After Guinea Fowl School (GFS)

Guinea Fowl School is/was located in the Rhodesian (Zimbabwe) midlands halfway between the towns of Gwelo and Selukwe – roughly eleven miles either way. (today those names are Zimbabwe, Gweru and Shurugwe and the distance would be 18 kilometres). It still exists, GFS, having been reopened but it is not the same and is very run down and rather sad in the pictures I have seen. (The GFS blazer badge – as worn in the period that the school was originally open is shown here).

I attended GFS, where I was in Wellington House, from January 1959 to December 1960. There were six houses then – located at TOP school were Wellington, Lancaster, York and Stirling (Stirling was still a girls’ house in 1959, the last year in which girls were still at the school). At bottom school, just over half a kilometre away on the other side of the main road and railway line, were situated Lincoln and Blenheim houses. Anyone who knows anything about the air war in Britain will recognise the names of bomber aircraft of the RAF and a picture of a Wellington bomber is shown in the photograph.

With each house accommodating about 60-70 of us there would have been around 400 students.

In retrospect I did not realise how happy I was at GFS until quite some time after I had left.

The school was on the site of a WWII training airbase and the hutments that had been used to house staff and trainees had been converted into school hostels, teachers’ single quarters and houses for the married teaching staff. When I arrived there the new school classroom block had just been built but there were still a number of classes being held in the old buildings including one of the old aircraft hangars.

With its own small hospital, a chapel, swimming pool, large communal kitchen and dining halls and vast grounds and sports fields it was a great place for young people to be educated. Long rambles into the surrounding bush were the order of the day on most Sundays. After eating the breakfast cereal we would make a sandwich of our bacon and egg and sneak it out in a handkerchief to eat for lunch later. There was a kind of overarching esprit de corps at the school. The same esprit pertained in the individual houses with fierce inter-house rivalry, helped by the fact that each house had its own accommodation buildings. The large dining halls were shared and each house was seated in its own section of the halls. Bottom school had its own dining hall and kitchen complex but all school work and sport took place at TOP school.

The reason I left the school was because my stepfather had experienced some setbacks and could no longer afford my boarding fees. The Department of Education ruled that because my parents had moved to Salisbury (today’s Harare) I had to go to a day school near home as the family was now living in an area served by a local high school – we having previously lived in the Sinoia/Karoi (Chinhoyi/Karoi) rural area.

I hated Cranborne Boys High (my new school) – it was new and rough. I remember Mr Brown the headmaster, as he was about to cane me (because I had been falsely accused of something and would not counter-accuse), saying something like this to me: “Young man you need to realise that there are no traditions such as you had at Guinea Fowl, at this school. These boys think you are a mug and none of them would dream of owning up. By keeping silent you are accepting their accusations and I have to punish you”. I received three cuts and was laughed at on my return to class.

I never did tell tales and was bullied for a time until I clocked a couple of the ringleaders after which I was left alone.

I had all but stopped Latin at GFS because I would not have been taking it in Form 3 had I stayed, so I refused to do it at Cranborne. As a result, I was moved down from the four year A stream to the five-year B stream.  My classroom colleagues were not A-streamers either.

In June 1961 my stepfather was killed in a car accident on the Lomagundi road. I was fourteen, my brother was two and my sister only three months old.

I missed a term of school while my mother took us to Cape Town (where she was born). She decided Rhodesia would be better for us and we went back. She told me if I passed that school year I would get a bike. I came seventh in a class of over forty and she kept her word. I only realised later the sacrifices she made in order to do that.

We lived at Cranborne hostel (as we had before my stepfather died) for several months. This was the old WWII air base that was to become HQ 2 Brigade a few years later. We then moved to Queensdale and finally Cranborne Park.

1961 was to be the last year that I really did fairly well at school and although I got a good pass at the end of 1962 in Form 4 and a full CoP (College of Preceptors) my work deteriorated. I got a lousy GCE O level and battled to find work – it was also the first year of GCE replacing the Cambridge certificate which had caused some confusion.

I wanted to join the Air Force or Army on leaving school but the air force turned me down (I suffer with colour confusion – I see colours but not in quite the same way everyone else does). The Army also turned me down for being short-sighted. I took a job with the OK Bazaars under the impression I was not ever going to serve in the military.

When I got called up in the September of 1964 the OK promptly fired me but that left me free to get into the Regular Army – a lot of friends were already in the army.

