Home Articles A Visiting Fireman in Africa A Visiting Fireman in Africa. Chapter 4
A Visiting Fireman in Africa. Chapter 4 Print E-mail
Written by Ray Critchell   
Sunday, 05 July 2009 23:37
Article Index
A Visiting Fireman in Africa. Chapter 4
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Page Eleven
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Page Fifteen
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Page Seventeen
Page Eighteen
Page Nineteen
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After leaving Africa rather abruptly in mid 1974, homeless, jobless, and with a few fairly traumatic months behind us, I promised to write a sequel to the article I had written as a semi-autobiographical history of the development of the Airport Rescue Fire Service, hopefully to explain the rather cryptic closing remarks in chapter three. These included the rhetorical question, 'could things get any worse?'

Since that far off day, several people have asked 'What did happen then?' 'Where did you end up?' 'What did you do for a living?' 'How did you all settle into a different life?' etc, etc.

This may not be of interest to all, but for people who have to suddenly pack up and go to live somewhere else in the world, and make a complete change of career when in middle age, as so many of us were forced to do, this tale may be of some comfort. Things can turn out well. Also, in keeping with the philosophy of the GNR, I would like to complete the story, as far as it goes, for my great grand children who will never be able to hear it from me direct.

After an uneventful night flight from Lusaka, apart from the fact that we could not buy any refreshments as our Zambian currency was not acceptable on the aircraft, we landed in Cyprus early in the morning of Saturday the 13th of July, 1974. This was going to be the start of a welcome relaxing holiday on the beach, away from all the stresses and strains of Africa. Although it was just after dawn, the temperature difference between the Central African savannah plateau at 4000 feet in July, or mid winter, and sea level in the eastern Mediterranean at the height of their summer was causing us to visibly melt. By mid day it would reach 40° C +.

Apart from a small crate that was on the way by air freight to our new home, wherever that was going to be, all our worldly possessions were in the strictly rationed one suitcase each and a brief case with our travel documents etc. We collected these after customs clearance, which was markedly relaxed and civil compared to the Zambian people, although we did wonder a bit at the large number of soldiers and armed police standing around in the airport. I had hired a new Austin car that would hold all five of us and after a comparatively short drive to the north side of the island we reached the ancient and historic seaside town of Kyrenia. Our hotel, the Dorana, was a short distance up from the beach, and was practically brand new. As we came to learn, It had been built by two Greek Cypriot brothers who had spent several years in the Congo making their fortune and planning this, their dream.

It was fully and very efficiently air conditioned, and with the wooden shutters closed over the windows it was cool and dark inside compared to the hot, brilliant sunshine outside. We had three large rooms and planned to relax and recharge the emotional batteries before we began our next negotiations with the fates. I know that for most of that first day and night I slept soundly. Something I had not done for a while.

On the Sunday we set off to explore and drove up into the nearby Trudos Mountains, visiting the famous Bellapaise Monastery, and in general, being the average tourist. The scenery was out of this world and our new car ran like a dream. However, on some of the mountain roads we would come across a check point, with several stern looking, bearded men standing guard. These men were all heavily armed, with ammunition bandoliers slung across their shoulders. They seemed to recognise us as harmless tourists and waved us through. The hotel staff did not / would not say anything about them when we asked who they were.

On the Monday morning, having cashed some travellers cheques, my wife and daughter went shopping in the town and I took the boys with me to make a courtesy call on the local Fire Brigade. On the way back to the hotel for lunch, we stopped for an ice cream at a pavement cafe, but this quiet interlude was suddenly brought to an end by the sound of gunfire. People around us did not appear to be shocked or surprised but hastily went indoors and shutters were soon going up. We were advised to return to our hotel.

The hoteliers were obviously alarmed about something, and said they understood there had been a coup and that Archbishop Makarios hade been shot and killed. As it turned out, the bit about the bishop was not true but the rumours were by then flying and all the radio did was to play non stop martial music. Evidently some sort of trouble had been brewing for a long time and this uprising today seemed not to be too big a surprise amongst some of the local people, although the hotel brothers seemed to be as shocked as we were. Not a word of this had reached us in Zambia, nor our travel agent who would not have sent us off into such a situation, we would like to think. That evening the electricity was cut off, which meant that the air conditioning stopped, and fires were started up in the mountains. We went up on to the flat roof of the hotel to get an over view of things and the hotel brothers, who were most concerned for our safety, insisted that we should lie down on the roof and not stand up where we could be seen, but without saying who we should be hiding from.

Suddenly, there was the unmistakable sound of a tank approaching, very slowly. Everything went very quiet as the tank went past our hotel and pulled up in front of the Archbishops Residence, almost next door. A loud, authoritative voice shouted out instructions of some sort to the people inside the building. When this drew no response, with shocking suddenness, the cannon on the tank fired a round which blasted out the large wooden double doors in the front of the residence. There was a lot of shouting and screaming and a large number of young people who had evidently barricaded themselves inside were brought out with their hands in the air, and some clearly injured, and marched off into the night. We heard later that they were locked up in the dungeons of the ancient fort in the town and kept there for several weeks in very poor conditions. There was sporadic shooting throughout the night and next day and also much of the following night, and always, non-stop martial music on the radio.

Our new hire car was commandeered by one of the combating factions and we saw it again on the Thursday morning, shot full of bullet holes, and with no wheels.

On the Friday some normality had evidently been restored as the electricity came back on again, thank goodness in that heat, and a radio announcement in English said that anyone wishing to leave the island could now use the airport which had reopened, and all scheduled flights would resume from Saturday. We still had not a clue as to who was shooting whom or what for. We just wanted to get away to somewhere peaceful. Even had we wanted to try and continue our holiday we now had no car.

At day break on the Saturday, my wife and eldest son were up at dawn, having packed the night before, and were casually watching a plane circling above. Marjorie called out that this means that the airport must be open and working ok, Raymond called out that he had just seen something fall off the plane . In fact it was a high explosive bomb which exploded with shattering force a couple of streets away, hitting, amongst other things, a garage / petrol station, causing a large fire to develop. Within minutes is was followed by flights of planes which bombed, and strafed with rockets, the town for about an hour or so. Our hotel did not suffer a direct hit but had several close calls, once when a rocket raced past the dining room windows and exploded just up the road. Nearly all the glass in the hotel was broken and the electricity, and this time the water supply as well, went off.

As soon as this aerial bombardment ended, there appeared flights of helicopter gunships, flying very low over the town, laden with armed troops who fired on anything moving in the streets below until they passed over the Trudos mountain range to stage, as we later learned, a full scale invasion Inland. A middle aged American holidaymaker who was staying in the hotel as a guest said the aircraft were all Turkish from a Turkish airbase on the mainland where he worked as the base electrical engineer. He recognised the aircraft as 'his'. Shortly after this, the aircraft, that had evidently gone back to their base to refuel and rearm, came back and the air raids began again.

The hotel staff had all disappeared and we were told by the owners that many of the men would have gone off to join the fighting. It seemed that virtually everyone in Cyprus had a rifle hidden under the floor. We still did not know what was happening around us and the only radio in the hotel that worked off a battery was back to the non-stop martial music. During a lull in the bombardment, Marjorie, with the hoteliers agreement went to see about food for everyone. With no refrigeration the fresh food in the refrigerators was no good and so we made do with tinned fruit and biscuits. The kitchen had been fitted with large windows, now all blown out, and it was interesting to see how rapidly people adjust to situations. When the bombing first started we all ducked or fell to the floor. Now a couple of hours later and Marjorie was walking around in the kitchen inspecting various options with all hell going on outside but now she would only duck down when something hit really close. It reminded me a bit of the attitude developed towards air raids on London during the war.

In the middle of all this, the regular hotel chef calmly walked back in with his rifle and bandolier slung over his shoulder, carrying a couple of chickens which he proceeded to pluck and turn into soup. before returning to the fighting. Fortunately the cookers worked on bottled gas and there was a water cistern up on the roof that held a supply of drinkable water.

By early afternoon the aerial bombing stopped. However, we were then horrified to see a fleet of several warships steaming parallel to the coast which opened fire and started to shoot salvoes into the town from their big guns at almost point blank range.

We all took shelter in the hotel basement which smelt strongly of new paint, was extremely hot, full of dust and cordite smoke and quite crowded as many of the local population now came in looking for protection. When the shelling finally stopped, someone went up to see how things were and came back with the even more horrifying news that there was now a fleet of invasion barges laden with armed troops heading for the beach and clearly heading towards us.

It was at this time that we were able to gather some idea from local residents what all this was about. It would seem that for a long time, going back many years, there was a wish for a self governing island of Cyprus held by both of the principal groups there, the Greeks and the Turks. This current situation was evidently due to a rising up by the Greek population with the intention of taking over the rule of the island. They held the belief that the mainland Greek army would come over to support them. Not only did this not happen but the support for the Turkish people, who seemed to be in the minority, was immediate and brutally lethal, supplied by the mainland Turkish armed forces. Our own armed forces on the British Sovereign bases on the Island, as well as the force of NATO peacekeepers permanently based there, apparently could not intervene, despite there being several hundred UK and other citizens there on holiday, some of whom had by now been shot and wounded.

There must have been considerable resistance to the landing as reports reached us of fierce fighting going on down at the beach and gradually up into the town itself, as the overwhelming firepower of the invading Turks made headway. Occasionally another local resident would creep into the already crowded cellar with details of dreadful happenings outside. As night fell, we crouched in almost total darkness, and complete silence, as sounds of hand to hand fighting in the street outside could be heard. I wondered what I would do if the Turks broke into the cellar, and sat with my arms around my wife and family. That long night eventually passed and the sounds of fighting diminished further up the street. We heard later that the invading Turks had been told by their commanders not to enter hotels where holiday makers were staying. Instead they concentrated on the homes of local Greek Cypriots and many of the local people in the cellar with us, who seemed to be Greek, were aware of the attitude of the Turks towards them and expressed their great fear of being discovered. Mothers with daughters were especially terrified of being caught.

After sunrise the next day, the fighting had moved away from the immediate area of the hotel and we cautiously made our way upstairs to find water to drink and toilets that might still be working. One of the hoteliers had managed to get the BBC on his battery radio and it was odd to listen to the announcer in London telling us in his calm, measured tones that the fighting had now ceased in Kyrenia and that the holiday makers were safe, whilst not too far distant was the continuous sound of gunfire and people shouting and screaming. At one point a pickup pulled up outside the hotel and the owner went out speak with the driver.. I peered out of the window and could see that lying in the back of the open vehicle was the young waiter who had served us on our first few meals there. He appeared to be unconscious, badly wounded, and now had only one leg.

The rest of that day passed slowly with unsuccessful attempts to contact the outside world, or get information that could be of help to us in our predicament. It was raging hot with temperatures in excess of 40°c and then the hotel water cistern ran dry. No one dared to suggest going out to find another source and the hoteliers eventually gave us all carte blanche to their bar stocks, saying that in a short while the Turks would have it all anyway. We gratefully stocked up with bottled water. One Belgian couple took them at their word and emptied out their suitcases and filled them up with bottles of spirits, wines and boxes of cigars.

The fierce fighting in the streets outside had now moved away to the outskirts of the town, although there would be occasional bursts of shooting much closer. The town itself was full of Turkish soldiers in full battle kit who had overrun the defences, and there were now Turkish flags flying all over the place.

Just after dark, a man came quietly into the lounge, where by this time we were all trying to prepare ourselves for another long and threatening night, and introduced himself. He was Fred Hamilton, one of a group of film makers that was staying at a seafront hotel a couple of hundred yards from ours, and had taken it upon himself to contact as many of the Hotels in the town as possible to tell any British holiday makers he could find of a plan to assist our rescue.

His group was the film unit making the very popular TV series 'Callan'. The principal star of the show, Edward Woodward, was staying in an hotel on the other side of the island with several of his colleagues. The half dozen in Kyrenia were staying at the Hesperides Hotel nearer to the beach, and included one of the other lead actors, Anthony Valentine.

