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Opinions of Saturday, 27 February 2016

Columnist: A.R. Gomda

Forgotten, discarded mementos

My nostalgia for the years when the railway system was an important feature of transportation in the country has been triggered by the Brits love for history which unfolded recently.

I had just finished reading and watching pictures of the The Mail’s feature on the restoration and test drive of the famous locomotive, Flying Scotsman, in London.

The inaugural drive attracted so many cherishers of history, and most British especially the cultural establishment is that the train had to stop for the safety of the hordes of people who were taking pictures and savouring the spectacle. The Transport Police had to move in to restore orderliness.

Juxtapose the scene and reality with Ghana where we hardly have eyes for our history. I doubt if our good old locomotive engines and their coaches have been confined to anything like a railway museum for viewing. I doubt if we have. We are too distant from such mentality as a people and this could deny future generations knowledge about the history of their beloved country.

I used to go to the railway station close to Tudu where I was raised to watch the locomotive engines especially the coalman as he shovels coal periodically into the receptacle for the energy source of the engine. I used to enjoy the shrieking horn of the locomotive although it was somewhat scary for a child which I was at the time.

I remember vividly how tales about how a needle could cause a derailment of the train; baseless stories created and cherished by children of those times. The engines had various names reflecting the history and culture of the country. One of them I still remember had the name Dagomba and it shared features of the Flying Scotsman which the British have resurrected for the sake of history. Where are they all today? In a country where history is but a non-issue, I bet if managers of the moribund railway system can point at the scrap dealers who bought the cannibalized parts. Maybe those parts have been exported back to Britain or places where the people respect their history and would hardly do anything that can erase pieces of such evidences of long forgotten chronicles.

Maybe I have to locate one of the few surviving locomotive engine operators and interview them about how things were in their days. I still remember how the locomotive was used to cart timber and other resources from the forest areas to, I hear, Takoradi for onward shipment abroad.

The importance of history and how we have distanced ourselves from it with no policy geared towards dealing with it should be of concern to all Ghanaians.

It would be interesting taking a few areas of our past, albeit amateurishly, so that perhaps scholars of the subject, better primed to deal with it, would be encouraged to take another look at seeking funding from the government and other sources to document these or even preserve the relics of our past in a manner that would keep them permanently at identifiable places for generations yet unborn to come and view and appreciate.

I salute the managers of our Museums and Monuments Board who in the face of challenges of funding, continue to preserve what they have in their custody for public viewing.

I think, though, that many more items could have been assembled had the board secured funding to enable the experts do so.

It would be interesting to find out just how many Ghanaians visit the museum or even know the location to even explore its contents.

Modern fire tenders have replaced the old ones which the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) used to have in the early days after independence. It would be interesting to find out where the British made machines are today. I shudder to think that they too have toed the line of the other state equipment which could have augmented the contents of our national museum or even localized ones within the various state establishments.

The Ghana Armed Forces stand apart from the other state establishments somewhat. The Kumasi Fort encapsulates the history of the military in Ghana.

. The roll call of soldiers of northern extraction and Captain Glover’s 600 Hausas including countless accoutrements are worthy of emulation by others. Money and the commitment are two key factors needed for us to move forward in the area of preserving our history.

The Army Officers’ Mess in Accra has some de-commissioned armored cars in front of the facility, as are jet fighters at their Air Force counterparts near El Wak Stadium which is good and worthy of emulation.

It would be interesting to see the jet fighter which former Air Force pilot Jerry John Rawlings used to fly doing his dangerous and sometimes low flying manouvres. Such aircraft are important pieces of history which should be preserved. Maybe some inscriptions about the history of the decommissioned aircraft and armoured cars would be helpful as they add to the façade of these security locations where they are placed.

Accra needs a military museum so that the tangible representation of the history of our Armed Forces can be viewed and appreciated. The Bedford trucks or Abongo as they were fondly called, should be found in such a museum.

We want to see the SLRs and SMGs used during the 1966 coup and relics of the botched Operation Guitar Boy attempted coup of Lt. Arthur and Lt. Yeboah.

I do not know whether the Ghana Police Service has a museum. The Police Depot would have been an ideal place for such a facility. I think there are a few pictures of the early days of the Police following its detachment from the Gold Coast Constabulary upon the promulgation of the Police Ordinance of 1894.

Only Ghanaians born before independence know that the Ghana Police Service had the Escort and General Police segments; the former made up of unlettered, mostly discharged soldiers performing generally regimental, escort and riot quelling duties; the latter as the name implies performed clerical and counter duties. There was also the Marine Police which suffered disbandment twice or so and now functional once more.

The bugabuga police reference to the Escort Police had a distinct uniform. The Fez headgear, the red cummerbund and puttee were important features of this unit who mostly spoke Hausa and pidgin English. The drill instructors and bandsmen came from this segment.

The defunct Ghana Airways is hardly remembered safe when failed state corporations are discussed in academic circles and others. The unserviceable VC 10, one-time cynosure of the local airline sits on a segment of the Kotoka International Airport serving as a restaurant as a reminder of what was once upon a time our country’s mismanaged airline. The VC 10 no longer a flying aircraft but a restaurant has saved this piece of history but for which it could have long been scrapped to scrap dealers from Sodom and Gomorrah.

I could go on and on about how much we have neglected important mementos of our history.