I have always regretted not being able to find any photos of Jomo Kenyatta during his wartime years in Sussex – apart from the one allegedly showing him destroying a wasps’ nest and a blurry image of him waving from the balcony of his wartime home at Heath Common near Storrington, that was about all. Many years ago, I was told by a cousin that he had once seen photos of Jomo when he was employed as an agricultural worker at Linfield’s nurseries in Thakeham; he had been shown them by Miss Mabel Willmer, who had occasionally worked with Jomo during the war, and secretively kept them in an old biscuit tin, only to be brought out on special occasions. Unfortunately, after she died, they were never found and she probably destroyed them. Apparently, she really admired Jomo’s flamboyant signet ring which he promised he would give her one day!
Over the years I have made various requests in the media for any surviving photos of Jomo during his time in Sussex, but the effort has always failed to come up with anything. One of the objectives for writing my article about Jomo Kenyatta and his connections with West Sussex was to put the story in the public domain. Therefore, out of the blue, I was very excited when I received a ‘comment’ to our website from Karen Heald who had stumbled across my article on Kenyatta; she said ‘I have lots of photographs of him in Sussex before and during the war including the full sequence of the wasp nest incident taken by my grandfather’. Of course, I immediately got in touch and she was able to send me a cache of some 30 images, many of which are reproduced in this article, thanks to her kindness and her desire to make them available to a much wider audience.
Karen also provided some really useful background information about her family and how they became friendly with Jomo. Her grandparents were married at Brighton Register Office on 28 March 1942 and Jomo was best man, also signing the marriage certificate as one of the witnesses. Karen’s grandmother was Elaine Muriel Scott (1915-2010), always known as ‘Pet’, and before the war she lived with her family in Hove, East Sussex. Karen’s grandfather was Edward Frances Mills, known to all as Ted (1912-1989). Pet’s parents were of Scottish and Irish descent, but both of them were living in Australia where they met and eventually got married. In 1929, they decided to move to England where they settled in a house at 148 Woodlands Drive, Hove which they named ‘Kooringa’. Pet’s parents were James Scott, known as ‘Pop’ (1880-1961), and Myra Scott (née Mackenzie), known as ‘Ma’ (1889-1952), and they had five children, of whom Pet was the oldest. James was a clerk of works in the building trade, which meant he was invariably away from home on various building projects. In Australia he had specialised in building cinemas, before building a number of houses and a cinema in Hove.
Myra was apparently a ‘remarkable woman’ who was the real driving force in the family. She was ‘an energetic and decisive person with wide-ranging cultural interests and seems to have run a pretty open house’. Her sociability and hospitable nature created a vibrancy within the family which made them open to new people and places. The family had traveled quite a bit before the war, far more than most at the time, and during the 1930s they visited Germany, France and Jersey. In fact, Myra took in two Jewish teenagers during the war to keep them safe, and they remained lifelong friends of the family. Jomo would have felt comfortable and welcome in the company of such a family which is why Myra’s influence played such an important part in the development of what undoubtedly became such a special friendship. Their outlook on life was not blinkered by the uncompromising prejudice or inflexible views so prevalent in British society at the time, something which Jomo had faced head-on in his dealings with the Colonial Office.
Pet’s siblings were Colin Murdoch (1917-2006) – known as ‘Col’;
Kenneth MacKenzie (1918-1983) – known as ‘Winky’; Donald Bruce (1925-1998) –
known as ‘Oig’; and Ngareta, born long after the others. Ngareta was the only
child to be born in England, and she was given a Maori name[i].