If ever the BBC give awards for courage, then Fred Hamilton, who I believe was one of their camera men, would assuredly be at the top of any list. At the time of his walkabout, anyone moving in the street was liable to be shot. Neither the Turks nor the Greeks were likely to stop and ask if you were there on holiday.

Their group had managed to establish a telephone link with someone in authority on the other side of the island and a plan was being formulated whereby the Royal Navy, which was heading full steam for the scene from other parts of the Mediterranean, would attempt to rescue us from selected beaches. A tentative agreement had been reached with the Turkish Government for this providing no attempt was made to remove Greek Nationals. The first step in this was to try and stay alive. The second was to make our way quickly and quietly down to the other hotel under cover of darkness!!

We were strongly advised to reduce our luggage to the bare minimum as the evacuation plan envisaged the possible use of helicopters. Space would be at a premium and we should only carry what was absolutely essential, and so our few possessions that we had brought out of Africa were reduced even further. The American holiday maker left behind a whole range of expensive photographic equipment which was in purpose made leather containers. The hotel keepers said they would try to keep all these belongings safe but I don't think any of us had any illusions. And so, slowly and apprehensively, we made our way down towards the beach. There were no lights showing anywhere, apart from several burning buildings and there was still gunfire around the town. That plus the billowing smoke reminded me again of the war in London. No one interfered with our movements and we found quite a large group of holiday makers already gathered there, Some of the wounded had received some treatment from a Vet. Remarkably in that size group there appeared to be no Doctors or Nurses.

We all moved up to the first floor, feeling safer up there, and soon joined in the discussions for our rescue. Again Marjorie went with a couple of other women to forage for water and food and we dined again that night on tinned fruit and a ration of bottled water. The first plan involved commandeering cars and driving down to a popular beach to await boats. This was scrapped when it was learnt that the Turks had mined the roads out of town. Also, it was unlikely we could get enough cars as we now numbered over a hundred souls. Although the arrangement was for us not to include the Greek population of the town, our group now included several local women and children and having seen for ourselves and been told what their fate would be, there was no question of leaving them behind.

The final plan was for us to attract the attention of the British ships that would be off the coast at dawn the following day so that they would know where to find us. My sons and I unscrewed a door from a wardrobe, which had attached to it a full length mirror, and took it up on the roof ready to use as a heliograph in the morning. We 'borrowed' a car and positioned it so that we could signal to the ships in Morse code using the vehicle headlights and dipper switch. And as a backstop we made a pair of semaphore flags from a torn up table cloth and a pair of small table legs. We were gathered together on the first floor balcony, quietly discussing the arrangements with the others. It was quite dark as no one dared to show a light when, without warning and with appalling ferocity, someone down on the pavement just across the road opened fire on us at point blank range with a machine gun.

You will know the expression 'missed by a hairsbreadth'. Here it was for real. Not only could we hear the bullets as they whizzed past us but we could feel the tugging at clothing and our hair lightly brushed as the rounds were that close. Miraculously, no one was hit but the bullets were ricocheting off the walls and ceiling showering us all with small debris. We had all instinctively dropped to the floor and Marjorie, being the shortest, got there first with the rest of us on top.

For the second time in as many days, I found myself following some advice I was given many years ago. When I first went to sea, my boss, a Chief Yeoman of signals who had already been at sea for twice as many years as I had been anywhere, used to force feed us young sprogs with titbits of sound sailorly advice, one bit of which was that you won't find many atheists at a shipwreck, and for shipwreck read any life threatening event. Again, I found myself earnestly praying for the safety of my family.

That was a night to remember, and many values I used to hold were changed. When confronted with your own mortality in this way I found that many things I used to consider important no longer mattered, and the sudden realisation that we do not even have the right to draw our next breath put things into perspective. I could also visualise my old mum, many years ago taking me to task when I came home complaining about having had a bad day. 'Count your blessings son', she would say. "If you never have a bad one, how are you going to know the difference and be able to tell when you are having a good one?" She was a bit of an expert at getting me to shut up whenever I had a strop on.

And so another long and worrisome night passed. We were up at the crack of dawn and as soon as the sun started to rise up, my son and I went up on the hotel roof and waited with our big mirror. We soon saw ships on the horizon and hoped they were 'ours' and not 'theirs'. They were clearly warships as could be seen from their outlines. [Warships always have their mainmast behind the bridge superstructure, unlike merchant ships which carry them in front]. The mirror was too cumbersome to use to signal, and we weren't too sure about the angle of the sun but continuous flashing in the direction of the ships eventually brought a recognition signal. It was a relief to know that they were British ships, and that they could now pinpoint our location along the coast

We abandoned our roof top and made our way to the prepared car to send a detailed message, but by then there was a crowd of holiday makers standing in front of the headlights which defeated the purpose as we could not get them to move. Everyone was anxiously looking out to sea wondering if this was the Turkish navy coming back to bombard us again, but our reassurance on that point and our plea for them to move along a bit fell on deaf ears. We put plan B into operation and standing on a large rock at the edge of the beach, and using the home made flags finally spoke to the lead destroyer to advise on the number of people to be taken off and requesting helicopters for the wounded. My sons and daughter had cleared and prepared a safe helicopter landing site near the hotel and very quickly now, large Sikorski helicopters from the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes, which was out on the horizon, came in to land just in front of the hotel and began to ferry the people off to the ship. After the wounded had gone off, we had planned to get the people taken off first, leaving the baggage till last, just in case the Turks started up the shooting again. It would have been too unwieldy for people and baggage to go together and would have taken too long. Fortunately, most people saw the sense of this and there was not too much resistance. In the event everyone was reunited with their luggage on the aircraft carrier

Finally, when everyone going had gone, including some that we were told shouldn't have, then between my family, Fred Hamilton, Anthony Valentine, and a couple of their production crew we loaded all the baggage into a steady stream of helicopters, which was then rapidly whisked away to the Hermes too. We all then climbed aboard with the last of the baggage in the very last flight and took off.

Below were signs of devastation; ruined buildings with smoke still rising, army vehicles in the streets, groups of soldiers moving around, bodies floating along the shore line.

