Birth of an Airline

Establishment of Rhodesian and Nyasaland Airways

by J. McAdam

The first aircraft to land on Rhodesian soil - the trail-blazing Vickers Vimy "Silver Queen 11," flown by Van Ryneveld and Brand, with two mechanics- arrived at Bulawayo on 5th March, 1920 after an epic flight across Europe and down Africa. (1)

Little more than a month later - on 8th April - Rhodesia's first enterprise to concern itself with aviation, Airoad Motors, was registered but never acquired any aircraft or other vehicles, and went into liquidation after a few months. During its brief existence, however, it acted as agents for the visiting "barnstormer" pilots Thompson and Rutherford, who toured Southern and Northern Rhodesia during the period 23rd May to 8th October, 1920, and whose Avro 504K aeroplane "Rhodesia" was the first ever seen by thousands of Rhodesians and conveyed hundreds on their first flight.

During the winter of 1922 Rhodesia's first operational air company, Rhodesian Aerial Tours, was established at Bulawayo by the pioneer South African airman, Major A. M. Miller, D.S.O. A little over two months later, on 13th August, 1922, the company's only aircraft - an Avro named "Matabele"- sustained moderate damage while attempting to take off from an improvised landing ground at Rusape. The machine was never repaired, and the company went into liquidation soon afterwards.

Then came a five-year aeronautical vacuum in Rhodesia during which the sole activity seems to have amounted to a sum total of three aircraft which passed through Bulawayo. In July 1925 two D.H.9 machines of the Union (of South Africa) Defence Force flown by Captain C. W. (now Air Vice-Marshal Sir Charles) Meredith and Captain Tasker transited Bulawayo en route to Livingstone for a survey of the Okavanga Swamp area in connection with Professor Schwarz's Kalahari irrigation scheme. Then, in January 1926 Mr. (soon to become Sir) Alan Cobham, flying a D.H.50 aeroplane, spent a few days at Bulawayo in the course of an air route survey which he was conducting on behalf of Imperial Airways Ltd.

Such was Rhodesia's aeronautical background when, early in 1927, Captain J. Douglas Mail, A.F.C. (known to friends and acquaintances throughout southern Africa as "Duggie" Mail), came to Bulawayo from Natal to join Mr. B. M. Cairns' Motor and Cycle Supply Co. (M.C.S.).

Douglas Mail brought with him, by rail, a war-surplus D.H.6B aircraft which he had been operating in Natal. For several weeks he devoted his spare time to unpacking and assembling his aeroplane at the home of Mr. Aston Redrup, another enthusiast for aviation. Then, on 9th August, came the announcement in the Bulawayo Chronicle:

"Bulawayo Flying Scheme - Commercial Aviation Should Be Established in a Few Days. The Rhodesian Aviation Syndicate has been formed, chiefly financed by Mr. Harry L. Stewart, Filabusi mine-owner and rancher. Other members are Mr. A. G. Hay, Capt. J. D. Mail and Mr. A. S. Redrup (Secretary); Mr. John Coghlan is acting in a legal capacity. The three-seater aeroplane was the property of Captain Mail."

A week later, on 16th August, the Chronicle reported:

"The D.H.6B named 'Baby Tank' took off from the race course on its first flight in Rhodesia soon after 4 p.m. on Sunday (14th August). Mr. J. Norman swung the propeller and then got into the front seat."

Five weeks later the syndicate received a cable from the aircraft's manufacturers, de Havillands of England, which read:

''Congratulations on getting D.H.6 into the air. Must be only about four left in the world."

On Tuesday, 20th September, the aircraft was chartered by the Duc de Nemours to fly to the village of Plumtree, some 60 statute air miles south-west of Bulawayo, where the Duc was to dine that evening with Mr. R. W. Hammond, headmaster of Plumtree School. Captain Mail and his passenger took off from Bulawayo race-course in the D.H.6 at 4.30 p.m., but when less than ten miles out they were forced, due to loss of engine power, to land in a clearing. One of the aircraft's wings sustained slight damage, and they had to walk back some miles to Bellevue suburb.

