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Fit for A Queen

June 13, 2012

I, like millions all over the world, watched the Jubilee Celebrations for Queen Elizabeth and was amazed by her stamina – she is truly an admirable woman.   Many know her history with Kenya but the Francombe family of Ol Malo has a very special relationship with her and her ascension to the throne.  I will let Colin Francombe tell the remarkable story.

A radio call from the Captain of a DC3. Dakota aircraft in the late afternoon of February the 6th 1952:–

—-  “Nairobi West Tower, this is Dakota Victor Papa – Kilo Hotel Kilo, Royal plane “Sagana”.
—-  “Go ahead Victor Papa – Kilo Hotel Kilo.”
—-  “Request clearance taxi and takeoff as per flight plan to Nanyuki airstrip , to collect Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip for onward to Entebbe Uganda”.
—-  “Victor Papa – Kilo Hotel Kilo, You are cleared to taxi for immediate takeoff on runway Zero-Three for immediate to Nanyuki and onward to Entebbe tomorrow. Report zone boundary. Happy landings. Out.

Words to this effect were spoken by my father, Wing Commander Aubrey Noel Francombe, [better known as Frankers] DSO, DFC, MBE, Europe Star, North Africa Star, Burma Star and honoured Captain of the Royal plane “Sagana”: named after the wild forested area and river on the slopes of Mt Kenya where the young Princess Elizabeth had spent the night with her husband Prince Phillip in the Royal Lodge , also named ‘Sagana’: a romantic hideaway in a peaceful forest glade with rolling lawns dipping into the crystal clear Sagana river, teaming with brown trout and looking out to the magnificent backdrop of Mt Kenya’s majestic rugged peaks,  Batian and Nelian: core of an ancient volcano that erupted in distant times gone by.

The young Princess had been on a Royal tour of Kenya and was due to spend her last night at Treetops hotel in the forest of the neighbouring Aberdare mountain range on the edge of Kenya’s awe inspiring Great Rift Valley.

This beautiful hotel was built into the giant branches of an even greater giant African fig tree looking out onto a waterhole and saltlick in a forest glade that even to this day, teams with unforgettable wildlife, ranging from the mighty African elephant to the tiniest Suni antelope that live under the constant chorus of myriad species of birdlife.

It was on this day in this forest paradise that the life of this gorgeous young Princess was to change forever: for it was shortly after she had arrived that news came through the forest by runner, of the sad death of her father King George the Sixth. And so in this beautiful setting, a Princess became a Queen.

Kenya officialdom went into action mode and it was decided that she must leave immediately for Entebbe where a plane of the King’s flight was waiting.

My father received the news whilst en route to Nyeri airport, where he was due to leave with the Royal guests on the following morning. He had been planning to join my mother, brother and me for the night with friends on a farm adjoining the Aberdare forest, but now had to be ready for immediate departure that evening. With no phones in those distant areas he made a quick detour and at around 6pm a shining DC3 skimmed the treetops over the farmhouse and a message fluttered down in a weighted sock with the sad news and the change of plan.
As an excited young eleven year old this took the wind right out of my sails as I was now not going to see the Dad who I was so proud of and who was my absolute hero.

He and his crew took off with their valuable cargo into the sunset and flew through horrendous electrical thunderstorms for most of the flight. The flight was rough and cold and the new Queen had to resort to wrapping herself in newspapers in an effort to keep warm.However they made it and were back in England two days later for their harrowing ordeal.

My father was always full of admiration for the way in which she held her poise and composure and the newspaper saga was recited on many an occasion.

It was always difficult to get Frankers to talk about his amazing escapades through life and he certainly never boasted about being the first person ever to fly a British Queen; but that young eleven year old boy was always and will always be immensely proud of his Dad!

I’m sure as he looks down on us he is happy to see his flying genes have bounced down through the Francombe family with two of his grandsons now proficient bush pilots: David who can fly around the Mara blindfolded and our son Andrew who answers to the name of Frank[ers] and who has made flying an integral part of Ol Malo. He has now expanded that gene pool to include helicopters, bringing so many more wild and inaccessible areas in this beautiful friendly country so much closer.

By Colin Francombe, Ol Malo