There are a number of versions as to how the family first met Jomo. One of them
is that Pet’s brother, Donald Bruce Scott (Oig) somehow met Jomo in Brighton
while he was still at school and brought him back to the Scott house at
Woodlands Drive. However, Karen’s mother and her great-aunt Ngareta believe it
was Winky who brought him home after attending a lecture which Jomo gave in
Brighton. Winky apparently began talking to him afterwards and as Jomo
mentioned that he had nowhere to stay for the night, Winky brought him back to
the family home in Hove. The date of the meeting is unknown, and it is possible
that it may even have been before Jomo moved to West Sussex in 1940 after the
outbreak of the Second World War. Apparently, ‘both Myra and Winky had some
involvement with the communist party in Brighton so they probably had politics
in common with Jomo’. Myra ‘often did
a big Sunday tea for which she baked a fabulous sponge cake and she liked to
have lots of people around, including Jomo, and Winky’s art school friends’. Fig.
1 shows James and Myra Scott, with their two daughters, and Jomo at ‘Highover’
in the early 1940s.
Another story, perfectly feasible, is that it was Karen’s grandfather Ted who first met Jomo whilst he was studying for a degree in Geography at the London School of Economics (LSE) in the early 1930s. Jomo began attending seminars at the LSE in 1934, prior to studying for a diploma in Social Anthropology under Bronislaw Malinowski, so it is quite possible that he may have met Ted during this period of his life but equally their paths may never have crossed there. However, two of the earliest photos in Karen’s collection appear to show a younger version of Jomo which may well have been taken during his days as a student. It is difficult to ascertain when these photos were taken as I have nothing to compare them with (Fig. 2). However, Ted was a keen photographer and for a short period after the war he worked for the National Geographic Magazine, later publishing a pamphlet of photos of South East England, although his main career was as a teacher.
Interestingly, whichever scenario is the correct one, it was Pet’s brother Oig who was responsible for bringing Pet and Ted together. At the time, Ted was a teacher at Oig’s school. Pet saw Ted across the sports field at a school event and decided he was the one for her, so Oig brought Ted home one day to meet her. Ted and Jomo got on very well and became close friends, although, interestingly, according to Karen, her grandfather had no strong political beliefs so African politics may not have featured prominently in their conversations[ii]. However, they would have been aware of Jomo’s mission and must have sympathised with what he was trying to achieve for his people in Kenya. During the war, Ted joined the Royal Navy and was particularly involved in weather forecasting, with specific responsibilities around the launching of barrage balloons and the Dunkirk evacuation. He had a ‘remarkably interesting and ‘good’ war, spending time at Greenwich, Ceylon and New York’.
In the meantime, as Pet and Ted grew closer so did Jomo and Edna Clarke, whom Jomo had met in Ashington, a nearby village close to where he was living. Pet and Edna also got on very well and became life-long friends, keeping in touch for as long as they were able. Edna died in April 1995.
Ted and Pet married at Brighton Register Office on 28 March 1942. There are six photos in sequence of the happy couple with family outside the front of the register office, including, of course, their best man looking particularly suave in a stylish coat and carrying his distinctive walking stick (Fig. 3). Only a few months later, on 11 May 1942, Jomo and Edna were married at Chanctonbury Register Office and Edna moved into Jomo’s flat on the top floor of the Armstrong’s house at Heath Common near Storrington. Their son, Peter Magana Kenyatta, was born in August 1943. Pet and Ted often visited the Kenyattas at Heath Common, and fortunately, through his interest in photography, he often took his camera with him. In all the photos which appear in this article, they would all have been taken by Ted – unless, of course, he happens to be in the photo himself!
Another photo shows them relaxing after the ceremony, taken in the garden at 70, Gableson Avenue, Hove (Fig. 4) where they lived immediately after Woodlands Drive. Their first child, Karen’s mother, was a little older than Peter. Later, the Scotts moved to a top floor flat in Vernon Terrace and Jomo used to visit them there.
In Karen’s own words:
‘Ngareta remembers going to Jomo’s house in Storrington many times. They used to get the bus to Washington and then it was a long dusty walk to the house. She remembers Jomo cooking curry which she had for the first time there, and it was very spicy. She remembers playing with children from the village outside the house and there being a disagreement of some kind. She went into the house to get Jomo and he and Winky came out with big hunting knives. Luckily the children had dispersed by the time they came out’.
