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The 1947 Royal Visit to Northern Rhodesia
Betty was a Guide Captain aged almost 30, and mother of four, living in Kitwe, where her husband, Gervas, was the Government’s District Commissioner, Kitwe. The elder two children - Gill, nearly ten, and Robin, almost 8 - were living in England with their father's parents.
From Betty's Dairy, 8th to 14th April, 1947 :-
Tuesday, 8th April 1947
Crispin [Betty’s youngest, then 17 months old, & in hospital, with an abscess] is a bit better today, temp. down to 103, eating something, & very good, hardly crying at all. They are giving him penicillin injections again, & anti-phlogistine. Temp 101 tonight.
Busy all day in an unmethodical way, Tidying & putting away most of the silver & the ornaments & all my clothes because of the DDT they are going to do on Thursday.
Wrote instructions to the two African Guides & sent them, & had an awful lot of other up-ringings & note-writings about this journey, particularly as DEAR Phoebe Roberts at last made up her mind that she Does want to go, having taken the trouble to write & tell me that she wasn’t going. Luckily she came just in time & I rang up the station & Mrs. Aitken was there just buying the tickets, so she included her; & I rang up Mrs. Cook who was dealing with the Livingstone Camp fee, & she’d written the cheque & the letter but hadn’t sent it off – So Phoebe had to go home & get the money & bring it to the station & to Mrs. Cook & the parents’ form to me, all on her flat feet so I’m glad she had a bit of trouble too!
But when Scotty’s money came in the late afternoon I refused to do anything about it.
Gervas had a trying time about the Royal Visit too, as a message came from Lusaka that the Kafue Pontoon is bottle-necking all the motorists: that it takes 6 cars per hour (140 per day) & there are 400 cars going from Lusaka alone! So there will be a queue there which may mean a lot of them won’t get to Livingstone in time! So G. had to ring up everybody he could think of who is going by car - & no sooner had he finished than he had to ring them all up again to tell then there is no petrol obtainable beyond Lusaka. What a journey – thank goodness I’m going by train!
Rested with Nigel [her third child, then three] & we finished drawing an animal colouring book & sent it to Gill [her first-born] as birthday present.
Wednesday, 9th April 1947
Hot & fine
Had an easy leisurely morning unexpectedly! Packed Nigel’s things & washed his hair & took him to Margaret Thompson’s via the town where I got apples, chocolate, etc., for the journey. Packed. Had a bath, & put away the silver & all ornaments & all my clothes.
Train left at 3:30 & everybody was there in good time, & we filled a whole coach between Guides, Brownies & Rangers, with a few spaces which were later filled with oddments. At Ndola 5:30 we didn’t have to change so we sent them off in parties in charge of Rangers, meanwhile I arranged the Africans: there was a big crowd from Mindola & my 2, Joyce Cilesye from Kitwe & Yati from Wusabili, & they had to change.
Then the other contingents arrived; it was very awkward as Mrs. Christie & I were put in charge of Mufulira Guides & had no idea how many were Guides & how many Brownies so couldn’t allocate spaces until they arrived; & we had no idea how many were coming from any of the other places. There were 5 coaches altogether, & another was added at Broken Hill; 36 bunks in each coach, & we were not quite full, but very nearly going down, & coming back we were over-full with ½less coach, so there must have been 111 of us, & 90 Scouts all told. The Scouts of Luanshya & Ndola etc., had gone the day before, so we had Mufulira 63 & Nkana 27, and of the Guides:- Mufulira 6, Nkana12, Luanshya 9; and Brownies Mufulira 6 & Nkana 8. Then a lot of Brownies got on at Broken Hill, & more Guides at Lusaka, & 1 at Mazabuka & so on. It was an awful job fitting them all in, specially as there was nobody in charge of the train & I finally found myself ordering people about & telling everybody where to go, to such an extent that throughout the trip people would come to ME for permission or advice or orders about every sort of thing!
We left Ndola about 10:00 having waited for the Nkana Scouts whose lorry broke down; we got our people into bed quickly (we thought) but after chatting a bit with other Guiders we toured round & still some weren’t ready, & we finally all got to bed about 11:30. Didn’t go to sleep for ages, & several times went patrolling & found girls wandering about for drinks of water, etc., then at 3:30 a.m. I was woken by more feet, & looked out in time to see 2 Scouts disappear round the corner. Went along to my girls & found Joan at the others’ door chatting, all unable to sleep. I was very stern but when I asked who was along here they said they didn’t know, but they thought there’d been Scouts in with the Ranges next door. I had to believe their innocent indignation, but felt very unhappy & suspicious, & finally went along & knocked & knocked on the Rangers’ door & finally woke them up & they too looked as innocent as could be so I had nothing to say. So I kept my door open & didn’t go to sleep after that, & kept on leaping out at the slightest noise, but there was no more trouble.
