The British Empire Library

Retired Except on Demand: The Life of Dr. Cicely Williams

by Sally Craddock

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Anthony Kirk-Greene (N Nigeria 1950-66)
Retired Except on Demand is a gently, unexacting and at times rather reverent portrait (biography is perhaps too serious a term for the chosen style of presentation) of a lady who in herself was none of these things. Dr. Cicely Williams served as a woman medical officer in the Gold Coast from 1929 to 1936 and then, after being transferred in what we are told was "disgrace", in Singapore. Two words suffice to link the name of this remarkable women with her 20 years' service in those two colonial territories: Kwashiorkor and Changi. Knowledgable readers of this magazine will be irritated by the low level of accuracy in parts of the Colonial Service chapters.

After leaving the Service in 1948. Cicely Williams embarked on a second career in paediatrics and family care, first with the WHO and later as visiting professor, adviser and consultant to numerous Third World countries. At the age of 75 she was awarded the CMG; in her eighties she received the Order of Merit of Jamaica, her country of birth; and at 90 had a symposium organised in her honour at her own Oxford college, Somerville. If she still feels, as in this narrative, that she always failed against the system and never had the attention paid to her campaigns that she expected, at least she earned a far greater reputation over a far wider area than most of her colleagues. Few of us can hope for the triple public recognition which has come to her in her latter years, perhaps fewer still merit any one of them.

British Empire Book
Sally Craddock
Green College Oxford