The British Empire Library

The Changing Scenes of Life

by Keith Arrowsmith

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by A.H.M Kirk-Greene (Nigeria 1950 - 65)
Some 23 years ago Keith Arrowsmith published a memoir of his first years in the Colonial Service, as an administrative officer in Eastern Nigeria, 1949-1957. Bush Paths soon established itself among the autobiographies of service in Nigeria.

Now he has given us another memoir, half of it on his Colonial Service career (Uganda and Hong Kong after Nigeria) and half on his follow-up years in London and Brussels, ending with his work in UK local government. He happily revisits his Nigerian memoir, recalling fresh episodes, including the urgency of his Resident's opening question, "by the way, Arrowsmith, do you play hockey?" as well as learning the routine introduction to what was really at issue in the commonplace after-dinner ritual of 'seeing Africa'. The title Changing Scenes is appropriate, though readers may still be wanting to know why the Colonial Service attracted him and whether his OCTU days in Bangalore were an Influence. On the other hand, his work In Local Government in Abingdon is one of the few accounts of this kind of post- Colonial Service 'second career', an experience on which many DOs had been deeply involved in as a replacement for the policy of indirect rule and traditional chiefs.

The account of his work in the three colonies Is well recorded, and extensively so when he recounts his post-Service appointments in London and then as a Principal Administrator in the Commission of European Communities In non-stop Brussels, until his final retirement at 65 and moving into UK local government.

Throughout the book one wonders in admiration how Arrowsmith is able to record such a wealth of details on places, persons and postings, thereby stretching the sources available to most Colonial Service authors, who principally rely on the weekly letter home, or, in a few salient cases, on the sizeable diary they used to keep (lucky for today's Colonial Service archives, too). Arrowsmith scrupulously maintained what he calls "scrapbooks" in which he filed an extensive variety of documentary evidence, "programmes, tickets, bills, letters, postcards, etc." The habit dates back to his schooldays at Marlborough in 1937. There is also a poem he wrote on the voyage out after his Cambridge Devonshire course, romantically titled "Evening in the Gulf of Guinea". Judging by the wealth of photographs in the book and the copies of Arrowsmith's own paintings on the front and rear covers, the "scrapbooks" may contain yet more memoir prize material.

Lest any Colonial Service readers fear that the second half of his book has little to do with the Service (an opportunity missed is in Arrowsmith's silence on his important work for OSPA since the late 1990s as a member of the OSPA Council and his chairmanship of the related Benevolent Society Committee), let me enthusiastically draw attention to the richness of the final 40 pages (almost a fifth of the book). Here Arrowsmith has compiled three Annexes, all comprising data on the Colonial Service which is as valuable as any researcher could wish for. One is a full reproduction of a DO'S Annual Report on his Division, the kind of source which, in contrast to Provincial and Colony Reports, has rarely been reproduced and was never published. The second document, again a rarity. Is the author's Handing Over Notes on Eket Division to Charles Swaisland in 1957. The final Annex reproduces the article Arrowsmith published on moving to Uganda, "The Administrative Officer Today"

Definitely an important book for my Colonial Service library.

British Empire Book
Keith Arrowsmith
Radcliffe Press


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