Obituary - Claud Campbell Macdougall Watson
Claud Campbell Macdougall Watson
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Text supplied by David Watson (Claud's son) in an e-mail dated 29th July 2003
I do not know which house my father was in, but I am pretty sure that his dates must have been
1932-1935 at the Prince of Wales School. His full name was Claud Campbell Macdougall Watson. His
father, Patrick Watson, was Accountant General in the Treasury in Nairobi. Although my father
was born in Nairobi in 1915, he was sent "home" in 1921 for schooling. He disliked Tonbridge
School so much that after trying his school certificate and failing due to French, he asked to
be allowed back to Kenya, and enrolled in PoW as a day boy in 1932. He passed his School
Certificate and I believe went on to become the first pupil to pass the Higher Certificate in
In 1935 he became a medical student at Edinburgh and eventually settled into
General Practice in North Wales, where I was born and brought up. Thus I never entered the
hallowed portals of PoW, but I remember my father talking about the school with a degree of
fondness, especially after having experienced the somewhat savage discipline of the more
traditional English public schools.
As we saw so little of my grandfather - he retired to South Africa after the war, he
wrote an autobiography for his family. My father did the same and I append the section relating
to his return to Kenya from England in 1932, and his time at PoW. I hope you find it of some
RETURN TO KENYA
As we disembarked at Mombasa it seemed strange to realise I was returning to the country of my
birth after an interval of about eleven years. I could not remember much about it all as I had
been so young when I had left in 1921. So it was really a great experience. Travelling on the
railway to Nairobi I found great fun. The line is a metre gauge one. This meant the rolling
stock had to be low and broad which gives it rather a clumsy look compared with railways in
Britain (where the gauge is over four and a half feet feet).
The journey to Nairobi is uphill all the way, and the line has to climb five and a half
thousand feet; which means the journey to Nairobi takes much longer then the return journey to
Mombasa. One of the delights of the journey was the frequent sight of the wild animals, who
took but little notice of the trains. In the early days it is said that it was not unknown for
a rhinoceros to attack the engine as an intruder. Such an encounter could only have one result.
With all his weight and speed a rhino could only make a small dent in an engine weighing over a
I was later told by a fellow pupil at Nairobi that the funniest experience he had on the
railway was when there was a swarm of locusts about. They made the line so slippery that the
engine wheels just skidded round and the train came to a halt. Even blowing sand on the rails
made little difference, so dense was the locust swarm. I was later to be able to verify for
myself what an astonishing sight it is when a swarm of locusts invaded us in Nairobi a year
later. There were millions of them and it took days for the swarm to pass.
My father met us at Nairobi and took us to his house a few miles outside the town. He lived in
an area called the Marlborough Estate. For some odd reason he had never given his house a name.
He had built for himself a very nice stone bungalow overlooking a steep valley with a small
stream running at the bottom from which he pumped up the water for his swimming-pool.
It was a pleasant house to live in. It had a large veranda facing east, so that one could sit
outside in the shade during the heat of the day. He had also built a small wooden guesthouse
nearby for visitors.
THE PRINCE OF WALES SCHOOL
I was soon introduced to my new school which was at Kabete, a few miles north of Nairobi. I used
to cycle there, part of the way along native paths until I joined the main road north further
west. I enjoyed this cycle ride so much that I used to dream about it years later. Cycling
along the Kabete road itself was a dreadful experience. Like most roads in those days it was a
dirt road not surfaced with macadam. This gave it a horrible corrugated surface which was
jolting to ride on. In a car if you travel fast enough you could skate along on the top of the
corrugations; but it must have been a terrible strain on the springs. In wet weather the dirt
turned into mud.
The Prince of Wales school had been designed by a famous architect, Sir Herbert Baker, who had
also designed many famous buildings in India. It was cool and spacious and the classrooms never
felt hot and stuffy, even in the hottest weather. This is a great asset when living in the
tropics at a time when luxuries such as air conditioning were unheard of.
The headmaster was a Captain Nicholson, an ex naval officer who ran the school like a ship.
