The British Empire Library

There is Only One Nigeria

by Peggy Watt

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Anthony Kirk-Greene (N Nigeria 1950-66)
Peggy Watt spent ten years in Northern Nigeria with her husband Leith, one of that small but notable band of Dominions men (New Zealanders, Australians, South Africans, and just a handful of Canadians) who joined the very British Colonial Service. Leith's service after the war moved from SDQ Yola and Resident Bauchi to Resident Yola. What we have is a very readable narrative of the daily round in the life of the wife of an administrative officer in Northern Nigeria, honest, unpretentious and kaleidoscopic.

The story is as attractive to the insider, with its frequent invocations of place names recognisable to them, as it will be to the outsider, who. in these latterdays, is not only ignorant of what Colonial civil servants did (and insensitive to why) in those bygone days of a profession now as dead as the dodo, but who today rightly wants to know more about the generally unrevealed side of that essentially male career; namely, what it was like for her as well as for him. In this respect - and not only because each book discusses a part of Nigeria, the north-east, which I, too, happen to know well - Peggy Watt's lively memoir at once brings vividly to mind Rosemary Hollis's story of being married to an ADO in Bauchi in the same period (1950-1960) and Elnor Russell's account of being a DO's wife in Adamawa and Katsina in the decade 1935-1945, on the eve, as it were, of Peggy Watt's setting out for Sokoto and all stations east.

One misses the stabilizing sense of clear signposts of dates or places in chapter headings, and there is not even a list of contents to help the reader. I for one would dearly have wished for far more naming of names - I find 'the Resident', 'the DO', and 'the Provincial Engineer' tantalizingly inadequate for the serious Service historian, though I suppose 'Maurice' and 'Desmond' are fair enough clues to the initiated. On the other hand, in that role let me add that Peggy Watt's letters home and her husband's diaries, on which this valuable personal memoir has been based, are available to bona fide researchers in the Colonial Service Archive at Rhodes House Library, Oxford. Both for those records and for this memoir, readers interested in our Service have a lot to thank the Watts for; and for those anxious to see the woman's side balanced up, this is a notable addition to the growing literature on the life, at once uniquely exciting and dead boring, of those whom the Hausa called uwargida.

British Empire Book
Peggy Watt
Arthur H.Stockwell 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