The British Empire Library

Letters From Africa

by David Salmon

Courtesy of OSPA

Ian Mackinson (N. Rhodesia/Zambia 1952- 1971; District Officer, Barotseiand 1952- 1959)
We are accustomed to the memoirs of our time, 50 or more years ago in the Colonial Service, written essentially for the interest (and education) of younger generations. David Salmon has chosen the opposite approach, to resurrect letters to his parents, the older generation, written during his first year as a cadet DO in Barotseland (a Protectorate within the Protectorate of Northern Rhodesia) in 1959/60. As a young bachelor he was posted to Kalabo with a Boma of five or six Europeans and a District population of 80-90,000.

He wrote his first letter home just four days after his arrival in Kalabo. They continued on a regular basis, sometimes every three or four days, but mostly at weekly or fortnightly intervals throughout his first year. They reflect his thoughts, observations, relationships, work and pastime activities and all the peaks and troughs of remote out-station life. He still clings passionately to home-based Interests particularly the performance of Stoke City football team and its individual players.

Of course, writing about wide-ranging events within days, even hours, of their happening enables much detail to be embedded. This provides a rich tapestry, an atmospheric aura, which Mr Salmon develops well. He was fortunate in this task in two respects.

Firstly, his District Commissioner was Murray Armor, ex-Kenya Administration and ex-1956 Hungarian revolution freedom-fighter, who was full to overflowing of mental and physical energy and who set parameters of attitude, leadership and Inspiration which I suspect will have left their mark on Mr Salmon. Secondly, Kalabo District has a pattern of life very largely conditioned by the annual flooding of the Zambezi River. This translated Into the planning, construction and maintenance of a vast system of drainage canals. For a young cadet this was a primary and exciting focus of his work bringing him immediately into close contact with the Barotse people and their chiefs.

Back at the Boma he describes in detail the tasks of every young DO - brick making, building staff houses, planting trees, general office work, and the never ending queue of people with problems. He introduced education classes in English and Arithmetic for Boma staff which quickly attracted men (no women!) from nearby villages. His routine was enlivened by involvement in a visit by the Monckton Commission (enquiring into the future of the Central African Federation) and the visit of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in 1960.

Mr Salmon’s letters reflect a detailed. Intimate, intellectual and compassionate approach to the human and environmental milieu about him in a way which we ‘oldies’, with our memories of 40 or 50 years ago, could not, I think, quite accomplish.

British Empire Book
David Salmon
978 0 953 196 51 7


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