Picnic in the Matopo Hills Zimbabwe Bird

[Lilian] ESTHER BIRNIE (née McLean)

was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1915, and came from a Scottish Episcopalian background. She had an older and a younger sister. She was educated at Scottish state schools, and went to work in office accounting at age 15, after declining a bursary to study further.

George, her future husband, left Glasgow to work as a reporter in the House of Commons in London, but they then decided to leave Britain in search of a sunnier climate. He was offered work in the Magistrates' Court in Bulawayo, and went out to Southern Rhodesia. She followed soon after him on the Stirling Castle, and travelled from Cape Town by train to Bulawayo where they married a few days later.

She joined the Mother's Union and did parish work for St Margaret's church, North End, where George was choirmaster of the church choir. Mrs Birnie describes the friendly relationships with neighbours and the close-knit church community life in 1940's/50's Rhodesia. In 1979 she and George returned to Britain, where their younger daughter Lindsay was living.

Click on Esther's button to find out more about aspects of her life in Rhodesia.



was born in Blackheath, London in 1929. He was the eldest of 3 children, with a younger sister and brother, Sally and David. Six months before the war in 1939, his parents Ronald and Sheila decided to move out to Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia, as his father had been offered a job and they had had reports of the good education and weather there.

He worked for 5 years (from 1956 to January 1961) as assistant priest at St Margaret's Church, where he also became involved with the Brooking and Birnie families in North End and the Merchant family in Queens Park. He spent most of his working life in Southern Rhodesia, through the Federation, Rhodesia and Zimbabwe.

After a three-year stint in London he married Brenda and took her back to Rhodesia, where sadly she died 5 years later. Because Brenda had had open-heart surgery, he took Bishop Burrough's suggestion to go back through USPG; they might have been able to expedite her return if her health deteriorated.

He explained that 20 to 25 years ago the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) and the Universities Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) had united to form the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG). The UMCA was formed as a result of David Livingstone preaching to Cambridge University about the slave trade in East Africa. It started with a direct assault on 'Nyasaland', and the first bishop, Charles McKenzie who went up the Shire River with Livingstone, died there. Later, on the same trip, in 1862, Mary Livingstone died and was buried at Shupanga, Mocambique.

John retired to England five years ago and is living in a retired clergy flat in Lingfield, Surrey.

Click on John's button to find out more about aspects of his life in Rhodesia.


ALISON BODILLY (née Brooking)

was born in Blantyre, Nyasaland in 1938, and lived there until she was 6 years old, when her parents, Leslie and Ruth Brooking moved to Bulawayo in Southern Rhodesia. Her father was transferred there by his employer, Barclays Bank. She has 3 sisters and 1 brother, Janet, Faith, Roger and Marjorie, all younger than herself. She was educated first in Blantyre, briefly in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, and then Bulawayo, at Baines Junior and Evelyn Senior Schools.

She decided to train as a teacher at Grahamstown Training College, South Africa, where she spent 3 years after senior school. She specialised in her third year as an infant school teacher and her friend Margaret qualified in domestic science.

After returning to Southern Rhodesia, she taught for a year in Bulawayo, before getting married and sailing with her English husband to the United Kingdom.

Click on Alison's button to find out more about aspects of her life in Rhodesia.


CELIA ROWELL (née Merchant)

was born in Farnham Common, Buckinghamshire in 1945. She has an older sister, Eve. Her parents, Eddie and Winifred Merchant, disillusioned with England after the war, went out to live and work in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia in 1951, where they lived and worked for 10 years. To encourage new colonists their fares were paid by her father's employer the Bulawayo Chronicle. He went first, followed later by the family. Celia (aged 5) remembers the boat trip out with mixed feelings, but loved the long train journey from Cape Town to Bulawayo.

Celia's family left Rhodesia in 1961, partly because the situation was deteriorating, with riots in the Industrial Estate in Bulawayo and the Mau Mau problem in Kenya. She also found out years later that her mother had cancer and wanted to be operated on in England. Her father left a year before her mother and herself to find work and a home in England, where Eve was already studying.

Click on Celia's button to find out more about aspects of her life in Rhodesia.

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Esther at 19 in Scotland








John as assistant priest at St. Margaret's church, in Bulawayo











Alison with her doll in Nyasaland








Celia at 15 in Rhodesia