The British Empire Library


Ringing The Changes : A Memoir

by Richard Luce


Courtesy of OSPA


A H M Kirk-Greene (Nigeria 1950-1965)
This delightful memoir, excellently written and beautifully published, lends itself to a review at two levels. One is in the context of a truly remarkable 'man of all seasons' and of multiple careers; National Service in Cyprus during the EOKA troubles; a couple of years as one of the last District Officers appointed to Kenya, towards the end of Mau Mau and in the final stage before independence (sadly. Luce kept no diary of his time in Kenya); an intense period of top-class business management in the UK between 1963 and 1971; two whole decades as MP for (Arundel and) Shoreham, including appointments as a PPS, a Whip, a Minister of State, a PC and a Life Peer; Vice- Chancellor of the University of Buckingham; Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Gibraltar, 1997-2000; President and Trustee of numerous organizations; and, from 2000 to 2006, Lord Chamberlain and subsequently a Permanent Lord-in-Waiting to the Queen. With over 20 years as an MP and marriage to the daughter of the well-known political figure Sir Godfrey Nicholson, who served 35 years in parliament, it is hardly surprising that at the end of his chapters on life as an MP Luce asks "Do I miss being in Parliament?" (as they say in newspaper quizzes, 'for the answer see p 79').

Also excellent is the chapter on his time as Lord Chamberlain, far removed from the "very part-time job" Luce thought it would be when he allowed his name to be considered for the post. All in all, then, here are the fascinating memoirs not so much of a 45 year career as of a remarkable career which comprised countless careers, shared with, inspired and joyously enabled by Richard's wife Rose, to whom he pays the frank tribute of "without whom I could not have managed such a full life".

The other level of review, which is the one that I am adopting, bearing in mind the nature and primary interests of the readership of the OSPA journal, is to accompany Richard Luce on his one-time membership of, and subsequent life-time involvement with, HMOCS, evidenced even now by his being since 2000 an OSPA Honorary Vice-President.

Luce, who had failed the FO entrance exam, was accepted by the CO and, a Cambridge graduate, attended the Devonshire Course at Oxford in 1960. He had wanted to be assigned to Kenya, but when his father was shortlisted for its governorship, he considered Tanganyika... until Sir Patrick Renison got the job and Kenya was 'on' for Luce. In coming to such a career choice as the Colonial Service, Luce's family connection with the empire was demonstrably influential. His father was a major figure in the Sudan Political Service, the senior provincial governor and then Adviser to the Governor-General on Foreign and Constitutional Affairs before becoming Governor of Aden. According to his son. Bill Luce accepted this post in preference to that of Ambassador to Syria "knowing that he was a pro-consul rather than a diplomat... he would have been driven mad in the Foreign Office. He needed to be in charge". Having his family in the Sudan meant frequent and inspirational holidays in the Middle East for the schoolboy Richard. Eurther career-choice inspiration came from his mother, Margaret, as can be quickly surmised from her latterday diaries published in 1987 as From Aden to the Gulf - including her recreation of playing bicycle-polo on the terrace of Government House! Altogether, Luce acknowledges how his parents' love of the Sudan "had a lifelong effect" on him and led "inexorably" to the choice of a Colonial Service career - the sort of influence, along with wartime service with Indian or African troops, to be found in many a post-war Colonial Service Cadet. In Luce's case, such a strong interest in empire service had been tangibly reinforced by his National Service in Cyprus.

Although in the event Luce's service was to be more one of 'to' the empire rather than long-residentially 'in' it, it was his 1979 appointment by Margaret Thatcher to the title of Minister for Africa in his capacity as Parliamentary Secretary of State for Eoreign and Commonwealth Affairs which reinvigorated his links with the Empire and the Commonwealth. These included his deep involvement with constitutional change in Southern Rhodesia, where he was even proposed as Deputy Governor, followed by frequent ministerial visits overseas and culminating in his involvement in the Falklands war and his "traumatic" resignation together with his boss. Lord Carrington. Luce's direct Colonial Service link was publicly restored when he became Governor of Gibraltar in 1996. For many of us, that link was brought back to life on 25 May 1999 when Luce gave an outstanding address in Westminster Abbey on the occasion of the service of thanksgiving to mark the official end of the Colonial Service. Valuably, his address, clearly inspired by the belief he had developed in Kenya some 35 years earlier, that "the District Officer was the heart of the Empire", is included in this memoir as an appendix. Luce's final chapter offers an excellent description of his duties as Lord Chamberlain.

So there we are. In no way a typical Colonial Service memoir (indeed in no way a memoir of a typical career in any profession), yet a very fine and well-written memoir of a life which touches intimately, continually and fascinatingly on the British Empire and the Commonwealth.

Let me close with one passing, impish maybe but not irreverent, thought: how many of Luce's colleagues 50 years ago in Kenya, whether senior, coeval or junior, ever imagined that one day their Richard would become a colonial governor, life peer, minister of state, vice-chancellor and, as Lord Chamberlain, head of Her Majesty's household? Such a distinguished and successful multi-career has rarely come (if at all) to one who, like many of us, was 'Once Just a District Officer'.

British Empire Book
Author
Richard Luce
Published
2007
Pages
192
Publisher
Michael Russell (Publishing) Ltd
ISBN
978 0 85955 312 4
Availability
Abebooks
Amazon


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