The British Empire Library

Trespassers Forgiven: Memoirs Of Imperial Service In An Age Of Independence

by C H Godden

Courtesy of OSPA

Gordon Baker (British High Commissioner to Belize 1995-1998)
From a long and varied career with the Colonial Office and HM Diplomatic Service, Charles Godden has chosen to concentrate on his memories of Belize (formerly British Honduras), the unique former Colonial and now Commonwealth toe-hold in Central America. He served there from 1961 to 1964 and again on temporary duty between 1975 and 1976. He also visited briefly as Private Secretary to Lord Shepherd, then Minister of State at the FCO, in 1969 and, as Governor of Anguilla, attended the Belize independence celebrations in 1981.

The most momentous event of Godden's first stint was undoubtedly Hurricane Hattie which devastated Belize City and much of the coastal area in 1961. He played a vital part in co-ordinating the official preparations for, and response to, the hurricane. Two of the three substantial chapters devoted to Hattie contain interesting personal recollections of the hurricane's build-up and aftermath. Sandwiched between them he has reproduced the official report on the hurricane which he wrote for the Colonial Office shortly afterwards. While this is an important historical document, it is lengthy, detailed and monochrome. Godden admits that some readers may find it repetitive and tedious. It might have been better to summarise the key points, coloured by his own experiences, and perhaps reprint the report as an annex.

Inevitably the book has numerous references to the Belize/Guatemala dispute, the threat of which delayed Belizean independence for many years and led exceptionally to the retention of a 1500-strong British garrison, including a squadron of RAF Harriers, for more than a dozen years after independence. Godden sets out the background to the dispute and relates the tensions and suspicion generated by a bizarre border incident. He also gives a well-researched account of the complex and unusual history of Belize from the earliest days of the settlement and some of the characters who featured in it.

The rest of the book is a miscellany of personal reminiscences, anecdotes and comments, written in a chatty, rather languid and at times quite self-effacing style. Some of Godden's vignettes evoke a bygone age: the voyage out through the West Indies on a banana boat, pottering down the Belize coast in Government launches because of the lack of roads, and jolly japes at the long-defunct all-white Belize Club. But the Mayan village in Southern Belize he describes had changed little 10 years ago. Nor had the exclusive religious lifestyle of most of the Mennonite farming community, part of the rich ethnic patchwork of Belize, for whom he clearly had great respect.

Other events and people mentioned will be familiar to many who served in Belize and may well strike a chord with those who served elsewhere in latter colonial days. But surprisingly little is said about many parts of this exotic and beautiful country, nor of leading Belizean figures of the era such as the remarkable first Prime Minister, George Price, whom Godden evidently knew quite well.

British Empire Book
C H Godden
The Radcliffe Press
978 1 84511 780 1


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