Some readers may recall the reminiscences of the Kennaways of Escot Estate in
the Federated Malay States. First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at Christmas 1982
in Charles Allen's acclaimed series, Tales from the South China Seas, they
subsequently appeared in the books of the same title. Now Anne Kennaway has
produced her own memoir.
Truly a child of Empire, Anne was born in Malaya, the eldest of four daughters of a
pioneering rubber planter, Mark John Kennaway, and his actress wife, Dorothy, who had
Rhodesian and Canadian connections. Journey by Candlelight starts in England but
focuses on Malaya, and ex-Malayans will find themselves savouring familiar sights,
sounds and smells - cannas in the garden, magical jungle waterfalls, rambutans,
mangosteens, odorous luscious durians; white clouds of mosquito netting, frilled
organdie worn for a hari besar, a 'special occasion' at the Selangor Club; happy
childhood moments riding a tricycle around the estate bungalow. Later, taking a room
with the unsmiling Mrs Matthew in pre-war Singapore, Anne talks of landmarks such as
Oxley Rise, Orchard and Cairnhill Roads, the Botanical Gardens and Tanglin Club. Her
account of boarding house life recalls for me the Edwardian adolescence of another
pukka colonial, Lillian Newton, whose father, municipal engineer in Victorian Singapore
and a descendant of the great Sir Isaac Newton, died of cholera. The family name was
commemorated in Newton Circus. His widow supported her three daughters by keeping
boarding houses for ebullient male assistants of the Empire.
With economic ups-and-downs (as bedevilled rubber planters in the 1930s), colonial
life was not always cushy; the Newtons and the Kennaways found it involved long,
heart-rending separations. Much worse was to come, however, in 1941-42 with Japan's
terrifying onslaught upon Malaya. The Kennaways, like all British Malayans, lost their
home and possessions. But they proved to be a family of survivors. The women were
plucked to safety when their ship, the Orcades, was torpedoed in the South Atlantic, and
65 year old Mark John - who came through the ordeal of Changi to return after the War
to rubber planting - saw Anne marry the BBC executive whom she had first met in the
Cameron Highlands in 1940.
In all Journey by Candlelight is a compelling personal story (long enough I suggest,
to warrant an index). It is told without affectation but with sincerity and charm, and will
appeal to everyone with their own Malayan memories.