Dugald Fletcher is identified by Mrs Mason as part of the Jura branch of
the Fletcher clan that moved first to South Africa and then Rhodesia around the beginning of last century.
In the book there is little detail about Dugald other than that he was a hermit. Chris Francis's
recollections rectify this and expand the Clan Fletcher story. - Gordon Fletcher, March 2003
My father came into contact with Dugald Fletcher in 1960/1 near Filabusi,
in the then Rhodedsia, in these circumstances:
My father had come out to Rhodesia in 1949, to join the BSAP, in which he
served until 1954/5. During that time he met my mother, a nursing sister
from the western Transvaal, and they married at Fort Victoria. I was born,
in 1953, in Salisbury. My father, after he left the police, worked variously
at Kariba, during the construction of the dam wall, in Nyasaland (now Malawi)
as a commercial fisherman and then as a prospector/smallworker (small mine
operator) in the Filabusi district of Matabeleland.
He was one of 3 partners in the venture, but he actually operated the mine,
and went into the business with no knowledge of mining whatsoever, of which
The deposit they were mining was sheelite, or schelite, from which tungsten
is extracted, and it was upon land belonging to Dugald Fletcher. I do not
know how much of what follows is entirely accurate, but I remember some of
from the time (I was 7 years old then) and from subsequent conversations with
I remember that Dugald was famous in the district because he was, as it says
in the book, a hermit. The reasons for his lifestyle were tragic, however.
My father told me that he came from a wealthy family and had gone off to
fight in the war, in which he served in an airborne unit, and was dropped at
Arnhem in operation "Market Garden", where he was taken prisoner. Dugald
survived the war, and returned to Rhodesia, where he decided to turn his back
on mankind and all his works, and took to a solitary existence on some
family-owned land near to Filabusi (and who could blame him?). He lived
entirely off the land, dressing in skins and wearing sandals fashioned from
pieces of corrugated iron attached to his feet with rawhide thongs. He built
himself a hut, and even, incredibly, dug a well by hand. His hair was long
and he was heavily bearded.
His chief eccentricity was his refusal to kill anything, even a snake, or to
suffer anyone else doing so on his land, and this landed him in trouble with
The system operated by the government, to encourage prospecting and mining
activity, was that anyone who had a prospector's licence could go onto any
land and prospect for minerals, and then mine any deposit they found, since
all mineral wealth subsisted in the state. My father had just such a
licence. At some time before my father arrived Dugald (then still in
possession of a shotgun) had some American prospectors prospecting on his
land, who made the mistake of killing a snake. Dugald got to know of this
and chased the men from his land at gunpoint, after which he was disarmed by
After this the police would visit him from time to time, just to see how he
was getting on. This involved a trip into the bush by Land Rover, and then a
stiff walk. On one occasion, the trooper assigned the task was making his
way down to Dugald's hut, and saw him sitting outside it, surrounded by
baboons. He was surprised that Dugald had managed to tame them, but when he
came nearer the animals ran away: they were not tame at all, merely living in
harmony with the man.
My father eventually had a small workforce of local Africans. His leading
hand, a man named Simon, had worked on the gold mines in South Africa, and it
was he who taught my father most of what he came to know about mining, and
actually enabled him to start and run the mine with any degree of success.
The Africans were very frightened of Dugald, I should think because of his
uncertain temper in the matter of mortality, and his appearance.
Not all of this is information at third hand. My father met Dugald on at
least one occasion, and said he felt that he was often watching his
operations from some place of concealment, which is what he did before
bearing down on the Americans. He said that when he met Dugald he found him
pleasant and quietly spoken. My father passed the time of day with him, and
asked if he wanted any reading material. Dugald said he was too busy to
read! I believe that it was from meeting him that he was able to tell me
about Dugald's wartime experiences, and to describe him to me.
I am pretty sure that this IS true, because my father took part in the same
operation, in the Guards Armoured Division, whose task it was to try and
reach the wretched airborne troops at Arnhem, in which they did not succeed,
only getting as far as Nijmegen - "A Bridge too Far"- and if Dugald had been
at Arnhem they would have had some conversation about it, for sure.
I was often out at the mine, and from my father's description Dugald sounded
rather like Ben Gunn in "Treasure Island", and the chance of meeting him
brought a wonderful apprehension into all my time there, although I should
probably have run a mile if I had met him.
The mine ran reasonably successfully for about 18 months, and then
insuperable geological factors (a metallic impurity which could not be
removed from the finished product) and a downturn in the world market began
to take their toll, the mine became uneconomic and my father wound it down
and closed it. It was called "Tact Mine".
Funnily enough, my father killed wildlife on Dugald's property, but never
came into any conflict with him over it. He shot baboons which destroyed his
workforce's crops, and latterly, poached game to feed them because he could
not afford to pay them. In fact, one of my most vivid memories of the time
was a Sunday afternoon poaching trip round the back of the mine, into which
my younger brother and I had pestered my father. He managed on this trip to
kill a duiker (a small antelope), to his surprise and annoyance, as he had
been planning a quiet stroll and a bit of target practice to impress us,
instead of which he had to hump the duiker all the way back to the Land
Rover. Anyway, we were certainly impressed.
As I write this in Sussex, in 2003, it all seems like a dream to me. I have
often wondered, with my father when he was still alive, what became of
Dugald, and whether he survived to war which led to the independent Zimbabwe.
I hope he did, and that he found the peace he was looking for after his
terrible war. I wish I had met him, now.