The damaged aircraft was transported back to Bulawayo, where it was stored at the Drill Hall, pending repairs. But it never flew again, and it seems to be generally accepted that the machine was under-powered for successful operation at Bulawayo (average elevation 4,500 ft. above sea-level).

As Mr. A. G. Hay was in London at the time, the syndicate cabled him requesting that he order a Moth aircraft from de Havillands to replace the D.H.6. At about this time, too, it was arranged that the syndicate would assume the agency for the de Havilland Company in Southern and Northern Rhodesia. This was reported to be the first de Havilland franchise in Southern Africa.

While in London Mr. Hay took the opportunity to interview Sir Henry Birchenough, the Duke of Abercorn and Sir Otto Beit, directors of the Chartered Company, regarding what was termed "flying prospects in Rhodesia". (Presumably this meant that he made an unsuccessful attempt to touch them for some financial assistance on behalf of the syndicate.)

Then, on 12th October, the Bulawayo Chronicle reported:

"New Aviation Company - A meeting to consider the flotation of . . . a company to be called 'The Rhodesian Aviation Co., Ltd.' was held recently in the offices of Mr. J. C. Coghlan. Those present: Mr. Francois Issels (Chairman), Dr. S. H. Freeze, Messrs. A. C. Thornton, J. C. Coghlan, Major C. M. Newman, Captain J. D. Mail, Major Grant Duncan and Mr. Aston Redrup, Secretary of the Rhodesian Aviation Syndicate. The resolution was adopted that 'a limited liability company be formed to carry on aviation in all its branches in Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia. Union of South Africa and elsewhere. Provisional directors to be Messrs. John Austen (Que Que), J. H. Bookless, A. G. Hay, F. lssels, H. L. Stewart, A. C. Thornton, Dr. S. H. Freeze, Major Grant Duncan, Captain J. D. Mail and Major C. M. Newman. Mr. Aston Redrup to be Secretary, Mr. J. C. Coghlan legal adviser and Messrs. Woodthorpe & Fraser auditors".

Soon afterwards it was announced that negotiations were in progress with the Government of Southern Rhodesia with a view to the establishment of air services connecting Bulawayo with Fort Victoria, Lonely Mine and Johannesburg; also services between Salisbury and Fort Victoria and between Umtali and Melsetter.

But these plans did not materialise; the projected company did not come into being until nearly two years later, and then, in modified form.

The Moth aircraft ordered by Mr. Hay was shipped to Durban and flown from there to Bulawayo by Captain Mail, arriving on 30th December. Later it was given the name "Bulawayo".

On 11th January, 1928, the new aeroplane was chartered by Mr. Harry Crewe, brother of Mr. P. D. Crewe of Nantwich Ranch in the Wankie district to fly him urgently to the ranch. This was probably the first aircraft private charter flight in Rhodesian aviation history (apart from the Duc de Nemours' abortive attempt to fly to Plumtree).

A month later, on 12th February, Captain Mail flew the Moth to Salisbury, where he made some local sight-seeing flights and gave a display of aerobatics, possibly the first ever seen by residents of the capital.

At the end of February Douglas Mail (2) left the Rhodesian Aviation Syndicate and joined the Aircraft Operating Company, which had secured the contract for an extensive aerial photographic survey in the western province of Northern Rhodesia. The post of survey pilot had become available due to the resignation of Captain Roxburgh-Smith, who had been employed by that company for the previous nine months or so, and was now returning to the United Kingdom.

Captain Mail's post in the Rhodesian Aviation Syndicate was filled by a pilot named Wright. On 4th March he took off from Bulawayo in the Moth, with Major Newman as passenger, bound for Salisbury. Shortly after taking off the aircraft hit a tree and crashed in (as reported by the Bulawayo Chronicle) "thick bush half a mile beyond the new Milton School". Neither pilot nor passenger sustained serious injury, but the machine was wrecked and the syndicate was now without an aircraft. (It seems likely that it was also without a pilot, for nothing more appears to have been heard of Mr. Wright in Rhodesian aviation circles.)

During the third week of March Sir Alan Cobham visited the Rhodesias for discussions with the respective governments in connection with the transAfrica air route in which the United Kingdom Government was interested, but these talks do not appear to have produced any noticeable results.

