Mombasa Branch

Delving into old records is akin to packing one's china and glass in old copies of the Air Mail "Times" – very interesting but very time consuming, what could be more fascinating than to find a glamorous young thing in a photo only to discover that it is "old Mrs. So and So"? And what about those discos surely Mrs. "What’s her name" was never young enough to organize a disco? Yes, we have changed haven't we mostly beyond recognition, but so many of those "bright young things" are still in harness, generously giving their time, knowledge and dedicated service to the League.

So, what did they do in this town of charming contrasts – the beautiful silvery beaches; the bustle of Mwembe Tiyari; the Holy Ghost cathedral cheek by jowl with Ambalal House; the Hotels spread up and down the Coast alive with tongues of many nations; the dhows; the vast ships in Kilindini; the baobabs (each one near Likoni ferry said to be the tombstone of a Portuguese soldier) and that epitome of the town's history – Fort Jesus? It is against this background that past and present members have met and striven together to keep the League, and all it stands for, alive and healthy.

 

The branch was formed in 1926 under the Chairmanship of Mrs. Sim, but as early as 1923 she was the League representative in Mombasa and organized the Poppy Day on November 11th. The formation of the Branches countrywide was at the instigation of Mrs. Turner, President of the League in 1925 when she proposed that the League should appoint representatives in each settled area.

Mombasa being a large town was amongst the first to open. From 1926 to 1933 there were three DVP's Mrs. Foster, Mrs. Campbell and Mrs. Crisp who remained in the chair until 1938, with Mrs. Gander acting when Mrs. Crisp went on leave.

 

It was during this period that Sir Ali Bin Salim gave the generous gift of a plot at Likoni where the children of needy up-country families could have a holiday at the Coast. The League was asked to help get this Camp on to its feet and, in spite of the farmers having been hard hit by plagues of locusts, funds were raised to supply simple bandas and furnishing sand from that day it has never looked back thanks to the continuing efforts of the League. Apart from raising funds the League organized camps for children whose parents could not accompany them during the War years.

At this time, too, the League supported a district Nursing Scheme for maternity cases and nursing the sick in their homes - later to be known as the Macmillan Nurses Institute and Association. These two schemes entailed much hard work, but provided a long-awaited social service to the community. It was at this time, 1933 to be precise, that one of our oldest and most loyal members came to Kenya. Barbie Adcock told that she arrived in Mombasa in 1933 and was met at the ship by Mrs. Fannin (of the 40 cats). Barbie worked for the Lady Grigg Nursing Association, and for some years was unable to join the EAWL, but eventually became a member when Mrs. Robins on of Smith Mackenzie was in the Chair. Barbie remembers nursing Maia Hemphill's grandfather.

During the war years there was neither time nor fuel for formal meetings to be held, but members did their bit. In 1940 they started a Canteen for the forces, in a building in the centre of town. There were no stoves, Mrs. Challis recalls, “We cooked on a 4 burner Perfection oil stove and a “Beatrice” which smoked as soon as you turned your back. The first customers were the Navy who came down from Aden, and those who came to the canteen were the very young and who did not support the bars. Milk and lettuces were in great demand, also steak and eggs. They had been minor criminals sent up to make the road etc. They were a very tough bunch of men. Few spoke English. They were only let out in small numbers, but even so we had to have husbands of members armed with rifles for our protection”. Ships were met to offer hospitality to the Servicemen, usually on their way to or from the East, and assitance was sent to victims of the blitz in Britain. These, then, were hard working, eventful years despite the fact that the formal pattern of meetings had to go by the board “for the duration”.

 

The threads were picked up again in the fifties when we find that the Mombasa Branch had expanded so much that it had two Divisions - Tudorand by 1958 - Likoni, where the first meeting was held in Mrs. Carswell's house. A few years earlier Nyali became a branch in its own right. Once again we read of Fund raising activities, which had been in abeyance during the Forties. The Branch under Mrs. Standish King was asked to organize a Dance for the Officers and Ratings of a Royal Navy vessel. Believe it or not, invitations were sent out to 800 women and girls, most of whom accepted, and a great time was had by all in the Jubilee Hall. Apart from Fund Raising there was much concern about the many children of expatriates who lived in the area and who were often at a loose end during school holidays; so a Holiday Club was started, which had a bad start as "the parents seem to be more interested in it than those for whom it is intended." However it eventually became very popular and helped to keep the youngsters occupied during the long holidays. There were many and varied speakers at the meetings, ranging from "Outward Bound" to a talk advising members to patronize the local linen and cotton materials being retailed at Shs 2/75 and 2/- a yard respectively – imagine a linen dress for less than 10/-.

