The British Empire Library

Cameroon Trilogy

by J M Gill

Courtesy of OSPA

R J Elkerton (Nigeria 1947-63)
In 1996 a book entitled Old Bill in the Bush by J M Gill was published by Pentland Press Limited as Book One of a Cameroon Trilogy. Nearly a decade later, the second and third books have appeared, and all three books have now been consolidated as a single paperback volume and published under the title of Cameroon Trilogy.

The Trilogy is a narrative record of an eighteen month tour of duty undertaken by a Public Works Department Engineer posted during the rainy season of 1955 to Bamenda in what was at that time the Southern Cameroons under United Kingdom Trusteeship. It was, as the author concedes, a plum posting, for the vast grassland plateau though only five degrees north of the equator, has by virtue of its altitude a temperate climate. Here the air is very different from the sticky tropical atmosphere of the neighbouring high forest divisions through which runs the narrow laterite road connecting Bamenda with the coast to the south, or Nigeria to the west. Such was the condition of this road that the author, travelling to begin his tour, was forced to abandon his car at Ikom and transfer to a departmental landrover for the remainder of the journey to Bamenda, returning to Ikom to collect his own vehicle only after the rains had ceased three months later.

Bamenda, which until 1952 was a Provincial centre, had a multi-disciplinary staff complement, and its favourable climate was conducive to the development of family life and made it popular as a local leave centre for those from the more oppressive forest areas. It was therefore a sufficiently large station to generate a vibrant social life as the author and his wife soon found. The Cameroon Baptist Mission was keen to welcome an accredited Methodist local preacher and the author was quickly drawn into the evangelical activities of the Mission, in addition to the bewildering variety of his official duties which ranged from major civil engineering works such as the construction of Bailey bridges, the installation of rural water supplies and the building of a new hospital, to prison visiting and the conduct of local elections.

Returning to Bamenda thirty years later as one of a party of lay church members invited by the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroun, the author estimated that over the intervening years there had been a phenomenal tenfold increase in the number of practising Christians in the area. He noted too that his Bailey bridges survive intact, having carried all the relief traffic sent to Lake Nyos in 1986 when that lake erupted with lethal carbon dioxide that killed 1800 people, and that survivors from that catastrophe were being treated in the hospital built during his tour.

The Cameroon Trilogy is therefore not only the personal account of a particularly interesting and rewarding tour of duty by a Civil Engineer in the bush, but also a revealing glimpse of British Colonial history in the making.

British Empire Book
J M Gill


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