Thereafter matters remained static for some months . . . Towards the end of December 1928 Mr. F. Issels, Chairman of the Rhodesian Aviation Syndicate who had just returned from a visit to the United Kingdom, summarised the situation in the words: "Aviation in Rhodesia . . . is marking time." He added however, that "the Cobham/Blackburn Company has promised to send an aeroplane out". (This company, whose principals were Sir Alan Cobham and Mr. Robert Blackburn, of the Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Co., planned eventually to operate a chain of air services linking Cairo with Cape Town.)

The situation was clarified by a letter which appeared in the Bulawayo Chronicle of 24th January, 1929, above the signature of Mr. Aston Redrup, the syndicate's secretary:

"The Rhodesian Aviation Syndicate will shortly be absorbed by the Rhodesian Aviation Company, which will be affiliated with Cobham/Blackburn Air Lines. Great credit is due to Mr. Francois Issels, who in London recently attained the close co-operation of Cobham/Blackburn Air Lines, who have a large interest in the Rhodesian Aviation Company. Cobham/Blackburn Air Lines advise that an aeroplane and pilot will leave the united Kingdom next month."

The pilot referred to was Captain Benjamin Roxburgh-Smith, D.F.C., who, after a distinguished record in the First World War, came, in 1920, to Rhodesia where, for a few years, he farmed near Bulawayo. In September 1926 he sold the farm and returned to England, where he took a refresher flying course with the London Aeroplane Club and qualified for his "A" (private) pilot's licence.

In June 1927 he came again to Rhodesia and was offered the post of second pilot to the Aircraft Operating Company. As a "B" (commercial) pilot's licence was required for this work, he took tests at Roberts Heights, Pretoria, and was issued with the first commercial flying licence in South Africa.

As related earlier, after flying with the survey company in Northern Rhodesia for some months, Roxburgh-Smith returned to England, where he took the opportunity to meet Sir Alan Cobham and Mr. Robert Blackburn and to suggest to them that a small company, subsidiary to Cobham/Blackburn Air Lines be established at Bulawayo. Cobham and Blackburn, evidently impressed by his aeronautical experience, and his knowledge of conditions in Africa, were agreeable and appointed him as their representative in the company which was to be formed.

Thus, in February 1929, Captain Roxburgh-Smith returned to Bulawayo and was able to raise sufficient local capital to launch the Rhodesian Aviation Company with, as agreed, the backing of Cobham/Blackburn Air Lines.

Directors were: Mr. F. Issels (Chairman), Mr. G. Cecil Roberts, Major C. M. Newman Mr. H. L. Stewart and Captain B. Roxburgh-Smith (representing Cobham/Blackburn Air Lines and acting as manager and pilot); company secretary was Mr. Aston Redrup. It was agreed that Cobham/Blackburn Air Lines were to provide a Blackburn "Bluebird" aircraft - a single engined, two-seater, open-cockpit biplane - in return for its value in shares in the new company.

The company was formally registered on 17th April, 1929, but owing to a serious delay in the delivery of the "Bluebird", the commencement of flying operations had perforce to be postponed. Early in June, since there was still no sign of the promised "Bluebird", and a considerable amount of potential business was being lost, a second-hand Avro Avian aircraft was purchased from the Johannesburg Light Plane Club; this machine arrived in Bulawayo on 13th June, and was immediately flown up to Livingstone, where it was put to work operating "flips" over the Victoria Falls.

Early in November Captain Roxburgh-Smith collected a second Avro Avian from Johannesburg. On the delivery flight he was accompanied by young D. S. "Pat" Judson (son of Col. Dan Judson, of Mazoe Patrol fame), who had recently qualified for his commercial flying licence, and who now joined the company as assistant pilot. (3)

Sir Alan Cobham visited Bulawayo early in January 1930 and, on the 8th, held a meeting with the directors of the Rhodesian Aviation Company, no doubt to consolidate the arrangements which hitherto had been tentatively agreed.

A month later Captain Roxburgh-Smith travelled by rail to Cape Town to collect the long-awaited ''Bluebird'', which had arrived there by sea, and flew it up to Bulawayo, which he reached on 15th February. At Bulawayo's altitude its performance was disappointing, and it did not prove to be a popular aeroplane.