Because of crowding on the Hermes, our little group were taken out to the fleet oil tanker. The Olna. which was taking in the overflow. The captain, officers and crew could not have been kinder and many gave up their cabins and sleeping quarters to allow us to rest. Many of the women and children were almost asleep on their feet. By now it was afternoon and for a while, the total contrast was so surreal that it produced a feeling of unreality. One moment we had been hiding in fear for our lives, and now here we were, sitting in a deck chair on the promenade deck of what, apart from the oil tanker plumbing and fittings, could have been a Mediterranean cruise liner, in perfect safety, with a pint of best English beer in my hand and enjoying the peaceful sunshine. Later that evening we were splendidly entertained by a troupe of Russian folk dancers and musicians that had been touring Cyprus and found themselves in the same predicament as us. A truly, seriously weird sensation.

We were fed a most welcome meal, our first for several days, and slept as well as we could. The ships medical staff had offered us their full services if we needed any treatment. [We did not know at the time but my daughter Rosemarie and I had both received a considerable quantity of one of the Hotel plate glass windows in the form of minute particles, as fine as grains of sand, in our faces. The bullets went straight through the plate glass, making neat little holes. There was no sign of any wounds, bleeding nor any pain, but these particles of glass emerged at periodic intervals over the next 30 or so years. Rosemarie made a little collection of some of her larger particles.]

During the night the Royal Naval fleet moved round the island to the peace and security of the other end, and we were all transferred from the tanker by means of a troop landing craft to the aircraft carrier, where we were reunited with our now very reduced personal belongings. It took some while for us all to be processed for the onward trip to the UK but by late afternoon all the documents had been dealt with and we were flown off the Hermes in a Sikorski to the RAF base at Akrotiri. After a couple of hours there we were finally loaded on to an RAF VC10 and flown during the night to Brize Norton, the RAF base in the south of England, being served en route by RAF air hostesses with a beautifully cooked and served roast dinner. I would never complain about being a tax payer again.

England seemed a rather cold place at that early pre dawn time when we landed, and after the briefest of formalities with customs and immigration, who went out of their way to be helpful, we were loaded onto several double decker buses and we were off to London, which seemed to be the logical place for most people to go to. Everyone else seemed to have someone waiting anxiously to meet them. We had become quite friendly with the little group we had been associating with over the last few dangerous days, and as one does, we swapped addresses and promised to keep in touch. As one does, we never did. But we often see Anthony Valentine on the TV, and think we saw Fred Hamiltons' name on the credits for a wild life programme which had been filmed in South America.

We reached London as dawn was breaking when we were sorted by a reception committee according to need. In our case this was a lift to Victoria Station where I bought tickets for Herne Bay, still with only the haziest idea where of it was. We were still wearing the clothes we had put on last Saturday when we had expected to leave on our scheduled flight, and here we were on the following Thursday, scruffy, dirty and unshaved and feeling a bit lost in the big city. And with less baggage than when we had set out, which meant that a change of clothing was not on the cards either.

On reaching Herne Bay, an hour and a half train ride later, we took a taxi to the estate agents where the key of my friends house was to be collected. They were taken aback at our appearance and said they had been expecting us ages ago. They were unaware that we had been delayed in Cyprus and were very good in taking us up to the house, as they were acting as agents for the owner. We found a 'welcome pack' of fresh foodstuffs had been left at the house for us last Saturday by the local dairy, but this had of course gone off.

So here we were then, 'home' at last, about 10 o'clock in the morning, with the cupboards all bare, no shops within walking distance and no idea how often the local bus service ran. It was then that a little angel appeared in the shape of a neighbour from across the road who had seen our arrival and came over with a tray with tea and biscuits and a sympathetic ear. She had been following the TV news bulletins and thought we had been killed when we failed to arrive. She was of enormous help to us during those first few stumbling, bewildering and probably shell shocked days whilst we found our feet. One of the first kind acts I can remember was her showing us how to get the hot water going so that we could all have a bath. True bliss at last. With her help, by the end of a week we began to establish ourselves in this rather alien setting, found our bank and obtained a cheque book, found the shops, got in essential supplies and arranged for deliveries, and bought a second hand car. Marjorie had become quite ill with what would now be described as post traumatic stress and had to spend a few days in bed. For the children, it must have seemed a bit like suddenly arriving on another planet.

We discovered the joys of colour television and one of the first programmes we watched after connecting up was a news bulletin covering the situation in Cyprus, and of all things, showing me waving my little flags standing on a rock down on the beach. As Andy Warhol once said, we all have 15 minutes of fame, and here was mine! I had forgotten that we had been in the company of professional BBC cameramen. Unfortunately, we never managed to work out how to get a copy for posterity.

We gradually set about organising our future, knowing that our present accommodation was only temporary. I have been told, subsequently, that people in our position, i.e. homeless and jobless, looked for a job first and then a house, in that order, in case a job, when found, happened to be somewhere different to where I was living. We did not know things like that in our rather muddled state, or indeed anything that might have been helpful. My first fumbling attempts to find work were memorable for me because, just like when I had come home from the Navy, I had to stand in a queue with all the other unemployed down at the labour exchange in order to register for work, and eventually get back into the system. As non residents, and not having contributed towards the welfare state because we lived in the colonies, we were not entitled to unemployment pay, and the benefit system was a total mystery to us.

This was the time of the 'winter of discontent', the three day week, petrol rationing, major strikes throughout industry, the transport systems, the coal mines, public utilities and local government. It was also the year when county reorganisation happened, with the amalgamation of some local authority services. One consequence of this was a surplus of redundant senior Fire Officers after some adjacent Fire Brigades merged to became one. In other words, 1974 was a bit like 1947 only more so. Work was not easy to find for the young and fit, and much less so for middle aged ex colonials with no particular skills outside of their own line of work. My early rebuffs included phrases such a 'too old', 'not what we are looking for; 'not qualified', and once even , 'overqualified'.

However, after the experience of Cyprus I found that none of the problems that came our way fazed me in the slightest. Compared to recent events, nothing was seen as a problem, just something to be sorted.

The time was fast approaching when we would have to vacate our temporary house and so I began looking at house buying or renting. Renting was out of the question once I disclosed that I was out of work and had no income. It was also made clear that mortgages were not available to the unemployed either.

It was here that good fortune smiled on us yet again. I had been unable to take vacation leave for the last ten years and had accrued the equivalent of one years salary in leave pay. As I mentioned elsewhere, I have made two good decisions in my life and the second one was to have this paid as it became due into my bank in England rather than in Zambia where we would probably have spent it. Had we not spent it, we would certainly have lost it. We needed to open an English bank account for the purpose of the BACS allowance [British Aided Conditions of Service] when we were compulsorily retired on pension after Independence. As it happened, both the Federal and the Zambian pensions stopped shortly after we returned to England and no further payments were ever made.

However, good fortune was still in the air. My No 2 son had been looking for a second hand motor bike, and had been searching through a magazine, the 'Exchange and Mart', that listed just about everything people wanted to sell. I came across the magazine, by chance lying open at the section advertising houses for sale. There in the centre of the page, was a picture in a box of its own, describing it as the 'House of the Week'. It was a typical three bedroom, detached house. The only one in the magazine so prominently displayed, or with a photograph, and also the only one for sale in Herne Bay in the whole magazine! I phoned the owner and arranged to call and view. The house was in the town, but in a quiet residential part, about a ten minute walk from the beach, the shops, the railway station and bus routes, and there was a post box on the corner some hundred yards away. The price was just within my accrued leave pay and I arranged to buy on sight, through a local solicitor who had in fact done all the searches and documentation for a previous prospective buyer who had pulled out less than a month ago.

We have been told since that we were mad to have committed ourselves in this way. I remember the estate agent, when we handed back our loaned house, was horrified that we had used 'our own' money, evidently a bad move in house buying circles, but for me, I had the comforting feeling that whatever may now be lying in wait around the corner, I had provided a warm, safe and comfortable nest for my little brood. All I needed to do was to maintain it and keep it insured and we were secure. Because there was no 'chain' involved on either side, the transaction went through in a little over three weeks which we have also been told must be some sort of a record. I had no knowledge of such matters having lived in rented government housing and was just relieved to be settled.

Now the search for work really started in earnest. Our eldest son, then 20, had been studying aeronautical engineering in Lusaka but had to terminate this. He found he could not adapt to the English lifestyle, and went off to make a life for himself in the south of France with some of his friends from Lusaka who had already settled over there. Number two son, who was 18 had just left school. He had eight 'O' levels, ['A' levels were not available in Zambia] but was now too old for an apprenticeship, and so had to compete in the job market as an unqualified at anything young man, with children who had left school at 16 and who therefore already had two years work experience behind them. Being interested in things mechanical, he eventually got a job in a small local garage that specialised in rebuilding Lotus and Jaguar classic cars.

Our daughter, at 16, still had two years schooling to go in Zambia, but with the school leaving age in the UK at 16, we had a problem. Like her brothers, she had always done well at school and was well up near the top in all her subjects. Unfortunately, her education history was still somewhere back in Cyprus and as we could not produce certificates to prove her ability, the Department of education placed her for her last two years in the local comprehensive school with younger children so that she could sit her final examinations with them..

For my part, I applied for over forty jobs during that first year. I sent off my c.v. with s.a.e enclosed, with carefully written letters of application to many firms, and attended interviews in various places. I went on an induction course for one of these jobs which had been advertised as a 'Fire Protection Consultant' but left when it became clear that I was to be trained as a door to door salesman for a fire extinguisher company using, in my mind, questionable sales tactics. I even went to sea on a north sea fishing trawler which belonged to my sons employer.

I did have some offers from the government department that was intended to help folks like us but these were all in places like Saudi Arabia or Belize. My particular skills were only needed in developing countries and we were not going to go down that route again. Also, Marjorie had really been affected by the Cyprus affair and the manner in which she had been deprived of her and our children's homeland, where her family still lived, and made it clear that she was not going to go abroad anymore. So I lowered my sights and aimed a little lower.

One day, after nearly a year of trying during which we lived rather economically, I saw an advert in our local free newspaper, that was delivered to every house in the town. [We no longer bought papers once we had worked out that one weeks newspaper delivery cost the same as one weeks milk]. This carried an advert for a 'Non Resident Residential Social Worker'. I must say that the apparent contradiction in the title did intrigue me.

I applied, was interviewed and offered a two day trial to see if I liked the job, and was suitable for it, and promptly accepted. I was by now almost 48, and jobs were very hard to come by in those depressed days.

The job was for a non resident house parent in a local Children's Home run by the Kent county council, less than a ten minute walk from my house. This was in a very large Victorian house set in large gardens and was indistinguishable from the other similar size houses in the road. The non residential distinction was because I did not have to 'live in' as almost all of the staff there did. I just came and went. The timing was just right. I received my first pay cheque almost exactly one year after arriving in England. My leave pay and accumulated BACS allowance had seen us through - a bit slim on the ground some times, but we got there. At no time did we ask for or receive any financial help from anyone. The salary was about one fifth of my previous one but with my chicks beginning to fly the nest, we managed.

During that year, in between job hunting, I had been painting and decorating the house, inside and out, and making and fitting cupboards and wardrobes and trying to keep from under Marjorie's feet.

The work itself was domestic in nature and involved standing in locum parentis to 22 children in the care of the Council. They were mixed boys and girls aged between six months and sixteen. There was a cook and kitchen help as well as domestic cleaning staff. The superintendent and his wife, the Matron, had a secretary and the county provided full maintenance and gardening upkeep. My role was to look after the children, together with several other care staff. There was a touch of the deja vu again as I had spent about six years of my childhood in these places. My walk to work at about 6 o'clock in the morning was a pleasant routine with the occasional cheery greeting from the man in the corner shop as I went by, as well as the milkman and the paper delivery boys and girls as I got to know them.

I became 'Uncle Ray' and did at work what I did at home - mind the kids. This involved getting them up and dressed in the mornings, making beds, seeing they washed and did their teeth etc, taking the infants to school after watching them at breakfast, talking with them, listening to them, helping the older ones with their homework, cleaning their shoes, discuss their worries and try to put them right, teach them new things, take them swimming and down to the beach in summer.

The children were always interested in what people who worked there did before, and I found I was using some of my past experiences quite deliberately to arouse their interest in the world outside. One question that arose quite soon was 'What is the most dangerous animal in Africa?.' The obvious answer to that, of course, was 'man', but that was not what they wanted to hear. They also did not think that the next answer - the tiny mosquito - as the creature causing most deaths there, was right. I was a bit pushed to get around this as I had no idea of the comparative statistics for death by dangerous animals. I know the hippo comes close to the top but in my own experience, the crocs were more trouble. What they really wanted to hear was stories of big lions jumping from behind bushes and eating anyone passing by.

In reality of course, as I tried to explain to them, it would more likely have been a lioness, or several of them, as lions, being family, or pack animals, tended to hunt and work together. The daddy lion tended to wait to be served dinner by his ladies. Some of the kids [usually the boys] thought this was quite right and proper. Others didn't go much on this version as their own experience of family life had left them with skewed ideas of how one worked and for some, a male parent was an unknown concept.

They were quite interested in my Fire Service days and would ask quite sensible questions. One cropped up as we were watching the TV news one evening showing a very large bush fire in California somewhere near Hollywood, which they all knew about, and some dreamt about. The reporter had finished describing the scene of destruction with a phrase to the effect that 'unfortunately', a strong wind had suddenly sprung up to hamper the efforts of the fire fighters. He made it sound as though a capricious wind had decided to suddenly take mischievous action all by itself. The kids had also noted this and wanted to know why this always seemed to happen. I explained that cold air [the wind] would always rush in to replace the hot air currents that would be rushing skywards. The bigger the fire, the stronger the air currents rushing in. I told them of a reported incident that was related by the then Chief Fire Officer of the City of Hamburg in Germany. During one particularly heavy air raid on his city, the fires reached a proportion known in the trade as a 'Fire Storm'. i.e. virtually uncontrollable. The wind rushing in to replace the enormous rising hot air currents was so strong that it impelled a tram, something like a double decker bus but on railway lines and weighing several tons, into the inferno. They found that hard to believe.

And so that first year rolled smoothly along; no sudden states of emergency, no crises, no fires, aircraft crashes or road traffic accidents, no shooting and no explosions. At home Marjorie slowly turned our little house into a comfortable home that was a pleasure to come back to, and although the gardens were a lot smaller than those we had been used to, they began to blossom under her green fingers. Marjorie is a skilled needlewoman and made most of our clothing, mine as well as hers and the children as they grew up. The kids at work were most interested to see me arrive in shirts and trousers made at home from materials bought on the local market.

Up till now they all seemed to equate home made with second rate, but after this, and especially after I introduced them to a braai in the garden, and showed them how to make home made doughnuts, sausages and boerevors, they began to see that making stuff for themselves could be fun. One of the older boys actually went on to win a prize at school for making a pizza.

When, after the first year had passed, I had a visit from the personnel officer that had recruited me to ask how I was getting on, I had to say that if it were not for the fact that I needed to earn a living, I would be ashamed to take their money for what, to me, was a pleasant way of passing the time.

After that first year, the County sent me off to Canterbury College once a week on day release training, and I began to get some idea of the nature of social work. Like many people I had only the vaguest ideas on it, and had tended to look upon it as a bit of a softie do-gooder thing. How wrong can you get. I discovered that a field social worker, i.e. a qualified one, as distinct from those of us working in various institutions and were therefore really 'care' staff, needed to be pretty case hardened. Their role in life is to attempt to deal with the problems of society that cannot be dealt with by the police, doctor, school teacher, parent or a priest. In fact, a surprising number of people are referred to Social Services by the police, doctors, school teachers, parents and priests, as well as neighbours and the man who calls to read the gas meter.

Some of their work is prescribed by law and this puts a statutory responsibility on them so that, in those particular aspects of social work, they have no choice in the matter, two of these aspects involve the awesome responsibility of taking away a persons liberty, normally the preserve of the Police; a place of safety order to remove a child who is being abused or ill treated, and, in liaison with two doctors, assisting to 'section' a person under the Mental health Act. This means to have a person compulsorily committed to a psychiatric hospital for treatment, when they are behaving in such a manner as to pose a threat to safety for themselves or to others. As I was to find out, social work is definitely not for wimps.

At the end of my second year there, I was invited to apply for the professional training course. During the course, of two year duration, I would be 'seconded', meaning that in addition to all costs being covered, I would be on full salary as well. As there were major changes taking place in residential child care provision by now, I jumped at the opportunity. Up until recently, children put into the care of local authorities would have ended up there for different reasons, and been accommodated accordingly.

Those that had been orphaned, abandoned, neglected or ill treated in some way were 'received' into care and would end up in a Children's Home where, in the main, they would be treated, as far as possible, like children from a large family, that is with a relaxed, benevolent kindness by staff who were usually highly motivated in what they did and why they did it. Such was the position where I was working.

Those children 'placed' [as distinct from received] into care, usually on a court order as a consequence of offending behaviour were likely to be sent [or remanded] into a more custodial setting such as an Approved school, Remand Home or a Borstal institution. A care order could also be made by the courts on a child who had not offended but had been removed on a place of safety order. Such children would not have been placed in a 'penal' setting.

In those days, children could also be brought before the court by Education Welfare Officers for non school attendance and a care order could be made. Children on care orders could not be removed from care without the court giving permission.

Children who were afflicted by physical or mental handicap would be placed in 'Special' residential schools or Institutions geared to their special needs, and staffed by people trained in their specialised care.

Similar special care was provided for children suffering from severe personality disorders and mental illness who would usually grow up in the children's unit of long stay mental hospitals.

Now, as the result of a Commission of Enquiry into child care provision in the late sixties, there were major changes by the mid seventies - just as I started - and a new type of home, known as a Community Home would be introduced. Much greater emphasis was also to be given to fostering children out to live with families.

This was the beginning of 'Care in the Community' and the 'generic' Social Worker who would be all things to all people. This led to the closure of many of the larger homes, and children were moved about to live in different places, with children from different categories now living together under the same roof. Some people would refer to the changes, which were not universally popular, as lumping together the sad, the bad and the mad. A rather cruel definition but it shows the feelings some of the care staff held. It also led to the stigmatising of many children by their schools, prospective employers and the community at large as they began to equate Children's Homes with places that housed delinquent children.

My own view was that this mixing of children was to the great disadvantage of those sad little ones whose only 'fault' in life was to have suffered, usually loss, bereavement or cruelty, and now had to share their home and possessions with some quite unpleasant youngsters who, had they been a little older would have been remanded into prison, and not into a children's home. There was a belief held in some places that there were no such things as bad children, and that they were made bad by life experiences; the old argument of nature versus nurture, and that by placing a bad one amongst a lot of good ones, a change for the better would follow. If cause and effect were really that simple, I bet the apple farmers in my area would love to know how to do it.

And so I began the professional training course at Bromley College, close to London. I had just turned 50 and was probably the oldest student on the campus. I know I was older than many of the Tutors there. I was given a student union card and a booklet for students giving useful advice such as where the best pubs were locally, where to get free condoms and advice should I fall pregnant or catch a disease. There was also a learned discussion on the various merits of the wide range of marijuana and what to do if stopped by the fuzz or got arrested. I also qualified for a student rail pass that entitled me to buy my railway tickets at half price, which caused occasional eyebrow raising in the ticket office in my local railway station.

A pleasant, but intensive two years followed in the company of some truly nice people. All of them were well established in their own field of social work and most had been so for years and years. Although I was the eldest, I was probably the most junior in the sense of being the most recent entrant into social work. There was an interesting moment, at the beginning of the course, when the group were all required to give their reasons for becoming a social worker. There were some revealing and some quite moving reasons forthcoming, until they reached me, and I had to answer that mine was because I was out of work and the Social Services Department was the only place that would give me a job.

The training was quite deep as well as thought provoking. Every one else seemed to be well in advance of me in their knowledge and ability and I started off quite in awe of my fellow students. Fortunately, a little voice from the past gave me a boost. I can't recall where this one came from but it does sound like the sort of thing my late mother would drop on my childish head from a great height - “No one can make you feel inferior except with your consent”.

Came the final exams and the day we were presented with our certificates, and turned loose upon the world. I shall be forever grateful to Kent county Council for offering me a job when I really did need one. Also for the opportunity they gave me at my age to obtain a professional qualification, [with a commensurate salary], and at the end of it all, a pension.

Other ,shorter, courses followed at the University of Kent at Canterbury, fortunately just up the road from where I live. These covered general counselling, bereavement counselling, marriage guidance counselling, family therapy and conflict resolution, all necessary bits to help sort out families in trouble..

By now, the Children's Home where I worked had closed and the children dispersed all over the county. And so, from a middle aged junior non resident residential child care officer, I metamorphosed in to a fully fledged Social Worker. I became a member of the Social Work team in Canterbury. Although under the new scheme of things we were all supposed to be generic in the sense that any one of us could take on the work of anyone else in the team, it seemed that, as in most other places, things followed the lay of the land, and people just naturally seemed to take on the role for which they were best suited, either by inclination or training.

Everyone seemed to have a preference or a good reason to follow their speciality, whether it was working with the elderly and infirm, physically or mentally handicapped or mentally ill, or children and families. Because of my own background, and interests, I became a social worker for children and families in the coastal towns

Just as I launched into this new career, at the beginning of the 1980's, the UK stumbled into the era of a massive upsurge in cases of child sexual abuse that would continue for the rest of my remaining twelve years with the county before retiring. It should be said here that this was probably due more to an increased willingness by victims to disclose, rather than an upsurge in actual cases. In time, this led to the formation of 'Child Protection Teams' where Social Workers and Police worked together.

I remember a colleague describing how, at one of the first combined training sessions, the Tutor stunned the class by telling them to divide up into pairs of opposite sex, one police officer and one social worker, and then, when comfortably seated, describe to their partner, who was of course a total stranger, in explicit detail, their very first sexual experience!

Whilst everyone was still in shock, he quickly brought them all back to earth by saying that he did not in fact want them to do this, but he did want them to understand how an abused child might feel when they were suddenly being asked by a total stranger to describe what had been done to them. I doubt anyone was likely to forget that lesson. I know that whenever I was involved in such investigations, that scenario just kept on popping up in my head. It was certainly in the interest of the child for their questioner to proceed with great care and sensitivity, and that rather scary lesson drove the point home.

As it would be quite improper to discuss any actual cases, perhaps a brief outline of the sort of thing that will come through the doors of any Social Services Department on any day of the week, may give a flavour of the sort of day a social worker may experience.

Apart from their allotted casework load, which could be 25 to 30 individuals or families, with all that that entails such as routine visits to them at home, in hospital, a prison or other institution, liaison or case conferences with their extended families, their Doctor, the police, teacher, welfare officers from the armed forces etc, the courts and legal representatives, and the mountain of paperwork this generates, each member of the team is required to be the 'Duty Officer' in the reception office or suite at least once a week.

This is the point of contact for the public who have need of help of some sort. Because people who visit us are under stress of one kind or another it is not uncommon to be faced with angry, abusive and sometimes violent clients, especially if you cannot immediately solve their problems.. People under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or suffering from dementia or hallucinations may also present a threat to personal safety so many departments work with two duty officers on together, and the interview room is fitted with a panic button. For some problems there may not be an answer and no one, drunk or sober, likes to be told that

The Monday mornings and Friday afternoons seem to be busiest. A typical Monday could start with a phone call from the local police requesting your urgent arrival to sit in during their interview of a minor they have in their custody when the parents cannot be located or won't attend. Or they may have children in need of care provision where their parents have been injured or killed in traffic accidents or house fires.

