The British Empire Library

Policeman in Africa

by Colin Imray

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Michael Ensor (Gold Coast/Ghana 1940-58)
It is generally held that the shooting on 28 February 1948 at Christiansborg crossroads in the Gold Coast led inexorably to a sharp acceleration of the colony's journey to independence and thereafter to the hasty decolonisation of Africa. Whether or not the same afternoon's rioting and looting in Accra's commercial centre, which spread to other towns, was caused by the act of the author, then Superintendent of Police in Accra, or started quite independently, remains an open question. Certainly the Commission of Enquiry which was appointed in consequence of the widespread violence recommended sweeping constitutional changes. At the same time it completely exonerated Colin Imray from blame for having fired on what had started as an approved ex-servicemen's procession but had turned into an unruly mob diverted from its route and heading for Government House. In spite of this finding, a book on the end of empire in Africa has simplistically and most unfairly blamed Colin Imray for having panicked. Lest historians without access to the Commission's report repeat this line a rebuttal was called for and this forms the most important part of the present book. The author shows how the Gold Coast Government's failure to appreciate the seriousness of the several strands of post-war discontent and the unpreparedness of almost everyone in authority for a serious outbreak of violence, especially one occurring on a Saturday afternoon, placed him in a horrendous position with a dispersed field operation whose communications were largely dependent on a few motorcyclists. He narrates the consequences in detail. It is right that posterity should have a first-hand account of events.

This story and its aftermath are part of a second instalment of the author's memoirs after his move from the Palestine Police to service in West and East Africa. His years in the Gold Coast (1935-48) included postings to every region, a spell on transfer to the Administrative Service and command of the Police Training School. In Kenya (1948-56) a posting to Nyeri at a time when the oath-taking that was to lead to Man Man was just starting, was followed by command of the police in Coast Province where his problems included cattle raiding and ivory poaching. The last chapter tells of visits to Lamu island before the provision of an airstrip made it a goal of day-trippers and contains a fascinating description of some of the strange people who had been lured by its isolation and old Arab charm to hole up there.

Imray's anecdotes, some of which seem unconcluded, are interspersed with vignettes of his superiors, his colleauges and others with whom his service brought him into contact, including two legendary characters from World War I, von Lettow-Vorbeck and Meinertzhagen. With most of these he got on well but there were some who did not earn his respect including his chief at the critical point of his career.

Extra entertainment for the reader is provided in the form of speculation about the murder of Lord Erroll about which Imray had heard much from the Chief Justice in Accra who had led the unsuccessful prosecution of Sir Delves Broughton. Gripped by the mystery of what had happened in 1941 the author was enabled by his posting to Kenya to meet several of the people who had been members of the "Happy Valley" set or had been otherwise involved in the case. After concluding that the shortcomings of the police investigation had made a conviction almost impossible, he provides an imaginative reconstmction of the affair which, albeit falling somewhat short of his description of it as the Murder of the Century, was intriguing enough to generate a considerable literature.

British Empire Book
Colin Imray
Book Guild Ltd.


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe