Chapter 23 Kenya and Tanganyika. Nairobi – Arusha 183 miles 14 January 1939

Depositing our luggage at the hotel, we went straight on to the Wolseley agents where we arranged with the manager for them to start work on the car right away. We wanted the edges of the plate, made by Hetchen to hold the torn off spring hanger, spot-welded to the chassis. Although the bolts had held it perfectly, we thought it would be safer to have it welded in addition. We wanted glass cut to fit the rather odd shape of our windscreen frame. We were told that safety glass could not be cut to a special shape so that we should have to be content with ordinary plate glass. We wanted glass cut to fit the windows broken in the crash and a pair of headlamps to replace our lost ones. Also, we told the manager about the trouble with the voltage control. He said he would extract the spare one from our stock and fit that as the one we were using was obviously faulty.

This was really all that was required, except for routine greasing and verifying gear box and back axle oil leaks. “Mr Dunlop”, this was the precise title we gave to the various Dunlop representatives whom we met en route as we found it impossible to memorize all their names. Mr Dunlop had arrived in the meantime and we arranged with him to have our tyres changed for the Trackgrip type sent out from England for us. These are the type used by British Army vehicles: they have huge bars across the treads and are specially made for cross-country work. They were of 9-inch section, the same size as we had been using up to date. Having left our Wolseley for attention, Graham Bell drove us to the hospital where the doctor was waiting for us, Bell having phoned him in advance. He looked at Humfrey’s left hand and immediately pronounced the little finger to be broken and not merely strained as we had thought. He arranged to have it to be X-rayed the next morning and also wanted an X-ray photograph of the wounds on my left leg, which were still very painful.

Leaving the hospital, we called on our old friend, Finn, of the Shell Company, being received by him in his usual cordial manner. He is a great chap and is completely typical of the fine type of man selected by the Shell Company as their overseas representatives. We took him along with us to the hotel as he wanted to hear about what had happened to us and why we were so late in arriving. We had expected to reach Nairobi on the 3rd of January, whereas it was the 12th when we got there, so we were already nine days down on our schedule. At the hotel a reporter from the East African Standard was waiting as he duly had heard we had arrived (in the magic way newspaper people everywhere seem to know everything that happens) and he had been sent to interview Symons. This he did while Humfrey also undertook to write an article describing our experiences for the next day’s issue. Cables and telegrams then had to be sent off to Thomas, to the Sunday Times, to Stanton at Juba and to Humfrey’s South African papers. At last we managed to get to our rooms for a bath and a change, but it was very late before we sat down to dinner, Finn and Graham Bell keeping us company. After dinner we went off with Bell to find his pal Rolson whom we had met on the Rolls Royce trip and who was detained at his coffee mill as this was their busy season.

It was very late when we got to bed, certainly well after midnight, but we were not at all tired. We were in very good spirits; we were delighted with the car and how it had behaved on our 800 miles trial run and full of hope that we should reach Cape Town without further trouble. Our 800-mile run from Juba had actually taken us exactly 30 hours, including all stops and the little difficulties we had had in finding the way. When we complained to Bell about his road from Mile 66 to Molo, and explained what it was like, he told us that we had taken the wrong road and that we should have gone on another 200 yards before we turned off the road to Eldama Ravine. We should then have had the same magnificent road all the way that we struck from the last 10 miles into Molo. We then forgave him.

Next morning, we were up really early. Got X-rayed and later saw the doctor. Humfrey’s finger had been broken but had now mended, though it had set itself though not quite straight and it was a quarter of an inch shorter than the same finger on his right hand. He was very distressed about this and was not all comforted when I told him no one would ever notice. He was also worried because he could not stretch it out straight, but only in a sort of eccentric movement towards the other fingers. When I asked him why he wanted to stretch it out straight he seemed to have no answer ready but only said it would be a nuisance not being able to!

The doctor was not pleased with my leg – neither was I, as a matter of fact – and ordered me to take M&B 693, a new drug which is a powerful anti-toxin, in order to counteract the poison that had undoubtedly got into it. He also told me – a thing I never heard before – that the best dressing was cod-liver oil! I am bound to confess that this acted admirably. I used it daily for several weeks and it certainly helped the deep wounds to heal. The only disadvantages were the fact that I went about smelling like a fried fish shop and that any cat in the neighbourhood winced and marked predilection for my company!

