Growing Up in Africa – Schooling was Not Much Fun

Back here, I wrote about how my parents moved to what was then Southern Rhodesia in the early 1950s, bought 1000 acres of virgin African bush and made a farm – and life as a child growing up there.

Part of growing up, of course, is the requirement to go to school.

There was a kindergarten level school in the village, which was roughly 3 or 4 miles from where we lived, and I attended that, for mornings only, until the age of 6.

At the age of 7, having run out of classes at the local village school, I was despatched to boarding school, around 250 miles away.

Primary school

Boarding school pretty much anywhere in the early 1960s was pretty daunting – especially for a callow 7-year-old who had lived a fairly solitary life on a farm until that point.

Being pitched into an institution with, at that time, 120 other kids (all boys) was quite a shock!

The corporal punishment that was dished out, often with what appeared to be glee, by the staff – both masters and matrons – simply doesn’t exist today. It has been outlawed.

One of the more feared teachers had three sticks with which he used to mete out punishment. The lucky recipient of his attentions had the dubious pleasure of having to choose the stick he should be beaten with.

Another teacher, the deputy head master, specialised in ‘bacon slices’ – being hit on the backside with the edge of a ruler as you bent over. It was extremely painful..!

And the headmaster’s weapon of choice was a Jokari bat.

There were some staff members who seemed to genuinely like children – I remember the school sister who looked after the sick bay was one. We called her Cookie.

But there were an equal number who seemed to actively dislike kids – one matron, in particular, was quite fearsome. Makes me wonder why they took those jobs!

The school was located in the Vumba mountains, on Rhodesia’s Eastern border with Mozambique. The nearest town was Umtali (it’s called Mutare today) which was 15 miles away.

Getting to school for me (and many others) involved an overnight train trip from Salisbury (Harare today) to Umtali, and then a bus from Umtali up into the mountains to the school.

We frequently had to get out of the bus to push it up the steepest stretches of the road. The busses were of 1950’s vintage and weren’t designed to negotiate steep mountain roads with a full load of kids..!

The pictures that follow were all taken on my return visit in 1999. They are poor quality (I apologise!) because they were taken on 35mm film and weren’t scanned until quite recently, so they’ve faded rather badly.

Anyway, this one is taken on the drive from the main road down to the school – probably a couple of miles long. The arrow points to the school buildings:

Eagle school, Umtali, from the drive

And, taken from the same spot on the drive, those twin hills were called ‘Camel’s hump’. The school buildings were out of the picture to the right:

Camel's hump, Vumba mountains, Eastern Rhodesia

On reaching the school on my return trip, this is what greeted me. The Beit Hall is on the left with classrooms underneath.

Right ahead, behind the Land Rover, used to be the entrance to the admin office and, during my last year there, the headmaster’s office was on the left.

Between the Beit Hall and the admin office, at the back, is what used to be the kitchen and dining hall.

(Many school halls were called Beit Halls because they were built from funds donated by Alfred Beit, a mining magnate who contributed large amounts of money to infrastructure projects throughout Central and Southern Africa)

Eagle school buildings in 1999

Looking to the right from where I took the picture above, is this hill – we called it Mount Maduma.

A frequent Sunday activity involved climbing to the top and placing a home-made flag (which had often fallen over or blown away before we got back to the school!).

Mount Maduma, from Eagle School in the Vumba mountains

Term times were usually 12 weeks and at the end of the Summer term we used to have a school sports day, to which parents were invited.

On the few occasions that my parents turned up I experienced the luxury of returning home for the school holidays by car, rather than going through the bus and train routine.

A popular place for parents to stay when they visited was the Leopard Rock Hotel. It’s a beautiful location – or was when I took this in 1999:

Leopard Rock hotel, Vumba Mountains, Rhodesia

I eventually left my primary school at the end of 1965 and, in January 1966, started at my high school.

Secondary school

This was located in Salisbury (Harare) and was much closer to home – about 45 miles. Still too far to do as a day scholar, though, so, once again, I went as a boarder and lived in this hostel on the school grounds (that’s me with darker hair than I have today!):

Shangani House, Allan Wilson School, Salisbury, Rhodesia

. . . and here’s the other side of it:

Rear of Shangani Hostel, Allan Wilson School

Life in the hostel was no more pleasant than it had been in my primary school..!

I remember being constantly hungry. Whereas the food at my primary school was awful, the food at my high school was scarce (but slightly more edible).

We were allowed to walk out of the school grounds on Sundays and I remember going to nearby convenience stores and buying baguettes that were so stale they were like biscuits – but anything to stave off the hunger..!

