Africa: The first flight from Lagos to London on Imperial Airways in 1936 – Sir Bernard Bourdillon, Governor and commander in chief, Nigeria

Bourdillon

We took off from the Apapa aerodrome at 11:10am flew straight across towards Government house, and then flying low, up the marina, looking right down the funnel of Accra, just in from the gold coast, whose mails we were carrying to England.

Circling once over Lagos we headed straight for Ikorodu, and thence, flying low over oil palm groves with occasional patches of cultivation, to Sagamu, which we passed exactly twenty minutes after leaving Apapa.

Soon after there was a gradual change from oil palms to thick forest, we were flying low to keep below the clouds, and the slim straight trunks of the forest giants reached up towards us out of an impenetrable sea of undergrowth, I could not help being impressed with the obvious wealth that lay beneath me, and at the same time with necessity for using that wealth wisely and replenishing it carefully.

I also felt that, had I been in a single-engine machine, the utter impossibility of landing safely in the event of engine failure might have been a disquieting thought. With the four engines of the Daedalus one felt no disquietude?

The real forest belt here is fairly narrow, and we were soon over more open country, oil palms, cultivation and neat and prosperous looking villages. At 11:50, we were over Ibadan and circling round the Mapo hall, with excited crowds surging from side to side as we passed. Leaving Iwo we got an excellent view of the Oshun River, and at 12:10 we passed over Ede, to land at Oshogbo an hour and seven minutes after leaving Lagos. The time would have been shorter had we not digressed a little in order to fly over Ibadan.

There were enormous crowds round the aerodrome (an excellent bit of work on a difficult site), and they closed in behind the machine as we taxied up to the offices. There the residents met me, and we motored to the other end of the ground to exchange warm, if hasty, greetings, first with the Alafin of Oyo, then with the Oni of Ife, the Orangun of Ila, and the Owa of Ilesha, and finally with the Olubadan of Ibadan and a number of Ibadan chiefs.

In the Air again at 12:40, and an over orchard bush with a few palms. It was getting decidedly bumpy owing to the heat. At 1:28 we crossed the Niger four miles west of patigi, miles of country in the angle between Kaduna and Niger rivers were in flood, and the sight of so much water doing no good to anybody made one wonder whether something could be done in Nigeria, as has been done in Egypt and Iraq, to use our rivers for irrigation without impairing their value for transport purposes. It is true, with our rainfall, the need for irrigation is not so great as in countries where, without it, nothing

Three quarters), where I was greeted by the resident and the Waziri, the latter of whom brought me a letter of welcome from the Shehu, with the letter was a translation of a letter written in 1824 by the Shehu’s grandfather to King George IV.

The customs wharf, Lagos Island as seen from the Air. A French passenger ship is being helped into position by a tug boat of the marine department. In the right background are offices and stores of various trading firms.

We motored a short distance to a place prepared for my reception, where I inspected a guard of honor of the Royal West African Frontier Force, was greeted by the Shehu and his council and a number of Europeans and Africans, and made a short speech in reply to the Shehu’s welcome. We left the ground at 10:20 and at 10:30 received a wireless message from Fort Lamy indicating that, although at ground level there was a slight wind in our favor, at 5000 feet u, it was blowing at 30 miles an hour against us.

At 10:45 we were over Dikwa, and at 11:13, three minutes over the twenty four hours after leaving Lagos, we crossed the frontier, sending a wireless message to Lagos that we had done so. Pleased though I was to be the first Governor to fly from one end of Nigeria to the other, I could not help regretting that Sir Donald Cameron, who had done so much to develop the use of the air in Tanganyika, could not have had this view of the country he loves so much and served well.

One of my objects in taking the trip was to help myself to determine how fair air transport can be used with benefit in Nigeria, and I crossed into French Equatorial Africa with my mind firmly made up on the subject. For official purposes at any rate, the sooner air transport is developed the better.

