This book covers the author’s first tour of duty in Northern Rhodesia from 1958 to
1961 and includes his recruitment and his passages out and back. He was a Clerical
Officer in the Ministry of Finance and friends to whom I spoke all wondered how in this
position he could possibly have experienced anything of sufficient interest to form the
basis of a book. I have to say that he pulls it off triumphantly.
Part of the reason for Bennett’s success is that he is completely unpretentious and this
makes it easy to warm to him. At the time he was still a young man and inclined to play
jokes and have fun. He describes his practical jokes and other adventures with his cars
and girlfriends with a light and entertaining touch.
That same lightness of touch is evident when he comes to describe his work. Even the
forbidding-sounding topic of the conversion of pay scales of all officers from old to new,
with back-dating, is found to have its humorous aspects. At another time he was in the
section dealing with passage entitlements and bookings and discovered the possibilities
of stopovers and circuitous routes back to Britain, knowledge which was useful to him
when he made his own leave arrangements. As a single man in good standing he also
found it convenient to become a regular house sitter for more senior officers due to go
off on long leave and so we learn a good deal about the arcane science of colonial
housing entitlements. These subjects, salary scales and rules covering housing, leave and
passages, were dear to the heart of every man or woman who ever worked for the
Northern Rhodesia Government; they may sound tedious matters but the author deals
with them with the same good humour that is apparent in everything he writes.
Frank Bennett thoroughly enjoyed his first tour in Lusaka and the company of the
friends he made there, and he clearly thought that his own conditions of service were at
least adequate and in some ways generous. His recollection of detail is good but there are
occasional lapses, as when he calls his favourite hotel the Edinburgh when from his
description it was clearly the Ridgeway.
This is in no sense a political book. There is no axe to grind. It may seem odd that the
only Africans mentioned are domestic servants but I do not feel too critical about that.
Bennett is largely writing about and for members of the Overseas Civil Service. At that
time he and his friends appeared to regard a bush posting as a sort of living death.
It seems that his next posting was to be Solwezi in the North Western Province and it
would be interesting to know how he enjoyed it but perhaps that will be covered in a
later book. This one is entertaining and very readable. The reader will find it easy to
smile and occasionally even to chuckle.