This is the main school building – the class rooms were on both levels and only the windows immediately on each side of the entrance way (in the middle) were offices.

Allan Wilson School, Salisbury, Rhodesia

There were two subjects that I particularly enjoyed at my high school: metal work and technical drawing. This picture shows the junior metal work workshops and, on the left, the bicycle sheds.

The bicycle sheds, apart from containing the bicycles of day scholars who rode to school, were also home to the smokers.

That hostel that I lived in was across some playing fields, out of the picture and to the left:

Allan Wilson School, Salisbury, Rhodesia

I eventually passed sufficient exams to be accepted to Natal University, in Durban, South Africa, and left school with a huge sigh of relief.

I cannot think of one teacher in 10 years of schooling who inspired me. I remember two teachers at my high school who were good guys, and Cookie (the sick bay sister) from my primary school, whom we all liked, but that’s about it.

While boarding school is OK at secondary school age, I’m definitely not a fan of it for 7-year-olds. I’m also not a fan of single-sex schools (which both of mine were) – it’s completely unnatural.

After leaving school, I went into the military for my year’s national service. Probably the biggest benefit I got from boarding in the hostel at my secondary school, was that I was fully attuned to living in institutions when I reported for basic training.

I slotted into military life quite easily, and I was happier there than I was at school.

And then, after completing my national service, I went down to Durban, at the beginning of 1972, to start my University studies.

Test your knowledge! Have fun with one of our travel quizzes – click here!

How did you enjoy your school days? Did you have any inspirational teachers? Tell us in the comments!


Martin Malden

Martin Malden
The Expat Traveller

What do you think?

32 comments… add one
  • John Mar 9, 2020 @ 22:43

    Wow Martin, this is a fascinating look into past experiences. I have read Bryce Courtney’s book the Power of One, and this sounded very similar.
    My experiences in Texas growing up in the 80’s and 90’s was very, very different! Although for my junior high school years (6-8th grade) I attended what was still called a “magnet” school.

    These schools popped up to offer Advanced classes to the students that qualified and constituted a school within a school, the whole purpose to bring students from different neighborhoods (Read demographics/race/ethnicity) and balance out the demographic count of the school. They have since been closed because of the increasing inequality they were supposed to resolve. However the teachers were excellent and I remember quite a few that were much better than the high school teachers I had when I returned to my home district.

    • Martin Malden Mar 10, 2020 @ 7:11

      Hi John,

      A good teacher can be inspirational – and people like that are worth more than their weight in gold.

      I have a friend who’s wife is a teacher with the English Schools Foundation here in Hong Kong and, if I’d had a teacher with her natural skills at relating to youngsters and generating their interest, I would have enjoyed my school days a lot more..!

      Thanks for looking in 🙂



  • Patrick Moore Apr 7, 2020 @ 17:46

    Hi Martin,

    Thanks for posting this, I was at Eagle from mid 1963 until 1966, then on to Umtali Boys High School, as a day scholar.

    I also remember Eagle’s teachers principally as a miserable bunch of sadists, especially the “bacon slicing” deputy head, who subsequently came to an unhappy end, I’ve been told, along with his son, who also became a teacher.

    I went back to Mutare in 2016. The whole country is now economically screwed, but the Vumba is as beautiful as ever and most people remain helpful and friendly.

    The country and area still have enormous tourism potential, but I can’t see it ever being realised now, given Zimbabwe’s abysmal politics.

    Still, in a weird way I’m pleased to be able to know that I’ve overcome all of the bullshit that the Eagle teachers and general Rhodesian culture tried to drum in to me, hence now live happily and successfully enough in Johannesburg.

    Regards as Ever

    Patrick Moore (NOT Dick Moore’s son, my parents were Bill and Marta Moore, of Impala Arms fame).

    • Martin Malden Apr 7, 2020 @ 18:20

      Hi Patrick,

      Great to hook up, and thanks for looking in. I did chuckle at you distancing yourself from Dick Moore! If I remember correctly, wasn’t his son also called Patrick..?

      I didn’t realise they came to a sticky end – was that a terr incident?

      I was there from 1961 until the end of 1965, but my brother, Robert, was 2 years behind me and, I guess may have been in your year..?

      Yes, the teachers were a weird bunch. I’ve often thought that those who weren’t sadists were probably perverted in some way.

      I reckon Joe Peacock telling the kid he was about to beat to choose which stick he should be beaten with was the winner in the sadist stakes!

      I remember the Impala Arms – may parents stayed there a few times. It was about half way between Eagle and Umtali, on the right as you were heading towards Umtali, if I remember correctly.

