The British Empire Library

From Aden to the Gulf: Personal Diaries, 1956-66

by Margaret Luce

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Anthony Kirk-Greene (N Nigeria 1950-66)
It will not be surprising that most of the books written in the form of Colonial Service memoirs, histories or critiques (and hence most of the book reviews contributed to our magazine) deal with Service men and matters in Africa and Asia. That was where nearly ninety per cent of the Colonial Service worked; and where, I suspect, at least three-quarters of the membership of OSPA were posted - a perusal of their magazine's obituary pages underlines the point.

Hence it is a rarer pleasure to be able to welcome a Colonial Service memoir from one of the smaller of the other five regions under which the Service was geographically classified: the Caribbean, the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. In fact, in strict maritime terminology Aden was none of these, but for the purpose of this notice it was emphatically neither Africa nor Asia!

Margaret Luce, whose well-written diaries from 1956 to 1966 comprise this delightful memoir, is the widow of Sir William Luce, who died in 1977. She is, of course, no novice at writing, as readers of Punch and Rosemary Kenrick's Sudan Tales will readily know. Like many of the elite Sudan Political Service, which Luce joined in 1930 and, as it were, his wife "joined" five years later. Luce (who was one of the last four former political officers to stay on in the Palace until independence on New Year's Day, 1956), went on, after Khartoum, to high office in the Arab-speaking world, first in the Colonial Service appointment of the governorship of Aden (1956-1960) and then back under Foreign Office jurisdiction as Political Resident in the Gulf from 1961 to 1966. These are the two periods covered, in a hundred pages apiece, by Lady Luce's diaries, all the way from her brusque introduction to Colonial Service regulations ("The Governor's wife has no official position whatsoever") and the archaic protocol of who was served before whom in G.H., to the farewell supper party in camp at Musira, with the rice and mutton, sand and petromax lamps,/feux de joie and a dancing escort all supplied by the T.O.S. - "a uniquely lovely ... classic desert" pen-sketch indeed.

Impeccably produced by Michael Russell (save for the lack of an index, an unwelcome handicap to the historian when the diaries consciously focus on people and places and not on politics or policies), and with a generous display of family photographs, these personal diaries will make many readers all the more impatient for that important 'Bill' Luce biography reputedly in the making.

British Empire Book
Margaret Luce
Michael Russell Publishing Ltd


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