The British Empire Library

One Beat of a Butterfly's Heart: A Tanganyika Police Notebook

by Ronald Callander

Courtesy of OSPA

Tim Tawney (King's African Rifles 1953-54; Tanganyika Administration 1958-64)
Ronald Callander came to Tanganyika to join the Police in 1956, having served in the Australian Army during the Korean War. Although he only served one tour, he quickly adjusted to the life and work of a colonial police officer. His service began in the humid streets of the capital Dar es Salaam, where initially he was allocated mundane tasks of checking case-files and learning the multiple facets of the law as applied to police work, both on the streets and in court.

After passing out from the Police Training School in Moshi, he spent much of his remaining time in the Lake Province, having joined the Motorized Company in Mwanza; over the next couple of years his travels ranged widely, from Bukoba in the west to the Serengeti in the east.

His story is taken from his official pocket diaries, and this gives an immediacy and freshness to the narrative. By no means is it a dry and repetitive account of his daily work; on the contrary, he recounts many incidents in great detail without losing sight of the wider issues, and with a gift for spare but descriptive verbal pictures. As an Antipodean he does not suffer stuffy and superior fools gladly, and brings an engaging cynicism to his descriptions of his working relationships with some of the crusty older officers. That said, his appreciation of the work ethic and constructive and advisory approach of the really good and professional senior officer comes through clearly.

After Training School, where at time he might have justifiably been described as a larrikin, he comes into his own when he gets his platoon in the Motorized Company; and this is when his burgeoning understanding of the African askari and his talent for communicating and commanding come into their own. Whether dealing with murder, rape or riot, poaching, strikes or witchcraft, he gives a thoroughly readable account of that short period of uncertainty and volatility in the lead-up to independence in the early Sixties. He is especially good when talking about his dependence on his platoon sergeant, and his growing affection, often tinged with exasperation, for his askaris.

Denis Healey once wrote:

"Such men were the last of Britain's pro-consuls, a remarkable breed, who brought a degree of order and justice to millions of people who had known much less, but who ultimately wanted much more. They do not deserve less respect because the tides of history have washed away so much of their achievements."

With this excellent book, which will spark many nostalgic memories among those who knew Tanganyika, Ronald Callander may justly number himself in that "remarkable breed".

British Empire Book
Ronald Callander
30 Degrees South Publishers


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