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Name: POLHILL, Stanley Frederick Philip

image of individualimage of individual

Nee: brother of Theodore Robert Polhill

Birth Date: 10 May 1891 Pa Chew, China

Death Date: 2 Oct 1970 Naivasha

First Date: 1919

Profession: Came to Kenya to take charge of the monster machines imported by Powys Cobb. Bred an improved strain of pyrethrum which he gave away to his neighbours and which is still being grown. He climbed the summit of Mt. Kinangop, 13000 ft. with one lung. Farmer

Area: Kinangop, Molo

Married: In Highbury, London 4 Sep 1916 Evelyn 'Eve' Davidson Wood b. 3 Mar 1893 Stoke Newington, d. in a car accident 10 Mar1978 Naivasha

Children: Roger Marcus Stanley (1937); Barbara Evelyn 'Barbie' (m. Jim Nightingale) (26 Oct 1917-1983); Phyllis Kathleen (Tooley) (17 Mar 1919 Edmonton-1966); Pamela Eleanor (Welmans) (1929-1998); Robert T. 'Bob' (d. 28.3.1998 Australia)

Book Reference: Midday Sun, Red 31, Hut, Pioneers, Burke, Naivasha

War Service: Capt. RFC, served in WW1 (despatches twice)

School: Jesus College Cambridge

General Information:

Gazette 6 Dec 1938 Rift Valley Voters List  farmer, Howbury, Kinangop with Dorothy Sarah P. And Evelyn Davidson P.
Midday Sun - 'including 3 ponderous combine harvesters which had no guards to protect people from their moving parts. Stanley Polhill's jacket got caught up in the cogs of one of the machines. He was dragged in and cut open from chest to groin; one lung and several ribs were torn away and his anatomy exposed to the skies. This was at Mau Narok. The nearest hospital was over 30 miles away along the roughest of wagon tracks, and his ambulance an almost springless early-model Ford. How he survived to reach Nakuru was a miracle. A further miracle was performed by Dr Burkitt. He fitted a football valve to a bicycle pump which he attached to the surviving lung, and organised 2 hour shifts of Africans to pump air all round the clock. It was nearly a year before Stanley Polhill was discharged from hospital. When he settled with his wife and family on the Kinangop in the usual mud-and-bamboo cabin with a cowdung floor, his wounds still needed daily dressing, and he was too weak to drive a tractor. His wife and a young governess took over. They marked out a stretch of grassland, ploughed and drilled it, only to find when they harvested their crop that their wheat was unsaleable - the Depression had started - so it stayed where it was to rot in a shed. His daughter Barbie still remembers the smell of mildew mixed with that of iodoform from her father's dressings.'
Pioneers - South Kinangop - Evelyn Polhill - About 1936 the first pyrethrum plants to be grown on South Kinangop were established by Stanley Polhill as an experiment. The plants flourished, and founded a strain that proved particularly hardy and high-yielding, still known as the Polhill strain. Stanley supplied pyrethrum splits free of charge to any famer who cared to come along and collect them. Many took advantage of this offer and that is how the industry was established whose exports came to earn 2 or 3 million pounds a year for the country.
Naivasha - Some years later Stanley Polhill also bred Cheviots; importing purebred rams from Britain.
Naivasha - About 1936 the very first pyrethrum plants to be grown on South Kinangop , were established by Stanley Polhill on his South Kinangop farm as an experiment. The plants flourished, and were propagated by splitting up the older clumps, and putting the young splits into rows on fresh land, and old fields ploughed up and later sown to cereals. This strain, which was very hardy and yielded heavily, is still known as "The Polhill Strain". The pyrethrum industry flourished from these small beginnings, and as pyrethrum is an effective and safe insecticide and non-poisonous to man or beast, it has held its own against various synthetic types. Stanley Polhill was instrumental in developing the pyrethrum industry throughout all suitable areas of the Kenya Highlands. He supplied pyrethrum splits, free of charge, to any farmer who cared to come along with his lorries and labour and collect them. People came from all parts of the Highlands to avail themselves of this offer. This is how the industry was established and which is now worth £1,000,000 to the country in exports
Women in Kenya - April 1979 - Obituary - Evelyn Polhill with her two young daughters arrived in Kenya in 1923 to join her husband, Stanley, and Stan's brother Theo. who were working on the Powys Cobb's large wheat farm at Mau Narok. Evelyn travelled by train from Mombasa to Elmenteita then on up to Mau Narok by wagon. Their house had mud and wattle walls with wooden shutters for windows, a thick grass roof and a floor of smoothed mud and cow dung which was much used in the early days. It was easily swept and looked clean and attractive with animal skins used as mats. The house was set in beautiful country.
Stan was mechanizing the Powys Cobb's farm which previously had been worked by oxen when he had a terrible accident being caught in a harvester's moving chains. He lost several ribs and one lung and was kept alive by an innovation of Dr Burkitt's - a football bladder and African man using a bicycle pump. Evelyn nursed him devotedly and as it was obvious he would not be fit to work for a long time set off too find a farm.
Evelyn fell in love with the country on the Kinangop and in 1926 the family moved there. Evelyn was helped a lot by kindly neighbours and learned to plough and plant and eventually Stan was able to help. Their children  got to know and love nature. They bought cows which the girls milked and also grew wheat. Game meat was extensively used for food. Life was hard but challenging.
In the depression of the 1930s when the wheat could not be sold Eve fed her family on homegrown produce, milk, cheese, bacon, lard sausages and made jam for sale. Farming looked up in the prewar days and Stan bought Eve two horses which became her pride and joy and she spent a lot of time riding over the farm, teaching the girls and attending gymkhanas and paper chases.
The Pyrethrum era started and Stan was one of the first growers.
Towards the end of 1940 the Polhills started building their real home on Howbury's Farm, a stone double-storied house with an orchard full of fruit and a beautiful garden. Eve had three daughters and then a son, Roger, with whom she would go for long walks collecting flowers and shrubs. Roger became a botanist and worked at Kew and his mother sent many new specimens there and to the Nairobi Herbarium right up to the end of her life.
She was a woman of many talents. Apart from being known as the Gallopping Granny, organising polo clubs and camps, she also played the organ at St. Francis Church on the Kinangop and at Naivasha later after the Kinangop Farm was sold in 1963. As a girl she had attended the Slade School of Art and so painted and sketched beautifully; she embroidered the Kinangop EAWL tapestry and her sketches appear in the Naivasha Scrapbook; she sewed, sketched, painted, tended her garden and after she gave up riding, walked her dog for miles. She was always busy.
She died on March 10 1978 as the result of a motor accident. She had spent her 86th birthday the previous week with her family at Njoro and on the last day out walking had discovered a new plant.
She left 3 children, 13 grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren.
Gazette 11 June 1971 probate
Gazette 14 July 1978 wife's probate
Guy Keeble: Like many of the despatch riders, Stanley Polhill came from a family which claimed a rich and complex history of achievement. The Polhills were originally London merchants – for several generations they had been involved with politics, trade, and learning. In the 1780s an ancestor acquired Howbury Hall near Bedford, where Stanley’s grandfather brought up three sons. The eldest son inherited the Hall, while Stanley’s father Arthur and the youngest brother joined five other adventurers in a group known as the “Cambridge Seven”. The Seven were young graduates, none with any strong religious background, who saw themselves as born-again Christians, and responded to an evangelist’s call to become missionaries in China. They toured university campuses before leaving for China in 1885 on a wave of enthusiasm. Once there, they scattered to different missions but remained in close contact. Stanley’s father married Alice Drake, the daughter of another missionary who attached himself to the Seven.

Arthur and Alice’s five sons were all born in China. The youngest, Theo, was born on the eve of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, when the family was forced to return to England for their own safety. Stanley’s parents returned to China as soon as it was safe to do so. They left Stanley and his brothers with their uncle Cecil at Howbury Hall, while they travelled back to China overland across Siberia, taking only baby Theo with them.    At the age of 14 Stanley was enrolled at Trent College near Nottingham, a newly-founded public school. There he was an enthusiastic member of the OTC, and did well enough academically to go up to Jesus College, Cambridge in 1910. All but one of Stanley’s brothers went into the Church or medicine, but Stanley chose otherwise. Maybe conscious of his father’s precarious profession as a missionary, he chose to qualify in a profession that would provide a dependable income. He studied physics and engineering at university, and after he graduated in 1913 started a traineeship with a major engineering firm in Bedford. By that time he was an enthusiastic motorcyclist. He had run the motorcycle section of the Cambridge Officer Training Corps and owned a Scott motorcycle which he used for touring.

