The Kenya Regiment 65th. Anniversary Reunion.
1st. to 14th. June 2002.
Where it started.
It was at the Warwick Hotel , on the island of Vitu Levu , in the Fiji group , in the year 2000 , that a small group of old Kenregs , gathered to ponder a question . A highly successful reunion, ably planned and organised by Michael Innes-Walker and an enthusiastic band of Kiwi and Ausie Kenregs , was coming to an end and the question was : "Where do we hold the next one?"
The year 2002 would mark the Regiment's 65th. Anniversary and it was essential that it be commemorated in true Kenreg fashion ; but where ? A few suggestions were thrown in the ring : Mauritius and the Seychelles were two , but met with little response . Then John Davies spoke up to put the question : "What's wrong with Kenya? Where better place to celebrate an important anniversary than in the Regiment's country of origin ?" Watamu , where he lived , had a number of good beach hotels, in an idyllic tropical coastal setting , which many Kenregs remembered with pleasure from the years they spent in Kenya .
The point was taken and those present subsequently left to return to their far flung homes ,to consult with their peers and then to confirm their support . This was passed to the UK Branch which would host the event . Again, following further consideration , the final decision was favourable and , in consultation with the Kenya Branch , a two week programme was compiled and then revised , -- and revised, -- and revised, -- and revised.
But it was definitely going to happen !
And so it came to pass that Watamu was the place chosen to celebrate the anniversary . John Davies had liaised with Hammy O’Hara at Winchester gatherings and , following a lot of leg work , selected the Turtle Bay Beach Hotel to accommodate the visitors . He then disappeared to New Zealand , not to return until May , by which time there were a number of anxious faces around .
Time was running very short , however , with John’s return , a “spirit of Dunkirk” surfaced , everyone was busy and , at the eleventh hour , rooms were ready ,a welcoming banner appeared ,the seating plan for the main dinner was complete ,a cake was baked and name tags were printed for the 101 overseas guests expected ; who by then, were all but on their way..
In fact some had already arrived . Stan Bleazard and Alan Martin from Australia, who were spending a few days in Malindi , had acquired a car in Nairobi (courtesy of George McKnight) and drove down , bringing with them loads of loot , including the Kenreg buffalo head for display at the hotel above the top-table.
Another John Davis, this one UK. Based , had among other tasks , the unenviable job of arranging travel bookings for the large UK. contingent . Then in Nairobi , there was a man called Dennis Leete , who , apart from earning his living , had nothing to do , so he was promoted to “General Dog’s- Body” and given the lot . Made entirely responsible for the up-country leg , he also kept an eye on down-country arrangements and , in his spare time , was expected to organise everything else. He learnt to delegate and “press-gang” others into assisting, but nevertheless he was quite busy
It was he who , in the company of Paddy Deacon , flew into Malindi on the morning flight of 1st. June . They were met and then transported to Watamu , to be on the spot when the guests arrived . Whilst on the aircraft , they were so busy chatting up the air-hostess , that they failed to notice Gary Plenderlieth and his wife, who had come all the way from South Africa and were also on the flight.
The overseas response was impressive , in addition to UK , the other larger groups were from RSA , Australia and NZ , but in addition , there were couples and individuals from a wide range of places including Florida, Zimbabwe , Hawaii , Menorca and Spain . Most had to travel by air , but there were a few residents of Africa , like Campbell Smith and John Dugmore and their respective spouses , who motored up from South.
The majority of guests had just that afternoon stepped off motor transport which brought them from Mombasa to Malindi after a long overnight flight ; yet they all appeared spic and span , bright-eyed and ready to enjoy a formal dinner in the company of old friends.
The hotel had laid out the tables in a perfect setting , a long top-table ran close and parallel to an outside wall with shorter tables placed on the inner side at right angles to it and at intervals along its length . All this was under cover, but the inner area was open and overlooked a large open-air swimming pool.
After a short session at the bar ,those present were invited to take their seats. Selected guests were guided to seats at the top-table ; they were there to represent their Branches. Paddy Deacon was Senior Officer , Punch Bearcraft was Guest of Honour and Dennis Leete was Master of Ceremonies.
