It all started in March 1952. We had read in an English daily newspaper of a man called Hinchcliff, who had just broken the Cape Town to London overland record in a Vauxhall car. In discussing the trip and the problems of the Sahara Desert between ourselves, with my usual lack of tact, I said that I thought a Land Rover would be just the job to cope with such a journey. That was enough to literally set the wheels in motion and we were mentally on our way.
My husband Don owned a garage called "Fiveways" in the West Country, just east of Bath, on the main London Road. The harder we worked, the less money we seemed to be able to call our own and he was generally getting fed up with the situation. I think that Southern Rhodesia came to mind as friends had recently gone there and from their description of the wonderful countryside and the sunshine, it seemed very inviting. With this in mind, we wrote to Rhodesia House in London to find out the position about immigrating with two children. David was then 16 and Diane 9.
We received a very pleasant reply telling us it was a grand country, so long as one was not afraid of doing their share of work. The streets we were told were not paved with gold, but if one made the effort, a very good living could be earned. They advised us that the housing situation was pretty difficult and suggested that Don should travel ahead, leaving the family in the U.K. while he reviewed the local situation. This obviously did not fit in with our plans for the whole family to drive together overland. We wrote off to Rhodesia House once more for the necessary forms which we duly filled in, telling them of our plans and saying that we were prepared to camp along the way and rough it for a while at the end of the trip. It would be bliss camping without having to move off each morning, as we would obviously be doing for the journey!
So this was where all the hard work began. We had firstly a business to sell and secondly, a house in the Cotswolds. We were told by the dealers that it was virtually impossible to purchase a new Land Rover, as there was a long waiting list, but when we told them for what purpose it was required, we received fantastic co-operation and they found us a practically new one that was up for sale.
By now it was May 1952 and the Cotswolds house had already sold. Where did we live until the business was also sold and all further arrangements made? More family discussions, which came up with the idea of living in a caravan until the time came for us to take to the road. We all thought that this was a great idea as the caravan could be sent on to Rhodesia by rail/sea when we left and the problem of a temporary home on arrival would be solved. Many hours were spent looking at all the caravans available. There were many shapes and sizes and every price imaginable. We really had to find the right one if we planned on living in it in U.K. for the next ten to twelve months and who knew how long we would be living in it on arrival in Rhodesia? We travelled many miles in search of our 'new home' when suddenly we knew we had found the one we had been looking for. Not exactly the cheapest on the market, but it was a real Rolls Royce of caravans at the time and we snapped it up very smartly before someone should beat us to it. What a beautiful home on wheels we were then the proud owners of.
The caravan was towed to our house where we had to decide just what was going to move with us to Rhodesia. After packing it out with the necessary items, the removal van arrived and took all remaining possessions off to the sale room. My daughter Diane was given a bottom cupboard in the caravan and was told it was exclusively hers for any toys she wanted to take. Amazing what a child is capable of; very few toys went off to the sale room! We owned the field opposite Fiveways Garage so the caravan was parked there in a lovely spot by the river Avon, meanwhile we waited for a buyer to pop up and take over the business. We thought that eager buyers would flock in by the hundreds, but of course these things never happen in real life. Meanwhile we were being anything but idle, not a chance! Many hours were spent lying on the floor, poring over maps spread in all directions. Where should we go and what route should we take? Decisions, decisions. We did in fact complete the trip many times and on many routes, long before we ever left the wet and cold shores of England.
A note book was purchased, (a great idea), for us to list everything we all thought that we might need for a couple of months on the road in unknown terrain, where shops could well be non-existent. This list became so long we would have needed a trailer to carry everything. This was obviously out of the question, so the list then was reviewed, cutting out the less necessary items. Don was getting more and more enthusiastic by this time and he spent many hours working on the Land Rover, making it more suitable for the very long trip ahead of it. Strong metal roof carriers were put in place to carry our camping equipment and a large water tank. The tank was placed right at the front of the carrier, directly over the seats as this was thought to be in the best position to keep us cooler - or so we hoped. The tank held thirty five gallons of water; we were determined that we would not die of thirst, whatever else might happen to us in the wilds of Africa. A large canvas sheet was made to fasten over the top of the tank, camping equipment and cases, which would hopefully protect the tank and keep dry the remainder of the roof-packed items. He then extended the back of the vehicle with canvas to fold up and down like a pram hood. The brain wave extra extension was so that at night it could be folded down giving a five foot by six foot bed. I then covered the whole of the inside with netting which could be tucked in to give us protection against flies, bugs and mosquitoes. During the war, Don had already experienced malaria, which is a febrile disease caused by a parasite introduced into the blood by the Anopheles mosquito. No repeats were wanted of this as we could not afford to have a sick 'chauffeur'. Two rubber mattresses were bought that fitted snugly into the available space and these could be rolled up during travel.