Stanley was one of the earliest volunteers to arrive at Chatham. Nicknamed ‘Pollers’, he made an immediate impression on the Royal Engineers. Though small in stature – his son describes him as diminutive – he had natural authority, and he was put in charge of the group of motorcyclists with whom he travelled to Ireland. On arrival at Carlow the commanding officer of 5th Signals  Company, Captain Doherty Holwell, immediately promoted him Sergeant. Stanley had other pressing matters on his mind at that moment. He was courting Evelyn Davidson Wood, daughter of another missionary, and was on the brink of proposing marriage. When he set off for Chatham, he expected that, once recruited, he would be allowed a day or two at home to settle his affairs. However, he learned that he would have to stay at Chatham until he left for Ireland. So he put his proposal in a letter – apologizing for using the war as an excuse for not popping the question face-to-face!

Polhill is rarely mentioned in ‘Adventures’, but his own letters and photographs complement Watson’s story. Stanley was probably the most proficient photographer in the group. He was also an experienced engineer, and in his letters (see Timeline) we find the authentic voice of the motorcyclist. As the Army would not accept his own motorcycle, he was issued with a brand-new machine. Riding it for the first time en route to Euston, he purred: “my Triumph is a perfectly lovely bike, extraordinarily powerful and smooth-running”. Looking ahead to an early end to the war, he said he was “rather hoping to be able to take it off the Government at the end at an absurdly low price if the engine is still in good order”. A month later, he is still enjoying the machine, but cautious of the wear and tear. “I’ve got a cracked front spindle which I have to nurse over pavé, but the engine has run beautifully every day and night.” The Douglas he rode in 1915 was a much lighter machine, maybe better suited to a rider of his stature.  After the shock of the Retreat and then the bitter fighting and stalemate of late 1914, Stanley’s mood seems to have changed. Two weeks into the campaign he was distressed by the sight of abandoned vehicles, but six months later, he talks about despatch riders’ casualties almost casually. With the benefit of hindsight it seems that the gloomy casualty figures for motorcyclists were inflated, but there were daily risks to face, and Stanley writes about being “wonderfully fatalistic” about the fact that you can’t hide from shells on a motorbike.    No doubt Stanley’s leadership in 1914 contributed to the effectiveness of the Unit and the cohesion of the group in a warm and friendly atmosphere. After the turn of the year, members of the original group began to leave with commissions, and the motorcyclists, who had briefly enjoyed excellent facilities at Locre, were uncomfortable, to say the least, in their winter accommodation at St Jans Cappell. There, according to Overton, Stanley had a disagreement with the senior warrant officers and was transferred to the 2nd Army Signal company. Soon afterwards he was commissioned in the Royal Engineers, then shortly transferring to the Royal Flying Corps.    Though Stanley was the only member of 5th Signal Company to join the RFC, it is known that the Royal Flying Corps conducted recruitment drives. The RFC conducted recruitment drives in France for men who could ride motorcycles. Unsurprisingly, our database of despatch riders shows that those who went to the RFC had a higher fatality rate than those who remained with the Signal Service. As well as the airmen who lost their lives in combat over the Western Front, many others sadly were killed or seriously injured in training accidents or on development flights at home. Stanley served on the Western Front as an observer for ten months, and then returned to the UK to train as a pilot. Much of his later career was as an instructor. After completing his first tour of duty as an observer on the Western Front, he and Evelyn married, and their first daughter was born in Scotland.

After the war, Stanley continued to ride regularly, using a motorcycle to commute to work in London from a cottage near Epping Forest which he and Evelyn bought. Engineering work was hard to find, and in winter it was a long and cold hard journey twice a day. They now had two young daughters, and in 1921, when he was offered a position as engineer on a farm in the Kenya Highlands which was being mechanised, the offer was too good to turn down. Stanley set off for Africa with his youngest brother Theo, and the brothers worked for the farm as engineer and accountant. Soon Evelyn and the children followed them.    Unfortunately, their hopes of a secure long-term future were dashed. In 1925 Stanley sustained serious injuries in a bad accident – he got caught up in the unguarded moving chains of a harvester. He was fortunate to survive but, having lost a lung and several ribs, he was hospitalised for months. There was no prospect that Stanley would be fit for employment for a long time, so Evelyn took charge and found the family an abandoned farm where they could settle. Over the next twenty five years they turned it from a basic homestead into a productive business, and raised their four children there. In 1963 they retired to Lake Naivasha where Stanley died at the age of 79. After leaving for Kenya in 1922, he returned to England only once, to attend his son’s graduation at Cambridge from the college where he himself graduated 45 years earlier.

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