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While this is an important historical document, it is lengthy, detailed and monochrome.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.