The British Empire Library

At The End Of The Line: Colonial Policing And The Imperial Endgame 1945-80

by Georgina Sinclair

Courtesy of OSPA

Robin Mitchell and Bob Bradney (Nigeria 1952-65)
The variety of tasks expected of Colonial Police Forces, their capability, resources of personnel and equipment and the situations they faced were so wide and different that generalised comments are fraught with peril. However Georgina Sinclair has undertaken this hazardous assignment with considerable skill, and with quotations from Colonial Office records, written and oral reports of those who served, produced a wellresearched and well-balanced account of policing the end of empire.

The study begins with a description of the "policing models" or traditions which influenced or were intended to be adopted by overseas territories. For example, since the social and political structure of a number of colonies resembled Ireland's, newly appointed officers to India and Nigeria up to 1930 were given training with the semimilitary Royal Irish Constabulary. This practice changed in the 1930s when experience in policing the conflicts between Arab and Jewish communities was regarded as mandatory and invaluable training for posts in other forces, and young policemen were posted first to the Palestine Police.

Since the book is concerned with the period 1945-80 the author refers frequently to the struggle between the Colonial Office and overseas forces to export "Britishness" into their police operations either by directives or appointing overseas Police Advisers either from UK constabularies or retired commissioners from colonial forces. Although the book contains numerous references to minutes by Colonial Office officials urging this, your reviewers cannot recall in the 1950s in Nigeria any attempt to meet Colonial Office recommendations - if indeed these were issued - to civilianise the police on the Palestine or British model.

On the contrary, the introduction of Police Mobile Units in Nigeria in 1957 whose function was to eliminate and flatten any disturbance with para-military force suggests that such recommendations would not have been welcomed.

Looking back, these reviewers consider that outside intervention would not have been particularly helpful. Forces did much better when allowed to develop at their own pace. Much successful police work anyway was due to senior officers. In Northern Nigeria one exceptionally capable officer in charge of Kano had come from the Metropolitan Police. When the other from the British South Africa Police returned from leave his posting on the bush-telegraph caused a rapid exit of all the more notorious 'thiefmen' from the province concerned.

These reviewers were particularly interested in the author's account of the Cyprus emergency and the forced resignation of both the Commissioner and his deputy - Messrs Robius and Biles - since both had served in Nigeria. Both had defied the Colonial Office's attempt to export 'Britishness' and both were victims of Field Marshal Harding's wish to bring in his own nominees.

It is a pity George Robius did not live long enough to respond to the Cyprus' Defence Secretary's allegation of lack of co-operation to confirm, as he did to the late John Hodge, Inspector-General of Nigeria Police, that he had carried out a thorough review of the needs of the Cyprus police to cope with an emergency, but his request for funds had been ignored, as frequently happened elsewhere.

While these reviewers support the judgements and conclusions reached, the book contains a disproportionately large number of spelling errors of names and places and incorrect ranks of officers mentioned. One reviewer was surprised to read that he "had attended executions in the Sudan ..." when in fact he had never served there.

More emphasis could, perhaps, have been given to the difference between police forces that had a violent end of empire, eg Kenya, Cyprus, and those in West Africa, eg Nigeria and Sierra Leone, where the transfer of power was peaceful often due to good training and a well-considered "Africanisation" policy. In addition, more stress could have been given to the fact that in 'peaceful' colonies disturbances were not about "end of empire" but about local taxes, trade disputes and tribal antagonisms.

However, this should not obscure the fact that this is an important, compelling and very readable book, the like of which will not be written again. Its historical value should not be underestimated. In an age when British forces are frequently called out to serve overseas first as soldiers and secondly as police, this book with its shrewd comments on intelligence and security should be required reading at senior levels in the Army and Ministry of Defence.

British Empire Book
Georgina Sinclair
Manchester University Press
07190 71380


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