They called her Mama Daktari :

barre Port Grimaud

       For more than thirty years, Anne SPOERRY, François SPOERRY's grandson, has criss-crossed the Kenia in her Zulu Tango plane to bring relief and assistance to the sometimes very isolated local populations...
       Anne SPOERRY did not survive her brother... At 81 years old her extraordinary destiny came to an end, 3 weeks after the death of François SPOERRY...
We are left with the memory of an incredible little woman, always very lively, who came as often as she could to Port Grimaud...

barre Port Grimaud

Mama Dactari :

Mama Daktari
       We highly recommend you to read her book "On m'appelle Mama Daktari" (published by Jclattès), a moving testimony of her passionate life in the service of humanitarian aid.
       His book begins:

       " - Wilson, from Alpha Zulu Tango. Permission to ride?
       - Zulu Tango, authorised. Runway 14 in use. Hello, Dr. Spoerry. Call back to the holding area.
       Monday, 10 a.m. at Wilson Airport, the light aviation airfield just outside Nairobi. Like every five weeks, I am about to take off for the Marsabit district, near the northern border of Kenya, on the edge of Ethiopia.
       My task has been the same for thirty years: "To provide basic curative and preventive care to remote health stations. To provide regular support and supervision to health workers at these stations. These are the terse words of the official programme. The reality is a bit more complicated.

       Since 1964, I have been a flying doctor for AMREF - African Medical and Research Foundation - a non-governmental organisation funded by international aid. I was born in 1918, and my plane will soon be twenty years old

Anne spoerry
barre Port Grimaud

ANNE SPOERRY, East African Flying Doctor :

       Anne Spoerry was born on 13 May 1918 in Cannes to a wealthy family with roots in Fischenthal and Maennendorf, in the canton of Zurich, Switzerland, and a father born in Mulhouse. It was a happy childhood for her, her brother François, and her two sisters.

       Anne soon decided to go into medicine, entered the Faculty of Science in 1937, and shared a flat with her brother in Paris until the bad news from Munich.

       It is in a villa called Pardigon, built by her father on the Bay of Cavalière (between St. Tropez and Toulon), that Anne's life changes at the end of the summer of 1939. A family friend, English and former pilot of the R.A.F in 14-18, runs from the beach: "It's war". A few months later François calls his sister in Paris; under the incredible German power he is 50 kilometres away from her and is preparing to cross the Loire: "It's over, beware, our country no longer exists". Anne feels very uneasy when, through the smoke that covers Paris, she sees the tricolour flag still flying over the Invalides. The French are running on the roads with their little cardboard suitcases.

       Life goes on under the occupation and, while François goes down to Marseille to finish his architectural studies, Anne works in a hospital in Paris. With the help of her "ausweiz" and her bicycle she crossed the demarcation line in February 1941 at Montceau Les Mines to visit her parents in the free zone. Nine months later she tried again for the Christmas holidays but was caught and spent 15 days in prison in Chalon-sur-Saône.

       In November 1942, Anne is in her fourth year of medical school and receives a message from François to travel south again. She crossed the line at St. Michel de Montaigne, near Bordeaux. Having spent Christmas in La Bastide and then travelled to Aix-en-Provence, where her father had bought the Hôtel de Cabres, she discovered that her brother was firmly involved in the resistance.

       "We have a request from London. Can you open a new network in Paris ?"

       Back home, Anne plunges into finding safe houses to hide people, obtaining false papers, making stamps and ration cards. And, of course, crossing the demarcation line again. She hides an Englishman, Roger, in her flat. Shortly afterwards, Marsac, the head of the network, falls. Anne manages to warn her brother who leaves for Annecy to warn Odette (later arrested and deported to Ravensbruk). The Germans invade Vichy France and, as movement is easier, Anne's father arrives in Paris, followed shortly afterwards by a message explaining François' arrest. The attempt to flee to Switzerland fails, because Anne finds the Gestapo at the hospital and is thrown into a Traction Avant. She spends nine months in Fresnes Prison, where she receives parcels and newspapers in German from her parents, but also from her brother who is in the same prison.

       For the last twenty years Anne will not talk to you about this period of her life. It is humiliation followed by misfortune. "Here, take this book if you are interested, it was like this. For the ten years that I have been flying with her in East Africa, she has given me, here and there, a few details.

       In January 1944, she was deported to Germany, with Ravensbruck as her final destination. Her brother was sent to Dachau and Neue Breme.

       Anne survives being called up at 4 a.m. in the freezing cold and forced labour in factories. Block 26. Then Block 13. As a doctor, she helps her companions. She quickly loses her strength. In May, she left for her first "transport" to Zwodau. Anne has almost no strength left but she is still the group doctor. July: back to Ravensbruck where she is in Block 10, under Carmen Maury, taking care of tuberculosis cases.
24/12/44 : there is a Christmas tree, with garlands, in the middle of the camp...

       Then the rumour comes... and there they are, in front of the doors. The Red Cross...

       The nightmare is half over. She discovers that François, too, has made it.

       The events of the last few years have forced Anne Spoerry to leave this ravaged Europe, and all the suffering it has brought.

       Henri de Monfreid's stories are great to read. A friend of his father's (Anto Besse) is a merchant on the Red Sea. And that's it! It is the call of Africa. Ethiopia in particular. But Emperor Haile Selassie and his government do not look kindly on a single woman as a doctor. Anne bases herself in Yemen and becomes the women's doctor at the hospital in Aden. She tries to cross over to Ethiopia, so she agrees to accompany Somali pilgrims crossing for the "Haj".
       Here you can get an idea of the strength of character of Anne who finds herself alone, a woman, just 30 years old, on a boat with 6000 Somali men who attack each other with knives for days. Anne sews these guys up... "It was hard work! But quite interesting !"

       In 1949 she accepted an invitation and visited Kenya. Love at first sight. She moved to the British protectorate in 1950. Again there were difficulties because a woman alone was not the colonial authorities' idea of a post in the bush.

       Anne bought a large farm in Ol Kalou, between Lake Naivasha and Thomson Falls. There she grows pyrethrum. Of course, medicine is always present in her small practice on the farm. Anne is a farmer - doctor.

       Kenyan nationalism is on the rise and these are the "Mau Mau" years. Anne, with the 38 special revolver on her belt at all times, assists her neighbours and makes many night trips through the curfew in her Peugeot 203 to deal with all sorts of things.

       In 1964, Kenya became independent and had to sell her farm. Anne is depressed, but hears the call of Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of the new Kenya, who invites the whites to stay. Anne buys a small 25-acre farm in Subukia, north of Nakuru.

       Depression is not really Spoerry's style. Anne, at the age of 46, decides to learn to fly. In this new valley, an instructor comes regularly from Nairobi in a Piper Pacer and several white farmers join her to learn.

barre Port Grimaud

Looking back :

Anne Spoerry

       During the Second World War there was a plastic surgeon in England who rose to become one of the "Maestros" of medicine at the time. was in charge of repairing the appalling damage done to RAF fighter pilots.
       This man is in charge of the "Guinea Pigs", a group of pilots destroyed for life. He performed miracles, physically and morally, throughout the war. In 1946 he travelled to the foot of Kilimanjaro and bought a farm there, in partnership with one of his ex-patients. Two years later he is back on this farm with two of the young plastic surgeon trainees, Michael Wood (English) and Tom Rees (American).
       These three men are on holiday, but faced with the suffering they see, they can’t stop themselves from operating in turn, trying to mitigate all these disasters, with really small means in the bush. Little by little, during the evenings and discussions, the idea of the "flying doctors" was born.
       Archie McIndoe and Tom Rees returned to Europe and the USA, but Michael Wood settled in Nairobi. With the support of his two friends he imagined and built, stone by stone, the "East African Flying Doctor Service". He first learns to fly, buys a Piper Pacer, and later realises that he is more and more flying. Throughout the 1950s the thing developed.

       In the mid-1960s the Flying Doctors began to really develop with the arrival of a full-time professional pilot in 1960.

