The British Empire Library

Science And Safari

by Jack Wilde

Courtesy of OSPA

Robert G Mares (Somaliland 1950-52, Gold Coast 1952-61, Nyasaland 1961-73, Director of Veterinary Services, Nyasaland 1969-73)
This book was published when the author was 92. It is an achievement to publish over three hundred pages of a memoir at this age. Still more so when he had just lost his wife, to whom the work is dedicated, after two years of nursing and caring for her.

The book has no index or any useful maps. There is also a small error of fact in the chapter on Nigeria: river blindness is transmitted by the Simulian fly and not by Culicoides midges as on page 112. A number of minor typographical errors also occur. The colour illustrations from photographs and paintings by Jack himself are excellent.

He was a gifted schoolboy with good teachers and won scholarships enabling him to have the choice of several academic and scientific careers: but he took up veterinary surgery. In his student days he served on fishing trawlers as well as doing farm work, with mountain climbing as a pastime; this he put to good use later when he led a party of schoolboys to the summit of Kilimanjaro.

Due to the war, 1940 was a hard year for the London Veterinary College; classes had to be taken in a temporary unit at Streatley on Thames. His fifth and final year was of only two terms. But he qualified well and in spite of wishing to join the armed forces had to take up a post in Tanganyika, now Tanzania, to which he was bonded by virtue of his scholarship.

His work here was to run the veterinary laboratory at Mpwapwa. This involved diagnosis of tropical diseases of animals and the production, under difficult circumstances, of enough rinderpest vaccine to protect cattle in the whole of the country from this disease.

During his service he became friendly with the Irish veterinary surgeon Robert P Lee, who wrote Destination Five which also describes the veterinary work of the Colonial Services in Africa.

Jack married Kathy on his first leave. Fortunately domestic life in Mpwapwa was reasonable and they had a family of two young sons to bring up before he was offered promotion to go to Nigeria. He took up duties in the veterinary research laboratories at Vom on the Jos Plateau in 1952. Here, to his dismay, he found the place unhappy and fraught with personal jealousies, but at least there was an expatriate lady resident there able to give some primary education to his two sons. He was not sorry to accept a job in Kenya to establish a new research laboratory for the Wellcome Foundation.

He found this firm, headed at the time by Dr Montgomery, much more amenable than the Colonial Service and was able to acquire land and employ architects and contractors to complete a laboratory for research on the cattle disease of East Coast Fever. This in itself was difficult because the Mau Mau emergency had not yet been completely overcome.

Unexpectedly Kenya proved to have some rather inferior private medical services at the time and his wife suffered several botched operations and Jack some extraordinary dental work with gold on his teeth. He also had the experience of cooperating with a medical team researching virus diseases of humans in the tropics. This involved him in performing major surgery on baboons.

After so much African experience it was appropriate that he should be appointed to head the Department of Protozoology in the Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine at Edinburgh University.

While here he made two consultancy visits to Columbia and India. His relaxed and pleasant style of narrative makes even an account of changing planes in America without a visa compulsive reading.

He quotes verbatim from Kathy's diary of the advisory visit to India: an enjoyable but sometimes depressing tale of horrific train journeys, filthy accommodation, except in the best hotels, and the regret of their hosts at the decline of services since the Raj. Like I suspect most of our generation he found retirement as taxing as work. He chaired meetings, supported church restoration, found his garden too much to cope with, survived house moves and finally had the agony of attending and caring for his wife's illness in the last few years of their life together. Anyone who has worked for the Colonial Services, and even younger readers, will enjoy this book.

British Empire Book
Jack Wilde
Vanguard Press
1 843861 53 4


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