Pictured is a Lancia I built in 1958. That’s me in the driver’s seat. Loved racing!
Pictured is a Lancia I built in 1958. That’s me in the driver’s seat. Loved racing!
MINE IS a long story. However, I will try and write a bit at a time. I am 85 years old but thank God my memory is still perfect.
My father was born in Italy in 1912 and my mother in 1915. I was born in 1935. My father had to join Mussolini’s Italian Army in 1939, just before my sister was born, he was sent to Africa and later taken prisoner in Asmara, Ethiopia.
The British and the Allies captured thousands of Italian soldiers in North-Eastern Africa and elsewhere. Of these, some 55,000 Italian POWs were sent to 11-camps (all built hastily) in Kenya. He was held captive in Naivasha, in the Rift Valley, around 90 km from Nairobi (beautiful area). At the end of the war, he had managed to get a job with a Mr Taylor in Kinangop, in what is today Nyandarua County. (The county is located on the northwestern part of the old Central Province and contains the Aberdare Ranges).
While my mother and I were in Italy, for six years, we did not know if our father was alive or dead. The last time we heard from my father was at the end of 1939. He was away fighting for the Duce (Mussolini) My sister was born in June 1939 and, according to my mother, he was sad for not being there to see his new-born daughter. It was 1946 when we eventually heard from him. A Mr Taylor wrote through the Red Cross,
We did not know what the letter said because none of us could speak, read or write English. My mother had to walk 10 miles to find a gentleman who could read the letter. He had lived in America and spoke good English. It was a Mr Taylor said in the letter that my father was OK and in Kenya and that he would be coming home soon. Mr Taylor said in the letter that he was sorry to lose my father and he hoped he would return to Kenya to work for him again.
As soon as my mother returned home, she ran to the priest to cancel the funeral arrangements she had for my father. My father came back in June 1949. He was a carpenter and knew a lot about construction and buildings. By then, Mr Taylor’s daughter and son-in-law, Mr Durie, had bought a farm and wanted my father to be in charge and take care of their farm. The Duries were looking after Mr Taylor’s farm.
Two years later he applied for a Government job with the Public Works Department and was sent to Eldoret. I followed him and got a job with Cooper Motors. My father and his road crew took care of the repairs to the road from Eldoret to the Equator (there is still a sign advertising the Equator). In the end, he got a big job. He had to build a big, big bridge with railway tracks underneath. There was a significant camp of Mau Mau detainees nearby and, every morning, he would send three lorries to pick up the detainees to work on the bridge. He had to hire four white people, including my uncle. Three years later, I went back to Italy on vacation for six months, all paid for by Cooper Motors.
When I came back, my father and I finished building the railway bridge and decided to start building contractor business, with me as a sleeping partner. However, by then, he needed a vacation and went back to Italy for six months, all paid for by the PWD.
Dad got a big contract to build around ten dormitories with new toilets, a sewer system and a Catholic Church at Kitale. My uncle joined him full-time and he continued working for the P W D. He sent an SOS to relatives in Italy to help with the building work. Soon we four relatives arrived. We soon had a two-storey building of our own. The second storey housed a bar and restaurant called Pagano’s and it soon became popular. On the first floor, I had a grocery store in partnership with an Indian friend. I also had a transportation business with three lorries working almost 24 hours a day.
I was 23 years old with too much on my young shoulders. The weekend was my time off if I did not have to do police duty to give the full-timers a break. Otherwise, I would go dancing on Saturday nights. On Sundays, I would love to play tennis.
Finally, I need a break. There was an opening for a Service Manager in Tanzania. My boss, Mr Sparrow, recommended me for the job. After a month, much to my father’s disappointment, I got engaged to a Scottish girl and took off for Dar es Salaam.
I went to Dar es Salaam because I needed a break from my father’s businesses. In Dar I was very well-liked and I lived with a Maltese family. After a month, I was more like a son to them. I met my General Manager who was German but spoke fluent Italian. I was happy about that and thought we would get along very well. He gave me the bad news that he had already hired a service manager. However, he said, I was more than welcome to stay and straighten the place, as they were losing money at the workshop and the spare parts department.
