Following story sent in by one of our members – Howzen Pinder.  Was one of the’’ four’’ who also included Tony Krahner……..


Winter  1947.   Four of us in the Banket area hit upon the idea of a quick trip to the Zambezi Valley, hopefully to the confluence of the Hunyani/Zambezi ( I use the old names which applied at that time.)  One of the party was the proud owner of an army surplus Chev 4×4, known in the army as a 30 cwt, if memory serves me right.  It was a vehicle with many uses, at times even as a gun tractor.  Like all military type vehicles of the era, it was not great on fuel economy.


We set off from Banket at 3am one very frost morning, and as the vehicle was equipped for one passenger only inside the cab the remaining two had to sit on jump seats, located outside between the cab and the truck body.  A trifle chilly it was, more so for the two outside, one of which was me.  The roads at that time were mostly just tracks, perfectly fine for the type of vehicle, but very slow going, resulting in heavy fuel consumption.  The really memorable part of that first day was the descent of the escarpment beyond Sipililo as it was.  At times the tract was so steep that the wheels lost grip and slipped over loose stone and gravel.  Once on the valley floor the going was easier, but the track was very overgrown.  We camped that first night at a point we though must be very close to the border.  There was absolutely nothing to reveal any form of demarcation that we could see at any pint.  Having made camp, a group of locals appeared out of the bush, and complained about lions in the vicinity.  However, no lion bothered us, though rifles were kept handy.  The next morning we took stock of the fuel situation, and we did not need a mathematical genius to tell us that, fuel wise, we were in the wet and smelly.  In short there was not enough to get us back up the escarpment, let alone to the nearest source of supply, Sipililo.  So, we agreed that the best thing to do was follow the tract, along the Zambezi, where the local headman assured us was a ferry, and across the river was Vila de Zumbo and the Chef de Poste or local Portuguese Commandante.

We reached the river without incident next day, with a little fuel in hand, and having augmented the grub supply with an impala.  We camped on the river bank, and a very pleasant sport it was.  The river at that point we judged to be in excess of a mile across, teeming with cros and ippo.  I cannot remember if we fished at all, but it we did, it cannot have been very rewarding.

Our presence on the river bank had obviously been noticed, for the next day the ferry arrived.  The term ferry must be taken in the loosest sense as it was a rickety contraption, looked most unsafe, but in the event it functioned well.  We loaded the truck onto the ferry, or pontoon more rightly, and the crossing went well.  We pulled off the pontoon and located the building housing the chef de Poste.  This gentleman was the essence of courtesy, despite our probably unsavoury appearance.  He spoke no English, and we no Portuguese.  An impasse I thought, but not so, because one of the officials’s employees had at one time worked on a farm in Rhodesia.  So, speaking through him in Chilapalapa, in hi in turn in Portuguese of a sort, comms were established.  Gasolina? No problem said our new found friend, and a shout out the window resulted ina procession arriving with cases of petrol.  For the benefit of younger readers who have not heard of cases of petrol, a case consisted of two-four Imperial gallon tins, rectangular in shape, cased in thin pine planks.  This was the standard method of retailing petrol at one time, and the empty tins were much sought after as water containers, and the wood made rough furniture which graced many a home in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Having obtained sufficient fuel, we were then invited in and glasses and a bottle of brandy was produced – the perfumed variety – and we drank to eternal friendship and well-being.  At this stage we were wondering when the Chef de Poste would bring up the embarrassing subject of vehicle papers, passports of documents bellowed by officialdom.  He never even touched on the subject, and accepted our tale of not allowing for excessive fuel consumption.  He suggested that our best route home would be from Vila de Zumbo along a rough track to the Luangwa river fridge in the then Northern Rhodesia, and on to Lusaka etc.

We were pointed in the direction of the tract to the Luangwa, and set off.  Not too bad a tract either, with all the dry river beds corduroyed.  I forget the distance, but say some thirty miles from Zumbo, when we had been travelling through bush with no human habitation at all, there looming out of the bush was a huge church, with all manner of surrounding buildings.  We stopped, and shortly afterwards an African caretaker put in an appearance.  We gathered from him, with difficulty, that only he and his family lived there now, the Mission Station staff had all gone a few years before – those that had not died from malaria that is.  The church with its stained glass windows was impressive as were the surrounding buildings.  Obviously all built at great cost, in labour as well as money and materials.

There were storerooms, workshops, classrooms, kitchens, a bakery and many more rooms.  The gardens had obviously been extensive in days gone by, all irrigated from a stone lined canal.  There were orchards with all kinds of fruit trees, but all neglected.  This was all a bit of mystery to us, an impressive set up miles from anywhere, and obviously it had been a Roman Catholic Mission.  A year or two later I cam across a book, written by Barbara Priest, entitled “’ A Far Bell” in which she describes the visit she and her Husband, Captain Cecil Priest, had made to the Mission in 1943.  The Mission then was still operating, but nowhere near on the scale that it had been in earlier years.  The one remaining Jesuit Father told me of how nearly all the missionaries had died of malaria, and the graveyard nearby bore testimony to this.  They were mostly Jesuits from Germany apparently.

The Priests, Cecil and Barbara, lived in Marandellas, as it was, and Captain priest was trotting around Mozambique on fact finding missions for military intelligence – WW!!.  For thos interested, the book was published by the Art printing Works, no date given, but probably around 1948/9.  It is an interesting account of bundu bashing around Mozambique in the 1940’s.  Captain Priest was in this time an ornithologist of note.

We pressed on from the Mission, and in due course arrived on the banks of the Luangwas, were we camped for the night.  We went down to the river for a much needed bath, and onlooking with care at the surroundings decided that anti crocodile operations were needed.  One of our party, in true Boy Scout tradition, had thoughtfully included in his kit a pack or two of gelignite.  A charge chucked into the pool resulted in all manner of interesting things being hurled to the surface.  I can still clearly see in my mind’s eye, a startled crocodile rearing right up, and taking off at high speed.  There were a few tigerfish and bream as well.  A quick bath then followed.

Before setting off for Lusaka next morning, a check on our ready cash position revealed that although we had sufficient fuel to get to Lusaka, where there was presumably penty o f fuel, we would not have enough cash to pay for it.  Resolving that somehow we would deal with the problem on reaching Lusaka set off.  En-route to Lusaka while passing over a rocky ridge we spotted a lone roan antelope, which I dropped.  We loaded it into the back with the idea that we would sell it in Lusaka and use the cash for fuel.  This in fact, is exactly what we did, a butcher bought it.  Now, over the last fifty years I still recall that unfortunate road, in fact I still feel like a cross between Judas Iscariot and jack the Ripper.  Remorse lives on, and since that day I have not shot one other antelope.  A magnificent animal destroyed to pay for our fuel.

After disposing of the Road, we found a spot to camp in the bush outside the town, by this time it was dark.  We were up bright and early next morning and found that we were near a refugee camp consisting mainly we understood of Poles.  The war in Europe had been over two years and these unfortunate people were still there.

We set off homewards on good roads now.  Chirundu at that time was just a bridge, nothing else, no border posts or police.  The nearest police at that time if memory serves me right was at Vuti.  We called in at the Police Camp, a series of rondavels on the top of a ridge, still to be seen from the main road.  The young police chap in charge listened to our take of having left the country, gone into Mozambique, then into Northern Rhodesia and back into this country without any documents whatever.  He was mildly amused and said he would remember us if there were any questions raised, meanwhile, cheers chaps.

So ended a very interesting few days.  Those were more spacious and restriction free days when a jaunt like that was possible.  I shudder to think of what would happen if one attempted to enter Mozambique or Zamiba today without a bucket full of paper and fat wads of US dollars or sterling.  I have often wondered too about Vila de Zumbo, does it still exist or is it gone forever under the water of Caborra Bassa

The Way It Was: The Zambezi 1947 by Jim Dodd

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One thought on “The Way It Was: The Zambezi 1947 by Jim Dodd

  • 2 October, 2016 at 3:00 am

    About the Portuguese church Jim Dodd refers to: In 1892 Jesuit Priests built the magnificent church of Saint Pedro Claver at their Miruro Mission station some 36 km from Zumbo.


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