Karen Kendrick (now Gruss) writes

My sister I attended Kaptagat from early 1950's until 1958 when we left Kenya and came to South Africa. In those days it certainly was a school with a difference and depending on the type of child you were you loved it or hated it. My sister and I are very different personality wise and I loved every minute spent there and she hated every second! Having just come out to Kenya from UK we were not accustomed to having so much space or harsh African living, you learned very quickly at Kaptagat.

I met the wrong end of Mr Chitty's cane on my third day there for talking (and singing Red sales in the sun set) after lights out. He must have had the most incredible hearing that he could hear what was going on in the girl's dorm all the way from the main house.

The polio outbreak was remedied by lining us all up outside the dorm and giving us all a large dose of malt and cod liver oil. It was he most revolting concoction I have ever had to swallow in my life !

We had a French lady (whose name I can't remember) who was our class teacher. She had a funny eye and you never knew if she was watching you or not. She was extreamly partial to scramble eggs. One morning having had eggs for breakfast she sat in class looking very strange and then "lost" her eggs all over our books that she was marking.

Mr Jupp was both flamboyant and eccentric. Even if you were not at all artistic he managed to "see" something in your artistic efforts.

At break we were given brown bread and butter and half an orange. I can't remember why but I decided I was going to run away. My accomplice and I saved our bread and oranges for a few days and then after lights out "broke out". We got as far as the hedge at the bottom of the sports field and into the field beyond. I am not sure if it was a cow or a monster of great proportion but something moved and the speed that two little girls returned to the dorm was phenonenal.

ZoŽ Foster was an incredible lady who in spite of having callipers on her leg still played polo and taught us to ride horses. The family used to field the "All Foster Polo Team" which consisted of ZoŽ Francis Robert and Mary. We used to walk to the stables and on the way there was a shed that contained hard yellow mielies that we used to pinch to feed to the horses. When we came back from our riding lesson we used to take the horses to a very muddy pond where they drank and rolled in the mud. I still have photos of horses with names such as Thistle, Conway, Complacence, Akbar and Ayisha written on the back in my untidy childhood writing. (Which never improved)

We had annual gymkhanas on the polo field. There was a sort of jumping lane on the side, with brush jumps along it. Once you got into the lane there was nowhere else to go. You learned very quickly to hold on tight and "go with the flow"

I was part of the St George and the Dragon pageant on the Fosters front lawn in honour of Lady Baden Powel. We practiced for months before and were very proud of ourselves when the event finally happened. Lady Baden Powell spoke to each and every one of us after the display.

I rode in many of the musical rides with red bandana type scarves and white lanyards. Credit has to go to ZoŽ Foster for getting 15 or 20 children on horses going in the same direction for what seemed like an awfully long time.

The river was always a very special place and most Sunday afternoons were spent building dams and the paddling. When I was there the Fosters had a pet Duiker (picture) that wandered around the front lawn, with peacocks for company. He was very tame and used to follow us kids own to the river.

Mary Fosters 21st birthday party was held in the school hall. We were all locked up for the night but to this day if I hear the songs Sugar bush or Picking a Chicken, which I think were sung by Connie Francis it reminds me of Kaptagat.

Half term we didn't always go home but a lot of our parents came and stayed at the Kaptagat Arms, and from there took us on different outings. My father told many a good story of the parties that the parents had at half term!!

Having read the different opinions of the various different alumni and I can only say that the years that I spent there had a huge influence on my life. I was encouraged to be independent; I developed a life long love of horses, and still, to this day compete at a high level. (I now carriage drive instead of riding) I have a love of the outdoors especially forests and waterfalls, and most importantly I still live in Africa.

Mr Chitty was a disciplinarian of note. He ran the school like a military unit. I don't think that our Spartan living did us any harm. We were given the chance to be ourselves and to spend time outdoors at the river and in the forest. It certainly was a different world to the one I had left behind in England. I was given a legacy that I have passed on to my children and grandchild.

I was very privileged and fortunate to have attended Kaptagat.

Karen Gruss (Kendrick)
Johannesburg
South Africa

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