In my interview at Llewellyn Barracks the reason for being refused at the end of 1963 was brought up and I said if I could be shot at as a short-sighted territorial surely I could as easily be shot at in the regular army with the same condition. (I think that the break-up of Federation at the end of 1963 was to blame for them not taking too many people when I first applied?)

I was attested into the Corps of Signals because I did so well on signals course and my request for infantry was met with the option of not joining up or joining signals (sometimes referred to as a dog’s choice vs bugger all choice)!! I think it was the right CHOICE in the end and I did very well in the Corps. I served from my National Service call-up in September 1964 to the end of April 1980 with a short break trying the BSAP in 1975 (I hated it and promptly transferred back to the army). I was a Warrant Officer Class 2 in 1979 up to the end of my service and my next logical career move – that was not to be – would have been to go for a commission. I served until the 30th of April 1980 after which we sold up and moved to South Africa.

The picture of me at Victoria Falls was taken on an instamatic in mid-December 1966. We were returning from a one week signals course exercise during which my detachment had been based between Victoria Falls and Kazangula. I was 20 at the time.

I left the Army in 1975 at the end of my first ten-year contract in a vain attempt to save my marriage which ended in divorce that year. It was not the fault of the army although the tensions of the day played a part. Janet and I have a daughter who was born in 1974.

The BSAP (British South Africa Police) was the national police force of Rhodesia. In 1975 when the police advertised for individuals with a communication background I applied and was accepted. The job was in plainclothes and, oddly, not really police work at all. I was not at all happy and transferred back to the army on 1 March 1976, almost exactly a year after leaving.

In the Army I had done several courses and been fortunate to serve with some really good officers who mentored me. I found that as a senior NCO and as a Warrant Officer I was frequently in charge of sub-units and was appointed in acting positions in the absence of available officers. I ran two signals troops as acting OC and near the end of 1979 I was attached to the Commander, Rhodesian Signals, for the last 5 months of my service.

During this final period of time I carried out liaison for a short time with the communications elements of ZANU PF and ZANLA then took over the running of the communications for the Salisbury District area of command for the elections period. The area was vast – Darwendale to Marandellas (Marondera) and Mazoe (Mazowe) to just north of Beatrice. HQ Salisbury District at that time was being run as a brigade headquarters.  I drew up the Signals order, drew and issued all the required equipment, deployed the personnel and oversaw the successful completion of the operation.

After that I was tasked with putting together a team to provide communications backup for the Independence Celebrations. I and my team were afterwards congratulated on a signals backup that enabled the complex logistics to proceed when the telephone system could not cope with the volume of communications traffic. Once I had returned all the equipment and given my team their Independence Medals (a most informal medals parade, it was held in the lounge of Meikles Hotel over drinks) it was the end of April 1980 and the end of my service.

The letter to the right is the one thanking the Army for our assistance. I got all my team to sign it when I issued them with their Independence Medals. I also received a separate, personal letter of thanks from the department.

In South Africa I worked in the two-way radio industry for most of the time with a couple of forays into my own handyman business while unemployed after being retrenched (made redundant). I have always had something of the square-peg-in-a-round-hole feeling as a civilian having made up my mind before the end of the seventies to make the army my permanent career.

After my late wife, Rose, died I remarried Janet who was again divorced and with whom I had maintained a close but long-distance friendship. After visiting her in 2014 we decided to remarry and she came to SA in 2015 for the ceremony. My application to join her in Australia, where she is a citizen, was approved in 2016.

I now live in an area called the Sunshine Coast in Queensland which is very beautiful – the Pacific Ocean is ten minutes away. If it had been suggested a few years ago that this is where I would be, very happily remarried to the person I have always loved, I would have scoffed at the idea!

To clarify that last statement. After the divorce from Janet (that I did not want) I had to get on with my life and I dearly loved those to whom I was married in the interim but, to use THE BEATLES’ song IN MY LIFE as an analogy:

Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before

(and) I know I’ll often stop and think about them
(but) In my life I love you more

If you have sound listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAGvON_WjUA

Having always been the “go to” person for letters and proofing, and having worked at a typesetting company (during one of those REDUNDANCY periods), I found it natural to start a business doing proofreading, editing and copy writing. It is something I enjoy, suits my attention to detail (am I a bit OCD?) and the WWW is the perfect vehicle for it, for Erik the Ready and…I also still take on small DIY / handyman work. …and I am starting to add blog-type copy on my site to satisfy my love of writing