       In 1964 Michael Wood heard about a woman doctor who was flying north of Nakuru.

barre Port Grimaud

The meeting :

       " Anne bought a Cherokee 235. To celebrate, with a little more than 50 hours of flight time in her logbook, and since in the summer of 1965 it was time to go on holiday, Anne returned to France, with two friends,... in a Cherokee... Then Michael Wood invites her to join the Flying Doctors... Anne Spoerry
       Accepted ! Later a Cherokee 6 (5Y-AJE). In 1975 she bought a new Cherokee Lance PA32R. It was 5Y-AZT that accompanied her to Lamu on 6 February 1999.

       Anne has become an integral part of the Flying Doctors. She is a pillar of the group. For 35 years, she has tirelessly overcome all obstacles, either gently or with her now famous (but still terrifying) screams (Anne was called "My Spoerry" by some). More than 8000 flying hours for a private pilot in places and runways that can, without exaggeration, be described as... deplorable.

       I will have to stop describing Anne Spoerry here. In the ten years I have been lucky enough to know her, as a friend and colleague, I have discovered an astonishing character, always at ease in her blue canvas trousers, her aviator shirt, her patched boots and her peaked cap (if you asked her the question: the answer "Do you want to try to do the clinics in the North in a Chanel suit and stilettos? His big switchblade knife (indispensable for a thousand things) in the left pocket, a mini pistol in the right pocket ("My Spoerry"... don't forget...)

       So I'll let you discover a heart-doctor-electrician-factor-panelist on Envoyé Spécial (fasten your seatbelts for a "behind-the-scenes" tooth extraction), it'll be much more lively than my message. If you then want more details look for the book "On m'appelle Mama Daktari" by Anne Spoerry (Editions Jean-Claude Lattes, 1994), which is a simple book, like Anne, and will show you a vision of 50 years of Africa.

       It is worth noting that his brother François Spoerry died on 11 January 1999 and that Anne, who had boundless admiration for him (he was the only one who could say "ANNE!!! ON SE CALME!!!), and who seemed to all of us here in East Africa to be indestructible, barely managed to survive him for three weeks...

       Well, I wrote this message as quickly as possible tonight (this is my excuse for the mistakes :-)))  ), because I'm going to Lamu for a week of holidays. That's right! That's also where Anne is buried, and apart from lazing around, I'll be visiting Anne every day, as she has been an inspiration to me for ten years, and will remain so for a long time to come. And I miss her "/I>.

Benoît Wangermez
Février 1999

anne Spoerry
barre Port Grimaud

18 Février 99 - TÉLÉVISION :

Anne Spoerry


       " Special Envoy " Africa, France 2, 20 h 50.

       The team of the programme recorded tonight in Lamu, Kenya, highlights the exceptional destiny of a French woman who has just passed away at the age of eighty. Anne Spoery, alias Mama Daktari, chose to bring medicine to the most remote tribes of East Africa, flying her own plane.

       In the early 1940s, during the Nazi occupation, Anne Spoerry was a medical student in Paris. In 1943, she was arrested for acts of resistance and deported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp for women in Germany. She was one of 10,000 women out of 150,000 deported who survived the extermination in this camp. In 1948, with her medical degree in hand and a film camera, she went to Aden, Yemen. There she took care of the princesses in the harems and the pilgrims on their way to Mecca. But, as an adventurer, she set off again and, following in the footsteps of Henry de Monfreid, reached Ethiopia before finally settling in Kenya as a country doctor and farmer.

       Expropriated at the time of Kenya's independence in 1964, she learned to fly, bought a plane and joined a group of volunteer doctors who, seven years earlier, had created AMREF. Their aim: to go and treat people in the most remote corners of the bush. The first team of flying doctors was born. This human adventure of a few pioneers has become Africa's largest private non-profit health organisation.

       The first objective of AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation) doctors, since its creation in 1957, has been to eliminate the distance between them and the patients by performing heavy surgery in the bush, where only 10% to 15% of cases requiring surgery are treated. To make up for this shortage, "surgical safaris" were set up, three-day trips during which specialist doctors are flown to towns where there is no surgical service. In less than 72 hours, each doctor consults an average of 40 people and performs about 20 complex operations. In 1997 alone, for example, these doctors performed some 1,181 operations...

barre Port Grimaud

Mama Daktari
barre Port Grimaud

  the work of François SPOERRY...

© Yves Lhermitte 2023   Reproduction prohibited without permission...