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Tales of a "Vindi Boy", Part Five:
From Africa to Canada


Continued from Part 4


After his less than happy time aboard the SS Polar Maid Dennis worked on just one more vessel, the SS Bittern before he left the sea and emigrated with his wife, Anneliese, and young daughter, Christine, to Port Elizabeth, South Africa. In 1956 the family moved again to Luanshya, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia,) where, tragically, Anneliese died in January 1960. Although heartbroken by her death Dennis remained in Luanshya where he was employed by a copper mining company. In March 1961 Dennis took Christine to Germany to visit with her grandparents and Anneliese's family. While they were in Germany, Dennis made a trip to Berlin where he met another kind and lovely German woman, Grita. After Dennis and Christine returned to Luanshya, Dennis corresponded with Grita and in 1962 he persuaded her to fly out to Luanshya where they were married. Dennis and Grita remained in Luanshya for four more years and during this time Dennis fulfilled one of his dreams when he learned to fly. He dropped parachutists for a local Para club and flying soon became a passion for him. By the end of his flying career, Dennis would end up obtaining British, American and Canadian Private Pilot's Licences. In 1966 the political uncertainty which followed Northern Rhodesia's 1964 Independence forced Dennis to relocate his family to Bulawayo, Rhodesia (previously known as Southern Rhodesia and after 1980 as Zimbabwe). After six more years Dennis and Grita left Rhodesia and emigrated to the very different country of Canada. Dennis recounts some of the highlights from these post-war days in the following story.

Tales of a "Vindi Boy", Part 5: From Africa to Canada

by Dennis M. Crosby

While residing in Luanshya, Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and working in Roan Antelope Copper Mine there after Independence in 1964, all expatriates were asked to sign a One year contract. At the end of this contract, one was given 3 months pay, plus tickets to any destination of your wish. At this time, it became obvious that the country was deteriorating and so we moved to
Map Southern Africa
Bulawayo, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Due to Ian Smith having declared UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) from Britain, economic sanctions had been imposed against Rhodesia and therefore finding a job became something of a problem. I finally landed a job as a Temporary Prison Officer, working in Khami Prison, several miles into the bush outside Bulawayo. As well as housing local "bad guys", both black and white, there was also over 150 terrorists captured from various operations in the bush. Many of them had been sentenced to be hanged for murdering men, women and children of both races during their raids on outlying farms. However, representation had been made to the Queen who had granted clemency to them.

I must confess that it was very far from being one of my favourite methods of making a living. One worked an eight hour shift, which entailed driving nearly 40 minutes along a dirt track deep into the bush with deep growth on each side of the track. One often saw wild animals and large snakes and when driving at 11:15 pm in the pitch dark, the thought often occurred just how very vulnerable one would be if ever any of the so-called "Freedom Fighters" of Robert Mugabe ever decided to storm the prison in an attempt to free the imprisoned terrorists!

When working the Midnight to 8 am shift, I was the only European officer on duty, supervising 30-40 local native warders. When on this particular shift, I was issued with a Webley pistol which I only carried with me during my hourly check in and around the prison itself, seeing that the Guards in the watchtowers were alert and the ones inside the prison also. I recall one night when on my rounds, one of the large prison cells containing 30 prisoners became very unruly and in spite of several of the guards' efforts would not quieten down. The guards came to me for advice and so I went outside of the main building which was patrolled by a guard with a German Shepherd, brought the dog to the cell and went inside holding its leash. I told the unruly "gents" that unless everyone settled down within five seconds, I would release the dog among them. Needless to say, we had no more trouble at all.

I have to admit though, the type of work was not to my liking. Not all of those prisoners were bad guys, even amongst the terrorists. Many were just youngsters who had been filled with patriotism and instilled with propaganda to fight for the return of their country from the white man. After all, we too are taught that our country is worth fighting for, not so? I finally left this job and went into the Rhodesia Railway School and trained for 6 months to become a Train Guard (Brakeman here in Canada). Finally in September 1970 we decided to move to Canada.

