The British Empire Library

Before the Wind of Change

by W T C Berry

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Anthony Kirk-Greene (N Nigeria 1950-66)
This is a straightforward, worthwhile, privately published contribution to that important, now-or-never genre of literature - namely Colonial Service personal reminiscences. Dr. William Berry served in the Colonial Medical Service from 1936 to 1948, principally in Nyasaland and then, for the last years, in The Gambia.

Making no claim to be a unique story, the memoir carries an unadorned and authentic account of what it was like to be a grassroots MO in inter-war and wartime Nyasaland. Valuably, it also offers the Colonial Service historian three bonuses. One, Dr. Berry names names and determines dates to an exemplary degree. Two, the book is enhanced by maps and a first-class index. Three, the author tells us not only why he joined the Colonial Service ("the colour and excitement" of the 1935 film, 'Sanders of the River', set beside the "dreariness of English 'panel' doctoring in the slump of the 1930s"), but also how, at the end of the day, his disagreement with the extrovert Dr. B. S. Platt on a matter of policy resulted in his resignation being required. Dismayed by the conservatism of indirect rule, which he saw as a compact between imperial and tribal authority to restrain the advance of Western-educated Africans, and disillusioned with the Colonial Service, Dr. Berry found his belief in what he calls "true self-rule under the British colonial system" to be an elusive will-o'-the-wisp;

An ignis fatuus that bewitches
And lures men into bogs and ditches.

Dr. Berry embarked on this autobiographical project when, towards the end of his life, he suffered a stroke and was encouraged by his wife to write his memoirs as a therapeutic exercise. He died before he could revise the final pages, but his widow, Veronica, saw the book through the press (and how well it has been proofread by her and printed by the Halesworth Press).

British Empire Book
W T C Berry
The Halesworth Press


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe