In 1923 Grace McDonald, who was born in Canada, married O. R. Sitwell of the
Ugandan Administrative Service. To mark their diamond wedding, their children
arranged to have printed a selection of Grace Sitwell's letters written home from East
Africa between 1924 and 1939, the end of their fifth tour. By then, Sitwell was D.C.
Kampala. The volume is embellished by half a dozen linocuts from the family's
Ugandan photograph album.
To the Service historian the value of these letters is their totally unpretentious
simplicity of style. Factual, personal and innocent of all self-conscious analysis, they
effectively convey the contrasting excitements (small as well as big) and wretched
boredom which so often made up the daily routine of station life, especially for the
wives of colonial officialdom. Too often (for my purposes) names have here been
reduced to initials, but with a Ugandan Staff List to hand it should not be too hard
identifying Mr. S., the D.C. ("he is hossy, she is a great gardener and nice"), the
police officer Captain W. ("she is oldish and a dreadful gossip") or Dr. N. ("our very
efficient medical officer), and on occasion all reticence is helpfully thrown to the wind: the Bourdillons characteristically charm everyone, so do the Athlones ("they
made it so easy for us"), while Mr. Weatherhead, P.C., "is a PERFECTLY
SPLENDID MAN". Ugandaphiles, of course, will derive nostalgic pleasure from the
descriptions of Jinja in 1924, Masaka in 1923 or Arua in 1934.
Whatever we may ourselves retrospectively think or pretend with hindsight, this
is - for better or for worse - the kind of simple, wondering, chit-chat letters so many of
us wrote home, at least in our early tours. Literature, no; a contribution to history,
yes. Here is the sort of stuff without which the full story of the British abroad cannot