Flying Wednesday May 27, 2009.

The flag of Uganda was adopted on 9 October 1962, the date that Uganda became independent from the United Kingdom. It consists of six equal horizontal bands of black (top), yellow, red, black, yellow, and red; a white disc is superimposed at the centre and depicts the national symbol, a Grey Crowned Crane, facing the hoist side. The three colours, derived from those of the Uganda People's Congress, are representative of African peoples (black), Africa's sunshine (yellow), and African brotherhood (red being the colour of blood, through which all Africans are connected). The Grey Crowned Crane is fabled for its gentle nature and was also the military badge of Ugandan soldiers during British rule.

I have no particular connection with Uganda, but I really like the bold design and colours.  My tenuous connection is that in 1942 my great uncle, Kenneth Wallis (41), from Long Eaton, a British Government analyst in colonial service, his wife Sadie (40), and their 2 children Judy-Ann (10) and Peter (3) were en route from Georgetown, Guyana to Uganda where he was due to take up a post as Government Analyst. They were on a small ship S.S. Argo, 1,995 tonnes, which traded between Argentina and Cape Town, and since 1939 had been owned by the Argonaut Shipping Co. Ltd. (Eugene Eugenides, manager), of Greece.  On the journey from Buenos Aires to Cape Town it was torpedoed and sunk by the Italian submarine R Smg Ammimaglio Cagni at 20.16 GMT on Sunday November 29, 1942, and sunk in position 34 53S 17 54E. That is about 60 miles south west of Cape Town. 18 died, 12 crew, my great uncle and his family, and the two other pasengers.  A further 18 crew survived. Minesweepers were despatched from Cape Town at 21.30 GMT. Two lifeboats were reported to have been seen to be launched, but only one was ever found.


  1. I always thought of the flag - in common with many post-colonial African flags - as rather gaudy, but I suppose one man's gaudy is another's bold. I've never visited Uganda, but do also have a rather tenuous connection - well, no more tenuous than yours, but it may be of interest. Please bear with me while the story unfolds.

    I grew up in the Eastern Highlands of what was then Rhodesia, living within the boundaries of the Rhodes Inyanga National Park (created in the early 1900s from the estate of the famous Cecil John Rhodes). In the late 1970s, when I was in my teens, it was the height of the civil war and, due to security concerns, nobody moved much in the rural areas, either by day or night, without some sort of armed protection or military escort. Having been used to wandering around more or less as I wished since early childhood and living in what was, at that time, regarded as a fairly "safe" enclave, I continued to explore the countryside, although perhaps not completely in accordance with my parents' wishes. I spent many a school holiday walking, looking for things of geological and archaeological interest, trout fishing and visiting the formerly popular natural swimming hole on the Inyangombe River.

    There were several official camping sites in the National Park, most of which were deserted during the later years of the civil war, again due to security concerns. However, in the one camping site through which I used to pass regularly there was a squatter living in the ablution block, and he was white! There was often a beaten up Volkswagen Beetle parked outside the small building, by which I could tell whether or not he was "in residence." I guess you have to have lived there in that era to appreciate it fully, but this was very unusual. If he had been black, there's little doubt that he would have been immediately turfed out. I was told that the authorities tolerated his presence, but I have no idea why. Initially I had the impression that he was some kind of tramp, again a very unusual sight in white Rhodesia. At least it was to me!

    When I asked my Dad about the tramp I learnt that he was, in fact, an author named Denis Hills, who had not long before been expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin. Although not exactly destitute, he was "living rough" or at least on the cheap because he was writing a book, and taking advantage of the solace and free accomomdation. The National Park authorities were just turning a blind eye to it, and even lending him extra blankets and providing the odd cord of firewood to keep him warm during the bitterly cold Inyanga winter nights. He would reportedly make the occasional appearance at the local grocery store in Inyanga village to stock up on essential provisions and newspapers.

    On subsequent forays, I occasionally caught glimpses of him, but more often would hear his typewriter tapping away. Unfortunately I never summoned up the courage to introduce myself.

    After a year or two, he disappeared and I often used to wonder what happened to him. However, it wasn't until the internet opened up the wider world to my research capabilities more than two decades later that I discovered that he did indeed publish two books Rebel People (1978) and The Last Days Of White Rhodesia (1981). They were based, I suppose, on his experiences in Rhodesia after his rescue by the British Foreign Secretary James Callaghan from Uganda and Amin's wrath in 1975. He died in England in 2004, and from the several obituaries available online it appears that he led the life of a Boy's Own adventurer rather than a writer for much of his ninety years, and ended up playing bit parts in a couple of the major stories of the mid- to late twentieth century.

    The GuardianThe IndependentTelegraph

  2. Thanks Brett. I knew I could rely on you for such an appropriate anecdote. I have no knowledge of the interior of Africa, having only visited some North African countries and Nigeria. As a child my reading of Prester John gave me a deeply uncomfortable feeling for the interior, specifically John Buchan's imagery of the drum beats. It never quite goes away in my mind:

    Mr Wardlaw clutched my arm, and in that moment I guessed the explanation. The native drums were beating, passing some message from the far north down the line of the Berg, where the locations were thickest, to the great black population of the south.

    'But that means war,' Mr Wardlaw cried.

    'It means nothing of the kind,' I said shortly. 'It's their way of sending news. It's as likely to be some change in the weather or an
    outbreak of cattle disease.'

    When we got home I found Japp with a face like grey paper. 'Did you hear the drums?'he asked.

    'Yes,' I said shortly. 'What about them?'

    'God forgive you for an ignorant Britisher,' he almost shouted. 'You may hear drums any night, but a drumming like that I only once heard
    before. It was in '79 in the 'Zeti valley. Do you know what happened next day? Cetewayo's impis came over the hills, and in an hour there
    wasn't a living white soul in the glen. Two men escaped, and one of them was called Peter Japp.'

    'We are in God's hands then, and must wait on His will,' I said solemnly.