Once again, as at Juba, the doctor asked me how I felt and when I said I never felt better in my life, strictly the truth, he shook his head and said he couldn’t understand it! I could not stand about much, because of my leg, so I stopped in the hotel while Humfrey went along to the Wolseley agents to see how work was progressing, as we were hoping to start for Cape Town that night. When he returned, he told me that we should not be able to start before the following morning as several things remained to be done and anyway another night’s rest would do us good. One very annoying thing had happened. The expert with the acetylene flame, while spot welding the plate onto the chassis, had directed his flame straight on a big bunch of wires coming from the main switchbox. I think there were 27 of them – and the insulation had promptly resented this treatment by instantaneously vanishing in a cloud of fumes, causing a complete short circuit. I believe that it took the electrical expert 6 hours to trace all the wires and to replace them! They were also having trouble with the voltage control.

Later Humfrey sat down with a typist friend of Graham Bell’s and dictated articles for his various papers while Mrs Robson, a charming young lady whom our friend Robson had met and married when he was in England two years before, kindly ran me out to show me a Kenya residence. When we got back to the hotel, there were two pleasant surprises waiting for me. Graham Bell, delighted that we were staying another night, insisted on giving a party for us at a restaurant and a cable had come from Thomas. His first words of this cable ran: “Tell Bertie all forgiven.” This was obviously in answer to the rather desperate letter I had written to him from Nianpara the day after our crash and – well, I was more than happy to get this very sporting message. The sending of it was completely Thomas-like. I prefer to say no more than that. He also said “Films arrived” but maddeningly did not say whether they had come out well or not. We had been very anxious about these pictures as they were documentary evidence of great importance as showing the amazing escape we had had and the frightful accident the car had survived. The sense of Thomas’ cable was that he was more than pleased at our being able to continue, but it was not until our escape and the photographs had been eagerly accepted as news by the daily paper in England. Such is the craving for sensation of some newspaper readers that when Thomas, who in addition to being a brilliant General Manager is also an accomplished journalist, rang up the news department, who are always on the lookout for ‘good stories’, then leapt at the tale of our escape with avidity. I cannot refrain from adding that the reaction of at least one editorial department (the newspaper concerned shall be nameless) was as follows: “Anyone killed? No? anyone injured? Not seriously, eh? Well, are they married? Can we have photographs of their wives?”  Such is modern journalism at its worst!

Graham Bell’s party that night was a huge success and our young host – he reminds me of nothing so much as a perky little Scotch terrier! – at the head of the table beamed through his spectacles as laughter reigned supreme. Suddenly half way through dinner, an awful feeling of illness came over me. I can’t describe it. I didn’t feel sick or faint but just awfully ill and when we came out Humfrey, who has some sort of sixth sense in these matters, said, “What’s up Bertie?” “I feel ghastly,” I answered, “I can’t think what’s the matter. I felt ill the night before. I must have eaten something that’s disagreed with me.”

Back at the hotel, I was given brandy and put to bed. Next morning Humfrey came to my room early and anxiously asked me how I felt. I replied that I felt awful. Humfrey told me that he had just rung up the Wolseley agents and they had told him the car would not be ready til midday, so I had better stay in bed. I know now that he also rang up Graham Bell and asked him to stand by to go on to Cape Town that day in case, I was not well enough to travel. We had arranged with Bell before we left England that he would be ready to go on with the survivor in case one of us, on arriving at Nairobi, was so exhausted by the journey that he was unable to continue. This he had agreed to do. We had considered this arrangement prudent in case of the possible breakdown of one of us under the strain of a long hard journey of this kind and in view of the importance of the issue if we had made a really fast run as far as Nairobi. I am quite sure that when this was arranged the same thought was in both of our minds though it was never voiced between us. I was quite determined that whatever might happen to Humfrey, I should certainly last the course; and I am certain that he had exactly the same feeling about himself!

He did not on this morning of the 14th of January tell me that he had rung up Graham Bell to warn him to be ready because he did not want to disturb my mind and I am sure he knew what my immediate reaction would have been. He was, as ever, the wise skipper who wanted his crew to get all the rest possible, so I took his advice and stayed in bed.

He came in again in an hour or so in neat perturbation. “Bertie,” he said, “I’ve just been round to see the doctor again about my hand and I told him you were feeling rotten. He said it was extraordinary as you said you felt so well. I suggested that it might have been something you had eaten or something he had given you. He replied that was not possible, because MB 693 agrees quite well with quinine,” (the common prophylactic against malaria), “when I said you were not taking quinine but atabrine he was horrified. Apparently, this MB 693 is very tricky stuff and combined with atabrine (and a good many other things), it is a rank poison. He said you must stop it at once and go on to quinine. So that accounts for you feeling so rotten.”

I believe I said, “Thank Heavens! I thought I was going to be ill.” Anyway, now that I knew what was the matter, I was at any rate certain I wasn’t going to die and when Humfrey said “So you think you’ll be able to go on?” I replied with vigour that of course I could go on and that I was getting up now.

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