The British Empire Library

Colonial Postscript: The Diary of a District Officer

by John Morley

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by H.Y.W.S. Dickson (Colonial Administrative Service - British Somaliland, Nyasalandj Malawi and Anguilla - 1950-80)
This is an excellent personal narrative of the varied Colonial Service career of the author, whose first experience was in Aden in 1935, when he accepted a temporary post with the commercial firm of A. Besse & Co., whilst his application to the Colonial Office was being held over. His descriptions of his work there, the people he met and his trips to the hinterland make his first chapter fascinating and full of interest, especially to anyone who, like me, knew Aden well in later years. John Morley, now 23, was then appointed to the Colonial Administrative Service and in 1937 arrived at Sokoto in Northern Nigeria. His accounts of his daily duties as an A.D.O., the places he visited on tour and the persons he dealt with are absorbing, detailed and entertaining; all enlivened by extracts from his letters home.

After home leave he was posted to Lokoja, at the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers, where the people and environment were quite different; but are again described with clarity and skill. In 1940 he was called up and, after initial military training, was commissioned into the 12th Battalion Nigeria Regiment at Kano. Here he was involved with recruit training and in teaching Hausa to British Officers and N.C.Os; but there seemed at that time little likelihood of the RWAFF being involved in active service. And so on his next leave, when he also got married, he applied for secondment to the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration of the former Italian East Africa; and, on his return to Kano, found himself accepted and posted to Massawa, on the Red Sea coastal plain of Eritrea, arriving in May 1941.

Here he was involved in the new Civil Administration as it took over from the military, and clearly enjoyed himself in the exciting new situations and surroundings. Late in 1942 he was sent to the Central Highlands and based at Asmara, travelling widely into the agricultural areas to the south, bordering on Abyssinia; and over the northern plains on the Sudan border with their nomadic pastoralists. Once again his accounts of the different inhabitants, their way of life and respective faiths, are informative and beautifully written. In mid 1944 he was back in the U K when he heard that plans were under way for a future British Military Administration in Malaya, for which he then applied and was accepted. After the Japanese surrender he arrived in Singapore in October 1945 to deal with the complex problems of a great, run-down city. In due course normality resumed, his wife joined him and he was to serve in Perak State and Kuala Lumpur; his work as usual being clearly and concisely recorded.

By 1951, as the author wrote, "1 had given my heart to the Colonial Service and enjoyed myself immensely .... with some modest success"; but felt from a family viewpoint that he ought soon to retire. So he secured a posting to the Gold Coast, where Independence was expected shortly; and his final two chapters tell of his work there from 1952-56 as Commissioner for the Development Corporations and Marketing Boards. But life became difficult as policies were subordinated to personalities and dishonesty and corruption crept in; with his departure being soured by a pending Inquiry into the Cocoa Purchasing Company, which later cleared him of any blame. I much enjoyed this book, illustrated with excellent pastel portraits by his wife, but missed an index and the lack of photos and maps of the various territories he served in.

British Empire Book
John Morley
The Radcliffe Press


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