      It’s gutting to read what’s been happening in Zim over the past 20 years. It was still just OK when I went back in 1999, but Mugabe started grabbing the farms in May 2000 and that was it.

      I’m glad to hear you’re doing well in Jo’burg, although SA’s having a few problems now. But I was delighted when the Boks won the RWC back in November!



    • Keith Grant Nov 6, 2020 @ 4:45

      Patrick, Please can you email me. Keith Grant

      • Martin Malden Nov 6, 2020 @ 7:33

        Hi Keith,

        All email addresses submitted through the comments form are kept confidential – they are not published anywhere on this site.

        Also, I cannot give email addresses out, so even if Patrick sees this message he won’t be able to email you unless he has your email address from another source.

        If you go to the contact page and contact me directly, I will send an email to Patrick asking his permission to send you his email address.

        But I cannot give it out without his permission.



      • Douglas Gonese Feb 23, 2022 @ 11:42

        Hi Martin,

        Thanks for posting and sharing your experiences at Eagle School.

        I attended Eagle in 1977-78 at a time when our Elim missionary boarding school was moved from Nyanga North in Katerere to Vumba because of safety precautions at the height of guerilla war !

        Sadly all our missionaries were massacred in cold blood in what was to become a worldwide condemnation of the needless slaughter!



        • Martin Malden Feb 24, 2022 @ 7:49

          Hi Doug,

          I remember that that slaughter – awful.

          Stay well,


  • Matt Apr 8, 2020 @ 17:21

    Hi Martin,

    I cannot imagine if I need to go through the same boarding school as you did in the past since it sounds a bit unhealthy and not ideal for me. My school days seems freer and happier because I could go home every day after school and hang out with friends on weekends.

    I have two critical teachers in primary and junior high. They were both inspiring and motivating, which encourage me to explore the ocean of knowledge and to understand the power of reading. I remembered that we need to write a learning diary every week, so I shared all my thoughts and even feelings with them. That learning diary was like a bond between us, so I always could not wait to receive a response from my teachers.

    Not sure whether you need to write the learning diary in your schools? I love to know about your experiences.


    • Martin Malden Apr 9, 2020 @ 11:55

      Hi Matt,

      No – the idea of a learning diary was probably the furthest thing from the minds of the teachers I had..!!

      As I said in the article, I did not enjoy my school days.

      Given that I was in boarding school and, therefore, had no ‘safe’ place to which to retreat, that, in itself, is pretty unhealthy mentally. Physically, though, being at school up in the mountains was probably pretty healthy. We had a requirement to do sports and PT 5-days a week as well so, again, that helped with the physical health.



  • Nicholas James Oct 7, 2020 @ 22:40

    Hi Martin, I was also at Eagle and a good friend of your brother. He also had a bit of a tough time at school. We took him to Kariba one holiday on our boat. My Dad was French teacher there 66-68. I certainly don’t think he could be termed a sadist..used to reward good work with humbugs 🙂

    I connected again recently with Rob in the UK,by email, although I still farm in SA.


    Nick James

    • Martin Malden Oct 8, 2020 @ 6:24

      Hi Nick,

      Many thanks for making contact!

      I left Eagle at the end of 1965, so I didn’t overlap with your Dad. I would certainly remember someone who rewarded good work with humbugs..!! (I loved those).

      How are you doing in South Africa? By all accounts things aren’t very good there at the moment, although possibly better than what’s happening in Zim currently.



  • Nicholas James Oct 9, 2020 @ 2:56

    Things in SA are indeed tough at present and not likely to improve much in the near future. We’re trying to sell up.


    • Martin Malden Oct 9, 2020 @ 7:09

      Sorry to hear that – the entire world is pretty screwed up at the moment.

      I hope you’re able to sell and get yourselves into a more comfortable situation.



  • Roy Cheesman Oct 15, 2020 @ 2:38

    I was at Eagle School from 1948 and I have many great memories from my early school days. The staff and teachers were wonderful, we the pupils used to respectfully call the staff by their Christian name eg Dick, Claude, Paul, Frank etc.

    I never felt unhappy or sad, I loved my school days probably the best days of my life, we had such fun and freedom, not like the school children today who are subjected to drugs and a lot of pressure from parents and peers.

    • Martin Malden Oct 15, 2020 @ 8:04

      Hi Roy,

      I’m glad you enjoyed your time there!

      By the time I was there Claude was definitely addressed as ‘Sir’, as were many, but not all, of the other teachers. Some we addressed as Mr – if I remember correctly.

      We had a couple of young teachers for short whiles, who may have been student teachers but I don’t remember clearly, but whom we addressed by names (or nicknames).