 

The highlight of Mrs. Standish King's term of office was, of course, the visit of H.M. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, one can just feel the excitement and pleasure there was when the DVP was asked to arrange a reception on a grand scale.

 

Shortly after this momentous event Mrs. Hill took over as DVP and it was during this time that the now famous Embroidery Panel – designed by Mr. Jackson and worked by Mrs. Carrick was completed, to the great credit of the Branch, as this beautiful piece of work won first prize when all the panels eventually went on Show, first in Nairobi and then to London (These Panels can be viewed on the “Gallerry” Page of this site). As a token of appreciation Mrs. Carrick was given a golden graved thimble, a very fitting gift indeed.

 

The Sixties appear to have been very busy years with meetings being held in all sorts of odd places, the Fire Station being one of the strangest! From 1963 for several years numbers dwindled, but charities such as Sunset Lodge, the Red Cross, the Hospital and welfare cases were not neglected. No records of the Branch from 1965 to 1972 could be found, but in the correspondence this appeared. A member offered her home on Mombasa Island for the AGM and said "You are cordially invited to come on condition that you remove your stiletto heels before entering." I wonder how many attended that AGM?

Mrs. Jennifer Walters, so well known in theatrical circles, was Branch Chairman in 1972 and 1973. When reminiscing to the Branch's 70th Anniversary Lunch Party, Mrs. Walters confessed that she hated making speeches, and to avoid doing so at League Council, held at the Little Theatre Club during her term of office she and other members put on a sketch "A day in the Life of an EAWL Member," much enjoyed by all at Council. In those days a Pound Day was held once a year, members sat outside Supermarkets and begged for a pound of something, rice, sugar, etc., for the hospital. The Branch held a Disco for the first time, run by Mrs. Walters, and in 1974 a very successful Midsummer Night's Ball, complete with Fashion Show and Cabaret was held at the Mombasa Beach Hotel, those were the days!

By 1975 the ladies of Likoni were pressing for separate meetings to be held, as they had difficulty in getting to Mombasa owing to delays on the ferry. From 1976 to 1978 the dynamic Madge Hillyar was in the chair and "she could get anybody to do anything"! She initiated a Dog Dip in her own garden. This not only helped us to keep our dogs tick free, but the small sum she charged went to Branch funds. Unfortunately, due to ill health, Madge Hillyar gave up. Betty Miller then stepped into the breach. For some years Mombasa became a "split" branch in fact "Mombasa Branch" was something of a misnomer. As the majority of members lived in Nyali and the rest were scattered from Likoni, south as far as Shimoni, and north to Mtwapa. Most meetings were held at Likoni, which considered itself a Sub-Branch, but supported the main branch in all its fund raising activities. Travel to meetings became more and more difficult for the few remaining members and several times the Branch came near to dissolution.

 

However, in 1982 a small band of enthusiasts, Hilda Brent, Gill Davis, Mary Whitton, Elizabeth Organ and Tess Conway, headed by Betty Miller, got together and decided to encourage younger women with school children to join by having morning meetings. We had a constant search for interesting Speakers and Demonstrators, which was quite a task as most of the "interesting" people appear to work in the mornings! Gradually our numbers rose until we were able to form a committee with one half of the members from Nyali and the other half from Likoni – a very successful and happy solution. We all know that nowadays there are many people who come out to Kenya on short term contracts, the wives of these men have been the backbone of the Branch since it picked up. One of our most stalwart supporters on the Nyali side was Ruth Lowth. Nothing was too much trouble for Ruth, and her departure from Kenya was a real loss to the Branch. We have very happy meetings each month, and all members help to raise funds, which go, in donations of cash or kind, to the Port Reitz Polio Clinic, the Kwale School for the Deaf, the Workshop for Blind Girls in Likoni, the Shimoni Clinic and the Ziwani School for the Deaf on the Island.

It was a sad day for the Branch and for the elderly people at the Coast when, in March 1984, Sunset Lodge was closed. Sunset Lodge had been a haven for old people for thirty years, and it had received a lot of financial and other support from the League during all that time. There is nothing to replace the loss of Sunset Lodge, a very sad state of affairs for the Coast people.

 

However, all is not gloom or serious fund-raising. We still take an active interest in the Home crafts Exhibition, and in 1985 we won the Eva Thomson Cup.