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Meeting one of life’s true greats – George Adamson

Welcome to the Orihuela Costa and District Branch of The Royal British Legion

By Kevin Reardon

Whilst stationed with the British Army Training and Liaison Staff Kenya (BATLSK) in Kahawa Barracks, during the late 1980’s the unit was called upon to carry out many unusual tasks and as the Station Warrant Officer I was usually involved in them all.

Our main purpose was to support Exercise Grand Prix, the Infantry Battalion Group exercises and the approximately 3,000 British troops who trained in Kenya every year, but during the periods when there were no military visitors we provided assistance to virtually anyone who asked, be it adventure training or even holidaymakers who were visiting the country looking to find something completely different. We also had our share of youth groups from organisations such as The Prince’s Trust who regularly turned up seeking our help.   

Additionally, outside of the exercise season, we would provide assistance and support to community projects, most notably the children’s school at Don Dol in the Rift Valley, which was built by the Royal Engineers and supported by staff from BATLSK. We would also pay regular visits to Kampi ya Simba (Camp of the Lions), in the Kora Valley, home to the World Famous conservationist, George Adamson, as well as the adjacent Campi ya Chui (Camp of the Leopard), which was run by his protege Tony Fitzjohn.

The journey was largely made on murrum (clay) roads over a couple of days. It was no great distance but the conditions were not the best and having to travel for the most part along tracks, many of which were in an awful condition, it was far better to err on the side of caution, so an overnight stop would usually be made in the grounds of a small Irish mission along the way.

The purpose of the visit to Kora was mostly one of good will. We would take along with us as many ‘ten man’ packs of out of date compo rations as we could carry, which would be very gratefully received as a supplement to the Kora larders. There would be at least one REME Vehicle Mechanic, usually two, who would spend a week or so servicing George Adamson’s ancient vehicle and equipment fleet and a couple of volunteer artisans who would be employed on the accommodation huts, the perimeter fence and any other structure or task in either Kampi ya Simba or Chiui that needed care or attention.

On one such visit I was delighted to be able to take along two of my sons, Neil and Stewart. It was an experience that we still often chat about, even today. My only regret is that it was before the days of digital cameras so the records I was able to make were limited and now look extremely dated.

We were usually at the camp for approximately ten days to two weeks and George would often take us out during the early mornings. Even up to his death in 1999 George always maintained the loyalty, friendship and trust of many lions that were living in the wild and it was during many years of these early morning excursions that he would nurture such relationships, seeking and often finding his former wards, all of which he had introduced to the area himself.

It might only involve a few words of encouragement or greeting for those which were clearly self sufficient, but there were many that struggled to adjust to the conditions following their introduction into the wild. Here, the support would often comprise of a chunk, or more, of dead camel meat, which was always well received by the lion and gratefully despatched by ourselves, particularly in view of the absolutely putrid odour which pervaded the land rover for long after it had been consigned.

The remainder of the days would be passed exploring the local area. There was fishing or swimming in an adjacent river. There were the endless conversations with visitors or film crews which always culminated in the evening meal shared in the dining hut with George, John and their two or three assistants.

George would then send his daily reports to the local wildlife authorities by radio phone after which we would then adjourn to the camp fire where we would sit alongside George into the early evening as we listened to the tales of his days as a game warden with wife Joy and their cub Elsa, the lion that not only change George and Joy's lives but, through subsequent books, movies and films, promoted an enormous interest in conservation with the general public.

Their relationship became the subject of the successful film ‘Born Free’ which of course starred Virginia McKenna and Bill Travis and which also won two Academy Awards.

These were days that will always be treasured and long remembered.  To meet such a devoted human being as George Adamson, who truly lived in harmony with nature, was a privilege.  He was a wonderful man who devoted his life to helping wildlife and to protecting the unique environment in which they lived.

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