An extra 55 gallon petrol tank was then fitted inside the vehicle; this would be needed to travel the long distances between petrol stations. Extra leaves were added to the springs to take the abnormal weight that it would be necessary to carry. New heavy duty Michelin tyres were fitted, together with everything else Don thought was necessary for the now very altered Land Rover. A list of spares was composed and purchased and packed into every nook and cranny, along with a mini work shop of tools.
The months were by now flying past and still "No Sale" of the business, which was very disconcerting to say the least of it. We knew that due to weather conditions, we needed to be away early in 1953 or it would be impossible for another twelve months. Rains would be starting and roads would be impassable in the Congo and the Sahara would be closed to all vehicles from June until October. The ideal leaving time would be from November onwards, so we should arrive in Rhodesia before all the rivers were flooded by the heavy rains and the floods in French Equatorial Africa would be receding. We were more or less ready to up and move at any time, but with the business still like a millstone around our necks, we were getting more and more depressed. Meanwhile Don was still not being idle and more changes to the vehicle were going ahead. He bought a winch that was fixed on the front of the Land Rover; this proved to be a 'master idea' as the chronicle will later show.
December arrived, still no sale and the thoughts were that we would have to suspend all plans for another twelve months, when Christmas descended early on our door step! A buyer appeared, a quick decision was made that this was exactly what he was looking for and the sale we had all been waiting for was ready to go ahead. We were quite happy to just take his money and go, but the powers-that-be unfortunately don't work as simply as that. It was January before the sale even started to go through the official channels which it had to take. Still with the hope that we would get away in time, we travelled by train to London during the big smog to confirm with the Automobile Association that everything was in order and to check the clearance of firearms we wished to carry. The A.A. in turn passed us onto the French and Belgian Embassies. The French informed us it was quite in order to carry firearms, in fact there should be a law against trying to do the trip ahead of us without firearms; they thought them a definite necessity. Finally and happily the business sale went through and relief at last which turned into great excitement.
Time was really getting short and we consulted a well known travel agency to ask them to please go ahead and get all necessary travel documents and permits which we needed to cross various territories. Between the four of us we had 72 forms and a great number of identity photographs. The travel company, for whom we had nothing but praise, was incredible and everything was completed 'post haste'. Telegrams were sent back and forth to the various consulates (no e-mail in those days!) to progress things as fast as possible. Then there were all the various 'jabs', which included Yellow Fever, TAB and various vaccinations. This caused several days of aches, misery and depression and we even began to wonder if it was all worth the effort. This was quite short-lived and the sheer thought of what was ahead of us pushed the adrenaline to the fore. We still had to arrange the shipping for the caravan, now we knew when we could 'move out'. This proved to be fairly easy, we just had to have dates of loading and the final destination! All was to be packed up 'in situ' so we could tow it to Southampton with us. Our own transport plus the shipping of the Land Rover had to be arranged across the English Channel to Le Havre, then again from Marseilles to Algiers. We had to have the dates all arranged to tie in with the delivery of the caravan. This all involved a lot of thought, as again weather conditions were a major factor in our lives. Crossing to France at the end of January, we were unsure what the state the roads would be and the last thing we needed was to encounter snow drifts and icy roads. A Land Rover which now weighed three tons would not be easy to control on slippery roads. As any farmer would tell you, the weather is really impossible to predict and it was a case of bite the bullet and just go. We made our final bookings and the travel agency then commented that they thought they had been wasting their time and we would never get under way! We never admitted to them that the same thought had crossed our minds a number of times.
We stayed in a hotel in Bath for two nights, while we did the final packing of both caravan and Land Rover. Our limited allowance of clothing which we would need for the journey and food was all wedged under the passenger seats. For food, we had laid hands on as much concentrate as possible. With help from a friend who went to a lot of trouble, we obtained a good deal of American Army Ration food . We also had a well packed medical kit including such things as snake bite serum and other items unheard of in an English medical kit. There was a camp bed for David, who was bravely planning on sleeping under the vehicle, cooking equipment, spades (a very necessary tool), sand mats and boards in case we should be unfortunate enough to get stuck. As an afterthought, Don also fitted a compass to the windscreen.
On January 22nd 1953 at 10h00 the caravan was hitched up and at 10h30 we pulled off the forecourt of our old garage business, having filled up with fuel. The local press were on the spot to take photographs of us huddled up in our thick duffel coats and we were on our way in a slight drizzle, to remind us that we were still in England.