CL Sindall, First Officer IJ Gow and Radio Officer EC Hoar were highly experienced airmen. With them was a dedicated cabin crew who had flown the route Entebbe-Khartoum-Wadi Halfa-Benina many times before.
Something went terribly wrong that night, after they were cleared for a standard instrument approach onto runway 33 Right. There were no indications of engine or airframe malfunction, so the accident investigation concluded, coldly, that it was a "controlled flight into terrain". A contributory factor could have been an incorrect altimeter setting on the part of the pilots. But the unknown "human factor" in aviation tragedies can never be fully explained and we will never know what really happened on that dark, desert night.
One of the survivors, Bill Mann, was sitting in the back as a passenger to London. Bill was later to become a well known Air Rhodesia/Air Zimbabwe captain. And a wrist watch, on its way to London for repair, belonging to my old friend Ralph Ward (radio operator CAA) was recovered from the wreck. Ralph was still wearing it when he died in Harare a few years ago. Sadly Clifford du Pont lost his children in the crash.
Air Rhodesia experienced two more Viscount disasters which involved total hull loss and heartbreaking fatalities. But they were certainly not caused by pilot error. The "inhuman factor" was at work here. In the late 1970's, communist inspired terrorists fired Russian manufactured Grail missiles (SAM 7s) at Viscounts VP-WAS Hunyani and VP-YND Umniati as they departed the holiday resort of Kariba in the Zambezi Valley.
All but a few survivors were killed in the ensuing crash of Hunyani. In an act of unspeakable barbarity, some of them were brutally murdered at the crash site.
Viscount Umniati plummeted straight into the ground, with no chance of survivors.
The perpetrators of these crimes against humanity, and their supporters, will burn in purgatory forever.
Much has been written about "our" Vickers Viscounts; they have been eulogized by others far more qualified than me. But here are a few interesting facts about them that some of us may not know and others may have forgotten. The Viscount was the first successful airliner powered by turbine engines in the world and it heralded a new era in quiet, comfortable air travel. VP-YNA was the first of our Viscounts. It arrived in Southern Rhodesia, brand new off the production line at Hurn, England. Named Malvern it was our flag ship and arrived at Salisbury's new International Airport in April 1956, decked out in silver, dark blue and white and crewed by Rob Orbell, Gar Nash, Bob Hodgson and Jock Elphinstone. In her long and distinguished life she carried hundreds of thousands of passengers, her engines were changed 139 times and she made more than 25 000 landings.
|Delivery flight at Benghazi. |
|RMA Malvern arrives Salisbury.|
Over the years our Viscounts were modified, upgraded, panel beaten, re-sprayed, hired out, re-sold and even belly-landed on occasions. VP-YNB Shangani had over 50 000 hours in her log book and over 25 000 landings when she was scrapped. Her engines were changed over 130 times. CAA and Air Rhodesia operated a total of 14 Viscounts, some of which came from other air carriers before their arrival in Central Africa — Middle East Airlines (MEA), Trans Australian, the Union of Burma, Jordanian Airways and Jersey Airline. All the Viscounts in the fleet were much-loved by pilots and passengers alike.
|VP-WAS Hunyani type 782D constructor's No 298. |
Built at Weybridge. Operated by the government of Iran before delivery.
Destroyed 3 September 1978. Total hours 30 074.
|Decimalization of currency 1970|
|VP-YND Umniati type 748D constructor's No 101. |
Built at Hurn. Visited Russia before delivery.
The first Viscount, and the first prop jet aircraft, to enter the Soviet Union.
Destroyed 12 February 1979. Total hours 42 050.
|VP-YNB Shangani with anti-strela paint. Type 748D constructor's No 99. |
Built at Hurn. Total hours when scrapped 50 054.
|Memorial in Pretoria|
|Wreath from Air Rhodesia employees|
"... they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:31
Photo credits: Nicky (Elphinstone) Pearce, Phil Evans, Al Fraser, Tony Rose, Larry Ridler, Neil Burton and the book "They Served Africa with Wings". Special thanks to Rogan Taylor for his gift that arrived in my post box recently from the USA — his lovely water colour print of the Viscount. Thanks to Mitch for sharing his memories with ORAFs. Thanks also to those that made photographs available(Please visit our previous posts and archives
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