We are accustomed to the memoirs of our time, 50 or more years ago in the
Colonial Service, written essentially for the interest (and education) of younger
generations. David Salmon has chosen the opposite approach, to resurrect letters
to his parents, the older generation, written during his first year as a cadet DO
in Barotseland (a Protectorate within the Protectorate of Northern Rhodesia) in
1959/60. As a young bachelor he was posted to Kalabo with a Boma of five or six
Europeans and a District population of 80-90,000.
He wrote his first letter home just four days after his arrival in Kalabo. They
continued on a regular basis, sometimes every three or four days, but mostly at
weekly or fortnightly intervals throughout his first year. They reflect his thoughts,
observations, relationships, work and pastime activities and all the peaks and
troughs of remote out-station life. He still clings passionately to home-based
Interests particularly the performance of Stoke City football team and its individual
Of course, writing about wide-ranging events within days, even hours, of their
happening enables much detail to be embedded. This provides a rich tapestry, an
atmospheric aura, which Mr Salmon develops well. He was fortunate in this task
in two respects.
Firstly, his District Commissioner was Murray Armor, ex-Kenya Administration
and ex-1956 Hungarian revolution freedom-fighter, who was full to overflowing of
mental and physical energy and who set parameters of attitude, leadership and
Inspiration which I suspect will have left their mark on Mr Salmon.
Secondly, Kalabo District has a pattern of life very largely conditioned by the
annual flooding of the Zambezi River. This translated Into the planning, construction
and maintenance of a vast system of drainage canals. For a young cadet this
was a primary and exciting focus of his work bringing him immediately into close
contact with the Barotse people and their chiefs.
Back at the Boma he describes in detail the tasks of every young DO - brick
making, building staff houses, planting trees, general office work, and the never
ending queue of people with problems. He introduced education classes in
English and Arithmetic for Boma staff which quickly attracted men (no women!)
from nearby villages. His routine was enlivened by involvement in a visit by the
Monckton Commission (enquiring into the future of the Central African Federation)
and the visit of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in 1960.
Mr Salmon’s letters reflect a detailed. Intimate, intellectual and compassionate
approach to the human and environmental milieu about him in a way which we
‘oldies’, with our memories of 40 or 50 years ago, could not, I think, quite accomplish.