The First Post-war Worrals Story


by Captain W. E. Johns


First printed November 1947



I.         BILL ASHTON SAYS GOODBYE  (Pages 9 – 19)


This book commences with Worrals and Frecks flying over “the lonely heart of Africa”.  “Worrals gazed down upon the time-worn face of Africa without emotion.  She had never seen it before, but it was much as she expected”.  (This is an interesting comment as the short story “Worrals Takes a Hand” had been published in the Children’s Gift Book in 1946 and that was set in East Africa.  Does that mean that this book was written before that short story but published afterwards?).  Frecks thinks back about the events that have led them here and she remembers “Bill Ashton, their mutual friend, until recently a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force”.  Shortly after being demobilised, Bill has arrived at the Knightsbridge flat which Worrals and Frecks shared “as a preliminary arrangement until they decided what they were going to do with the rest of their lives.  Their plans, figuratively as well as literally, were in the air”.  Frecks was not surprised to see Bill.  “She thought she knew what he had come to fetch.  When he went, he would take Worrals with him.  That was what Frecks thought.  But she was wrong”.  Bill announces he was on his way to Darkest Africa.  “Bill asserted – looking hard at Worrals – that he had given the project of matrimony some earnest consideration, but had decided that this would be neither fair to himself or the girl while the world was in its present state of chaos.  It would be better, he opined, to wait until the clouds rolled away, leaving a somewhat clearer course.  With this decision Worrals agreed so readily that Bill’s face fell, giving Frecks the impression that this was only a feeler to test Worrals’ reactions to the marriage question.  It would, she thought, take little persuasion to cause him to change his mind.  A word from Worrals would do the trick.  But the word did not come”.  Bill has an Uncle in Africa called Richard Ashton, known as Uncle Dick, who with his business partner, Andrew Mackintosh, has spent many years prospecting for gold.  They were both in South-West Africa at a place called Magube Drift, on the fringe of the Kalahari Desert, in such a remote place that it takes them three months to fetch stores.  Bill was going to buy himself a second hand aircraft and fly out to Africa where he would be responsible for transport between their goldfield and a convenient point of civilisation, a town called Keetmannshoop.  Fortunately there is an intermediate landing place called Impala Vley (although this is referred to as Impala Vley a couple of times, for the bulk of the story the landing ground is just referred to as Impala), under the charge of an Indian Superintendent called Mahomet Mazuk, who maintains the Government resthouse there, where oil and petrol are available.  Bill finishes by asking “Would Worrals like to come along – as Mrs. Bill Ashton, of course?”  Worrals declines.  Bill shows the two girls his proposed route and promises to write every time he goes to Keetmannshoop, once a fortnight.  The following morning they go to Croydon to see Bill off.  A month later Worrals get a rather vague letter from Bill.  Worrals is of the opinion that Bill must have been drunk when he wrote the letter.  No more letters come.  When two months have passed, Worrals is convinced that something has happened to Bill.  Worrals says she is thinking of flying out and having a look round.  “If you’re in love with him why didn’t you go out with him?” asked Frecks bluntly, exercising the candid privilege of long friendship.  “Who said anything about being in love?” flared Worrals.  “Bill was a good pal to us when we were in the Service.  We owe him something for that”.  Between them, the girls have enough money to buy a machine.  “A week later, in a silver-winged cabin monoplane with side by side seating, a light commercial type known as the Kingfisher, in which most of their combined saving had been sunk, they left Croydon on the first leg of their long run to Africa”.