It must not, of course, interfere with the slow intensive touring by which alone an officer can keep touch with the people whose welfare he has to study, but as a means of transport for senior officials whose duties cover the whole or a large portion of the country it will save an immense amount of valuable time that is now simply wasted.

In spite of the adverse wind we were now flying at a height of about 4000 feet, where it was nice and cool. The country below us was a chain of marshes and streams draining into Lake Chad to the North, and at 11:21 we crossed the river Shari, the main affluent of the great lake.

A flight of 20 or 30 marabouts storks flashed past beneath us, and on the farther side of the river we landed at fort lamy, where the night before, a heavy tornado and flooded one corner of the aerodrome. After refueling we took off again at 11:52. At 12:30, 8000 feet up in the air, cool and as steady as a rock, I had an excellent lunch.

The country henceforward was dull and featureless till we came to Adre, the French fort on the Sudan frontier at 4:12. 10 minutes later we landed at Geneina, the headquarters of one of the few experiments in Native Administration in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. A game of polo had to be suspended as we landed, and as I stepped from the plane.

At 1:35 we crossed the Kaduna, and at 1:42 saw Bida two miles to the west. Three minutes past two saw us on terra firma once more in Minna, where I was greeted by the residents, the Gwari council, and the Emirs of Bida, Kontagora, and Abuja. We had lunch and left again at 2:56, reaching the Kaduna landing ground, six miles north of Kaduna at 3:41.

A guard of honor of the Royal West African Frontier Force gave me the royal salute and was inspected, the acting chief commissioner introduced a number of Europeans and Africans; I had a word with the Emir of Zaria, and then talked for a bit with my son and his wife. Off again at 4:15, treeless country now, with crops of guinea corn, groundnuts.

Passing over Zaria at 4:35 we landed at Kano at 5:15, being greeted by the residents and the Emir. Six hours and five minutes before we had been in Lagos and in that time we had flown 560 miles and I had had sufficient conversation with my own officers and a number of chiefs to assure myself that the people in the country I had passed over were feeling more prosperous than they had for many a long day.

Friday, October 30th.
Away from Kano at five minutes past 7.0 in a slight harmattan haze, The Acting Director of Public Works, who was with me, pointed out the corrugations in the Maiduguri road caused by the heavy lorry traffic? They were amazingly distinct from the air, as the low sun threw the bumps and hollows into strong relief.

At 7:17 we crossed the Hadeija River at Wudil, and then on over Jemaari and Azare flying over country treeless but rich in crops, very reminiscent of the plains of northern India. But here the cultivation seemed to thin out a short distance away from the road, and there is obviously plenty of room for expansion, and therefore for the introduction of mixed farming. At 8:40 we were over Potiskum and reached Damaturu at 9:06. Here roads go north and south to Nguru and Biu. At 9:50 we landed at Maiduguri (399 miles in two hours and

I was duly assaulted with a gun by a conscientious official of the sanitary department, who had evidently been put in a thoroughly anti-Amaryl state of mind by his superior officers
Saturday, October 31st.

At three minutes past 8:00 we left Geneina, in the teeth of a strong head wind which persisted most of the way to Cairo. Leaving El Fasher, where we landed at 9:50, we could just see away to the south the rough outline of the Marra Mountains, where the watersheds of the Nile, Congo, and Lake Chad divide. The Governor of the Darfur province met me at El Fasher and told me that my brother had been best man at his wedding.

We left again at 10:34, getting into some very unpleasantly bumpy weather, lunch again on the plane, but alas, neither cool nor calm yesterday, and my appetite was not quite so good. After half an hour refueling halt at El Obeid we left again at 1:45 and at 3:15 caught our first glimpse of the Nile. At 3:20 we saw the new Jebel Anlia Dam, which is going to add many thousands of acres to the cultivable area of Egypt, and at 3:45 we landed at Khartoum. After tea I paid a very interesting visit to Omdurman.

Sunday, November 1st.
At 5:50 am. I took the air in the Helena, a monster by the side of the Daedalus, two of my fellow passengers being old friends from East Africa, whence they had just come on the Helena.

