Here is the ultimate bedside book for imperial enthusiasts - and an
obvious birthday or Christmas present. You can wallow in nostalgia or wonder what on earth
made you decide on your career, feel green with envy or eternally grateful for your
particular posting, be reminded of good friends and others you would rather forget, gain
insight into the jobs others did and push aside the reed curtain between East and West
Africa, as you pick and choose among the hundred and more wonderful vignettes in this
excellent anthology of what our mutual past was all about.
Many will remember the pleasure of Corona arriving monthly with the sea mail
between 1948 and 1962 but few will still have their copies, which often passed through
many hands before falling prey to termites, leaking roofs, damp stores, loss of loads and
sudden postings. Tony Kirk-Greene, the award this year of a CMG clear and welcome
recognition of his stature as the historian of our service, has once again done us proud
with his careful selection of articles, poems, photographs, drawings, advertisements and
editorial comment from the full fourteen years' run of Corona.
His selection covers all territories and every facet of the service, as well as involving
our spouses and our reflections; the flavour indicated by titles such as 'D.C. Ocean',
'Medical Work in the Windward Islands', Meteorology in Mauritius', 'Architect in Hong
Kong', 'Locusts', 'Nursing Sister', 'I Married an Auditor' and 'An African Evening'.
Every piece has the merit of being of a length to provide a few minutes pleasure at the
end of the day without the need to read a sentence twice to make sure of its meaning,
consult a reference book or sigh and decide one is too old to learn a new trick. But there
is learning aplenty and the experience of busy and knowledgeable practitioners happily
combined with unobtrusive literary talent. Individuals will find their own particular
nuggets. Articles about the Pacific, which I had first read in complete ignorance by the
light of a Tilley lamp in the West African bush, I now read with the critical interest of
direct experience and enlightenment about colleagues I had only met long after the times
about which they had written.
There is a Foreword by Sir Richard Luce, which recalls the great occasion in
Westminster Abbey in May 1999, and an Introduction by the author which tells the story
of the house magazine of the service, our Blackwoods as it has been described. If I have
a gripe, it is very small and in no way detracts from a delightful and handsomely
produced book. I would have liked the articles to be dated. Reading Glimpses of Empire
is, for our generation, a bit like singing Jerusalem', it sends a tingle down the spine and
you stand taller, refreshed and quietly proud. Come to think of it, it would make a good present for our grandchildren too.