Home' Travel News : August-September 2018 Contents 32 travel news august/september 2018
august/september 2018 travel news 33
It was March 1948 a time of great change throughout the world. In Kenya a handsome young former Sussex County
Cricketer arrived in Mombasa aboard the s.s. Llandovery Castle. His promising career as a future England fast bowler
cruelly ruined by the advent of the Second World War, Jack Nye, like many thousands of his fellow ex-servicemen
went overseas to build a new life for himself and his young family.
In those days professional cricketers were not the highly paid “celebrities” they are today; cricket was a job, and they
got on with it and did it very well without the gripes one reads about from today’s sportsmen and women. Many was
the cheese roll shared by Jack Nye and his mentor the great Maurice Tate before they walked home from practice at
Hove County Ground to Haywards Heath near where they both lived in order to save the bus fares! In the cricketing
off-season, unless they were abroad with the England team, professional cricketers had to find paid work where they
could. Jack Nye, from Sussex farming stock, could turn his hand to just about anything. He became a school cricket
coach (the girls at Roedean frightened him off by constantly pretending they could not do up or undo their pads and
asking for their blushing young coach’s help!).
A good all-round sportsman and, from time to time, a reserve player for Brighton Tigers a well-known ice hockey team
as well as being a useful golfer, Jack had also learned the art of road-making when, some winters, he worked for the
Sussex firm of Tidy & Son.
So it was that, early in 1948, the young cricketer went for an interview at
The Crown Agents and was hired to join a team which was to be formed to
build the Nairobi-Mombasa Road in the then flourishing colony of Kenya.
This now infamous highway had, until then, been little more than a track,
full of teeth loosening corrugations and well nigh impassable in some
places, especially during the rainy season.
Travelling alone, three months ahead of his wife and two young daughters,
Jack was welcomed at Mombasa’s Kilindini Harbour by someone from
the Public Works Dept. (PWD). He was told to go and buy a tent and
other essentials, including food, because he was going to be taken to a
place called Mackinnon Road from where the road was due to start.
Despite never having been to Mombasa before, Jack duly found himself
a tent and a few supplies and, after a beer on the verandah of the Palace
Hotel (later known as The Castle Hotel) with his PWD greeter, he was
driven north, away from the lushness of the palm-fringed coast, out into
the bundu and deposited in the scrubland on the edge of what we all now
know as the Bachuma Desert. A few hours before he thought he’d landed
in Paradise amidst the swaying palms and white beaches of Mombasa,
now here he was, standing by a desolate track, not another soul for
goodness knows how many miles, watching the lorry disappear in a cloud
of dust back to civilisation. There was certainly no sign of the camp he’d
been told was at this mysterious place referred to as Mackinnon Road.
He pitched his tent and got out his supplies, he had had the foresight
to buy a large tin trunk in which to keep his food safe from insects and
vermin but had overlooked the fact that the metal would serve as an oven
and the precious butter, almost non existent in England for the past five
years, which he had been so delighted to find, had turned to liquid grease.
In those days Kenya was, quite literally, teeming with game, particularly
plains game in the form of zebra, wildebeest, impala, kudu, kongoni,
Thomson’s gazelle and the like. Lions too were plentiful; and it seemed
to Jack that they all congregated around his tent.
His first, and several subsequent nights, were spent sitting up on his
sleeping bag banging his only saucepan with his tin mug and a knife trying
to make enough noise to frighten the lions roaring and grunting nearby
so close that their heavy breathing could be heard and, he rightly or
wrongly imagined, smelled, quite clearly by the young man fresh off the
ship from Sussex.
That was 1948. Without proper organised funding, the saga of the
Mombasa-Nairobi Road continued for the next 15 years.
Jack Nye being interviewd by a Nation reporter in the 60s
The Road That Jack Built
Words and images courtesy Gill Trayner (nee Nye)
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