  • Keith Grant Oct 29, 2020 @ 21:15

    Hello Martin, I was there at Eagle at the same time from 1963 to 1967. I remember you. I went on to UBHS.

    I found Claude Mellor a good headmaster but many others less so. I agree that Cookie was always kind and she looked after me once when I managed to concuss myself whilst skidding on wet cement !!

    Please could you let me know what happened to Dick Moore and his son Patrick. I also remember the “other” Patrick Moore from Impala Arms as his father worked with my father on the CPMZ oil pipeline from Beira to Umtali.

    Please could you pass on my best to Patrick and my email address. Other teachers were Mr Les Godden, Bancroft, Brian Pymm, Elizabeth Cooke and Mike Herring and Ian Ehlinger.

    • Martin Malden Oct 30, 2020 @ 7:55

      Hi Keith,

      Good to hear from you – you will have been there at the same time as my brother, Robert.

      I’m afraid I don’t know what happened to Dick Moore and his son – the other Patrick Moore made that comment earlier and I asked him what happened, but he never replied, so I guess it remains a mystery!

      I remember those other teachers as well, with the exception of Elizabeth Cooke. I had forgotten Freddie Quinn-Young, but I remember him now that you mention his name – and his clothes brush!



  • Keith Grant Nov 6, 2020 @ 4:53

    I was at Eagle from 1963 to 1967 and can say the early years were hard but later ones very enjoyable. It certainly taught you to be self sufficient at a very early age !!
    Claude Mellor was a good head and Cookie the matron was very kind. Many of the other teachers had many shortcomings as described by Martin.

  • graham cawood Nov 14, 2020 @ 7:45

    I learnt riding at Eagle, and language, from the riding school teacher.

    Didn’t realise the implications until, on a quiet evening, I was trout fishing on the Mare dam at Nyanga. My Dad and several other fisherman were there as well – enjoying the peace.

    The trout were rising all round my floating fly, but not at it – driving me mad. Eventually I let forth a loud stream of riding language.

    I don’t have unpleasant memories of either Eagle school, or Falcon college. There wasn’t an option, so not much point whinging.

    • Martin Malden Nov 14, 2020 @ 7:54

      I trust the fish enjoyed your language 🙂

  • Henry Jan 18, 2021 @ 4:46

    It was nice to see the pictures of Maduma, Camels Hump (Hwangura) and the valley of the Nyachowa again (our stream). Would anyone here have met or seen ‘Clegg’ Mellor, Claude’s brother, at Eagle. You may recall the White Ensign in the library which I believe came off his ship. The back story there was that Clegg Mellor’s destroyer was hit by German fire in Boulogne while trying to rescue elements of the BEF. Clegg was seriously wounded and invalided out of the navy in 1943. Batu told me (back in 1969) that Claude brought him to Eagle where he stayed for a long period most likely the 1950s.

    The other school looks like Allan Wilson, where I recall playing rugby against them and the fields were hard!

    • Martin Malden Jan 18, 2021 @ 7:57

      Hi Henry,

      I remember both the White Ensign and Clegg, but I didn’t spend any time with him. Interesting background on him – I had no idea.

      Yes, that is Allan Wilson, and yes those fields were very hard!



  • Simon Michell Mar 26, 2021 @ 17:44

    Hello Martin

    I was at Eagle about 1959-64 when the family left to UK and after my elder brother who was there in the early 50’s. In fact I have a School photo in front of Maduma with names on the back from 1952.

    I remember Clegg and his very prominent head wound! Other memories:

    Overnight train ride from Salisbury; bacon slices!; kick the can on the ground outside lower classrooms; roller skating over steps on the concrete passageways; the rock slide on the stream below the school; “A mid summer nights dream” production in the outside theatre; music appreciation in HM sitting room; tea at Leopard Rock; coming across a raid on the tuck shop by the big boys and being bribed with some gob stoppers for my silence!; visits to Troutbec on days out; Dick Moore announcing the assination of Pres Kennedy.

    My ex RN late father donated a bell to the school. It was a salvage from HMS Eagle when scrapped. Years later I was seconded from the Far East (Jardine Matheson) to work for Rennies for a year about 1980 and was at a dinner party with friends. By coincidence two guests were recounting how they had been in Zimbabwe and visited the school after the massacre of nuns and found it spookily untouched. They found the bell and decided to take it for “safe keeping”!
    There was an awkward silence when I explained the origin!

    We are currently locked down in Somerset fearing the “SA” variant!!

    • Martin Malden Mar 27, 2021 @ 7:18

      Hi Simon,

      Your memories jogged a few for me as well, ones that I had forgotten – like the open air theatre, roller skating and music appreciation sessions.

