British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by David Angus
Singing for my Supper
Sir James Robertson
Some time in 1957, His Excellency the Governor-General of Nigeria, Sir James Robertson, went on tour in Northern Nigeria, the tour starting in Kano where we - I was ADC at the time - spent two days before going on by road to Katsina and Sokoto. On the first evening in Kano, HE gave a large drinks party at the Residency and all the great and good of the government and commercial world were invited. Perhaps there might have been a hundred or so in all.

The party was sticky. Neither the Resident, Tim Johnstone, nor his wife Berice found that sort of occasion easy to deal with. Although the Governor-General was the nominal host, the party was in the Johnstone's house and they knew the guests as we could not. I could see that HE was looking distinctly unhappy at the way things were going - or not going - and I was at a loss as to how to improve matters. Suddenly there was a bellow across the more or less silent room, "David, give us a song".

When the Governor-General of Nigeria demands a song of you and you are his ADC, there is no getting out of it. What to sing though? Opera? No, not the right sort of occasion, and anyway I don't know any operatic arias. A hymn so that some people can join in? No, even if I knew the words the audience might not. The Ball of Kirriemuir? HE would know it but he could hardly be expected to approve of it in the current situation. Actually, I think I only hesitated momentarily before I launched into Green Grow the Rushes-O:

"I'll sing you one-O. Green grow the rushes-O.
What is your one-O?
One is one and all alone and ever more shall be so".

And it goes on for twelve verses and I went on, alone, unassisted, to the bitter end, and I am pleased to say without stumbling over the words.

I can't say that my performance was greeted by rapturous applause from the assembled company. I think perhaps they were not sure how to react. But one voice called out across the room -- "Well done David" came the voice loud and clear of my master. And that was certainly approval enough for me. And I think the party did go a little better after that.

There is a sequel to this tale. Four years later, newly married, I was posted to Mubi in the Northern Cameroons. On the first evening that we were there, my wife and I went to say hello to the District Officer, Derek Mountain, whom I did not know although I suppose we must have met on some occasion. As we walked into his house, his wife Anita exclaimed "Oh, it's the man who sang the song". Thus began a great enduring friendship.

Colonial Map
1955 Map of Northern Nigeria
Colony Profile
Nigeria Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 93: October 2007


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