The British Empire Library

Alarms and Excursions

by Philip L. Burkinshaw OBE

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by D.F.
In his eminently readable memoirs with its apt title, Philip Burkinshaw gives us an entertaining account of his varied and interesting life.

The early chapters are devoted to his service as a parachutist in the Second World War. His account of the dangers and traumas of war are enlivened by amusing little anecdotes, as indeed is the whole book, testifying to his keen sense of humour.

After demobilisation he graduated in Spanish at Sheffield University and subsequently entered the Colonial Service. He served first in Sierra Leone, then in the Gambia and Nyasaland (present-day Malawi).

In evocative writing he gives a vivid picture of the life of the District Commissioner and the pioneering spirit that prevailed in those countries, even in the 1950s and we can participate in his enthusiasm for his life there.

There are good descriptions of the countries and of bird life in the Gambia. In one delightful chapter he describes how he and his wife adopted and reared a tiny leopard cub on Cow and Gate milk.

After the Colonies ceased to exist, the author went as Assistant Administrator to the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean.

To his delight, he had the honour - and it was an honour as there were so few of them - to be appointed to the Corps of Queen's Diplomatic Messengers in 1969 and in that capacity had a roving life for 6.5 years, travelling over a million miles, carrying diplomatic dispatches to British Embassies and diplomatic posts throughout the world, sometimes as far afield as Ulan Bator in Outer Mongolia.

Though exhausting and at times monotonous, they were the happiest years of his life.

The book is illustrated with helpful maps and numerous photographs, but some of the latter are rather faded and indistinct.

The final chapters tell of the author's life after retirement.

Though I personally was pleased to hear about his happy and useful years in retirement, I think some readers might find these chapters something of an anticlimax.

Those who were in the Colonial Service will enjoy this well-written book, as it will conjure up so many nostalgic memories; but it will also appeal to the armchair traveller.

British Empire Book
Philip L. Burkinshaw
Davis Brothers


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