Steam Laundry Incident
by R.C. Dening
His Excellency Sir Gilbert and Lady
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
So H.E. got his bath from the boiling relics of the drum
and we all returned to our drinks.