Sir Archie McIndoe

Name ID 1692

See also

Robin Johnston
Extract Date: 9 March 1992


Robin Johnston, who has died aged 75, was a RAF fighter pilot whose leadership of No 73, a Hurricane squadron, amply demonstrated Montgomery's wisdom in welding his 8th Army and the Desert Air Force into a cohesive fighting machine.

In the course of the North African campaign Johnston sustained burns severe enough for him to be sent to the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead.

Here he became a patient of Sir Archibald McIndoe, the celebrated plastic surgeon, and a member of his Guinea Pig Club which, to this day, perpetuates his patients' wartime camaraderie and watches over their welfare.

In 1947, by then established as a Colonial Service district officer, Johnston invited McIndoe to visit him in Tanganyika. Together they tracked a bull elephant over a distance of 150 miles and shot it.

McIndoe was enchanted by Africa and in 1950 persuaded Johnston to go into partnership with him to buy and farm undeveloped land on the north face of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Johnston was happy to be released from the Colonial Service, not least because of an encounter he had had with John Strachey, the Labour `Minister, over the ill-fated Ground Nuts Scheme.

Johnston, whose personality and drive did much to offset the damage, told Strachey bluntly what he thought of the cock-eyed scheme. Next day Strachey visited Sir Edward Twining, the Governor of Tanganyika, and accused Johnston of disloyalty. Twining responded by requesting Whitehall for an immediate honour for Johnston, who was appointed MBE.

At the outset Johnston found farming on Kilimanjaro every bit as rugged as leading a desert squadron. He slept in the open under a tarpaulin until he had built a mud and wattle hut.

McIndoe was horrified by the chocolate-coloured water supply, covered with dead frogs and algae. He insisted on boiling it and refused to let anybody drink the liquid before adding quantities of gin "to kill off the germs".

Within a year, however, Johnston had turned 1,000 acres of sage brush and undergrowth into a farm with house, garden and 700 acres of barley and wheat. But in the late 1950s, unrest in Kenya, and the increasing size of his family, led Johnston to sell up.

Robert Arthur McGarel Johnston was born at Bloemfontein, Orange Free State, on Sept 2 1916 and educated at Cheltenham and Cambridge University, where he joined the Air Squadron.

In 1938 he was commissioned into the RAF Volunteer Reserve. He joined 73 Squadron in the Middle East in May 1941. After operating in the desert and defending Port Said at night he received command of the squadron and led it on the night of Aug 30 1942 when "Monty" opened the Battle of Alam Halfa.

By the night of Oct 23/24 when Monty launched the Battle of El Alamein, Johnston's score was mounting - he was ultimately credited with seven and a ,half, and at least seven more "probables".

That night No 73 was again the' first fighter squadron in action; leading it in ferocious low-level ground attacks, Johnston strafed enemy troops, vehicles, supply depots and targets of, opportunity.

In 1944, as the invasion of Normandy was planned, such skills were at a premium. Johnston led three squadrons of Mustangs-19, 65 and 122 - in aggressive sweeps and later as a long-range escort to heavy bomber formations.

The Wing destroyed 53 enemy aircraft destroyed, a well as 97 railway engines, 600 railway carriages more than 1,000 vehicles. It also smashed 93 barges.

These achievements were cited by the Air Ministry; as "a splendid tribute to Wing Cdr Johnston's brilliant leadership, outstanding ability: and courageous example which has inspired all."

He concluded his fighter career as Wing Cdr Tactics at the Central Fighter Establishment at Tangmere.

Johnston-was awarded the DFC in 1942, a Bar and DSO in 1944. He received the Air Efficiency Award in 1945, was mentioned in despatches in 1946 and appointed MBE in 1950.

He is survived by his wife and three daughters,

Extract ID: 4443

See also

Johnston, Erika The other side of Kilimanjaro
Page Number: 086a
Extract Date: 1950's

Coffee stealing

Gladys was watching the molasses spraying with evident approval. It was just the sort of thing she would do to protect her own crops.

Not many months previously there had been the matter of coffee stealing on one of her plantations. Every day she pestered the District Commissioner, Arusha, for some action. In final desperation in order to get rid of her, and never dreaming she would take him seriously, he suggested that a solution might be to shoot one of the coffee stealers if caught redhanded. It might discourage the others. Gladys promptly issued her nightwatchman at the coffee factory with a gun. A few days later she appeared for instructions for the disposal of the body in the back of her car.

The stunned D.C. was most disconcerted, and a case had to be instituted against the nightwatchman. He got off with a light sentence because it was proved that the thief was armed and had threatened the nightwatchman.

During the molasses spraying, Archie and Robin shouted instructions and counter-instructions to everyone to add to the general confusion, for in the dark with only hurricane lamps to see by and people milling around with hoses, pumps and sticks, it was anything but an orderly operation. Gladys, who was a great admirer of Archie's, suddenly asked him one of those inanequestions women tend to ask at the most inopportune moment. Forgetting the hose in his hands spewing out sticky, black molasses at a high velocity, Archie turned to reply. The full force of the spray hit her on the chest. She reeled back and stepped into a deep concealed wild pig hole and almost vanished.

Poker-faced, Archie and Robin rushed to her aid, wiping as much of the molasses off her as they could. She retired to Robin's house and a bath looking not unlike a negro minstrel.

She had hardly left when Lady Morveth Benson, the wife of the owner [Con Benson] of the last farm along the line, ventured to remark that she thought it was all rather cruel and her sympathies were with the poor little birds. Archie and Robin turned on her with narrowed eyes and their hoses. She beat a hasty retreat, and was found later in Robin's sitting room with an almost empty gin bottle, playing her guitar to a rather subdued Gladys.

Extract ID: 4459

See also

Johnston, Erika The other side of Kilimanjaro
Page Number: 015b
Extract Date: 1951

Robin Johnston

Robin, in partnership with Sir Archibald McIndoe, the famous plastic surgeon, was given farm No. 6. He was born in South Africa of Irish parentage and at the age of eleven, his mother, widowed in the First World War, took him and his sister to England to live. He was sent to Cheltenham College where it took some time for him to be changed from a small, freckled, crop-haired South African into an orthodox English public school boy. His main interests were riding, fishing and shooting and as a youth he went exploring in Newfoundland, salmon fishing in Iceland, and captained the English Public Schools Shooting Eight on a tour of Canada in 1935, winning the individual aggregate himself.

At Cambridge he joined the Senior O.T.C. and became a member of the Horse Gunners. In this way he got as much riding as he wanted, which he would otherwise not have been able to afford. His real love was flying and, without telling the O.T.C., he simultaneously became a member of the Cambridge Air Squadron where he got his pilot's licence. Somehow he also found time to get an Honour's Degree in Anthropology and Economics, and subsequently joined the Tanganyika Colonial Service.

Robin had hardly arrived in Tanganyika to take up his first post as Assistant District Officer, when war broke out. Though he persistently asked to be released, the Government ignored his pleas, maintaining that he was in a reserved occupation, so he decided to run away and join the R.A.F.

He distinguished himself both in the Western Desert, where he commanded 73 Squadron, and as a Wing Leader of 122 Wing in the Tactical Air Force. He came out of the fray with a D.S.O. and D.F.C. and Bar. During the war he was sent to East Grinstead Hospital, which was under Archie McIndoe, for an operation on his hand. A streptococcus infection kept him tied to the hospital for several months. However it allowed a great and lasting friendship between Archie and himself to develop.

With Sir Richard Atcherley, he and other notable fighter pilots like Piet Hugo, built up the Central Fighter establishment at Wittering and later at Tangmere. Under Atcherley's enthusiasm, Robin was momentarily persuaded to apply for a permanent commission in the R.A.F., which he was awarded, but he found the call of Africa was still too strong and foremost in his mind, so he withdrew his application.

When he left the R.A.F. he worked with Sir Ralph Furse in the Colonial Office for a year on the selection of Administrative officers, before returning to Tanganyika. While he was District Commissioner, Kongwa, during the ill-fated Groundnut Scheme, he was awarded an M.B.E., whether for good service or in an attempt to try and muffle his increasing protests at the mismanagement of the Scheme, he admits ruefully he was never quite sure.

Extract ID: 4450

See also

Johnston, Erika The other side of Kilimanjaro
Page Number: 017
Extract Date: 1951


Archie, exhausted by his war work and saddened by the break up of his first marriage, took Robin at his word when after the war Robin asked him to come and spend a holiday in Africa. He initially came out in 1947 and continued to repeat this visit annually, usually during January and February, for the next eleven years.

Together they began to plan going into partnership over some farming project. Archie found that the simplicity of life in East Africa, and the fabulous energy the sun gave back to him, was the contrast he required to his active London life. Robin himself was becoming increasingly interested in Tanganyika's long term future. He felt if he became a farmer, like his father before him, and thereby rooted in the soil, he could play a more permanent role in the country's development than permitted to a transitory civil servant. He had met David Stirling, the founder of the Capricorn Africa Society, and felt that his policy of common citizenship and a multi-racial form of government might well be the answer for the East African states where the Africans, though still backward, must soon begin to move politically, and there was a small settled European and Asian community.

He resigned from the Colonial Service in 1951 when he was allotted one of the Ol Molog farms. His colleagues thought he was quite mad. Surely every diligent Administrative Officer only had one goal in life-to be a Governor finally. How irresponsible of Robin carelessly to throw that chance away.

The opening up of Ol Molog with this group of unusual men did not escape the English press, who had some wild, misinformed theories about it. Perhaps the most amusing was that Sir Archibald McIndoe had taken over the whole area and given each farm out to one of his Guinea Pigs, as his war patients were called, with "2,000 each to start them on their way. Archie however was unamused, particularly when Con Benson, an eminent London merchant banker who was given farm No. 8 and visited it annually, came over to Ol Orien with the newspaper cutting in his hand and slyly demanded his "2,000.

Extract ID: 4452

See also

Johnston, Erika The other side of Kilimanjaro
Page Number: 00 dust jacket
Extract Date: 1971

The Other Side of Kilimanjaro

Erika Johnston, daughter of one of East Africa's early pioneers, writes her personal story which is one of the closing days of the British Empire; and it is bound to stir nostalgic memories in the minds of all associated with it or the countries of which she writes.

Married to Robin Johnston, ex Administrative Officer of the Colonial Service and a distinguished fighter pilot, she tells of their farming life on the northern slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro and how, reluctantly, they finally decided to leave Tanzania following Independence. Sir Archie McIndoe, the well-known plastic surgeon, was a partner of their farm and a regular visitor to them in East Africa. Close friends and neighbours were Michael Wood, the motivating power behind the East Africa Flying Doctor Service, and his wife Sue, daughter of the great missionary, Alfred Buxton. The personalities of these remarkable people come vividly alive, as does that of David Stirling of Western Desert fame and founder of the Capricorn Movement, which strove so hard to find a solution to racial problems but found ill-success amongst extremist politicians.

Here is a personal story of a full life in a glorious setting, the Johnston trials and successes, their deep affection for the country and their African associates, their lovely farm and their aspirations.

There is humour and pathos in this moving story of a chapter in the life of Tanzania which is unlikely to be seen again.

In rescuing this story from the oblivion which might have overtaken it in the prevailing mood of British publishing, the publishers feel that they are performing a real service in accordance with the best traditions of their firm.


Dust Jacket by Ernest Ullman

Extract ID: 4463