The British Empire Library

Journey by Candlelight, A Memoir

by Anne Kennaway

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Margaret Shennan (Author of Missee and Out in the Midday Sun)
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.

British Empire Book
Anne Kennaway
Pentland Press
1 85821 724 5


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