The British Empire Library

Black, Amber, White: An Autobiography

by J. K. Williams

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Anthony Kirk-Greene (N Nigeria 1950-66)
This autobiography (in the event it is not quite that, for the story does not begin until the author was thirty-seven) of a member of the Colonial Legal Service who served from 1953 to 1965 in what was at first Tanganyika elicits a warm welcome from this reviewer. This is not only because it exactly achieves what it sets out to do, namely to narrate, without pomp or prosey theorizing, ‘just the story of one who was privileged to work in the Judiciary of a country which will always remain close to his heart’, but also because here is a contribution to Colonial Service history from a member of one of those professional branches of the unified Colonial Service which, in the literature, have all too often been relegated to the role of support cast instead of playing, as they so often did, the leading roles themselves. Like the proverbial spectator - to change the metaphor - Mr. Williams seems to have seen much more of the likelihood of the game of independence being won earlier rather that later maintained by ‘main senior administrative officers’ (p.l 14) with whom he discussed the issue.

It is a pity that the Contents page is so bleakly uninformative. As it turns out, each Chapter could easily and usefully have been signposted: Shinyanga (2), Iringa (3), Mbeya (4), Mwanza (5), and so on, to Dodoma, Dar-es-Salaam and Arusha, and of course, ‘On Circuit’. Ex-Tanganyikan readers would have welcomed such an ‘All Stations West’ guide to old haunts! Not only are we given a detailed description of the trivial round, the common task, which is so important for the historical record, but less usually, Mr. Williams pays attention to the family dimension of colonial service, equally important for a complete understanding of that record. In stylistic terms, more care to eliminate the monotony of paragraphs opening with ‘one morning’ (pp.54-55, for instance) or ‘next morning’ (pp.97-98) would have eased the reader’s part. His nigh inevitable references (e.g., pp.l9, 32, 67 and so on) to the centrality of the Club (erstwhile European: see his commendable expostulation at p.19) confirms me in my long-held opinion that an examination of the role, actual, suspected or imagined, of the Club in colonial government would make an original and fascinating research project - though I have yet to find a rich grant-awarding agency to back my hunch!

There is no index; there are no chapter headings; and disorientatingly, there is hardly a date mentioned in this otherwise delightful account. Yet Mr. Williams is good on names (only the poor Registrar at p.2 seems to be consigned to anonymity) and sound on narrative. His is a delightful memoir, especially for old Tanganyikan hands, and represents splendid value for money.

British Empire Book
J. K. Williams
Churchman Publishing Ltd


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