The British Empire Library

A Fanfare of Trumpets

by John Lewis-Barned

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by A.H.M. Kirk-Greene (Nigeria 1950-66, lecturer in Modern History of Africa, Oxford University)
One of the pleasures (only the cynic would say penalties) of having been at the receiving end of the Colonial Records Project associated with Oxford’s Rhodes House Library has been to peruse the manuscript memoirs which ex-Colonial Service officers - and frequently their wives - offered to donate or deposit for our colonial archive. Over the years I may have read nearly a hundred of these; and still they come in, welcomely. Many were compiled primarily as a record “for the family”, progeny too young ever to have known the difference between an alkali and an askari yet curious to know what their grandparents actually did in one of the dozen branches of the once-upon-a-time Colonial Service operating in one of the two score colonial territories. Some were a little more ambitious, anxious to know whether the memoir might actually appeal to a wider audience. A few had already been published, their value to the archives enhanced because here was the 250,000 word original typescript, against the eventual reduced, commercially-cut, slim volume of 50,000 words. In all, of course, historians could discover something of value.

Among the draft memoirs that I literally read, rather than looked at, was an unpretentious account, tellingly told, of a young administrator who went out to Tanganyika in 1951 and left HMOCS in 1963. It seemed to have so much to it, from the excitement of novel experiences and early responsibility to the discomforts of life up-country and the alternating moments of rare adventure and deja vu routine, the whole recounted with a light and humorous touch. Above all, it was full of people and all about people. I have often thought that, for all the academic argument and analysis of the buzz-word ‘race relations’, this was, at the end of the day, exactly what lay at the heart of imperial service, all the way from classic 19th century Indian district administration to the selftaught art of mid-20th century diplomacy in working with elected African ministers and training local successors. And that essential art of human relationships was both as critical in a kith-and-kin colony as it was in a non-settler protectorate and as crucial to the professional and technical official as it was to the administrative officer.

In case you think, like my wife, that I am digressing, if not actually waffling, it was John Lewis-Barned’s manuscript memoir which so caught my attention ten years ago, now published as A Fanfare of Trumpets. The text is attractively illustrated by other members of the family and neatly supplemented by documentation, all the valuable way from the Sanders of the River ‘Clarion Call’ of “Still the Best Job for a British Boy” {Sunday Express 1951) to the ‘last post’ letter sent out exactly ten years later by Julius Nyerere to accompany Kim Meek’s circular about the reorganisation and staffing of the new Tanganyikan Civil Service on the eve of independence.

With so many enjoyable memoirs to read and review, I have consciously not chosen (nor am 1 competent) to try and view this one in its purely Tanganyikan setting of boma and bush (or even conventionally to point to the occasional error, e.g. at pp. vii and 22), but rather to locate it within the wider context of the current contributions to a Colonial Service literature. If A Fanfare of Trumpets makes very good reading for ex- Tanganyikans, it also earns an important place in a library as a straightforward record to refer to whenever one wants to look back and learn what it was really like to be an ordinary, grass roots, junior-to-middle ranking colonial administrator in Tanganyika’s challenging decolonizing decade.

British Empire Book
John Lewis-Barned
The Author


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