The British Empire Library

Seven Rivers to Cross: A Mostly British Council Life

by Bruce Nightingale

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by R.N. Barlow-Poole (Northern Nigeria 1947-1968)
This is an autobiography from the date of his birth in 1932 until he retired in 1992 from the British Council. It covers his time at St. George's School, Windsor; Clifton College; two years National Service in the Navy; Colonial Administrative Service in Nigeria for four years, and service with the British Council from 1965: Malawi, Malaysia, Romania, headquarters in London, Finland, and finally Ethiopia and Eritrea (including the Civil War, counter-revolution, and the fall of the Mengistu regime).

What interested this reviewer was Brace's time in Nigeria. Appointed to the pensionable service in 1956, he was one of the last batch of five officers to be so appointed to Nigeria (another near contemporary, Christopher Olding, who was on the Devonshire course in Oxford previous to Brace, reports that they were told by a senior government official that they need not worry about job security: independence would come eventually but they could be assured of a lifetime career in the Service!*). Bruce was fortunate to be posted to Adamawa Province under John Purdy. On arrival in Lagos in August 1957 they "were greeted politely but with some incredulity" by their official hosts. District Officers in charge at Yola Division in Bruce's time were Jack Griffith, Peter Prince, Chris Rounthwaite and Richard Barlow-Poole (this number in one tour seems some justification of the critique of 'British Colonial Administration' by W.R. Crocker (published in 1936 by George Allen & Unwin).

Brace began keeping a diary in January 1945 when head chorister at St. George's Windsor. The book is very detailed, with full information on postings, journeys, leaves, the friends he stayed with, when and where, so that it is difficult sometimes to see the wood from the trees. Through it all runs his (and his family's) love of music, mostly as organiser and singer, from the time as a chorister at St. George's and as a King's Choral Scholar, to the time throughout the British Council career. Even at his wedding in the chapel of St. Anne's School, Kudeti (the second tour was initially in Ilorin Province, then in Niger Province), the choir of Nigerian girls from the school joined in. This reviewer kept no diary so only remembers the highlights. One of them was his tour on foot to Mambilla Plateau when Brace was the Touring Officer based at Gembu. It was all so different from anywhere the reviewer had been elsewhere in Nigeria. It was obvious Bruce was doing an excellent job, which is why he felt frustrated when at the end of the tour he went on leave and there was no-one to relieve him (a gap, he relates, of eight months ensued and good order had deteriorated to the extent that his successor had to be given a police escort).

So at the end of his second tour in Niger Province, Brace assumed that after independence only senior and experienced staff were really wanted, so he gave notice of his resignation. After trying the private sector - UAC Ltd. and Clarks Shoes in Street, Somerset - he joined the British Council in 1965 and had a fulfilling and happy family life ending with the award of the OBE. But I am sure that he must look back with enjoyment on his few years in Nigeria; he refers to the difficulty later in finding work even remotely as rewarding as was district administration in the dependent territories of the Commonwealth. "The balance of physical and intellectual challenge, the immediacy of results for effort applied and the validity (indeed nobility) of the ethos made the roles to be played uniquely worthwhile."

British Empire Book
Bruce Nightingale
The Radcliffe Press


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