Among Ted’s photos, there is one showing Peter Kenyatta on his first birthday and another showing Peter, with his daughter (Karen’s mother) (Fig. 5).
Continuing in Karen’s words:
‘Ngareta adored Jomo, she thought he was wonderful. She must have been 4 or 5 when he first met the family. He visited often and she used to look from the house to see him walking up the hill and run out to meet him. He always brought a box of Black Magic chocolates with him’
Ted’s photos taken at ‘Highover’ are very interesting, and two of them are particularly special. In my original article, I recounted the story from Jean McWhirter, Roy Armstrong’s daughter, in 1995 about Jomo’s ‘sacred tree’, the silver birch which was situated in his secret garden. Jean took me to the area where he grew his vegetables and kept his chickens, showing me the special tree through which he claimed to communicate with the spirits of his people during his more reflective moments. I was therefore amazed with the image in Fig. 6 which actually shows Jomo resting beneath this tree. What is particularly striking is the view of the Sussex heathland around him, which Jomo found particularly comforting because it reminded him of the scenery in his home country.
Another image appeared in a newspaper from 1952[iii] showing Jomo hoeing his plot, with the tree in the background, which must have been taken by Ted on the same occasion, but the original unfortunately appears to be lost. However, I reproduce the version from the paper as it gives a rough idea of what the image looked like (Fig. 7).
Fig. 7: Jomo hoeing his vegetable plot at ‘Highover’ (News Chronicle)
After Jomo’s arrest in Kenya in 1952 at the start of the ‘Emergency’, the press wanted to find some photographs of him in England. They somehow discovered that Ted knew him and managed to track him down to their house in Midhurst at the time, where they camped outside. Ted was persuaded to give them some of his pictures, which is why they appeared in the News Chronicle.
Fig. 8: One of a sequence of photos, showing Jomo dressed in a bed sheet
The others were something of a more random nature, showing Jomo dressed in a bed sheet (similar to the image in Fig. 8, on the right, which was part of a sequence) and the Wasp Nest image, which I originally found on the internet and must have been copied from the newspaper (Fig. 9).
The other special image taken by Ted at ‘Highover’ shows Jomo on his balcony, hard at work on his typewriter (Fig. 10). He was a frequent letter writer, keeping in regular touch with his Pan-African colleagues during the war, as well as writing a number of booklets opposing colonialism and promoting the case for African self-government (these include My People of Kikuyu (1942) and Kenya: The Land of Conflict (1945)). He was a frequent lecturer at WEA events, traveling to many parts of the county
Interestingly, there are a couple of small images reproduced in Jeremy Murray-Brown’s biography of Kenyatta[iv], published in 1972, which were obviously taken at ‘Highover’ because in the background can be seen familiar parts of the roof structure. Each shows Peter as a new baby, one in the arms of his father and the other in the arms of his mother. There is no acknowledgement of the source of these photos, so whether they were the work of Ted or somebody else is unknown.
Another photo taken by Ted at ‘Highover’ depicts Jomo, Edna and Pet on a side balcony of the house (Fig. 11). Jomo is standing behind a table at which Edna and Pet are seated.
A couple of Ted’s photos shows Jomo, Edna and Pet standing in front of a beautiful old house with what looks like a Horsham stone roof (one of these is reproduced in Fig. 12). I have now discovered that this is Malthouse Farm, very close to Mill House in Mill Lane, Ashington where Edna was then working as a governess to the two small children of Edith Ada Leigh-Browne. They had obviously gone out on a lovely summer day for a walk along the country lanes in the local area, but I have not managed to find any sort of connection to Malthouse Farm. Perhaps Jomo had a job there for a while soon after arriving in West Sussex.
The final photograph (Fig. 13) also shows Jomo with Edna and Pet on a walk, possibly on the same day as they are wearing the same clothes, although Jomo appears a little plumper than in the earlier pictures, so this could be a slightly later photograph.
I have reproduced some amazing photographs here of Kenyatta when he was living and working in West Sussex during his wartime exile, with many thanks to Karen Heald for allowing me to make them available for all to see.
