This is a straightforward, worthwhile, privately published contribution to that
important, now-or-never genre of literature - namely Colonial Service personal
reminiscences. Dr. William Berry served in the Colonial Medical Service from 1936
to 1948, principally in Nyasaland and then, for the last years, in The Gambia.
Making no claim to be a unique story, the memoir carries an unadorned and
authentic account of what it was like to be a grassroots MO in inter-war and wartime
Nyasaland. Valuably, it also offers the Colonial Service historian three bonuses. One,
Dr. Berry names names and determines dates to an exemplary degree. Two, the book
is enhanced by maps and a first-class index. Three, the author tells us not only why he
joined the Colonial Service ("the colour and excitement" of the 1935 film, 'Sanders of
the River', set beside the "dreariness of English 'panel' doctoring in the slump of the
1930s"), but also how, at the end of the day, his disagreement with the extrovert Dr.
B. S. Platt on a matter of policy resulted in his resignation being required. Dismayed
by the conservatism of indirect rule, which he saw as a compact between imperial and
tribal authority to restrain the advance of Western-educated Africans, and
disillusioned with the Colonial Service, Dr. Berry found his belief in what he calls
"true self-rule under the British colonial system" to be an elusive will-o'-the-wisp;
An ignis fatuus that bewitches
And lures men into bogs and ditches.
Dr. Berry embarked on this autobiographical project when, towards the end of
his life, he suffered a stroke and was encouraged by his wife to write his memoirs as a
therapeutic exercise. He died before he could revise the final pages, but his widow,
Veronica, saw the book through the press (and how well it has been proofread by her
and printed by the Halesworth Press).