Ralph Stobart Robson, signalman, life in the British Royal Navy World War Two, sinking of Prince of Wales and the Repulse, Singapore
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  1. Chatham to Gourock
  2. The Messman Discovered
  3. Life on Board
  4. Crossing the Line
  5. The Sinkings
  6. H.M.S. Sultan
  7. The Signal Office
  8. Left to Our Own Resources
  9. Colombo
  10. Drafted to Mombassa
  11. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
  12. Sharks, Lobsters and Going Dutch
  13. Askari Skirmishes and Tea Making
  14. Tramp Steamer
  15. Molo
  16. Deer Hunting
  17. Ralph the Italian and off to Bombay
  18. Arrival in Bombay
  19. Vultures and Buffalos
  20. Poona
  21. Swimming Motorcycles and Monsoon Storms
  22. The Royal Corps of Signals
  23. 'Trixie' Vaughan Lewis and Drowning Men
  24. On Leave in the Himalayas

    Ralph as a telegram boy before the war

15 - Molo

A day later the ship left to take us back to Mombassa where, two days later, I had a lovely suprise. I was told I was going, together with another rating, on leave to a place inland called Molo, halfway between Nairobi and Lake Victoria.

However, there was one nigger in the woodpile (quaint old expression) - I would have to take a set of Blues and an overcoat as the nights in Molo were extremely cold with sometimes a touch of frost. This seemed bewildering but when I went to the office for my leave documents and train ticket I was told that one of the stations immediately before Molo was called "Equator" - a fact enjoyed by all hands and wrens but not very much by me.

By this time all the ratings were billeted in "Atap" huts specially built for us. These were large buildings roofed with palm fronds and with large windows covered by a large flap that could be lowered at night.
Besides us ordinary ratings there were also some leading hands with us and soon everyone was gathered round listening to my predicament - I had no Blues! I would have borrowed someone else's but no one seemed quite so tall.

However, two men who were mates of mine had been standing a little distance away approached me with smiles. They were both Scots, both leading "sigs" and one of them, who had served in the "Andrew" and earned himself three long-service stripes, was about my height. He then and there offered to lend me his Number Ones - his best suit!

I took off my whites and tried his blue suit on. This suit had three stripes on the left arm and his full Leading Hands flash on the right - these could not possibly be concealed! There was a great shout followed by cheers and laughter, but what nobody except he and I knew was that between one pay-day and the next I had been in the habit of lending him small sums of money to tide him over as he invariably drunk away his pay within two days of getting it.

All hands helped me to dress and all were lined up to see me off in all my glory - the suit was a perfect fit! I had been a little apprehensive about being stopped and questioned about the suit and my young age as one couldn't possibly match the other. I departed to cries of laughter and such shouts as, "Mind no Zulu asks about that suit".

Eventually I arrived at the railway station where, for the first time in my life I saw a Bayer Garet loco which is an engine that ran in two parts separated by a tender. The front engine goes forward, followed by the tender and the rear engine points backwards with all the carriages behind - a train that never ran tender first!

As soon as I had stowed my gear on board I was back to the loco at the front and was called to the engine by the driver, an English man. After a short conversation I was invited onto the cab - it was great! After shaking his hand I climbed back into my coach where my shipmate asked me what I had been doing but my reply elicited no interest, leading me to sense already that this joker was going to be a pain. He was a Londoner and to him no life existed outside the Capital, but he turned out to be no hindrance at Molo.

One thing that enchanted me about this train and on many I have travelled on abroad since, is that no one stopped me from sitting on the carriage steps where one could take in the landscape and enjoy the cool passing air. We passed through the coastal strip of forest and then onto huge plains that ran all the way to Nairobi. Our first stop was at a place called Tsavo, where the original construction of the railway had been halted for some considerable time as the local lion wildlife took a considerable liking to the Indian workers constructing it. The terrified Indians were pinned into the half-built station buildings where some were even clawed out - a state of affairs that continued until a white hunter was engaged to wipe the beasts out.

Then we were onto the Veldt, a slowly ascending plain of bushland that rolled ever upward towards Nairobi and Central Africa. Scattered Acacia trees and low scrubby bushes were its main cover with the occasional river running seaward as the sun rose over this interminable waste until it stood in furious splendour. To my delight a group of giraffes were reaching up to nibble at the trees in a storehouse of game of all sizes with rhinos, lions and innumerable species of grazing animals taking absolutely no notice of the passing train. I then realised that we must be rolling across the Athi Plains national park, before we continued on into the environs of Nairobi.

During this last stretch, still sitting on the steps of the coach I saw small figures by the side of the track some thirty to forty miles from the town and when the train drew abreast they had stepped off the track and were standing silently together. They were a man and woman together with two small children, their sole apparel being two loincloths. As the train approached I raised my hand in salute to which the man replied by raising the long spear he carried - a salute from a couple who seemed to be walking across the heart of Africa. It gave me cause to think. As the train thundered past I saw that she carried all their possessions and one of the children, while his only possession was the spear. Strange sight.

The train eventually pulled into Nairobi in the late morning. It gave the impression of being an American cow town with a mixture of other architectures thrown in. We were met at the platform, or should I say ground (Britain, up until then, seemed to be the only country which provided railway platforms) by some ladies who were most kind to us and took us to a large hall where we and other military travellers were to be given a late breakfast the likes of which I have never been given before or since.

We were offered about six different types of porridge, including maize meal, then dishes of eggs meats and bacon - a veritable cornucopia. Then a list of sweets that was unbelievable, followed by tea, coffee and all sorts of tropical fruits - I had given up long before the end and was only able to pick at the fruit. After wishing thanks and leaving our gear we covered the town which was populated by blacks, some whites and a surprising number of Indians who seemed to be the relics of those brought over as indentured labourers, but most of them seemed to have become shopkeepers. There were other professions such as doctors etc., but the usual colour bar remained.

About mid-afternoon we and other passengers assembled to board the train for the last leg of the journey towards Lake Victoria. Molo, our destination was on the hump of Africa before the descent towards the lake and the land had now changed to something very like Britain with rolling fields of grass, big trees and a climate very like that of a typical hot summer's day. Near our destination the train ran over a huge valley which had been caused by a volcanic eruption and was known locally as the Rift Valley. The eastern side had slipped downward for many feet leaving a huge cliff face and at the bottom were fumarols, steam vents, lakes of tar and all sorts of volcanic phenomena.

The train stopped at the bottom for about twenty minutes during which time we had a little stroll at he side of the beautiful Lake Naivasa, a fairly large body of water alive with birds. The poor old loco seemed as if it was regarding the ascent with a groan but she manfully thundered her way to the top even though at one stage the engineer driving could have looked straight at the rear of the train beneath him.

We passed through the town, or rather station, of Equator, which showed exactly where we were before the train arrived at Molo after dark, by which time we had consumed all the delightful products of the ladies of Nairobi. At the station we were met by the lady of the hotel, situated about five miles away, at which we would be staying.

There were virtually no lights to be seen during our journey but the sky was a vast velvet orb netted with stars, but what I noticed mostly was the biting cold. Mine hostess noticed me shivering violently and seemed to be quietly amused. "You'll be alright when you get to the hotel", she said, "but you'll have to put on warmer clothes." - too right.

Our room at the hotel with its two beds seemed quite comfy as I took off my shirt etc. and quickly donned Old Jocks suit and took a quick look at a long glass for reassurance. The suit with golden badges and stripes looked splendid and was a perfect fit - the dining room for our evening meal was the next step.

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