The Rhodesian Aviation Company's first annual general meeting was held in the Council Chambers of the Bulawayo Municipal Buildings on Monday, 30th June, 1930. The chairman, Mr. F. Issels, told the meeting:

" . . since its inception three years ago - under the style Rhodesian Aviation Syndicate - the Company has had to overcome many difficulties . . . but is at present in a very satisfactory condition . . . the Company is to act as a feeder to Imperial Airways, Ltd.... (whose Cape Town to Cairo service) ... will be coming into operation next year. Cobham/Blackburn Air Lines hold a large interest in the Company . . . and act as its technical advisers, and provide equipment and personnel. The Company operates a regular weekly service between Bulawayo and Salisbury, and . . . has run at a loss of 935 (including depreciation on aircraft) in the last year; but this was covered by the S.R. Government's annual grant-in-aid, and by subsidy of the Beit Railway Trust." (4)

The chairman then thanked Captain Roxburgh-Smith (flying manager), D. S. Judson (second pilot), A. K. Barker (engineer) and Aston Redrup (secretary) for their services to the company.

Early in 1931 Imperial Airways Ltd. took over the African interests of Cobham/ Blackburn Air Lines (including that company's shares in the Rhodesian Aviation Company) and promptly withdrew all financial support of the latter company, maintaining that, until the main air route through Africa was established, no assistance to subsidiary companies would be forthcoming.

The Bulawayo Chronincle was evidently not satisfied with the general state of aviation in Rhodesia at this period, for, in an editorial on 17th February 1931, the view was expressed that

"the position of civil aviation . . . is not satisfactory; the application of flying in civil needs has not been undertaken with . . . much thoroughness. Comparatively little has been done by Government."

Then came the news that Lt.-Cdr. G. P. Glen Kidston, described as "a well-known British naval officer, racing motorist and airman, who inherited a very large fortune, and who has business interests in South Africa" was to pay a flying visit to Southern Africa "to investigate the possibility of commercial air services in South Africa". It was also reported that he hoped to purchase a controlling interest in Union Airways Ltd. (predecessor to South African Airways which was then a private company managed by Major A. M. Miller.

Kidston left the United Kingdom in his Lockheed Vega aircraft early on 31st March and arrived in Rhodesia on 4th April. After a brief stop at Salisbury to refuel the machine, he spent the night at Bulawayo, promising to return within a week or two to discuss future plans concerning aviation. He landed at Cape Town on 6th April, having set a new record for the U.K./Cape flight.

Kidston was joined in Cape Town by another air pioneer, Captain T. A Gladstone, who had devoted many years of his life to the development of the trans-Africa air route, and had been in charge of Cobham/Blackburn Air Lines' air services between Cairo and Kisumu in 1927. When that airline was absorbed by Imperial Airways, it seems that he threw in his lot with Kidston, and was now described as his "business manager". There can be little doubt that he was destined for high office in the enterprises which were being planned.

After discussions in Cape Town, the pair flew to Johannesburg preparatory to an aerial tour of South African towns to sound out the potential for air traffic. Kidston intended thereafter to return, as promised, to Rhodesia for talks with officials of the Rhodesian Aviation Company and government departments concerned re the possibility of embracing the Rhodesias in his development plans, with special regard to a possible air service linking Johannesburg with the Northern Rhodesian Copperbelt.

Not long after Kidston's brief stop-over in Bulawayo, Captain Roxburgh-Smith announced his resignation from the Rhodesian Aviation Company, to take effect in May. His decision, taken at this juncture, may have been coincidence but it seems likely that it was in some way influenced by Imperial Airways' take-over of Cobham/Blackburn Air Lines (since he was their representative in the local company), and by developments planned by Kidston, who undoubtedly would have been on the look-out for men with flying and managerial experience, of' Roxburgh-Smith's calibre. Perhaps Kidston, while in Bulawayo, had put before him some attractive proposition.

Kidston decided that his Lockheed aircraft was unsuitable for operation from some of the unsophisticated landing grounds on his itinerary, so borrowed a D.H. Puss Moth - a much lighter machine - from Mr. Glen Bateman of Johannesburg.