My Sister and Family at that time lived in Calgary, Alberta and upon my arrival there, my Brother-in-law asked me, what type of work I intended seeking here. My reply was that
Map of Canada
I would like to return to Construction. I had worked for a couple of years in Africa as a Steel Erector (Ironworker here in Canada). My Brother- in-law replied ... "They work outside at minus 30C here in this country -- are you prepared to do that?" I did not say anything to him at this time, but thought to myself, "Who is he trying to kid? Nobody can work outside at 30C below." What a surprise when within two years I was working upon the construction of the Proctor & Gamble Pulp Mill in Grande Prairie and the temperature dropped to minus 55C ! ! ! I would never have believed it to be possible had I not experienced it myself.

In 1979 whilst employed in the same capacity on the construction of SYNCRUDE in Fort McMurray, Alberta, I purchased a 1976 Cessna 150M two seater aircraft. Each weekend on the Friday afternoon, nearly 3,000 workers used to swarm off the jobsite at 3:30 pm homeward bound. For me, it was a 516 mile journey home
Dennis and Airplane
to Grande Prairie where I had built a home. The journey took usually 9 hours of continuous driving and more often than not, I would collect a speeding ticket along the way from the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police). When the opportunity came to purchase the aircraft I bought without any hesitation -- a way to foil those dreaded RCMP and no more speeding tickets! My first attempt to fly from Ft. McMurray to Grande Prairie proved to be unsuccessful. After taking off and flying for about 50 miles, the ceiling began to drop lower and lower until finally I was flying just above the tree tops. Feeling that discretion was the better part of valour, I turned back to Ft. McMurray, tied the aircraft down, and waited for the last commercial flight to Edmonton and the midnight bus to Grande Prairie.

My next attempt two weeks later, I took the afternoon off work on the Friday and was airborne by 1:30 pm, a bright sunny November day. I decided to land at Slave Lake and top up my tanks ensuring no chances of running short of fuel. After landing there I checked with the Air Traffic Control and was informed that a snow storm was approaching along my flight path, however, in their opinion I just might beat the storm before it arrived in the Grande Prairie area.

I took off again continuing my flight, however, after 20 minutes I began to fly into snow, which quickly developed into "heavy weather". My visibility became nil! With my heart pounding like a drum, and telling myself that I should be sensible and turn back, I suddenly felt something strike the tail of the aircraft. I immediately suspected that ice must be forming upon the wings and a piece had broken loose and struck the tail. That of course was a no-no! I immediately did an about face and informed Air Traffic Control in Slave Lake of my intention to return. Eventually after flying for about 30 minutes in a very nervous state, the runway appeared and I was cleared to land.

After taxying in and tying down my aircraft, I was now completely at a loss to know how to continue my journey home to Grande Prairie. After sitting for a while in the airport lounge allowing my nerves to return to a normal state, I noticed a young fellow who every 10 or 15 minutes went out and started up the engines on a twin engined aircraft. I then recognised the aircraft as being one owned by a charter company based in Grande Prairie and I had taken flying instruction from the owner. I approached the pilot of the twin and found that he had a flight to make to Peace River and then he would be returning to G.P. I explained my dilemma to him and asked if I could accompany him. He called his Boss in G.P. who knew who I was and immediately gave permission for me to fly with him.

The young man was a Commercial Pilot and therefore much more accomplished than I and so while the flight was to me somewhat scary, we eventually arrived home safely, even if it was much later than I had anticipated. When I offered to pay for my lift, they refused and so I bought the Pilot a bottle of good scotch to show my appreciation. I collected my aircraft the following Friday, flying it successfully home to Grande Prairie.


Tales of a "Vindi Boy" is continued in the Epilogue

Return to Tales of a Vindi Boy Part Four, Part Three, Part Two or Part One.


Dennis' pages are maintained by Maureen Venzi and they are part of The Allied Merchant Navy of WWII.