The British Empire Library

The Commonwealth and International Affairs: The Round Table Centennial Selection

edited by Alex May

Courtesy of OSPA

A H M Kirk-Greene (N. Nigeria 1950-65)
Instead of a conventional review of this skilful selection of excerpts from key articles published in the leading journal on the Commonwealth, The Round Table (founded in 1910), I feel that it might interest anyone whose overseas upbringing and experience were emphatically more colonial than Commonwealth, to recall what was in retrospect the progressive shift from 'Colonial' (both Service and Office) to 'Commonwealth' in the 1950s and 1960s, a transformation culminating in the emergence of a single Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1968.

The succession of departmental responsibilities which were removed from CO control, and the list of new legislation aimed at cutting down CO functions, along with ever more official reports on the new thinking on the future scope and size of the one-time Colonial Service, give a clear picture of the scope and depth of the non-stop demolition of the CO that we had known and served - even if we in the field may have felt such changes did not really affect us all that much. It started in 1954 with the key report Reorganization of the Colonial Service (Col. No. 302) and the deliberate renaming of the Devonshire Course as the Overseas Service Course. Next came the paper Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service Special List (Cmd 9768) in 1956; then a special CO conference on public services (Col. No. 347) in 1960. 1962 saw the creation of the Department of Technical Co-operation (DTC) (transformed in 1964 into the Ministry of Overseas Development - later ODA), the whole culminating in 1962 in the oversight of its new responsibility for the recruitment for service overseas (Cmd 1740) and in 1963 the follow-up White Paper, Policy on the Recommendations of the Committee on Training in Public Administration for Overseas Countries (Cmnd 2009). At the personal level, members of the CS lost their own journal. Corona, which appeared for the last time in 1962. The final nail in the CO coffin was in 1966, when the CO was officially closed (after 129 years) and was merged with the Commonwealth Relations Office to form the new Commonwealth Office. Finally, 1968 brought the British overseas officers from the Commonwealth Office and the Foreign Service into a single Diplomatic Service, based in the new Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

Away in the field, not all of us were perhaps fully aware of the implications of the steady erosion of 'Colonial' from the Service we had joined in the late 1940s and the 1950s. Yet the changes were deliberate and deep. Back in London, just as the old Dominions Office of 1925 had metamorphosed into the Commonwealth Office in 1947, so in 1954 the Colonial Service was (historically after 117 years) reorganised as Her Majesty's Overseas (initially 'Oversea') Civil Service or HMOCS. While the broad nature of the work of the DO/DC in the field may still have seemed to us to preserve a high degree of pre-war continuity, in the Colonial Secretariats the shift from a pre-war Colonial Service to a post-war HMOCS brought many visible and tangible changes. The CO put on a special course in London for senior Secretariat officers from overseas. Residents and Provincial Commissioners found themselves known as Provincial Secretary or posted as Permanent Secretary to one of the host of Ministries; the role of the Head of the Civil Service became that of the Secretary to the Prime Minister; junior DOs were reborn as Assistant Secretaries... and telephones began to ring unceasingly on their Ministry desks, an intrusion we were mercifully spared 'in the bush'! Symbolizing it all was the publication in 1966 of the final edition (first published in 1862) of the annual Colonial Office List. The Colonial Service's social club, the Corona Club, continued to function till 2000, thus managing to celebrate a whole century of existence. Many of us will recall with pride and sorrow the splendid Commemoration service, held in the presence of the Queen, at Westminster Abbey in 1999, marking the official closure of HMOCS (and thus its predecessor Colonial Service).

Although the primary concern of The Round Table had since 1910 been with exclusively Commonwealth affairs, its subsequent transformation into the Journal of Commonwealth and International Affairs in the 1950s has, as the present book edited by Alex May amply demonstrates, directed considerable interest into what were still regarded as separate colonial matters. Here, then, is an arguably fresh source for many of us to learn more (often new facts) about the era of decolonisation (1949-1968), on which May has written a whole and important Part in his book. There are further selections about UDI in Rhodesia, trusteeship and colonial development. For our OSPA non-Commonwealth work and experience. The Round Table Centennial Selection, together with its companion study, James Mayall's The Contemporary Commonwealth: an Assessment 1965-2009 (2009), provides a first-class commentary on the changes inside and beyond the Colonial Office and behind our own Colonial Service's daily concern with the basics of colonial government and administration.

British Empire Book
Alex May
9780415 48523 4


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