At mid-morning on 5th May Kidston and Gladstone left Johannesburg for Pietermaritzburg on the first sector of their tour, and later that day came the stunning news that the aircraft had crashed while crossing the Drakensberg mountains, on the Orange Free State/Natal border, and that both men were dead.

So ended all of Kidston's ambitious schemes . . . but for this disaster the history of civil aviation in southern Africa would almost certainly have taken a very different course.

On 1st June Mr. Pat Judson, erstwhile assistant pilot, took over as flying manager of the Rhodesian Aviation Company and Captain Roxburgh-Smith, since any ambitions which he might have cherished regarding the Kidston enterprise would have been dashed by the latter's untimely death, returned to England. (5)

At the company's second annual general meeting, held on Friday, 17th July, 1931, the chairman, Mr. F. Issels, confirmed that no further financial support was forthcoming from Cobham/Blackburn Air Lines owing to its absorption by Imperial Airways. " However," he went on "the S.R. Government and the Beit Trustees have continued to grant subsidies to the Company, and have promised to continue to do so. Owing to the energy of the Secretary, Mr. Aston Redrup, in disposing of a parcel of unallocated shares, it has been possible to purchase a 1932 Puss Moth cabin aeroplane, which is due for delivery in a few days' time." Mr. Cecil Roberts, a director, paid tribute to the enormous amount of work done by the secretary and by flying manager D. S. Judson, ground engineers R. T. Launder and A. K. Barker, and accountant Geo. A. Woodthorpe.

During July, Nyasaland's first aviation company, Christowitz Air Services, was established at Blantyre by Mr. C. J. Christowitz, a cartage contractor, using two D.H. Puss Moth aircraft. (Mr. Christowitz was, in October 1930, the first air passenger ever to arrive in Nyasaland, having been flown from Salisbury to Limbe by Pat Judson in the Rhodesian Aviation Co.'s Cirrus Moth.)

Friday, 20th November, 1931, was a black day for the Rhodesian Aviation Company in particular and for Rhodesian aviation in general, for Pat Judson and his flying pupil, "Jock" Speight, lost their lives in a training accident at Salisbury while flying the above-mentioned Moth.

The next development was the "grounding" of all Puss Moth aircraft in southern Africa. Three operators in Central Africa (the Rhodesian Aviation Company, Mr. Roland Starkey of Shabani and Christowitz Air Services, Blantyre) - owning a total of five of these machines-were dismayed to learn, on 24th November, that they were not to be taken into the air until further notice, following a second crash in South Africa. A Puss Moth belonging to Union Airways came to grief near Sir Lowry Pass, Cape Province, in circumstances very similar to those of Kidston's accident.

This was a serious setback, as no other cabin-type aeroplanes were available in either Southern Rhodesia or Nyasaland. Fortunately the ban was effective for only a few days, and was lifted on 2nd December. (It was later established that these accidents were due to structural failure of a wing while flying in conditions of severe atmospheric turbulence in mountainous terrain. A total of nine such mishaps befell Puss Moths throughout the world before the trouble was diagnosed and the defect rectified.)

Air travel in southern Africa was stimulated by the inauguration, at the end of January 1932, of the Nairobi/Cape Town section of Imperial Airways' Cairo to Cape route.

Then, on 10th February Sir Alfred Beit, one of the Beit Trustees and a director of Rhodesia Railways, while on a visit to Bulawayo, made a statement which presaged an important development in Rhodesian aviation. He said "the principal duty of the Beit Trust is to improve all communications in Rhodesia and Africa generally". A fortnight later it was announced that the trust had made a grant of 50,000 for "facilitating air transport (in S. Rhodesia and N. Rhodesia) on the Imperial route". The "Imperial route" through the Rhodesias at the time was (Mbeya)/Mpika/Broken Hill/Salisbury/Bulawayo/(Pietersburg).

The Beit Trustees decided that, in order to ensure that these moneys were put to the most advantageous use, a competent authority should be consulted, and on 18th April it was learned that Mr. H. N. St. V. Norman, A.F.R.AE.S., a director of Airwork Ltd. and of Aerofilms Ltd. - both British companies - had been appointed "Technical Adviser on Aviation" to the trustees. He was to visit Africa and thereafter would prepare a report upon aeronautical conditions in the Rhodesias.

