Edward Keith Roach's memoirs span the generations from his late Victorian childhood
to the middle of the Second World War. His father was a Double First in
Mathematics from Cambridge. He himself was one of 12 children and had to find a job
at 17. His career took him to places which read like a roll call of that forgotten subject.
Imperial History - Bombay, Karachi, Cairo, Khartoum, the Sudan and finally, in his mid
These evocative and personal memoirs contain revealing glimpses of the expatriate
social scene. Port Sudan (expatriate population six people) boasted two clubs - the Red
Sea Club for seniors and the Port Sudan Club for others. When serving as the sole
British official in the Province of Darfur he regularly wore a black tie and white shirt for
his solitary dinner on Sundays as a matter of self-discipline. The isolation and the 'prickly
heat' side of life without electricity of his early years will be familiar to many who
served in outposts of Empire even in the post-war period. No greater contrast could be
imagined with the weekly soirees he and his wife gave in Jerusalem at which all communities
and professions mingled regularly with visiting personalities.
The focus of this book is Palestine in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman
Empire and the growth of nationalism in Europe and the Middle East. Dramatic and tragic
events are recounted from the viewpoint of a senior administrator with direct responsibility
for order and good government. They include the disturbances at the Wailing Wall in
Jerusalem on the Day of Atonement in 1928, and the Arab revolt of 1938 during which
over 800 people (more than half of them Arab) were killed.
Keith-Roach knew everybody who was anybody in Palestine. As a good district officer
he also knew countless nobodies whose lives were being transformed by the modernisation
programmes of the Mandatory Power and the impact of Jewish immigration. The British
administration reformed every aspect of central and local government, introduced a modem
system of law, developed agriculture and industrial infrastructure, promoted maternity
clinics and other public health projects and initiated moral development (before the word
The political failures of the Mandate period have been well chronicled. As the
Mandate recedes into history, one may hope that the constructive side, exemplified in
Keith-Roach's life and work, will be given its due.