The British Empire Library

Bush Paths

by Keith Arrowsmith

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by A.H.M. Kirk-Greene (Nigeria 1950-66, lecturer in Modern History of Africa, Oxford University)
The Eastern Region used to be part of the Nigerian Administration lore that if you were to remove all Nigerians from the country, civil strife would erupt between the members of the Southern and Northern Services. Here, then, is an opportunity to lay that ghost by referring to an Eastern DO's memoir as a complement to those from the North (NCMcC.) and West (MCA) reviewed here.

Bush Paths is attractively produced by the Pentland Press, with a dust-jacket enhanced by Keith Arrowsmith's own watercolours. I suppose that, in statistical terms as well as in the matter of personal health, there must, like champagne, be a finite number of Colonial Service memoirs that one can take. But at the moment of consumption it all seems too astronomical to believe. Certainly I for one will gladly accept another - book or bottle - if the vintage is as attractive as Keith Arrowsmith's account of his service as an administrative officer in Eastern Nigeria from 1949 to 1957. Though based on a journal, the presentation is good narrative, not staccato diary (Chapter 15, opening with its "doings during the course of an ordinary day's work in the District Office", is deliberately logbook style), and full of well described incidents innocent of any immodest suggestion that they were anything more than everyday occurrences. Others of us will have met or known Arrowsmith in Uganda (1957-1965) or Hong Kong (1966-1969). If he writes as well on those 'life and times'as he has on his years in Rivers, Ogoja and Calabar Provinces, we have yet more to look forward to.

Review by J.W.H. O'Regan
Even at school, as Keith Arrowsmith mentions in this admirable memoir of the day to day life of a young Administrative Officer stationed in the Eastern Nigeria "Bush", the Colonial Service was a calling for which he had felt an attraction. While on leave in Poona in 1945, after service in Malaya and India, he decided to commit himself and was one of those interviewed by Patrick Renison, to whom the Colonial Service - and our then Colonies - owe such a great debt for being largely responsible for the recruitment scheme that led to the high quality of those, like the author, selected from the Armed Services.

The material for the book was drawn from the journals Arrowsmith kept, off and on, during his service in Nigeria from 1949 to 1957 and the result is an authentic, lively, most readable and convincing account of his experiences - some amusing, some sad and others just bizarre.

But, what is so striking is that there is no hint of condescension or of any feeling of being a superior being working amonp people less civilised than himself. He accepted them as they were and clearly evoked, m response, affection and respect. Furthermore, although there is little mention of the far reaching political developments taking place in Nigeria (both the Western and Eastern Regions gained self-government in the year he left) this does not imply that he was out of sympathy with them. Indeed it is clear that he regarded it as an important part of his job to help to prepare, at his ^ass-roots level, those amongst whom he worked to manage their own affairs. It is sigiuficant that in 1957 he was selected for transfer to Uganda where he remained until 1965, three years after independence. There he helped, as the reviewer can testify, to estabUsh the Ministry system which, but for the evil influence of Idi Amin, could well have given Uganda a successful and prosperous future.

He follows his dedication to his former friends and colleagues, both Nigerian and British, with the quotation "Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant", a fitting motto not only for Keith Arrowsmith but for the Colonial Service as a whole.

British Empire Book
Keith Arrowsmith
Pentland Press
The author has very kindly allowed us to reproduce his book in full here on this website.


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