The British Empire Library

A Kenya Childhood

by C S Nicholls

Courtesy of OSPA

By Susan Duke and Veronica Bellers (daughters of C.H. Williams, CMG, QBE)
Christine Nicholls is a most accomplished writer, her lucid but sparing style, gives her writing a sparkle which everyone will enjoy. We cannot tell whether this book about a European childhood in Colonial Kenya will be of more interest to those who experienced it, or of more interest to those who did not but, as people who had a similar childhood, we found it absorbing. It also threw up questions. We do not remember, for instance, anyone at the Kenya High School, lifting our skirts to see if we were wearing regulation grey knickers! We were impressed with the observations she made in her letters from school to her parents. At a young age she clearly was developing prodigious powers of observation and intelligence. Her memories are illuminated by hindsight and from her study of colonial Kenya and we very much liked her quiet statements about what happened, with little comment, condemnation or criticism. That is how it was. Mpishi (did he not have a name?) and his marital arrangements were an amusing example.

There is an innocence in childhood memories which is always touching and which A Kenya Childhood deftly portrays. Where she writes of - and we remember - a relaxed, somewhat gentle atmosphere, now-a-days Kenya is a bustling place with a population some six times greater than when we were children. The Europeans led a privileged life there is no doubt but today there is, we believe, more poverty and hardship. On the other hand our parents would be so pleased to see today's growing and assertive middle class of professionals and entrepreneurs.

In those far off times there was a noble plan to build a country. Foolish decisions were undoubtedly made (teaching the history of the British Isles in Asian and African schools seems incredible now) but there was also great innovation and determination by engineers and government servants to build a new infrastructure, to put in hospitals, schools and roads for the benefit of everyone. There was some thoughtlessness, ignorance and arrogance on the part of the colonists but Dr NichoH's book demonstrates that there was care and affection between the races while her descriptions of Christine the small child wandering Mombasa alone demonstrates that we were brought up in a colony that was safe for every law-abiding person as a result of justice and good governance.

By lifting the curtain on a "strange time in a lovely land" and seeing it all with the uncritical eyes of an intelligent girl growing up, this book adds to the rich history of this short and crucial time in the development of Kenya. Leaving, she says, was "too poignant to bear". We all felt that.

British Empire Book
C S Nicholls


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