I told him that I was more than happy to stay and would try to straighten things out. It took me three months to do just that. I hired new people and couple a stealing from the parts department. I went back to Kenya for Christmas and officially got engaged to my girlfriend. Meanwhile, in Eldoret, from April to December our lorries lay idle in the parking lot. My brother-in-law was supposed to take care of the repairs when needed. So many things were not same anymore.
My father told me that he planned to return to Italy to start a business over there. I told him I would return to Kenya but could only do so after I finished my contract with Coopers. I left Dar in April on good terms with the Manager.
My father was Pasquino Pagano and my mother’s maiden name was Ida Maria de Santo. We arrived in Kenya on my 14th birthday on October 1, 1949, from the Port of Brindisi to Mombasa. A year later, my mother and two sisters and an uncle joined us.
Leaving my little hometown of 800 was very hard on me. We were just one big family, especially during the war. We were occupied first by German soldiers followed by the Africans, the Indians, the English and finally the Americans. There was some fighting. The Germans were in my town, Liscia, and the English in Palmoli where my father was born with the River Trieste dividing the two towns. So, I was not a stranger to people from other countries.
On the Lloyd Triestino, my father met a fellow POW who was going to be working on the farm next to us. My father’s boss, Mr Durie, had paid for three train tickets in advance as he also knew my father’s friend’s boss. We went to the train station only to learn that there were no tickets. For three days we at a hotel in a single room as we did not have much money. We lived on the bread and cheese we had brought from home. Finally, the tickets arrived, and we were on our way to Nairobi. My father’s friend’s boss came to get us and took us to the Duries’ farm in Kinangop
My uncle went to work for a Mr Nightingale. In Naivasha, my very first job was as an apprentice mechanic, also on a farm, and I lived with an Italian, Mr Petrarca, who was in charge of the repair shop. Mr Hughes, who owned the farm, was a Major serving in India. He was a terrible man, as I remember. The first thing he told me was not to talk or have any contact with black people. Otherwise, I would be fired. He used to whip black people every day when they made a mistake. Three months later, I had an accident on a wood planer. I chopped off the tip of the left middle finger and a little off the sides of two other fingers. Mr Nightingale took me to a hospital in Nairobi and his son took me to my father’s place. Dad did not have a car and could not come to see me at the hospital.
Three months later, I went to work in Naivasha in Gordon’s Garage and stayed with Mr and Mrs Brown. As mentioned, after two years in Naivasha, we moved to Eldoret.
I won the first Mount Elgon motor car rally in 1957. Earlier I lost out in the first Coronation Safari (later East African Safari, Kenya Safari) driving a Volkswagen. I won the rally with a friend of mine and when we arrived at the finish, there were no English people to welcome us. There were only a few Indians and Africans. That was because I was of Italian prisoner of war stock. There was a lot of discrimination in those days.
They even announced an Englishman as the winner of the race in the East African Gazette. They did send a little cup as the winner of the race. I still have it. They misbehaved again when the Queen Mother came to Eldoret. I was to drive the Land Rover I had prepared for Her Majesty, as I was also a part-time police officer. They took me off that detail. I loved what I did, and I would do it again. Sorry, excuse my grammar, never did go to an English school.
(Discrimination in Kenya in those days should not have come as a surprise to anyone. However, as far as the Italians are concerned, it was not that long ago that they were killing British soldiers and their allies. The colonial government and settlers were angry that their paltry funds were spent to meet the ongoing costs of caring for the POWs. The British government in London was otherwise engaged.)
The settlers did not want to see white men working with Africans on the farms as menial labour. They did not want the Italians loose with their womenfolk who were in charge of the farms while they were away fighting for Queen and country. After all, most Italians had the reputation of womanisers. Most of them were pretty handsome and charming to boot. Still, if there was a white settler around, there were no problems. Italians were normally good dressers and stylish dancers. However, they were racist too because they did not actually treat their Indian and African camp guards with any kind of decency.
I am being neutral and have been all my life! When the Italians were in Somalia, the Mussolini army-built roads, a railway, schools and much more for the Somalis. Not like the British, they ruled half of the world, Africa, India, Australia and a lot more. They built nothing. Remember the old saying, empire on which the sun never sets because somewhere in the empire, the sun was shining.
A me and teacher from Hill School. Bill in the US.
A part-time policeman and Bill wedding in Eldoret