Sir Philip Mitchell exemplified all that was best in a long and distinguished tradition.
Mr. Frost demonstrates this clearly in this well-documented book, but Mitchell's
formative years, the first thirty-five, are given only eleven pages of text out of 276. A
bibliography would also have been helpful.
Mitchell was born in 1890. His childhood was tragic. His mother died when he was two;
his father was dour and aloof. Lack of parental guidance left him aimless. He was sent
down from Oxford for youthful pranks, but found his true vocation in the Colonial
Service. No diaries have survived before 1927, so evidence may be lacking about his life as a
district officer in Nyasaland before the War. In 1914 Mitchell enlisted with the King's
African Rifles. We are not told that he won the Military Cross, possibly for his conduct in
an action in 1916 in Mkapira, on the Ruhuje River, between Lupembe and Muhange,
north-east of Lake Malawi. He led one of four companies of 1 KAR, who together with the
Rhodesians defeated a German force under Major Kraut.' Mr. Frost explains in detail how
the courage and faithfulness of African servicemen convinced Mitchell that white men had
no claim to superiority. War imposed equality on all. Officers, soldiers, and porters shared
the same dangers and hardships.
After the War Mitchell transferred to Tanganyika. In 1925 the dynamic new governor,
Sir Donald Cameron, made him Assistant Secretary for Native Affairs, succeeding Charles
Dundas as Secretary in 1929. The ultimate aim of Cameron's reforms under the Mandate -
legislative council and indirect rule - was self-government. The years 1925 to 1940 were
undoubtedly the most satisfying of Mitchell's career; in 1935 he became Governor of
Uganda. He was at the height of his intellectual and physical powers, able both to do work
at the centre of power, and to visit officers in the field. Perhaps his outstanding
contribution to the future of East Africa was to found two future universities: Makerere,
and after the War the Royal Technical College, Nairobi.
During the War Mitchell held high political office in the Middle East and the South-West Pacific, where he was also Governor of Fiji (1942 to 1944). He got on well with his
service chiefs Field-Marshall Waved and Admiral Nimitz. All Mitchell's diplomatic skill
was needed to persuade Haile Selassie that winning the War was the goal, towards which
the liberation of Ethiopia was incidental. The uncritical attitude of the Foreign Office and
its Minister in Addis Ababa, Robert Howe, towards the Emperor made this task harder.
(On pages 136 to 139 Howe is confused with Mitchell's Uganda colleague Ralph Hone
[sic]. Also, on page 253 Kenyatta was defended by D. N. Pritt, not D. A. Pratt). Mitchell's
relations with Haile Selassie bore some resemblance to those with the Kabaka of Buganda.
In the Pacific a war had to be won, good relations created between Americans,
Australians and New Zealanders, and a colony governed. Mitchell knew from Uganda
experience how risky a single-crop economy was; Fiji relied on sugar, and the growers were
on strike for better prices. Race relations, however, were a minor problem compared to
what he would have to face in Kenya.
Mitchell reluctantly became Governor of Kenya in 1944. He was exhausted and talked of
retirement. A dynamic popular movement under Jomo Kenyatta demanded reform, but
Mitchell was given no more power to overcome hardline settler opposition than his
predecessors had enjoyed. He was not well enough to visit the districts and hear what was
happening. The intelligence system was uncoordinated. It is still felt very strongly that he
was unpardonably complacent about the growing unrest among the Kikuyu, especially the
squatters on European farms. Though Mitchell bears a heavy burden of blame for the
outbreak of Mau Mau, his political masters in London share the responsibility; they kept
an ailing governor in office for eight years when a younger and more vigorous man was
Perhaps there is little to say about Mitchell's private life. His wife was not a very
impressive person, and they had no children.^ Mitchell was a very good-looking man,
notable for his warmth and humanity, of which Mr. Frost gives examples. He was
sympathetic about other people's troubles, and was not afraid to show his emotions. It is a
tragic irony that this high-minded, brilliant and dedicated public servant failed to see the
awful dangers towards which Kenya was heading as his career ended. All who are
interested in East African history will be grateful to Mr. Frost for showing us how
distinguished that career was.