The British Empire Library

Lucky Me - Memoirs Of A Former District Officer In Nigeria

by Frank Bex

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Richard Barlow-Poole (Northern Nigeria 1947-68)
Anthony Kirk-Greene, the Colonial Service's own historian, in a foreword to a bibliography compiled by Terry Barringer entitled Administering Empire: An Annotated Checklist of Personal Memoirs and Related Studies (published 2004 by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London) writes that "Colonial Service memoirs have an importance which, with the revisiting of the colonial era by postcolonial scholars, is now beginning to be recognised." Lucky Me was too late to be included in this compilation, but will be included in the next edition now into preparation. There are 94 titles from Nigeria alone and Lucky Me will be a most interesting and enjoyable addition.

Frank Bex has already written four interesting sections for the book Palm Wine and Leopard's Whiskers - Reminiscences of Eastern Nigeria, edited by Ronnie Anderson. Frank has expanded these memories into a full book covering his early years and his years in Eastern Nigeria but also including his time spent in Lagos as ADC to the Governor (Lord Milverton) at the time when the Private Secretary was Peter Balmer: both served later on the Executive Committee of the British-Nigeria Association.

Frank also covers his leaves and his family; two daughters and a son (at the time they left) and another son who sadly died in infancy.

Frank always seemed destined to be a high flyer. In 1944 when he was serving in the Royal Artillery, the War Office received a request from the Colonial Office for 2/Lt Bex to be released from the Army for a posting to West Africa where they were very shorthanded. The request was granted. The posting to Lagos as ADC to the Governor (who had met him previously when on tour in the East) was another mark of approval. But Frank was at heart a 'bush-whacker'. He was assured a promising career in the Civil Service Commission (after his ADC stint) but opted to return to administrative duties in the East, despite having recently married in Lagos where he and his wife were enjoying the social round, so as to return to real life in the real Nigeria. And there they remained happily, with the usual ups and downs, until they left in 1956.

Though momentous events were occurring on the political front during those twelve years, they often made little impact locally, as new constitution followed new constitution, and Chief Commissioners became Lieutenant-Governors and then Regional Governors. Self-government came to the East on 5 August 1957 with Nigerian independence on 1 October 1960.

Frank and his wife were in Port Harcourt at the time of the Queen's visit in 1956 and he shared in preparations for the visit with the Acting Resident, Stan King. The visit was a resounding success. But for Frank, the writing was on the wall. The cost of living was expensive for expatriates and the family had by then to face the education of their eldest daughter and did not wish to be separated. Seeing self-government on the horizon (and inevitably increased Nigerianisation), the Bexes decided to take premature retirement at the end of 1956. Frank soon got a better paid job with Unilever.

But as with so many others, Nigeria was not forgotten. Way back as a DO, Frank had persuaded the District Education Committee to help a certain young man, Ezeka Okafor, to subscribe to a scholarship to help him through medical studies at Ibadan University to which he had won a coveted place. Years later, after retirement from Unilever, the Bexes received an invitation from Dr Ezeka Okafor and his wife Eunice to visit them and to take part in the opening of their new 75-bed hospital in Onitsha which was to be named the Bex Memorial Hospital. Other visits followed in 1987 and 1990. On the 1987 visit, they attended the celebration of Chief Patrick's Jubilee at Orlu - the 50th anniversary of his succession to the title of Igwe of Orlu. Dignitaries from all over Nigeria, including the Emir of Kano, attended. Frank was awarded a title, Ogbuagu of Orlu (Leopard Killer), and a Certificate of Merit. The book is well worth reading for this section alone, and it is sometimes encouraging to find out how conditions in Nigeria at that time were.

This reviewer well remembers a symposium convened by Anthony Kirk-Greene on The Transfer of Power - The Colonial Administrator in the Age of Decolonisation in 1978, held in St Antony's College, Oxford. There the late Sir Rex Niven who had served for over 40 years in Northern Nigeria spoke in the discussion and said "I regard wives who supported their husbands in Africa as being as important as those they were supporting".

Proceeds from the sale of the book will be given by the author to the Margaret Bex Charitable Trust (Margaret sadly died in 2001) and used to assist poor patients at the Bex Memorial Hospitals, Onitsha and Nempi, in Eastern Nigeria.

British Empire Book
Frank Bex
F. Bex
The Margaret Bex Foundation,
C/O Sheila Bex,
Little Challoners,
St Helena Lane,
Plumpton Green,


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