Paddy Deacon made the introductory speech , outlining the significance and importance of the occasion and extending a very warm welcome to all those present. He then paid tribute to some of the ‘giants’ of the Regiment :
-our Colonel the late Sir Guy Campbell ;
-General Sir Roly Guy who , despite ill health , is still giving enormous and much appreciated
support to the Kenreg Association’s endeavours ;
-the late Major Hammy O’Hara , who from the day he stood in line to volunteer as a recruit
over 50 years ago , gave continuous dedicated service until sadly , he passed away shortly
before this occasion ;
- the late Colonel Ray Nightingale , the “warrior”whose distinguished sevice did not stop with
the Regiment ; he continued and did it all again under an SAS cap badge.
There were others , including Mike Tetley , who pleasingly was among those present.
The Guest of Honour , Punch Bearcroft , that legendary Police Air Wing pilot , who was remembered by those who served in the forests during the Emergency by his call sign ‘Eagle One” , as he zoomed in at almost zero feet,making food drops , was next to speak . He reminisced on events of those years and made special mention of the Regiment’s two home made bombs : ‘Gog” and “Magog”, then amusingly described the antics which took place when he and his co-pilot were airborne and , with improvised gear (strings and things) , tried to drop one on a forest target.
The next speaker was Len Weaver who touched on the history of the Regiment, relating it to the book he is writing Then it was the turn of the top-table guests who expressed appreciation on behalf of their fellow countrymen for the hospitality they were enjoying and gave greetings from their respective countries . Ken Elliott spoke for NZ , Bill Harvey for RSA and Ted Downer for Australia.
Interspersed between the speeches ,Dennis Leete’s voice came over the loudspeakers telling little tales of Van de Merwe’s. latest exploits , frequently supported by enthusiastic guests , who thought that they could tell one better . And so the happy mood of the party gained momentum .
Alan Martin led the dancing , moving easily into the steps of a Strauss waltz , he glided gracefully around the long expanse of concrete adjoining the swimming pool , skillfully avoiding the edge .The fact that there was no music and he lacked a partner did not deter him at all . But sadly the mood didn’t catch on ; the ladies obviously prefered to remain at table and listen to more Van de Merwe jokes .
And so the evening settled down to one of very pleasant “camaradie” with individuals moving from table to table to chat and reminisce with friends who perhaps they had not seen for many years .
The days following.
The guests now had several days at Watamu in which to do as they pleased . The hotel offered day trips on both land and sea , there were neighbouring hotels to visit , a nice beach to walk and ample opportunity just to laze beside the hotel’s beautiful swimming pool ,
Stan Bleazard and Alan Martin overloaded their borrowed car with a group of Aussies , Kiwis and Brits. And set forth for Malindi . They were stopped en route by the Police who mistook them for a “matatu” , but by denying any knowledge of Kiswahili ,they bluffed their way through and had lunch at “Dollys” renowned Indian restaurant , famous for its curries . These were consumed and in washing them down with copious quantities of Tusker , many well remembered flavours of the past were relived and enjoyed .
Tsavo East National Park.
Most of the guests were scheduled to fly up to Nairobi on 8th. June , but an adventurous group of over thirty , wishing to see more of the country and its wildlife ,boarded buses on 6th June and , following the road that took them through Kakuyuni and Kakoneni villages ,running parallel to the Sabaki river , they entered Tsavo East Park by its eastern gate at Sala Hill . The buses then headed for Satao Tented Camp in which all tents were reserved for them . So for two days and two nights they had exclusive occupation of Satao , enjoying starlit , camp-fire nights and making morning and evening game drives , which in turn proved highly successful.
One local member , who shall be nameless , and who was travelling independently , just happened to be an Hon. Park Warden and considered himself to have an extensive knowledge of Tsavo East , failed miserably in his efforts to locate lions or other predators to which he could lead the visitors .
They on other hand were practically tripping over lions ; a total of 16 were sighted in two days. Some of these may well have been second sightings of the same animals , but the lions certainly put themselves on parade , even walking along a road with cubs in front of the Kenreg vehicles ; obviously to honour their guests. Again on an evening drive , on rising ground near the Aruba dam , in addition to plains game , the visitors witnessed a road crossing being made by both elephants and giraffes ; massive animals silhouetted against an African sunset.
The group undoubtedly enjoyed the park adventure , so it was with some regret that they boarded their buses next morning to leave and drive to Nairobi where they would begin the up-country leg of their safari.