Thursday, 10th April 1947
We reached Broken Hill soon after 4:00 & at about 5:30 the people arrived to get on the train.
Mrs. Staples & her 5-year-old son came in our compartment: wife of Bank manager & newly appointed Treasurer of the [Girl Guide] Association, going down in charge of a lot of Africans & supervising Brownies, though Carol Malcomson was Brown Owl. Very nice & friendly. Lusaka 11:00 a big crowd got in, 17 of them with Captain & Lieutenant (Myra Cross who was here [in Kitwe]) & Mrs. Harbatt , lovely to look at with beautiful Backman eyes, & v. charming.
Cranford-Brown was on the station & I asked him to send a message to Monze (where we have two hours) to have ready cold drinks for 220. We got to Monze at 4:40 p.m. & found the message had come through as “U” for 220! I felt miserable about it & most guilty, both to the hotel which had taken so much trouble & to the children, few of whom felt like a dinner then. It was just soup & stew & bread & jam & tea, for 2/6d each. I don’t think ¾ of them ate it! I had some, and a bath too & I’m thankful I did as no more washing till I got home.
Everybody felt quite tired after such a hot & dusty day, & on my suggestion we let the Scouts be with the Guides all day, so everybody was in bed by 9 & we locked the communicating door & slept well.
Friday, 11th April 1947
But the day started at 4:00 a.m. when we arrived at Livingstone & I was hailed by my irrepressible Guides who had got up at 1:00 in order to be in good time! All packed & neatly dressed, & out on the platform the minute the train stopped! Mrs. Scher took charge of us about 5:00 & we got everybody & luggage in lorries to Guide Hall. Brownies to sleep inside, & Guides in 6 tents round about. I allotted tents, then Mrs. s. showed us where things were & left us to make our own fires & get our own breakfasts, & do a lot of other odd jobs too, such as digging rubbish pit, etc.
Paraded 9:30 for Mrs. Thom’s arrival, flag hoist & prayers, & she presented Queen’s Guide Award to Rita Lambert (Livingstone) who was at Camp in September.
Then marched to Mainway for rehearsal of parade, all done by Mrs. Thom, who seemed absolutely exhausted. Back to Camp & I suggested they might bathe, but only a few had bathers so they went. Got lunch ready & cut & gave out hair ribbons & helped put down bed-rolls, then cold lunch, then ½hour rest, then everybody dressed & marched to Mainway, & all there by 2:15.
It was a blazing day, & we waited there for 1½ hours before the Great Moment arrived. We let the children sit down most of the time but when first car arrived excitement mounted & then more cars, & then H.E. [His Excellency, the Governor] & Lady W. – then escort of B.S.A.P. on motor bikes, & finally THEM. As they drove past, tremendous cheering broke out, but after a moment I found I was almost in tears & had such a lump in my throat I couldn’t cheer. OH it was thrilling to see them, so incredible that there they really were, in the flesh, & I was privileged to look at them! They drove slowly along, the Queen bowing graciously, the King looking tired and exhausted & bored, Princess E. looking the same as him, Princess M. I couldn’t see very well.
They got out at the canopy’d grandstand & were greeted by H.E. & the Mayor, etc. & an Address of Welcome to which H.M. replied (both inaudible) then they went across to the Ex-Servicemen, followed by the Princesses, but when they went back along the second row, the Princesses came to the Guides. Mrs. Thom met them, & escorted them along the front row, quite beautifully slowly so that even the crowd right at the back could see them, then along a row & back along another, talking to one or two, & they both spoke to the Rangers. Then they came along my row, & it was seen with consternation that the King & Queen were advancing rapidly, so everybody shrieked for Mrs. Thom & she just left the Princesses & ruched off. Elizabeth looked wildly round & caught sight of Rita’s Little House Emblem, just in front of me, so I explained what it was, & showed her Queen’s Guide Badge, then she went on, & Margaret following her asked “Is she one of your Guides?” Meanwhile the King & Queen walked right along the front, & back again, & then stood talking to Mrs. Thom, & then there was a call of “Mrs. Clay!” so I stepped along & was introduced to the Queen, & remembered to salute first & then to curtsey as I shook hands. She looked perfectly lovely , & has the most startlingly blue eyes I have ever seen, deep, deep blue in a sweet face & the most enchantingly friendly smile; she was slightly made up but not too much, but she was feeling terribly hot, poor thing, & her face was flushed with the heat & se had beads of perspiration on her face. She was dressed in a long white real garden-party frock with a huge white hat with ostrich feathers in it, & a sunshade.