      Just thought of Old Oak, the Young Farmers Club, Toc Tocs and playing games in the woods as well 🙂

      Loved the story of the guests who nicked the bell!

      At least Somerset is not a bad place to be locked down, but hopefully things will begin to open up now that the vaccines are rolling out. Been a hell of a year, though.



  • Henry Apr 12, 2021 @ 3:58

    I was interested in the school bell story, because HMS Eagle, a carrier, was scrapped in 1972 – whereas the school bell in my day 1967-1971 was a naval ship bell about the size of a large kettle.

    That bell can’t have been the one donated by Michell’s Dad unless he salvaged an earlier bell off HMS Eagle during the 1951 refit of the ship, which sounds likely.

    The naval bell I remember was the main school bell prior to 1969 but was replaced by a Rhodesian made bell around that date. The bell tower of the Rhodesian bell can be seen in one of Martin’s photos.

    Dick’s all-Rhodesian bell was bronze and the finish was rather crude. As for the brass naval bell, that was the main school bell in Claude’s time, I saw it auctioned off by Holland of Umtali in 1976 or 1977 when the school’s contents were disposed of by public auction. An Umtali man walked off with it.

    I wonder now whether this was the bell off Clegg’s ship Venetia or Michell’s ship Eagle? The bell rescued in 1980 from the school grounds must have been the bronze bell that hung in the bell-tower.

    Can Michell describe Clegg’s mental condition and appearance? Did he teach or interact with the school boys? I would like to get the story behind all that naval paraphernalia in the library which was always a mystery to me.

    I wonder if you remember the dinner gong and the head and deputy waiters called Benny and Elijah who padded through the corridors beating it for breakfast and supper? Perhaps that was another transmigrated naval tradition.

    • Martin Malden Apr 12, 2021 @ 7:18

      My recollection of the school bell was that it hung outside the upper classrooms above where we used to roller skate, but others will need to respond to your other questions.

      And yes – I do remember Benny.



  • Euan Nisbet May 4, 2021 @ 21:48

    Thanks for all this: so long ago. 1957-9 for me. I remember Clegg – gentle and rather handicapped.

    I have a vague memory he taught a bit of music: not sure. Most dramatic memories are the two leopards shot and exhibited as a warning not to stray too far from the buildings, and the occasional days when we were warned about a lion nearby…and also riding and swimming.

    Latin age 7, and algebra, then Greek later.

    Claude came over many years later and gave an old boys’ dinner in Cambridge – several of us from my years by that stage were students.

    A few years later I moved to Oxford and was amazed to see the Dragon School – identical!

    • Martin Malden May 5, 2021 @ 9:03

      Hi Euan,

      Great memories!



  • Shaun Clements Aug 18, 2021 @ 13:53

    My sister and I attended Vumba Heights in 1955-56. I was 4 at the time.

  • Gary Magwood Sep 23, 2021 @ 2:26

    Well Martin, I stumbled on your site while searching for info about a boarding school I attended in Salisbury in the early 50s. I think it was called Routledge Lodge, but not sure as it was a few years ago!

    I recall several quite mean male teachers and a sadistic headmaster who was very short and nicknamed “Bushy” (as in Bushman).

    The teachers had rooms at the end of each dorm and there fore had access to the boys. Bushy used a leather belt cut into strips at the end.

    He would coil up the belt very slowly while reviewing ‘one’s crime’. Then it was bend over and put your head against his desk so could he mete out 3, 6, 9 or 12 ‘of the best’ depending on the severity of the crime.

    The school population was primarily Afrikaaners and kids from the local population. I, unfortunately, was the only Brit kid.

    The Afrikaans boys were really tough, mostly from outlying farms. They did not like the Brits and took a fair amount of their dislike on me.

    But, I do remember extended road trips to Umtali in a little Fiat Topolino that had difficulty navigating the ‘strips’ to visit a family friend in the Chipinga (spelling?) Mountains.

    After attending another 9 or so schools in the UK, USA and Canada, I settled in Toronto in the late 50s and have made Eastern Ontario my home for the past 45 years.

    • Martin Malden Sep 24, 2021 @ 6:15

      Hi Gary,

      I think Routledge Lodge rings a bell, but I was 10 years behind you and at school in the Vumba, so it’s not one that I remember.

      Many teachers in those days were, indeed, sadistic and, as I said in the post, boarding school for 7-year olds is not something I support, even with today’s more protective environment!

      Glad you’re settled in Canada – it’s a country I’ve never visited, despite having relatives in Vancouver. Bucket list!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.