It only rarely happened during my time but on a few occasions one parent has murdered the other leaving several very traumatise little ones to be cared for. The heads of local schools or day nurseries will ring in with reports of children coming in with suspicious bruises or other injuries. These [non accidental injuries] must be dealt with as a priority since child protection is a statutory responsibility. This can leave a number of irate people waiting to be seen, and having a go at the Social worker left behind who is now coping with a double work load

Often anxious neighbours will ring in to say they have not seen Mr or Mrs so and so for a while. As soon as you can fit it in, you visit the house. If, after getting no response and after making such enquiries as you can, you ask for police attendance [Social workers are not authorised to break in], enter with the police and find Mr or Mrs so and so has been dead inside the house for some while. In a few well publicised cases the unfortunate person had been there for several weeks. The moral here I guess is to be a good neighbour and keep a look out for people living alone.

There are social workers from the local team based at Hospitals and an enormous amount of liaison work is done here with the need to set up home support or residential care arrangements for frail, handicapped or elderly patients being discharged. They also get quite a few cases of non accidental injuries presenting at the A & E departments, often with weird and wonderful accounts as to how little Freddy got himself covered with cigarette burns, or broke his arm for the second time that month. The hospital colleagues also deal with a lot of abortion counselling and drug overdose cases amongst teenagers.

On Fridays, it is not unknown for a very peeved mum to burst into the duty office minutes before closing time, dragging an unwilling and loudly protesting child along which she throws at the duty officer saying 'you keep the little bleeder, I've 'ad enough' and then legs it at high speed. If you are not quick enough you can end up spending Friday evening arranging temporary foster care for the child, plus another mountain of paper work, instead of going home as planned to sit quietly in the garden with an end of the week pint.

The mother may reappear on the following Monday morning insisting that you immediately release her poor little child back into her loving home.

Out of the many thousands of referrals that come into social work departments each week, occasionally one will go disastrously and very publicly wrong. Usually with tragic results for a small child. We all try to learn the lessons that such events bring to light but have to face the facts that we are not perfect. Social Work then goes through a very bad patch and as a measure of how we are sometimes seen by the community in which we work and live, a well known comedian of the time got a huge laugh and prolonged applause when during his TV act he quipped, 'How do you make a London child happy? Kill a Social Worker' Not a pleasant time for someone just embarking on a new career.

However, I learned a lot about human development during those years and looking back at it all, I think I must have come across, or heard about, just about every conceivable form of difficulty that can beset the human condition. Add to that the situations that my Fire Service days showed could accidentally befall anyone at any time, and I find myself constantly reminding myself how fortunate my life has been. I look back over the preceding chapters and see how often I have used the phrase 'good fortune smiled down on me' or something similar, and count my blessings. If, at the end of my days I was to be asked to describe my life in one sentence, it would have to be, I was one of the kids from the orphanage that got lucky. [ And you would need to read the prequel for that to make sense.]

I retired in July 1992, having spent my last two years in Care Management, and was given a wonderful send off with just about everyone I had worked with over the years attending a party held in the local hospital day centre. Totally different to how I left Zambia after a quarter of a century there. The situation back then was almost like that line from a play, 'Will the last one to leave please switch off the lights', with me in the title role.

Because my working life in the UK was just 17 years, I only qualified for a two thirds state pension. As the Africa pensions stopped years ago, the Kent County pension, also based on my 17 years, was to be our lifeline to old age security, although the UK government did make a small fixed pension to compensate the former Central Africa civil servants. However, that small sum will never increase. And so into our autumn years of retirement.

On advice from people who knew, we prepared for this in advance. Living for so long in Africa, we were already used to switching roles if one of the other of us fell ill etc. so either one of us could do any of the basic household chores, and we could now share this in order for each to have time to enjoy our particular pastimes. Marjorie, with her artistic flair took up cake making and decorating, in addition to her sewing, knitting and tapestry making and gardening, and was in great demand for making and decorating wedding cakes.

I went to night school to learn calligraphy and took up wine making and beer brewing, and later on, wood turning. Until quite recently I managed to do any necessary house repairs or maintenance. With advancing years however, my abilities fall away as bits of me drop off, fall out or just plain stop working.

I gave up driving, and the car, when I retired because of arthritis in the neck which made looking over the shoulder difficult. We don't go away on holidays and don't miss them one bit. We still maintain a foot in the wider community to keep in touch with the world. I served on the Committee of our local Age Concern for a number of years and was an active member of the local Coast Watch station. And so another seventeen years of peaceful tranquillity have drifted by. We enjoy the quiet life and have no wish to go a-wandering or adventuring. We live comfortably and, despite the dismay shown by the estate agent at wasting our money on buying a house for cash, it turned out very well. We have not had to pay rent or a mortgage for all those years, and its value has increased at least nineteen to twenty fold. Our reduced pensions and savings enable us to live a life of comparative ease and comfort.

It is coincidental that in less than one year from now I will have been retired - and drawing a pension - for as many years as I worked to get it. That time period is also almost the same as I spent from birth up to the events where chapter one of this saga began.

Having got into the swing of this writing lark, and in the hope that my memory retrieval system lasts out, I must confess that I am now toying with the idea of sharpening up my quill pen, changing the guttering candle stub for a new one and start producing the prequel to cover those early years. That would be for completeness, and the interest, I would hope, of my children's children's children.

And so for now, farewell to those folk who have been interested enough to plough through all this with me, and I leave with some verses from a poem by Edward Baldock that recently caught my eye as being appropriate to my time of life.

The quiet and simple life is best,
The peaceful tranquil ways,
The daily task - the nights of rest,
May I thus spend my days.
To watch the seasons come and go,
And sense the greatness here,
To watch cloud galleons drifting slow,
And natures voices hear.
These are the things I would attain
As I move on through life.
Eternal things which will remain
In spite of wars and strife
To watch the hills at the end of the day
When deepening shadows lengthen.
To lift my heart and simply say,
May god my courage strengthen.
In quiet courts may my mind repose
And clearly light the way.
A sober faith may I compose
While here on earth I stay.
And when my earthly life is done
Pray may I go in peace.