She said to me, “It is nice to meet you; what are you doing here?”
“My husband is in Government Service in N.R.”
“How long have you been out here?”
“Oh! I didn’t know it was as long as that. And is your mother coming out here soon?”
“No, only just got back from a tour of Europe.”
Princess Elizabeth chipped in, “She does get around a lot, doesn’t she?”
Then there was a pause, & I could feel a lump of emotion coming up in my throat again, & I said with trembling lips & tears welling up into my eyes, “It’s a great honour for us to see you, ma’am”, & then the King came along, & Leversedge – who had told him who I was - & he shook hands with me & said, “So your husband’s a D.C., is he?”
“Yes, a D.C. on the Copperbelt.”
“Is he here in Livingstone today?”
“No; he wasn’t able to come owing to exigencies of service.” But I don’t think he was really attending, at any rate he wasn’t amused & later on I wished I had said, “I’m afraid Your Majesty’s Government would not allow him to come!”
Then he asked, “How long have you been in N.R.?”
“And do you like it?”
“Yes, we love this country”
Then they were led away & I flew back to my place! Rita Lambert was also introduced & congratulated.
Then they inspected the St. John’s Ambulance & Scouts, a lot of whom had cameras & naughtily used them, but we’d rightly been forbidden.
Then they went on to the garden Party at Old Government House. I was accosted by their Press man Frank Postrom whom we’d met in Jo’burg 11 years ago:- “Aren’t you betty Baden-Powell?” & he’d recognised me” & asked me about my talk with Their Majesties & for a moment I was in such a cloud that I couldn’t remember what had been said!
Then I went to the garden Party, leaving my Guides in charge of a Lusaka Guider to go to the African Indaba at the aerodrome. Nice shady trees & it was a relief to get out of the hot sun: we had arrived on parade at 2:15 & left at 4:15, & poor Guides & Rangers etc. were still standing in full sun in their Children’s Enclosure. After the King & Queen had passed, one Brownie fainted, & Sheila Gray, put in charge of her, passed clean out too, poor girl. She had a look at the Royal Family through the door of their Retiring Room & saw Elizabeth sitting sprawling in a chair, feet stretched out, fanning herself. Then they came out & down the steps onto the lawn, & the band played “God Save the King”, & I was very impressed how rigidly still they stood.
Then they were introduced to Leg.Co. & Government Heads & their wives, then the copper casket was presented, then they came into the garden & walked slowly along all the paths, talking to people here & there, closely followed by the Princesses – too closely, really, & once the Queen flapped her hand at them to signal them back. Just close to where I was (I couldn’t see over heads but heard what was said) a grass-hopper jumped onto the Queen. The King brushed it off, but it jumped up again onto the bottom of her frock. “Oh, don’t bother” said the Queen – “Oh, but I’m so afraid it will go up” said the King! & on they went, the grass-hopper brushed into the immortal memory of all who saw the incident.
When they had walked right round (poor things) they went onto the lawn for tea, & all the guests made valiant efforts to get tea from a Marquee, but OH the queue! So I desperately got a Guide to get me some, as they were allowed round the back & I was claggy with thirst.
Met all sorts of people I knew, mostly Nkana & Lusaka of course. Then the Investiture: Sir Herbert Cox got his knighthood, & then a lot of O.B.E.s & a few ,military decorations: Col. Bayldon was one.
Then after that “God Save the King” again, & then the Queen gave us the most gracious & charming farewell gestures & smile, so did the Princesses; the King climbed the steps to them & they all disappeared inside, & we were not to see them again.
It really was the most inspiring & emotion-making & exhilarating & exciting experience I have ever had & I do think it was kind of them to give a day of their three-days’ “holiday” at the Falls to us.
They then went to the African Indaba; I joined Mrs Gray & somebody drove us out along the road to it, but Police turned us back. So we went & downed orange squashes at the Hotel. Then I walked in the dusk back to Camp & helped make supper. Rangers asked if they could go to a sundown Dance, so I said yes, but they must be back at 8:15 sharp to catch the lorries to go to the River.
