by Captain W. E. Johns



VI.                   THE CASE OF THE POISONED CROPS  (Pages 93 – 103)


This story was unique to this book and never published elsewhere.


“I want you to go to Africa,” Air Commodore Raymond, of the Special Air Section at Scotland Yard, told his chief operational pilot, Air Detective-Inspector Bigglesworth.  “There’s been nothing about it in the papers yet, but the unrest among certain tribes on the borders of the Kikuyu country has taken a turn for the worse; and in view of what’s happening there it isn’t surprising”.  “Has this anything to do with Mau-Mau terrorism?” asks Biggles.  (The Mau Mau rebellion, 1952 to 1960, also known as the Mau Mau uprising, Mau Mau revolt or Kenya Emergency, was a war in the British Kenya Colony (which became independent in 1963) between the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA), also known as the Mau Mau, and the British authorities).   “It could be – indirectly.  The scheme is too ingenious and the operation of it too technical, for the average native mind.  But whoever is behind it is no friend of ours, and is obviously trying to aggravate the Mau-Mau trouble by spreading it to other districts”.  “What exactly is happening?” asks Biggles.  Raymond explains that food supplies are being hit.  Locusts in Africa can “turn a verdant landscape into a howling desert” in a few hours.  What was needed was a powerful insecticide to spray from aircraft onto the swarms.  “One of the big chemical firms undertook the job, and soon produced the very thing that was needed.  But there was a snag.  The stuff, which was named Vegicide, certainly killed the locusts, but it also killed everything else”.  It poisoned the ground so that nothing would grow.  The plan was to use it when a swarm of locusts were passing over ground already sterile, in order to save crops further south.  Twelve ten-gallon drums of Vegicide were produced to give it a trial.  They were in drums painted red with the label “Explosive.  Stow away from engines”.  Four drums were stolen from the dock at Mombasa.  They are now being used to destroy native crops in the hope of starving them into a state of rebellion.  Raymond says they now have what might turn out to be a clue.  “Shortly after the Vegicide was found to be missing, a curious message, sent out by an aircraft, came over the air.  It was picked up by several stations.  A weak voice appealed to anyone British to go to the airfield at Klookerstein.  The voice became weaker and faded to silence.  Klookerstein, by the way, is an old airstrip in North Central Africa, miles from anywhere.  A plane was flown out but could discover nothing wrong”.  “By a strange coincidence, the airstrip is being used as an experimental base by people investigating methods of destroying the locust plague.  The man is charge is an engineer named de Goot.  He has with him a chemist, and a doctor named Frankl.  De Goot has two old Moth planes flown by a South African named Felix Harley, who Biggles knew “in the war” as a good chap.  Raymond says Harley had pinched the pay role and disappeared in a Gipsy Moth.  Biggles says he will fly out to investigate.  (A new paragraph starts after a break).  “Two aircraft, a Proctor and an Auster (the Percival Proctor was a 3 or 4 seat aircraft that first flew on 8th October 1939 and was retired in 1955.  Auster Aircraft Ltd made aircraft from 1938 to 1961.  Auster was the Roman name for the south wind), droned at a sober speed across the weary waste of Africa that lies north-east of Kenya.  In the Proctor were Biggles and Ginger: in the Auster, Algy and Bertie.  Both machines, modified for police work, were equipped with long range tanks and high frequency radio telephony.  They were, in fact, two of the machines that had been used in the search for the fanatical negro who had called himself The Black Elephant*” (A footnote tells us * see Biggles and the Black Raider).  Biggles and Ginger are going to Klookerstein and Algy and Bertie are going to look for any signs of the missing pilot, Harley.  Biggles and Ginger land and Ginger senses an atmosphere of guarded hostility and that they are not welcome.  Biggles is greeted with “If you’re looking for petrol we’ve none to spare”.  Biggles is told that he is talking to ‘General’ de Goot and Biggles says he is looking for a friend of his called Harley.  He is told “he took one of my machines and the pay-roll”.  Biggles and Ginger “stretch their legs” and look around.  Biggles sees four black painted drums, but where they are scratched or knocked the colour was red.  Biggles also sees a tamarisk tree with a white scar that he thinks has been made by a bullet.  “It was evident from the expressions on the faces of everyone that if departure was long delayed the sullen truce would break down”.  Biggles decides to leave.  In the air, they contact Algy and a red flare leads them to where the Auster has landed, by a crashed Gipsy Moth.  Harley has died in the machine.  There are bullet holes in the airframe and fabric and dry blood on the floor of the cockpit.  Harley had been shot.  He had a tank of Vegicide on board that has been damaged in the crash and as a result, everything is dead for thirty yards around.  Biggles returns to his Proctor when an aircraft, a Puss Moth, flies fast and low over them.  An oily black substance is squirted downwards.  “Look out!” shouted Biggles.  “Run”.  Biggles and Ginger get in the Proctor and taxi along the ground.  Ginger, looking back, checks that Algy and Bertie are alright.  They watch the Puss Moth, but notice that it appears to have caught fire.  It crashes into the ground.  Biggles, who has not taken off, taxis back to Algy and asks how that happened.  Algy, looking shaken, confesses that he did it.  He fired a flare pistol at the Puss Moth to make it swerve from its path over them.  The flare must has fired the Vegicide as the stuff was highly inflammable.  Biggles says “We’ll get back to Nairobi and report it, and arrange for the rest of the gang to be picked up.  They had only one machine left, and now that’s gone, so they’ve no hope of getting away.  Come on, let’s get mobile”.