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Letter from Norfolk: Mystery of a school endures after 69 years

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My first primary school was a Mzungu's house with adjoining stables and stores. The house was built next to a small river with a scenic view of the Aberdares.

It was the biggest house in the neighbourhood and is still unrivalled 60 years after independence. Our teachers and some policemen lived there.

Later, the school was rebuilt with stone blocks about half a kilometre away. Recently I found the wooden stores and stables have been brought down. The Mzungu's house is now part of a high school that teaches history, though one part of it was brought down.

The big house made of solid rock remained a mystery for almost 50 years. It was only about five years ago that I came to know its owner, Kenneth Wilfred Nunn.

Through the Internet, I tracked his two daughters, Penny and Rosemary. Nunn died in 1995 in South Africa aged 79 years. Penny lives in Norfolk, England and Rosemary in South Africa. In my recent sojourn to Britain, I purposed to visit Penny, hoping she would shed more light on this mysterious house.

Norfolk is about 160 kilometres from London to the northeast.

A train costing £49 (Sh5,500) two-way takes you two hours through towns with names like Stevenage, Royston, Ely and Cambridge, the home of a world-famous university.

You change the train at Ely, a town with a famous cathedral that is more than 1000 years old. I noted that the highest building in most small English towns used to be the church spire. Just like the most magnificent buildings in our rural area are churches.

I was at Attleborough, the nearest railway station to Norfolk at 8.20am. Penny Hargraves waited for me in her Toyota Yaris, exactly like the one I drive.

The first thing I noticed was her red hair, inherited from her father who was nicknamed Rufus, a popular nickname for Britons with red hair. The locals nicknamed him “Kihuko” derived from huko, a mole.

There she was, 69 years since she came to Kenya from Suffolk, England aged nine years. She welcomed me into her house with her husband Keith. We sat for an England breakfast, prepared by Keith (Kenyan men, did you hear that?) as we talked of the good old days when her father farmed pyrethrum in my village.

They kept pigs and dairy cattle, too. Her mother ran a shop. She had a funny story about their cook, Singula, who had four wives. He would stay with one wife on the farm. Once she got pregnant, he would take her home and bring another wife and the cycle would continue. Where is Singula today?

Penny shared photos of her dad’s workers, whose identity I will seek. The land had surprisingly very few trees. Who says we do not plant trees?

She said her doctor was Anne Spoerry who practised in Ol Kalou and started the flying doctor service despite her suspected Nazi connection. Around Ol Kalou, rumours still swirl of Dr Spoerry’s nasty encounter with Mau Mau. What was the truth about her?

Left Kenya

Just before independence, Penny and her sister left Kenya to study nursing in England after a stint at Kenya High School.

Penny recently moved to Norfolk from Spain. I had a chance to call her sister in South Africa.

Penny talked about Mau Mau and learning to shoot with a Smith and Wesson pistol as a young girl, with a ham radio in the house to ensure contact with security in case of a Mau Mau attack. She told me how she once found 10 corpses of Mau Mau fighters around Ol Kalou, displayed in public.

It’s at Ol Kalou where her father, a World War Two (WW II) veteran played the organ in a small church that still stands. Did his military background inspire him to buy land in Kenya in the middle of Mau Mau?

Penny remembered her neighbours such as Tim Llelywyn, Nigel Trent, Patrick Clark Turner, Veronica Schofield, Robin Savage, Tony Dyer and General Wainwright. Where are their descendants? The meeting was brief but nostalgic.

After 69 years, I finally came face to face with the family that once made my village their home from England. The weather seems to have been an attraction. It can be cold, hitting eight degrees centigrade in the morning and almost 3,000 metres above sea level.

My visit left my head spinning. Kenneth Wilfred Nunn did not build this house, he bought it from someone - it is suspected from a Boer. Who was this Boer? We can only speculate. A map dated 1955 with imprints of farm owners shows a certain De Wet in that area. While I have met men and women who worked for Nunn, not any who worked for De Wet.

The existence of Boers in this area is in no doubt. A tombstone with the epitaph “Anna Maria Cornelia Crous born in 1884 and died in 1940" is about three kilometres from Nunn’s former house. The wording is in Dutch. Who was this Crous? Locals also talk of a Boer who married two girls, Wangechi and Kagure.

Who built this big house? Penny says it was built by Italian prisoners of war. But for who? Did Boers benefit from prison labour like the Britons? Were there any Boer (Afrikaans) MPs in colonial Kenya?

Despite visiting England, the mystery of my primary school is far from over. Would a trip to South Africa solve this mystery? Lots of Boers returned to South Africa before independence. Unlike Britons, few became citizens.

Their lasting legacy is a neglected cemetery at Nyahururu (Thomson falls) and a church they sold to AIC after independence. For how much? The names in the cemetery are very Afrikaans.

Who can help me find out who built this house?

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