All the Guides went happily off – but no sign of Rangers till quarter to 9. Naughty Scoutmaster, who said gaily, “I knew the fireworks didn’t start till 9:30 so there was no hurry.”
We all went in the lorry to the River, singing, then they scattered each with its boyfriend & weren’t seen again till the Fireworks were over. The Fireworks were really marvellous, though after a bit one realised there was no more variety & it got a bit tedious; but the bush-covered islands & the dark swift deep-looking river looked superb in the faerie lights as they floated down the sky.
A most frightful muddle & scramble & anxiety of trying to count all my flock as they re-loaded to go home: I was by that time in charge of the 6 Nchanga as well as my 12, the 6 Mf. & the Rangers, & reached home with still some missing; however after several scares all had got home safely. Mine were in bed & some asleep before we’d finished counting, good girls * I got in about midnight, & seemed to have slept for about 5 minutes when I woke up to find it was a quarter to five, & time to get up. Packed all my own things first, & then was able to relieve in the little kitchen & help make porridge; sausages & bacon for everyone, & tea.
“*” Oh ! I forgot to say, while I was frantically counting, I was beseeched by Joy to help find her comb: “Oh, don’t bother to comb your hair tonight, Joy – just get into bed quickly, it’s nearly midnight.” “Oh, but CAPPY – I MUST put my hair in curlers!” says this shocked twelve-year-old. Cappy’s reply was enough to make her hair curl without a comb.
Saturday, 12th April 1947
Everybody packed & fed & ready by 7:00, & WHAT a mess they would have left behind them, but I made Nkana clear up the worst of it. At the station we told everybody to get into the same compartment as on the way down, but suddenly the stationmaster switched the Scouts to the other end of the train & upset everybody’s plans. Also half a coach was given to civilians, so there was a lot of extra squeezing to be done. We put the extra people into Lusaka’s coach as they got off at 11:39 p.m., so didn’t go to bed, & after they had gone we had those coaches almost to ourselves.
And after we had left Livingstone at 8:00 p.m. we found to our horror that no only had they not swept out the carriages, but they hadn’t filled up with drinking water; in fact they hadn’t touched the train & we returned to Nkana amid all the dust etc., that we left it with.
Oh, Dear! That water problem! Almost everywhere we stopped one of us got out & appealed to the stationmasters, & though they were most sympathetic & kind & promised to wire the next place to be sure & give us water, nowhere did we fill up completely; not even Broken Hill (4:30 a.m.). I stayed awake till there on purpose to tell them, & then sank into bed & slept till 8:00 – to be told there was still no water.
Sunday, 13th April 1947
I had told my Guides I was going to write “Not to be disturbed” on my door; but when I woke Miss Osborne my companion said “There’s been a lot of knocking, but I refused to answer or open the door.” So I went to see, thinking it was about the ill ones, & all they wanted, was to know, “Were they to wear uniform or not?!
Had a leisurely morning reading; changed at Ndola & went on, a happy denuded little party, & had our last tinned lunch, & reached home about 3:00 p.m..
What a relief to get home & hand over all my charges! Actually, 3 of them motored home from Ndola without telling me, so we drove up to make sure they’d really got home safely.
Went straight to hospital to see Crispin who was brought in again in the morning with abscess very swollen again & temp up to 104.
He was very miserable, & then cheered up. He showed first signs of “guile”: he said, “Carry me, Mummy, want sit on your knee.” & then after a bit asked, “Where dressing gown? Put it on me.” & once that was accomplished it was a short step to “Now carry me to car!” Poor little chap, terribly upset when we went away & we don’t approve of seeing them in hospital at this age.
Then drove home, & went to McKinnon’s house for bath (lovely) & tea, then a long walk, & went to supper with them, & when they came in from polo & Club, they wanted to hear all about it, & Gervas said wearily, “She’s now been talking about it for 5 hours & hasn’t finished yet, & now you ask her to start ALL over again!”
Home to early bed, but dreamed all night of girls falling out of trains & lost luggage!
Monday, 14th April 1947
Stayed in bed all morning (sleeping & reading a book). Wrote diary all afternoon, & fetched Nigel at teatime. He’s been very good & so happy.
In 1960, when Betty’s husband was Her Majesty’s Resident Commissioner in Barotseland (a province of Northern Rhodesia), the Queen mentioned above, by now Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, paid a State Visit, and stayed with Betty for two nights. In 1997, the Princess Elizabeth mentioned above, now Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, made Betty a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.).
Page Last Updated - 08/06/2019