When builder’s apprentice Walter Rounsefell (1934-2016) heard that Princess Elizabeth had acceded to the throne during a trip to Kenya, he was busy completing a building job on an old cart shed in Lapford. He had no idea that by the Coronation Celebrations the following year, he too would be in Kenya on ‘Her Majesties Service’.
Kenya was country was in troubled times. An uprising by the Mau Mau, chiefly in opposition to repression and British Colonial Rule, had led to widespread revolution. The uprising was a bloody and brutally fought affair and led to thousands of deaths. William’s sudden call up for Military Service with the 1st Devonshire Regiment left him no choice to travel to jungles of Africa.
Here is his story, in his own words:
At the start of 1952, I was into my apprenticeship for a building firm called Boatfield & Bourne here in Lapford. Around the end of January – beginning of February – they put me on a job at Court Barton, Lapford to build 18” brick pillars to support the roof of the old cart shed.
Whilst building these pillars it was announced over the wireless that King George sixth had passed away after a long illness. He had gone to the airport to see off Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip a short while earlier, who were going on a visit to Kenya. It was at Treetops Hotel in Kenya that she was given the sad news about her father. She returned home straight away.
In that short period of time she left England a Princess and returned home a Queen.
Little did I realise then that the turn of events in Africa would become more meaningful 14 months later when, I would also be in Kenya with the Devonshire Regiment.
Time passed by with the usual hum-drum of ordinary life, until around my 18th birthday in September I received a brown envelope marked ON HER MAJESTY’S SERVICE.
Upon opening the letter I found I was required to go for my medical for my National Service. Passing me out A1, those with the papers in front of them asked me if I had any preference as to which service I would like to join. I suggested the R.A.S.C. but was informed they were currently over-subscribed, so my second choice was my County Regiment, “The Devons”. Then it was back to work until my call up papers arrived ordering me to report to Topsham Barracks on November 20th.
Well, I had been reasonably disciplined at home, but now I found out, along with 36 other new recruits what discipline really was!
On that day as the train approached Lapford, I stood on the station alone with my thoughts, but as the train slowed down heads were popping out of the carriage calling “Topsham Barracks?” and so new friendships were already forming.
Reporting to the guardroom, giving name and number, life was suddenly not your own. For the next three days it was collecting bedding ( 5 blankets and 2 sheets), being issued with 2 denim suits, 1 best battle dress, 1 second battle dress, 2 pairs of boots, army issue underclothes and socks, ( 3 of each ), 1 beret. Visit barber for haircut, ( every hair you could get under your beret was yours ), the rest was the army’s and they cut it off.
So there we were in the barracks, and this is where we stayed : NO going into town, and NO leave until we had been put through our paces square bashing etc. Whilst doing our square bashing in the early days, the drill sergeant was giving orders, when he suddenly brought us to a halt. He shouted ast us at the top of his voice “You ‘orrible lot. You may have broken your Mothers hearts, but you will never break mine”. I guess they still use similar phrases today.
Then after 3 weeks we were allowed 36 hours leave IF the room was clean and tidy and our beds were spick and span when it was inspected on the Saturday morning, with all the men standing by their beds.
So we continued for another 9 weeks Basic Training when we would be crawling on our stomach in the snow in the training field, digging trenches on Woodbury Common and try to sleep two to a trench. There were also mock battles to contend with.
But amidst all the unpleasant things we had to do there were also the privileges. The most memorable was marching through the City of Exeter, bayonets fixed, marking the freedom of the City for the Regiment. Then Basic Training over, came the big day. The parents and girlfriends etc., came to watch us as we were inspected on our Passing Out Parade.
After a fortnight’s leave, it was off to Colchester to join up with the Regiment. The first mornings drill included a double march ( army term for a run ) and the corporal took us past the glasshouse ( prison ) and gave us a severe warning to behave or we would see the inside also. Four weeks training had passed and we were sent home on embarkation leave. There was talk about the Regiment being sent to Germany, but the new recruits would join the other in Korea. So we went on leave with some trepidation, no-one really knew. Arriving home at Stonegate, glad to be home, I met Dad at the gate, and he told me the Devons would all be going to Kenya to fight the Mau Mau, it had been announced on the radio. So enjoying my leave more than when I had left we all returned to camp in order to prepare for our overseas duties.
Our company, C company, were the advance party and we travelled to R.A.F. Lyneham in Wiltshire where we boarded the planes for Kenya. It was to be a 26 hour flight with refuelling at Brindisi in Italy, Cairo in Egypt, Khartoum in the Sudan and finally landing at Nairobi on Easter Sunday. From the airport we were driven to our first camp 20 miles outside Nairobi. It was on the outside of the perimeter fence that I saw a pineapple still growing. There was only one, and I can still hear those words as we were told to fall in on parade “ Anyone of you, if caught, will be on a charge if you touch that pineapple outside the gates.” The next morning when we peered through the fence it was gone, and we believed it ended up in the Officers Mess. Having just mentioned the next morning, let us go back 12 hours to face a new experience. Along with drawing our blankets etc., we were now given a mosquito net. Here we were in the Rift Valley, Nairobi being built on a swamp, on the Equator and much more humid than what we were about to experience in the forest. At sunset we all had to wear long sleeves. Soon we were to move on up to the Aberdare Hills which were forest and jungle terrain, up to a place call Mucharagee. Leaving roads that were with Tarmacadam and driving on hard earthen roads which created a lot of dust, and when a journey was completed any skin that wasn’t covered was brown with dust.
On the other-hand if it was wet the truck would just slide into any existing rut. Going up the mountain tracks the mud banks were about a foot high, so at times it could be quite scary.
It was at this camp that patrols started going out into the forest. At this point we were able to walk quite easily. It was within the forest that we could “Shoot to kill” because it was out of bounds to all Kikuyu. The loyal tribesmen would never be up there so any we saw would be members of the Mau Mau. Of course the Mau Mau would come down from the forest and mix with the crowd and you wouldn’t know because they were alike.
Over the next few months there were several new experiences for me including the chance to run the company N.A.A.F.I. I found this interesting, not the least because it meant frequent trips into the nearest town to buy alcohol soft drinks cigarettes and the like, as well as special requests from the troops. At this time it was only myself that carried out these duties but when I was replaced six months later it was by TWO others!
In this time we had moved on to 2 more camps at Irindi and Gilgil. It was now that 6 of us were picked to go back down to Nairobi to prepare for the Coronation Parade, along with 6 from each of the other Companies. So besides the Devons there were the “Buffs”, the Black Watch and the Navy. I was a real spectacle for the people of Nairobi. I have to say that I remember very little of the actual parade, but to this day I am proud to be part of such an occasion. 50 years later I reflect on the fact that while we were parading the latest weapons in Her Majesty’s Army, the Queen herself was taking part in a ceremony dating back hundreds of years.
There were many other experiences to be had over the next few months and one night when I was on duty in the pitch-black jungle something furry moved over my hand, and to this day I do not know what it was.
The last few months I spent in the N.A.A.F.I. again, whilst I waited for the day when I would fly home to England, coming back to Topsham and Home.
PTE W. Rounsefell (22740145)