Jomo eventually returned to Kenya in 1946 to continue his struggle against the colonial authorities in the long road to independence, which included considerable hardship when he was locked up for 7 years during the ‘Mau-Mau’ rebellion. Edna and Peter were left in England, as Edna knew they would be as Jomo always intended to go back when the time was right. She knew there would be little money to support her and Peter, so she would have to take on this role herself. Edna showed no bitterness about her situation but continued to support Jomo, and when he was eventually inaugurated as President of Kenya in 1964, she was happy to accept his invitation to go to Kenya with Peter as honoured guests for his inauguration. Karen’s mother and grandmother both knew Edna well and were fully aware of her views.
Karen’s family never saw Jomo again, but their strong friendship with Edna endured, mostly through the correspondence which continued between Pet and Edna. Edna moved away from Sussex after a year or so to go and live with Peter in Hertfordshire where she took up a teaching post at a boarding school, which enabled her to give Peter a good education. In the meantime, Karen’s mother trained for a career in social anthropology, which involved spending a lot of her time in Kenya and Uganda, a career which her father claimed was inspired by his connection with Jomo. Although they both loved Sussex, Ted and Pet went to live in Essex from 1952, with Ted pursuing his career in teaching and becoming Headmaster at Shoeburyness High School. He stayed there until he retired in the early 1970s. According to Karen, although he wasn’t particularly interested in politics, ‘he liked to talk and socialise and was interested in history, landscape, architecture, art, and music but education was his great passion, it had changed his life and he wanted it to do the same for others’. He was a very confident man, without any sign of stress or doubt in him and it is interesting that he and Jomo became such good friends; perhaps they were similar types and were naturally drawn to each other.
Apparently, Ted never threw anything away but after he died in 1989, Pet went through the house and chucked many things away, much to Karen’s regret as he must had had letters from Jomo, amongst other things. They may have provided a tantalising glimpse of some of his innermost thoughts, but we just don’t know. Winky’s daughter remembers Ted telling her that ‘he stayed in touch with Jomo and offered to go and help/work for his government when he gained power. Jomo replied he only wanted Africans involved’.[v] Did he elaborate on his reasons? This sort of information would have been fascinating to know. We can only speculate. Did Ted feel put out at all by Jomo’s reply? I think Jomo was a pragmatic individual and he may have felt at the time that in the interests of creating an independent African state, he would have to unify all the disparate elements and tribes within the country including the more militant voices who were involved with ‘Mau-Mau’. Would the presence of white people in a post-colonial administration upset the more militant Kenyans and weaken his position? We cannot be sure what Jomo’s intentions were at the time. However, Jomo also liked to compartmentalise his life and may have thought that involving Ted in Kenyan affairs was something he was unable to contemplate as a serious proposition. But when it came to it … after independence, the pragmatic Kenyatta decided to keep a number of whites in senior posts because it made sense to do so to ease the transfer of power. Jomo was no racist and ‘had always said that he harboured no prejudice against the white man as a person and had no wish to drive him out of Kenya’.[vi] Whether Jomo explained his reasoning to Ted is unfortunately unknown.
At least Ted’s remarkable photos have survived with their vivid depiction of the special relationship between these two families. Of James and Myra Scott’s five children, Ngareta is still living in retirement in Australia, where she emigrated with her family in the 1970s.
With special thanks to Karen Heald for contributing the images and the wealth of information on her family and their special friendship with Jomo Kenyatta.
[i] Ngareta also had a nickname, but she stopped using it so it has been left out here
[ii] Karen knew her grandfather as an adult only for a few years at the end of his life so acknowledges that this view may be skewed by his age and her lack of interest in politics. To her, he talked mainly about the importance and methods of education
[iii]News Chronicle, 22 Oct 1952 p1
[iv] Murray-Brown, Jeremy Kenyatta (George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, 1972)
[v] Karen managed to contact Winky’s daughter in January 2023 to find out what she remembered
[vi] Murray-Brown, Jeremy Kenyatta (1972) p313