The British Empire Library

Be Of Good Cheer: Service In War And Peace

by Gerald Bryan

Courtesy of OSPA

John Doble (British High Commissioner, Swaziland 1996-99)
This is a fascinating book about a life dedicated to public service. Ulsterman Gerald Bryan describes vividly his training with the Commandos (including felling Lord Lovat on exercise), loss of a leg in Lebanon, where he won an MC, with the other saved by a French surgeon's devoted work, and subsequently with SOE. With his French opponents "we discussed the battle as if it had been a game of football". His artificial leg enabled him to "ride again and dance just about as badly as before".

In 1944 he joined the Colonial Service and went to Swaziland. The Swazis were still mostly living in beehive huts; human sacrifice was not unknown. One is amazed how far they have come in sixty five years. Yet some things are unchanged: he notes the parallel political and legal systems (Western and Swazi), traditional ceremonies, the charm of the people. As a DO in his early 20s he was responsible for the smooth administration of his district including acting as magistrate and as an adjudicator between chiefs. He was present during the 1947 Royal Visit: 'an awesome charge of fully-armed young men only came to a stop a few feet from the dais'. At his request Princess Elizabeth presented a medal for the first time (for services to Girl Guides in Piggs Peak). The future Queen is pictured riding at Ermelo with Bryan's future wife, whose bush-veld up-bringing is graphically described. He was sad to be moved from Stegi to the capital, to draft the reply to South Africa's demand for the annexation of Swaziland. An idyllic early married life was enlivened by snakes, herds of wildebeest, a devoted prisoner/gardener serving a sentence for manslaughter and the Resident Commissioner's visit when water had to be dragged to the house in drums pulled on an ox-sledge.

In Barbados from 1950 they initially lived in a disused barrack room, where wives of prominent white families called in hats and gloves. As stand-in Financial Secretary with no economic qualifications he had to prepare the budget. His most lasting contribution was the decision to construct a deep-water harbour.

Six idyllic years in Mauritius followed, with sailing a diversion from the hard work of Principal Establishment Officer, including initiation into trades' union activities. The Queen Mother's visit lasted longer than planned, her plane arriving with one engine on fire. Winning the sweepstake at the Champ de Mars racecourse enabled Bryan to give extra help to servants, children and friends.

An Administrator of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) from 1960 he was able to do much to promote the future prosperity of the Islands. In 2000 the BVI government gave him an award for his 'wonderful job ... in getting the BVI started on the right track', a great tribute, his work being remembered so long afterwards. He got the first road built across to the north of Tortola, dealt with the visit of the first cruise-ship, reduced taxes to attract US investment, negotiated the building of Little Dix resort, where the Rockefellers spent twice the annual BVI budget, and supervised hurricane relief.

He arrived at St Lucia as acting Administrator during a crisis over the loyalty of the police, which he resolved resolutely, with a frigate hull-down over the horizon, leading to him being appointed as substantive Administrator, in effect Governor, as part of the illfated Windward Islands proto-federation. A wide range of people had to be entertained, from the Queen to unofficial visitors who deemed themselves 'grand enough to stay at Government House'. Again prisoners played a helpful role in his household: one gardener treated his young son's severely cut hand, as well as acting as cricket coach for games arranged on the Government House lawn. Worrell, the West Indies captain, asked by his son to sign his autograph, signed ten advising him 'to swap the remaining nine for those of more important people'. The responsibilities of colonial officers is striking: in a crisis in 1964 he dissolved the Legislative Council and called a general election. In 1967, with St Lucia's statehood, Bryan departed, the last of three centuries of French and British rulers.

Appointments followed in the Isle of Man (Government Secretary), Londonderry (General Manager of the Development Commission) and Bracknell (also GM). His appointment in Londonderry coincided with the outbreak of the troubles. He stayed till 1973, when the Commission's work was done, during some of the most traumatic events, living on the Republic side of the Foyle only a mile from an IRA HQ. His courage and leadership played a major part in Londonderry emerging in a stronger condition. Although Protestant, he had considerable sympathy with the plight of Catholics. An eloquent tribute came from a Roman Catholic priest who wrote, when Bryan's Guildhall offices were destroyed 'The people are aghast at the senseless act ... we wish you to continue your great work for our city'.

This record of a remarkable life is written and illustrated well. The greatest influences on him seem to have been his mother, religion and school. I learnt discipline, living in a group ... with sufficient humour and character to gain the friendship and respect of ... fellow pupils and to cope with vicissitudes ... without whinging ... It provided a good basis for my life.'

British Empire Book
Gerald Bryan
Wilton 65
978 1 905060 11 5


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