During the following few months the Rhodesian Aviation Company plodded on without making much headway, and there was some speculation as to what the future might hold. At some stage during this period Imperial Airways Ltd., which was considering the formation of a new company to be called Rhodesian Airways Ltd., approached the company with a proposition (details of which are not known), and during the last week of January 1933 shareholders held a meeting to consider the matter. Colonel Dan Judson made a generous offer to take up an additional block of shares with money accruing from a policy on his late son's life, saying that the company had "reached a turning point in its history". The assembly decided against selling out to Imperial Airways, and then passed a cordial vote of thanks to Mr. F. Issels for generous financial help.

A month or two later the company ordered a D.H. Fox Moth with which to operate a new weekly service over the route Salisbury/Bulawayo/Johannesburg. The new aeroplane was delivered in mid-May, and the first service was flown on the 27th, the pilot being Mr. M. H. Pearce (6), who had joined the company as second pilot after the death of Pat Judson.

Mr. Norman, after returning to the United Kingdom, prepared a most comprehensive and cogent paper - generally referred to as "The Nigel Norman Report" (7) - which was submitted in mid-1933.

"My recommendations" he wrote "are the result of a visit by air to the Rhodesias made during the period of the rains in 1933 (8). On the journey out and in the course of my visit I flew 18,000 miles in a Gipsy Moth specially prepared for this purpose. I inspected 69 landing grounds and sites in the Rhodesias and examined the whole of the Imperial Airways route from Cairo to Cape Town, and also subsidiary routes extending from the Colonies to Nyasaland, Portuguese East Africa and the Belgian Congo."

Mr. Norman's recommendations included:

The construction of additional aerodromes and landing grounds and provision of a government-operated light aircraft to supervise their maintenance.

Provision of aviation maps and pilots' handbooks.

Establishment of additional meteorological and wireless stations.

Provision of night-flying equipment at the main aerodromes and en route flashing beacons between Salisbury and the Limpopo River.

The report included various detailed maps, sketches of landing grounds, and aerial photographs - taken by himself - of several aerodromes.

Concluding his report, Mr. Norman recommended "the establishment of a properly-constituted aviation company to operate feeder services, etc., in S. Rhodesia, N. Rhodesia and Nyasaland. This is considered desirable for the following reasons:

( 1 ) To protect the interests of Rhodesia Railways by assuring them a controlling interest in future air activity.

(2) To supply aviation facilities required by:

(a) the respective Governments,

(b) the public wishing to travel by air, and

(c) private owners of aircraft, including expert maintenance and repair service.

(3) To ensure co-ordinated development of aviation in the area and to put an end to unsatisfactory competition between a number of local companies working without proper technical control, and with inadequate financial backing. (9)

In order to place the operation of the new company as soon as possible upon a profit-earning basis it is essential:

(a) to secure the whole of the turn-over resulting from aviation in this area to the company, and

(b) to obtain for the company the permanent backing of all the Governments concerned and the whole of the financial aid available in the form of subsidies."

There can be no doubt whatsoever that serious note was taken of Mr. Nigel Norman's recommendations, for on Friday, 4th August, 1933, a meeting of Rhodesian Aviation Company shareholders was held in Bulawayo. Mr. Cecil Roberts, a director, took the chair in the absence of the company's chairman, Mr. F. Issels.

Mr. Roberts told the assembly that the company's affairs were to be handed over to a new company whose capital would be subscribed chiefly by the Beit Trustees, which body would have a controlling interest. Imperial Air-Ways Ltd. would subscribe a lesser amount and would be technical advisers, while Rhodesia Railways would have the option of taking a certain number of shares.

Mr. Roberts said that the reason for the undertaking was that in spite of improved receipts the company was still running at a loss, attributable to some extent to the new venture, the weekly Salisbury/Johannesburg service . . . Business was improving, but the possibility should be borne in mind of future competition, or the loss of an aircraft in an accident. He believed that shareholders had put their money into the company more from patriotism than for gain. The chairman of the new company was to be Mr. (later Sir) Henry Chapman C.B.E., general manager of Rhodesia Railways Ltd. Capital would be 25,000 in 1 shares . . . the 1 shares in the Rhodesian Aviation Company issued before 31st December, 1932, would be purchased for 5s. each, while those issued after that date would be bought for 1 each. The sale would take effect from 1st August, 1933.

A shareholder said that "it would be a pity if the identity of the Company were to be sunk''. His fears were allayed by Mr. H. G. Issels, a director, and son of company chairman Mr. F. Issels, who replied that "the name of the new company will probably be 'Rhodesian and Nyasaland Airways, Ltd.', and an assurance has been given that the headquarters will be in the Railway offices in Bulawayo''. Another shareholder said that the formation of the new company could be regarded as a first step towards the amalgamation of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland (10).

Little more than two months later the Bulawayo Chronicle reported that

" Rhodesian and Nyasaland Airways was incorporated at Bulawayo on 12th October, 1933. This date marks the start of a powerfully-backed company for the purpose of speeding up communications in the Rhodesias and Nyasaland and adjoining territories, and encouraging the use of air transport. The new company includes in itself the old Rhodesian Aviation Company, which has gone into voluntary liquidation. The policy of the new company is first and foremost safety. As soon as possible new multi-engine aircraft are to be provided. Head offices are in the Rhodesia Railways Buildings in Bulawayo, and an office has been opened at 57, Stanley Avenue, Salisbury. Chairman is Mr. H. Chapman, General Manager of Rhodesia Railways; Other directors are Col. T. Ellis Robins, D.S.O. (later Lord Robins), General Manager of the British South Africa Company, and Mr. Garth Trace, Manager of the southern Africa area of Imperial Airways, Ltd. Capt. G. I. Thomson, D.F.C. has been lent by Imperial Airways as Operations Manager for Rhodesian and Nyasaland Airways, and will be resident in Salisbury. He has considerable experience in different parts of the world and has already arrived in Rhodesia. Another representative of Imperial Airways Ltd., Cdr. Galpin, has also arrived to assist in the organisation of the new company."

More often than not the airline was, and still is, erroneously referred to as "Rhodesia and Nyasaland Airways". Such authorities as "Jane's All the World's Aircraft" and Mr. John Stroud in his splendid work "The Annals of British and Commonwealth Air Transport" have fallen into this trap.

The airline's title was almost universally condensed to the euphonic "RANA", which, in Latin signifies "frog". Later, upon the introduction of the Midlands service (Salisbury/Gatooma/Que Que/Gwelo/Bulawayo), the comparatively short distance between each stop involved a rapid succession of take-off's and landings, referred to in aviation parlance as ''puddle-hopping''. Pilots in charge of RANA's aircraft on this route were convinced that the airline was indeed appropriately named.

On 4th December RANA announced that it proposed to start new services with multi-engined aircraft and -a prediction which did not materialise - to build up tourist traffic to Victoria Falls and Zimbabwe, and to Kariba Gorge for fishing.

Hitherto, Bulawayo had been the hub of Rhodesian aviation, but now it was anticipated that Salisbury would become an important air centre owing to its favourable geographical position.

For a few months the headquarters of the new airline remained at the Railway Offices, Bulawayo, then, early in 1934 all control was, as predicted moved to Salisbury. The aircraft taken over from the old company formed the nucleus of RANA's fleet and, in mid-February 1934, two more Puss Moths were acquired when Christowitz Air Services of Blantyre was absorbed into the new enterprise.

In order to place a multi-engined aircraft on the routes without delay, a Westland Wessex machine was obtained on loan from Imperial Airways, pending delivery of a twin-engined D.H.89 Dragon Rapide which had been ordered. The Wessex was a somewhat unwieldy-looking three-engined monoplane - the first multi-engined public-transport aircraft to operate from a base in Central Africa. (A twin-engined Gloster AS31 was used in Northern Rhodesia by the Aircraft Operating Co. in 1930 for aerial survey work, but not for passenger flights.) The Wessex remained in Rhodesia until the arrival of the first Rapide, in June 1935.

In January 1937 Captain Charles A. Barnard succeeded Captain Thomson as resident operations manager, and in June RANA received a tremendous "boost" when Imperial Airways discontinued using Atalanta-class aircraft over the Central Africa route and commenced operating Short C-class flying boats on the east coast route. This coincided with the introduction of the Empire Air Mail Scheme, whereby all first-class mail on Empire routes was carried (wherever possible) by air, unsurcharged. Imperial Airways was appointed contractor to the British Government, and RANA sub-contractor to the former airline.

During its first four years of operation RANA was subsidised by Rhodesia's aeronautical "fairy godmother", the Beit Trust, to a total of 19,000 but, after the introduction of the Empire Air Mail Scheme, it became - for the first time in Rhodesian aviation history - a viable airline. While it is not intended to provide detailed statistics, the ever increasing popularity of air travel in Central Africa during the period under review may be gauged by the number of passengers carried during each year of operation by RANA and its predecessor, the Rhodesian Aviation Company (excepting 1929 and 1930, figures for which are not available).

   1931   Rho. Av. Co.        400
   1932   Rho. Av. Co.      1,229
   1933   Rho. Av. Co.      1,250
   1934   RANA              1,925
   1935   RANA              2,319
   1936   RANA              2,103 (the only year of retrogression)
   1937   RANA              2,570
   1938   RANA              3,448
   1939   RANA              3,579
By September 1939. when World War II commenced, RANA's fleet had been built up to a total of nine aircraft - five D.H.89 Dragon Rapides, one D.H.84 Dragon and three D.H.85 Leopard Moths.

On 1st February 1940 the assets of RANA, together with many of the ground and flying staff, were taken over by the Government of Southern Rhodesia and formed into a combined communications squadron and airline, the latter being named Southern Rhodesia Air Services (S.R.A.S.). RANA, at the Government's request, remained dormant on the files of the registrar of companies in order that, at the termination of hostilities, normal operations might be resumed.

This, however, was not to be. In 1945 it was decided that the interests of' civil aviation in Central Africa would best be served by an airways corporation backed by the governments of the three territories then known as Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland (Central African Airways Corporation came into being on 1st June, 1946) and RANA went into voluntary liquidation on 8th July, 1946.

Thus ended the existence of a happy and efficient little airline, w hose safety record is one of the proudest in the annals of world civil aviation. While a few relatively minor aircraft accidents were incurred, no lives were lost nor any serious injuries sustained either by passengers or staff during its six years of active operation.

The esprit de corps built up amongst members of RANA's staff may be measured by the fact that to this day (time of writing, January 1968 - 28 years after the cessation of operations) a happy, nostalgic and well-attended reunion of ex-RANA staff members and their spouses is held at Salisbury in October each year.

1. For further details of this flight refer to "Early Birds" in Rhodesiana No. 13.

2. James Douglas Mail later flew for an air taxi company in Johannesburg. Upon the outbreak of war he joined the South African Air Force and was killed in an air crash at Kisumu, Kenya, on 19th December 1942, while flying General Dan Pienaar from Egypt to South Africa.

3. For further details of Pat Judson's flying career refer to Rhodesiana, No. 16.

4. The Beit Trustees had guaranteed to make good any losses which the Company might incur to an annual maximum of 500.

5. In 1932 Benjamin Roxburgh-Smith was appointed Superintendent of the Salisbury Municipal Aerodrome (later known as Belvedere Airport). He died in Rome in 1951 while on a tour of Europe.

6. Michael Hawkins Pearce later became Chief Pilot of RANA and subsequently of S.R.A.S. He retired to his farm at Inyanga after the war, and died in January 1964.

7. A copy of the Nigel Norman Report is held by the Beit Trustees Representative in Salisbury.

8. Mr. Norman arrived in Bulawayo on 27th February, 1933.

9. The companies referred to were: Christowitz Air Services, Blantyre; Northern Aviation, Ndola; Rhodesian Aviation Company, Bulawayo; and Veasey & Son, Broken Hill.

10. Similar sentiments were voiced when C.A.A. was formed in 1946.

From: RHODESIANA No. 21, December 1969

Return to Main Page