The Nile and a few date gardens were the only relief to a view of bleak and dreary desert, which lasted until we came near Luxor, where there is a broad belt of intensely rich looking irrigated land. We landed for refueling at Kareima and for lunch at Wudi Halfa, reaching Luxor at 2:50.

A five mile drive a raised road across the rice fields took us to our hotels, and after an early tea several of us set forth in a car for the Valley of the Kings. We were fortunate enough to find Tutankhamen’s tomb open, and to see the magnificent gilt sarcophagus which has been left on the site. The tomb is very small and it is amazing that it could have contained the host of treasures now in the museum of Cairo. Far more impressive was the tomb of seti.

A series of galleries 300 feet long descending into the heart of the rocks with really wonderful colored carvings all over the walls. On the way to the Valley we saw the Colossi of Thebes, of which I had secured a very good photo from the air when flying home from Entebbe, on which occasion I had also got good pictures of the temple of Phyle and the temple of Queen Hatshepsut.

After dinner we set forth in the moonlight and sailed in a felucca down the Nile to the great temple of Karnak. In spite of her size and apparent clumsiness I found the felucca very easy to handle, and the slow silent passage down the Nile in the moonlight was a pleasant contrast after the more modern method that had brought me from Lagos to this heart of a dead civilization

A thickly populated part of Lagos Island as seen from the Harbor, sand spread over the swamps to form Apapa Aerodrome, is visible in the middle distance. The creek in the far distance leads to Portnovo in the neighboring colony of French Dahomey. One half of Carter Bridge, connecting Lagos Island with the Mainland, is visible on the right.

Monday, November2nd
Leaving Luxor just before 7:00 we flew over the temple of Karnak and down the Valley of the Kings reaching Cairo (before we got an excellent view of the pyramids) at 10:45. Old friends from Baghdad met me there and sat and talked with me till we left.

A newspaper confirmed the rumour which I had seen in Reuters at Geneina that there had been a map in Baghdad, and repeated the rumour that Ja’afa Pasha, a very gallant soldier and an old friend of mine, had been fully murdered by his political opponents. We left Cairo at 1:00 and reached Alexandria at 2:20, where another Baghdad friend met me, during the afternoon I met one who had flown from Baghdad that day, and who confirmed that Ja’afa Pasha was murdered.

Tuesday November 3rd
We left Alexandria at 8:10am and reached Athens exactly four hours later. Most of the trip was over the open sea, but once in the Grecian Archipelago the colors were amazingly beautiful, the deep blue of the sea changing to a vivid green in the shallow bays of the Islands.

We left Athens at 1:00 having an excellent and comfortable lunch in the air, with a fine view of the isthmus and canal of Corinth. Magnificent scenery down the Gulf of Corinth, up the Adriatic coast and across Corfu brought us to Brindisi at 3:25, where after flying 960 miles in 6 hours and 25 minutes we very reluctantly exchanged our flying boats for the prosaic train which was to take us to Paris.

Wednesday, November 4th
The only incident of interest was a halt at Milan, where Mussolini had recently made one of his pronouncements. Loudspeakers and search lights were still in evidence round the rail stations, a magnificent piece of architecture and certainly the finest railway station, from that point of view, in the world.

Thursday, November 5th
Reached Paris about 7:00 and after breakfast at a hotel, crossed from Le Bourget to Croydon by the morning service. Visibility was poor at first, but improved, and in the North of France and South of England the woods were a blaze of gold and brown.

Over the channel a monoplane flew low beneath us, going straight down channel, and seemed to disappear into the sea. We turned back to look for her, but could find no trace, and a wireless enquiry from Croydon revealed that they knew nothing of who she was or why she was taking such a peculiar course.

I learnt later that no plane disappeared that day: so we must have been mistaken. We reached Croydon a little late owing to our detour, a week and a quarter of an hour after I had left Lagos. At the moment when I write this no other passenger has done this trip, but I hope that soon it will be a common experience.

Thursday, October 29th, 1936

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