The British Empire Library

Good Second Class: (But Not Even C3) Memories of a Generalist Overseas Administrator

by Trevor Clark

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Keith Arrowsmith (E Nigeria 1949-57)
As stated in the Foreword, "This book is about a man of distinction and his times, both at home and abroad, times that should not be forgotten". The book describes the author's life over eight decades from the 1920's until the beginning of this century. The first chapter, which is not required reading, is a catalogue of the many ills and afflictions which the author endured between 1928 and 2002. Despite these set-backs, Trevor Clark has lived a life full of action and diversity, which is described in a most interesting and, at times, humorous way. There are recollections of his schooldays in Glasgow and Edinburgh, followed by a description of his year in war-time Oxford prior to joining the Army. Four years later, after service in Burma and India - in the course of which he rose to the rank of Major - he returned to Magdalen College.

Trevor then had to decide what he should read. With some regret, it would seem, he decided against doing medicine and opted for Philosophy, Politics & Economics. As optional subjects he took Colonial Government and Colonial Economics. This led him to apply for the Colonial Administrative Service, which became his career for the next 28 years. It was spent in three very different colonies: Northern Nigeria, Hong Kong and the Solomon Islands.

During those years this two metre tall Scot, a man of considerable intellectual stature also, made his mark wherever he went and whatever he did. He was perhaps happiest in his first territory. Northern Nigeria. The great variety of the duties to be carried out are described, palavers lasting three hours or more, reconnoitring an area to judge its suitability for cotton growing, advising officials of the Native Administration and engaging 'fin a whirligig of tours explaining the incomprehensible new constitutional election system to puzzled villagers". It was while working in the Bauchi Division that Trevor formed a close friendship with Malam Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who was later to become Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Prime Minister of Nigeria. On leaving Nigeria, one of Trevor's fondest memories was "of being part of a great family and community and of having friends of all kinds".

He arrived in Hong Kong on his 37th birthday. His early reaction to his new posting was that he had "left an administration that was a family" and "had come to a service that thought it was a corporate business", and he felt that he was regarded by senior government officers as an "interloper". Nevertheless, after nine months he took over the important job of Clerk of Councils, ie Secretary to the Executive Council and Supervisor of the Deputy Clerk to the Legislative Council. He spent his second tour in the Social Welfare Department, during which he was in contact with the "Social Justice Group" established by the Anglican Bishop of Hong Kong, Ronald Hall. On his third tour he was back in the Colonial Secretariat as Principal Assistant Colonial Secretary. It was his final tour working in the Urban Services Department which he enjoyed the most. Had he returned for another tour he would have been in all probability the Director of Social Welfare. However he accepted instead the opportunity to go on secondment to the British Solomon Islands because in his words "the atmosphere (in Hong Kong) had not yet assured me that I was wanted for what with self-satisfaction I thought I was best fitted by experience and attitude".

The happy atmosphere of his new territory was a welcome change after Hong Kong. "One could not but be charmed by the way so many, rough old scrubbers as well as post teenage males, tucked a hibiscus flower behind an ear for show". Together with his wife, Hilary, Trevor toured outlying districts, including a visit in the company of the Archbishop of the Solomons to Tikopia, a tiny island nearly 500 nautical miles east of Honiara, the capital. During the absence on leave of the Governor, he became the Officer Administering the Government - the high point of his time in the Solomons. On the Governor's decision to resume service in Hong Kong, Trevor took over during the interregnum until the arrival of the new Governor. This person having announced "I've only been sent here to clear up the mess", it was inevitable that relations became strained and Trevor decided he must leave. Keen regret was expressed by many leading islanders, amongst them Sir Frederick Osifelo (the Speaker) who could not understand why he was leaving and said "You are so respected. You stand up for things. Without you we should never have begun our administrative training".

A new life in Edinburgh followed. Trevor served for 8 years on the City Council and on the Lothian Health Board, and for many years he was involved with the Edinburgh International Festival Council. In 1983 he was appointed to a Museums' Advisory Board, which led to a twenty year connection with museums, during which time he qualified as an Associate of the Museums' Association. In addition to these and other commitments Trevor found the time to write his acclaimed biography of his old friend, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.

Like all good autobiographies, by the time he reached the end of this book the reader feels he has come to know the author well, warts and all. It is a gripping account of a life lived to the full.

As regards the style of the writing, the prose flows well but there are, here and there, sentences whose meaning is somewhat opaque and it tends to be rather too liberally interspersed with words in brackets. Although on its first appearance an acronym, of which there are many throughout the book, is explained, it would perhaps have been helpful to some readers had a glossary been included for ready reference purposes.

The title of this book is Good Second Class. However it is an account of a first class life spent in the service of the Crown and of a variety of communities in different parts of the world.

British Empire Book
Trevor Clark
The Memoir Club
1 84104 085 1


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