There were bugle blowing rituals morning and evening with the Union Jack being raised and
lowered. He was a real gentleman who could be a strict disciplinarian but whose decisions were
always fair ones. He was thus greatly respected by all the boys under his care. They were very
much a mixed bag. Mostly Europeans, but with a large number of Boer Dutch whose parents had
emigrated to Kenya and taken up farming. The two races mixed quite well but it needed a good
headmaster to keep good order. The Dutch boys were good at outdoor sports but inclined to be
quarrelsome, and many an argument began because of some adverse comment about the Boer war,
which to them was very recent history, even if to us British boys it was something in the
I had to study for the dreaded School Certificate again; but to my delight I found that the
French teacher was Captain Nicholson himself. He was not a trained teacher but had taught at
Dartmouth. He spoke fluent french and was the first teacher of the language I had ever found
any good. He really made the language alive and interesting, and when I sat the exam the
following summer I had no difficulty passing the third time.
To my dismay my father insisted that I take Latin again, the language I had grown to loathe.
We found the only master at the school who could take latin was a doddery old chap called
Twells. He was not at all keen on the idea and I had difficulty in even getting him to correct
my latin exercises.
However my father valiantly offered to coach me himself; no mean feat as he cannot have studied
the subject for thirty years. There was a set book to study by Tacitus all about the Roman
Emperor Galba and his times. I cannot say I found it at all interesting, but as my father
was so enthusiastic and obviously enjoyed coaching me, I did my best to summon up enthusiasm
for the antics of Galba and Co. and rather to my surprise passed the exam when it came.
By now I was so proficient at physics, chemistry and maths that I must have nearly got full
marks in them. In the event I was awarded an Honours Certificate; the first boy in the school
to have done such a thing. Another boy called Weller also got Honours. I believe our names were
eventually put on some sort of a board but it must have been after I had left.
The question after I passed the School Certificate at last was what to do with me next. I was
now seventeen and a half and could have gone straight on to University at Edinburgh to do
medicine. But my father did not think I was mature enough and wanted to wait another year or
two. I did not agree with him but did not feel particularly strongly about it. I knew the
average age of entry to medical school was eighteen and a half. But now fate stepped in to
decide the issue. Nobody had ever taken the Higher Certificate in Kenya before, but Weller's
father was the Director of Education and he thought it would be a feather in his cap if he
could persuade enough boys to stay on at the Prince of Wales school for another two years to
sit this exam. A circular was sent round to all the senior boys’ parents. Eight of us agreed
to have a go. The Education Department had agreed that they would fund the extra expense
involved if there were at least six of us.
So I was now committed to staying on another two years. During that time I hoped to see a bit
more of Kenya, and if I liked it I might settle down there after I had qualified. Little did we
know that before I ever qualified there would be another world war after which the whole
political situation in Kenya was to be altered with Mau-Mau and independence looming over the
When the next term began it was found that two boys had dropped out leaving six of us. The
subjects we were to take were physics, chemistry and mathematics- the science trio. It meant
enormous expense for the education department. A huge amount of equipment had to be purchased
solely for our use, and I don't think Mr Weller was very popular with the Treasury who had to
In the end it turned into farce. One by one the others dropped out and for the second year of
study I was on my own. I had two teachers entirely to myself. A Mr Aston took me in physics
and maths, and a South African (whose name I cannot recall) took me for chemistry.
I soon discovered, rather to my surprise, that advanced chemistry consists to a large extent
of applied mathematics, and physics almost entirely so. This was just up my street- as maths
has always been my strong subject Mr Aston found me a willing pupil. Advanced maths starts off
with integral calculus and he was surprised how quickly I mastered it. Calculus is not
easy, but once you get the hang of it, it is just a question of doing it step by step and
I found it quite fascinating. The chemistry teacher merely dictated notes which he had prepared
himself, and very good notes they turned out to be. He assured me that if I knew those notes
thoroughly I was bound to pass. He turned out to be quite right.
Even Weller, the son of the Director of Education, dropped out of the course after the first
four terms. He was made head boy for his last year- a job he was most unsuited for as he was
far too absent minded.
The rest of the narrative concerning this period describes various characters Claud met in
Kenya leading up to his return to U.K. in 1935. I wonder if my father ever did have his name
put on a board in the school! I am hoping to add illustrations to my father's writings - he died
in 1994. Do you have any photos concerning the school of that period. Various other ancestors
of mine were old Kenya hands. My father's uncle Ted Sanderson was the first town clerk of
Nairobi, his other uncle Arthur Watson became the second. My father's cousin's husband Charles
Taylor became head of the coffee growers association. Another cousin Dorothy Noad ran the
Highland School in Nairobi. I wonder if you know anything of that school?