A Life in the Great Rift Valley 1948 – 1963

Frank presents a copy of Beyond Mombasa to 96-year-old Brian Goord.

Frank presents a copy of Beyond Mombasa to 96-year-old Brian Goord.

‘Splendid,’ said the voice at the end of the line when I rang to confirm our appointment for later that day.

Splendid! Who says ‘splendid’ these days? It was something out of an old grainy Sherlock Holmes’ movie. Here, I thought, is someone quite special.

And so he was. Apart from his 96 years and a mind as bright as a button, Brian Goord was obviously a man with a tale to tell.

I discovered Brian – or rather he discovered me – through my web site. That’s right, this near-centenarian surfs the internet. My older brother – a man in his sixties – doesn’t even have a cheque account!

Brian had enjoyed one of my books, all of which are set in East Africa, and wrote to tell me so. My interest was piqued when he told me he had started farming in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley in 1948. After a little arithmetic, I deduced Brian must have had quite a few miles on the clock. It was only after reading his memoir that I realised Brian’s milestones were very much part of Kenya’s road from British colony to nationhood. It was then I decided to hop on a plane and hear his story first-hand. It was, as I expected, a classic tale.

On a rainy day in 1948, the DC-4 carrying 36-year-old Brian, his wife Freda, and year-old son Richard, landed at Kisumu airport on the shores of Lake Victoria preparatory to their life of farming in Africa. Brian had never worked on the land, he’d been a seaman for most of his life, but as a man who had never baulked at a challenge, he thought he would give it a try.

The Goords teamed up with another farming family and combined their energies to tackle the daunting tasks that lay ahead.

Brian organised the Luo and Kikuyu squatters who had taken up residence on the derelict farm, to build him a wattle and daub rondavel. He and his family lived there for five years until time and money permitted the construction of another, grander house, again built by Brian and local labour.

At 300 acres the farm was unviable and Brian and his partner reached an agreement with Ewart ‘Cape to Cairo’ Grogan, after several bottles of brandy, for the lease of his 800 acres of adjacent land.

Brian shows Frank his scrap book from his time in Kenya during the Mau-Mau era.

Brian shows Frank his scrap book from his time in Kenya during the Mau-Mau era.

The farm lay exactly on the equator, but at 7000 feet, the rondavel needed a fire to keep away the night chill. Water had to be hauled by ox-cart from a stream in 44-gallon drums. They built a cattle dip to prevent the animals from contracting any one of the many virulent stock diseases, and fences were constructed to keep out wild game, although the bushbuck and guinea fowl were welcome additions on the Goord’s dinner menu. In time they secured the farm’s water supply by using oxen to dredge a large dam. The acre of water also served as a sailing school for young Richard, whose first boat was made from half a seaplane float. Drought destroyed many a maize crop and fire levelled the oat grass pastures. Periodic swarms of locusts and army worms attacked everything green, but the Goords and their partners struggled on as people on the land do.

However, the Great Rift Valley was soon rocked by the Mau Mau – an armed group fighting for land rights and independence from Britain. Brian and Freda like many others in that era, carried sidearms to defend themselves from the attacks that became increasingly brutal as the war worsened throughout the 1950s. Whenever the power generator failed at night, the thought in everyone’s mind was, is it a mechanical fault or a trick to lure the man of the house into the threatening darkness of night?

With the approach of independence, Brian turned his hand to politics and represented one of the parties in the talks held in London to discuss the form of the new nation’s constitution. When independence came, Brian reluctantly accepted the government’s compensation deal and left the farm which would be broken up and distributed to landless members of the local tribes.

After leaving Kenya, Brian and Freda were not ready to settle back home in England but wandered Europe searching for the next big challenge. They found a place in the south of Portugal and lived there for many years. When Freda passed away, Brian went sailing before finally joining son Richard and daughter-in-law Rosie at Claremont Estate (www.claremont-estate.com) about an hour north of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Brian remains active, spending his days writing, reading, painting and, of course, surfing the net.

P.S. Brian died peacefully in his sleep not long after I wrote this item.