British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Nigel Cooke
Overseas Services
Resettlement Bureau
OSRB Advert
The Overseas Services Resettlement Bureau (OSRB) was opened in 1957 as the Malayan Services Re-Employment Bureau upon the end of the Malayan Emergency and Malaysian Independence had been granted. It was administered by a small group of former HMOCS officers and its function was to match up applicants with prospective employers. It quickly expanded its remit to smooth the way back into employment for those, as was becoming increasingly likely, whose careers was being cut short due to independence being promised or granted. The services offered were free to those who had served in HMOCS.

There are unfortunately very few papers which are traceable relating to the Overseas Services Resettlement Bureau. In October 1960, however, the Colonial Office in a Parliamentary paper did report that under the aegis of R L Peel with J S A Lewis and J A Macdonald, it had been successful in helping over 1,000 officers to find employment. When I joined in October 1962, H A S Johnston (Tim), ex-Deputy Governor of the Northern Region of Nigeria, had taken over from Peel and had been joined by M J B Molohan (Molo), an ex-Senior Provincial Commissioner in Tanganyika (who had at one time been Labour Commissioner) and Sir Anthony Abell (Tony), recently Governor of Sarawak. My task was to help Tony with outside contracts. The Bureau must have continued to be successful for in his valedictory letter to me sixteen months later Tim Johnston spoke of "the upturn in our fortunes".

From 1957 to 1962 the OSRB had placed 38% of its applicants into business, 19% into education and 46% back into government work of some kind. Not all of this employment was in the UK, some went to other Commonwealth Countries, some went to other still remaining colonies and some went to work in the United States.

We were not highly geared for advising people who had little idea how they should redeploy themselves in the UK, but the great value of the Bureau was its ability to notify its registrants of vacancies that may have escaped their notice, and to supply objective confidential reports for prospective employers. Both in our reports and literature we may have over-emphasised the high standard of probity expected from and maintained by overseas civil servants; one personnel director asked me whether I thought we had a corner in probity. Tony Abell with his ebullient sense of humour would have had no difficulty in dealing with such a question. The fun of working with him, Molo's strong personality and my warm regard for Tim Johnston are my abiding memories.

The Overseas Services Resettlement Bureau
by J S A Lewis OBE May 2000
To expand upon Nigel Cooke's account I decided to record, mainly from memory and before it is too late, a short history of the Bureau and how it worked, based on 18 years experience of working with the Bureau as its No.l Deputy Head. Unfortunately, most of my colleagues have died and Dick Peel, who was the first Head of the Bureau, is too ill to write its history.

When Malaya and Singapore were granted their independence from British rule in 1954 it meant that all British civil servants working there would be replaced by local officers as soon as practical. As the number of European officers involved was considerable, the European Civil Servants Associations of Malaya and Singapore requested the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Mr Alan Lennox Boyd (who later took a keen interest in the Bureau), in 1956 to set up a resettlement bureau in London, similar to the previous Sudan Bureau, to assist Malaya's redundant officers in finding fresh employment.

He agreed and a bureau, called the Malayan Services Re-employment Bureau, was subsequently opened in London on 17 June 1957 under the direction of Mr R L Peel of the Malayan Civil Service, assisted by Mr A R Anderson, OBE, ex-Singapore Police Force. Sir Humphrey Gale, CB, CVO, MC had agreed to act as a part-time Adviser to the Bureau in the field of public and commercial employment - a post he had held with the Sudan Bureau. When 'Joe' Anderson resigned from the Bureau in September 1957 to return to Singapore as Deputy Commissioner of Police, I was asked to take over from him as I had recently retired from Singapore as Deputy Comptroller of Customs.

When I joined the Bureau only about 100 redundant HMOCS officers had registered but the number reached 300 by the end of the year. We operated a card index system to record the particulars of all clients and all vacancies reported to the Bureau, and opened individual files for each client. We also held confidential reports on each client from their overseas employers which we were empowered to supply to prospective employers when required.

Being new to this type of work Dick Peel and I had a lot to learn to be of any use to our clients in finding employment. Dick Peel consequently spent a lot of his time visiting Labour Exchanges, other Government Departments and commercial firms to 'sell' our officers and obtain information of vacancies, and both of us also attended several lectures on recruitment techniques at the Ministry of Labour and at private employment offices. We agreed that I should organise the office whilst both of us would interview clients.

The main prerequisites in looking for work is a proper Curriculum Vitae, which should be concise and give the client's qualifications and experience relevant to the vacancy applied for. Sir Humphrey instructed us on how it should be written and advised that C.V's should not normally exceed two pages in length as prospective employers could not be bothered to read a long account of a client's life history.

When Nigeria obtained its independence in 1960 the Bureau was asked to look after its redundant officers as well as redundant HMOCS officers from all other British colonies and protectorates. The title of the Bureau was consequently changed to the Overseas Services Resettlement Bureau to accommodate its extra responsibilities.

As more territories became independent it became necessary to increase the number of staff. During the next 18 years a further five extra Deputies were recruited, all ex HMOCS men, as well as about 10 clerks and typists. As the Deputies were all busy interviewing and advising clients in the office an extra two officers were recruited as information officers to visit prospective employers and inform them of the new pool of staff available amongst prematurely retired HMOCS officers.

The Bureau did not scan newspapers for suitable vacancies as our clients could do that for themselves. As the Bureau became better known employers used to notify the Bureau of their vacancies, the details of which we passed on to suitable candidates. In addition to interviewing clients. Deputies used to forward to companies and organisations with whom they had close contact the C.V's of suitable candidates. In this way a number of clients were able to find good employment.

As the number of clients with the Bureau increased from about 300 at the end of 1957 to over 1,000 in 1962 and to about 15,000 by about 1963 the initial card index system proved to be inadequate to deal with a large number of clients and a new system of loose leaf cards was introduced. These loose cards which contained full information regarding clients were fixed in ring binders supplied by Shannon Ltd. Each Deputy had on his desk a ring binder containing all the clients for whom he was responsible. This was before the present day computers were invented, which would have been ideal, but the loose leaf system we used was almost as good.

The main problem in resettling our clients was their age as most of them were over 30 years of age. On the other hand as the calibre of all our clients was high, being qualified engineers, doctors, scientists, teachers, nurses and administrative officers, supported by confidential reports from their overseas employers, they had little difficulty in finding work in this country. Non-graduates, P.W.D. technicians and ex-railway officials etc., were more difficult to place, but normally all clients would find work within six months.

In 1962 R L Peel, the Director of the Bureau, as the post was now called, resigned to join the Foreign Office. His place was taken by Mr H A S Johnston, CMG, ex-Deputy Governor, Northern Region of Nigeria. In 1965 he also retired, to be replaced by Sir Edwin Arrowsmith, KCMG, ex-Governor of the Falkland Islands, who remained with the Bureau until 1980.

During Mr Johnston's period as Director a high powered Advisory Council was set up to direct the policy and aims of the Bureau and this functioned until 1979. It was chaired by Lord Boyd and consisted of twelve members who were a mixture of senior business people, MPs and civil servants including the Director of the Bureau.

The Bureau eventually closed at the end of 1980 as the Government decided that the original purpose had been fulfilled. During its existence the Bureau dealt with around 15,000 clients and was, on the whole, quite successful in assisting clients in finding new employment either directly or through advice given by the Bureau. The Ministry of Labour also helped considerably, but we had the advantage of knowing the type of work and experience our clients had obtained overseas and were more successful.

Africa Map
British Empire Map, 1897
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 77: May 1999
OSPA Journal 80: October 2000
Spectator Letter, 1965


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