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Connections at Bryden last a lifetime

Overview: An ex-Bryden couple find each other again and join with another fellow classmate to help Gerry build a booming biltong business in the UK.

Image: Gerry and Natalie Koen (left) and Gary's companies product Billies & Tong Biltong.

Gerry and Natalie Koen

Gerry (Gerhardus) Koen and I (Natalie Koen - previously Wood) went to Bryden Country School from 1992 - 1999. Our first headmaster was Mr Browse followed by Mr Pettipher. From here, Gerry went on to Eaglesvale High School as well as ACE home-schooling and I went to Heritage School followed by the Convent.

From memory, I won 'Top Gun' in Grade 6 for Shona and Gerry broke some sports records which included high jump. Our favourite teacher was Mr McCormack aka Corky (Grade 6). Gerry was a border, and I was a day scholar, we were both in Mfuti house. In 1998, Gerry and I use to 'date' however in those days it just meant we shared little love notes in each other's wooden desks.

Gerry lived on a tobacco farm in Selous with his family and I lived in Chegutu. My father owned Truck Services Chegutu. My family are now in the UK and Gerry's family are still in Chegutu currently working for the Waterfalls on their chicken farm.

Our fondest memories of Bryden were our yearly school trips away in which we still reminisce about today. These included going to Masango, Chimanimani, Kariba, Victoria Falls and Great Zimbabwe.

💏 A Facebook Wedding

I left Zimbabwe in 2002 and was later reunited with Gerry in 2008. Our reunion was thanks to the power of Facebook and social media and included us sharing our old love notes from all those years ago. We got married in 2009 and the rest as they say is history.


A beloved snack into a booming business

Gerry's love for all things biltong, carpentry and Africa were combined to form Billies & Tong in 2014. The business has gone from strength to strength over the years. Products include biltong makers (for domestic and commercial use), spice, chopping boards/cutting equipment and even biltong itself. Gerry has supplied many a company in the industry both in the UK and Europe commercial dryers which in turn has helped them sell biltong on a larger scale.

Bryden's Band Together

I joined Billies & Tong in January this year, followed by my brother Richard in March. Richard also attended Bryden (1987 - 1994) and was house captain for Mfuti. He also runs his own successful carpentry business here in Somerset. Gerry and I have been looking over the years for a charity we could contribute to and after chatting to a fellow Bryden School student Sean Ervine who played cricket for Zimbabwe, we discovered Eden Ministries in Doma, Zimbabwe. Sean's parents work for this fantastic non-profit organisation. In June this year, we made our very first contribution to the orphanage and will continue donating £1 for every biltong and droewors we sell here in the UK.

Billies & Tong is powered by complete drive and passion. It is hugely important for all of us to keep family traditions as well as our African heritage alive. We are unbelievably grateful to say we've had the most amazing childhood and upbringing in Africa and Bryden played a massive part in this. We remember we were the very first students to try the first computers installed at the school. We were taught how to use paint initially, isn't this amazing?

We all have the fondest memories of Bryden. From sports days to plays and even our trips away, we will forever be grateful for having the best steppingstone possible. Bryden was the perfect foundation for us, and we would not have it any other way.

- Gerry and Natalie Koen

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