The British Empire Library

The Guardian Angel: A Voice from the Wilderness

by Colin Everard

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Malcolm Page (Somaliland Scouts 1947-195J)
Cohn Everard was a National Service subaltern in the Somaliland Scouts in 1950/51; I recall him as a hvely, articulate young man and had often wondered what had happened to him and his contemporaries. In his case, he returned to civilian life and tried working in the City for a while, at the behest of his father. He did not enjoy the experience and by November 1952 he was back in Hargeisa, then the capital of the British Protectorate of Somaliland, to begin the first of three two-year contracts with Desert Locust Control (DLC), which was operating in the Protectorate and those parts of Ethiopia still under British administration.

His description of the country, his companions, the threat of devastation to grazing and crops from the locust plagues are accurate and fascinating, particularly when he describes the life-cycle of the locust and the processes of attacking it at its most vulnerable stage. During his time with DLC the techniques developed from reliance on reports by patrols and the laying of bait by hand, to aerial reconnaissance, aerial spraying and the use of a spraying mechanism attached to the exhaust pipe of a Land Rover. In conjunction with improved insecticides, DLC became not only highly technically efficient, but also able to operate in ways which were less obtrusive and therefore less provoking to those who feared for the safety of their stock from bait they believed to be harmful.

He provides a series of fascinating insights into the steps towards independence in the British Protectorate and in the Italian Trusteeship Territory of Somalia; processes accelerated by the United Nations from a twenty-five to a ten year time-frame. He illustrates some of the problems of operating a humanitarian and essentially non-political organisation in a country where democratic principles are relatively new on a national scale, and where Ministers are uncertain as to the limits of their powers.

In Uganda for four years before Idi Amin took power, he shows that potentially happy and rich country drifting into chaos. There and in Nairobi he traced the evolution of the East Africa High Commission into an East African Community which, with Everard's help, negotiated a Treaty of Association with the European Economic Community. His experiences in the field of procurement led to his appointment (in 1968) as Chief Supplies Officer for the East African Community. From Nairobi he developed his career by being appointed to the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) as a section head in their Technical Assistance Bureau, where he found himself working in Montreal in winter, with an outside temperature of -22* C. Again, his work was mainly with Third World countries, helping to develop their commercial infrastructure.

In a busy life, his knowledge of the Somali language led to him being suspected as a spy; a Colonial Governor recommended him for the Overseas Civil Service, he danced (late at night) with an Ethiopian District Commissioner to 'God Save the King' on a 78rpm gramophone, and he successfully bribed the large lady who ran a hotel switchboard so autocratically that she ejected the hotel manager bodily. The eponymous Guardian Angel who protected him throughout takes many forms, including that of Mohamed Abdi (a Somali Supervisor), a force that deflected a lion so that it only overturned his camp bed, and circumstances that led him to change to another aircraft shortly before the original aircraft failed.

There are times when one would like to know more; for example, who was the District Commissioner who, "in an apparent state of deep distress and audibly sobbing" called on him to restore order near the Somali coast? Many others are given similar cloaks of anonymity; but it is a well-told story of a full and useful life which has greatly benefitted the people of the Third World.

British Empire Book
Colin Everard
The Minerva Press


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