The British Empire Library

Changing of Kings: Memories of Burma, 1934-49

by Leslie Glass

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Anthony Kirk-Greene (N Nigeria 1950-66)
The fact that the Indian Civil and Sudan Political Services have long had their own ‘old boys’ organization, and that the ‘Overseas Services Pensioners’ is not an all-embracing association within the total meaning of Britain’s erstwhile imperial civil services, is no reason not to mention these well and wittily written memoirs of a young ICS officer assigned to Burma in 1943 who left Rangoon fifteen years later as a member of the British Diplomatic Service. After all, young Glass did apply for the Colonial Service, even though he reassures us that the fox-hunting Director of Recruitment sensed his scent was not quite right! And, after all again, the older Sir Leslie Glass did end up as ‘our man in Lagos’.

The celebrated observer of Empire, Jan Morris, who wrote a foreword to the book, underlines the enjoyment as well as the importance of these memoirs. The author himself is at pains to disclaim that this is an attempt to write a history of those years: based on no diaries and no letters, the book is for him “mainly a string of personal anecdotes and impressions of memorable personalities... an album of verbal snapshots” . Whatever the source and however the techique, the outcome is a notable example of pro-consular memoir, authoritative and enlightening without ever losing its dominant element of enjoyability.

How right Jan Morris is when she concludes that “If you happened to live in his part of the British Empire, you were lucky to have Mr. Glass as your master. On the other hand, if you happened to be Mr. Glass, you were lucky to live in such a place” . Yet for me. The Changing of Kings earns one extra plus. It is one of the few insiders’ memoirs written about the final rather than the fulness of years of Britain’s imperial experience. Only when we all know as much about decolonisation as we do about the central colonial period can the picture and the record be said to be complete.

British Empire Book
Leslie Glass
Peter Owen Publishers


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