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The Steam Laundry Incident
by R.C. Dening

His Excellency Sir Gilbert and Lady Rennie, 1951

His Excellency Sir Gilbert and Lady Rennie, 1951


When Sir Gilbert and Lady Rennie made a pre-retirement gubernatorial visit to Mwinilunga in July 1951, they asked to spend a night in camp on their return journey.

Sir Gilbert had been something of a builder and architect in his young days and was fascinated by the depredations of white ants. Our house had numerous colonies of termites, but the ant-proof course had always been effective in keeping them out of the main structure, except for their great annual attack.

On these occasions, in response to some unknown signal, all the colonies built tubes over the ant-course and poured through them, necessitating the deployment of numerous spray guns. One of these attacks had occurred just before the visit and provided us with an excellent topic of conversation, as we went through the usual formalities on the station.

For the return journey, a somewhat upmarket camp was established at the Lumwana River, some sixty miles towards Solwezi, including a Rhodesian boiler for His Excellency's bath (or what looked like a Rhodesian boiler).

Many of us will recall that this was a 44 gallon drum placed on its side, with the bung screwed in and a hole cut in the upper side; it rested on bricks, in the middle of which a fire was lit.

We had all settled happily into camp and started on the drinks. George Billing, the Acting Provincial Commissioner at the time, was with us.

In due course, H.E. called for his bath. An enormous Lovale driver was in charge of the bathwater.

Immediately I saw that something was amiss. The drum was on its side with the bung screwed up, but there was clearly no hole in the top. The driver was standing in front of the drum, unscrewing the bung and a high pitched screaming whistle was emerging, like the Flying Scotsman about to go through a tunnel.

"Its alright, bwana", the driver said, as I pushed him to one side, "I can do it".

Shortly afterwards, the bung disappeared like a missile into the forest and a terrifying jet of steam, about 200 feet long, shot through the kitchen hut, for several minutes. Under pressure, the water had not been able to boil, but on its release much of the bathwater had vaporised.

I heard the fruity Billing voice asking casually behind me, "Well, Dening, what are you up to now, starting a steam laundry?"

Lady Rennie, who was a doctor, came eagerly to the scene to tend the injured. But the Lunda had been too crafty to stand in the way of Lovale jet propulsion.

So H.E. got his bath from the boiling relics of the drum and we all returned to our drinks.



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Website: Copyright B.Corker 2008     Images: Copyright EGL Dening 2008