The British Empire Library

Biographical Dictionary of the British Colonial Service, 1939-1966

by A. H. M. Kirk-Greene

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by C.D.S.
This book is much more than its title suggests. Mr. Kirk-Greene has produced here not only a catalogue of the leading members of the Colonial Service between 1939 and 1966, but also, in a most interesting introduction, he has presented a history of how the lists from which he collected the personal details of officers had their origins and developed over the years.

The personal details and the details of the careers of those persons included in the list have been taken in the main from Colonial Office Lists. The 'Dictionary' contains an alphabetical list of almost 15,000 entries (I am told: I did not count them myself) covering some twenty-eight years. To have such a consolidated list available will be of considerable assistance to researchers, historians, and to all who are interested in African studies covering the latter part of the Colonial period. It is the first biographical dictionary of its kind and will save hours of frustrating and time consuming searches through individual annual lists for those for whose use it is primarily intended.

For me, the lay reader, the 'Introduction' is as interesting as the details of individual entries. Here, Mr. Kirk-Greene has set out in some detail the origins of the Colonial Office Lists and of the various auxiliary lists from which the biographical details are taken. He refers briefly to the creation and early history of the Colonial Service; its geographical spread; and its size. There is a detailed breakdown of the 'British Colonial Service Staff in Africa, 1936' giving precise numbers of officers in the professional and administrative classes by territory, and a Table giving the numbers of officers recruited to the various branches between 1913 and 1957. This latter Table is particularly interesting in that it indicates the years of expansion and decline in the numbers recruited.

Mr. Kirk-Greene then goes on to explain in some detail the layout of the biographical entries of those persons listed in the main body of the 'Dictionary', the information that the entry is intended to convey, and, how individual elements of the entry are assessed.

Concluding his introduction, Mr. Kirk-Greene explains that not all those who were members of the Colonial Service appeared in a Colonial Office List: there are thus many whose names do not appear in the 'Dictionary', and he describes how officers were selected for inclusion.

I appreciate that few people will be minded to purchase a copy of the Dictionary at the price of 85 pounds, but I hope that some will be interested enough to persuade their local librarian to purchase a copy for them to see. They will find it most interesting.

British Empire Book
A. H. M. Kirk-Greene
ans Zell Publishers


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