This is one of the best set of memoirs I have read on what it was like
to live the end of empire as a woman, wife and mother. Margaret
Reardon has given historians a wonderful gift: a detailed and scholarly
account of her experiences married to Patrick Reardon, OBE, as he
moved around the British Empire as part of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil
Service (tragically dying before taking up the post of Governor of the
Virgin Islands in 1981). Despite many moves within and across
continents, bringing up two children - Timothy and Catherine - and
supporting her husband in his work - Margaret also kept a record of her
life and times. Whilst her original diaries, memoirs, official documents,
photos and other ephemera have been generously donated to the
Bodleian Library, her book offers the reader a brilliant, sharp-eyed and
sensitive narrative of the role and experiences of an expatriate woman as
the sun slowly set.
Margaret Reardon was born in Mayfair in 1920 to parents in service
before her father became Chapel Clerk, then Assistant Librarian at Trinity
College, Cambridge. Educated at St Augustine's Primary School and the
Central School Cambridge, Margaret jointed the Civil Defence Corps
when the Second World War broke out. She then worked for the
Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service before becoming part of the secret
team attached to the Royal Signals Corps Y Branch, part of Bletchley
Park. She married Patrick in 1945, then Captain in the Essex Regiment.
Not long after, he was posted overseas as part of the British Army's
occupation of a former Italian colony in North-east Africa. A few months
later Margaret left England to be with him. One can only imagine how her parents felt saying goodbye to their daughter (who then only weighed
seven and a half stone!). She took her Hope Chest, the large wooden
trunk her father had made for her to collect items for her own home, and
her mother generously donated the family silver. She also took a record-player.
The fact that there are five parts to this memoir tells you immediately that
their life together was an adventure that ran and ran. Part One covers
seven years spent in Eritrea. Next, we are taken to Tanganyika, between
1953 to 1961, and then to the final African posting: Bechuanaland until
1972. Margaret and family then spent six years in the Gilbert and Ellice
Islands, and finally, between 1979-1981, they were posted to the Turks
and Caicos Islands. When they left one home, they just took the house
name with them for the next.
This is an exceptional memoir for the amount of detailed observation
about daily life, local people and events, as well as matters of colonial
governance across the globe during decolonization. We are led gently by
the hand through a world of scorpion-slippers, rabid dogs, bouts of semiblindness
from malaria and its treatments, to running clinics for African
women and managing VIP guest visits and tours. It was life of adventure,
health challenges, butterfly-collecting but also early on of debt.
Astonishingly, the young couple had to provide their own vehicle and
refrigerator. Margaret made their clothes; cutting each other's hair was
also the norm.
The manuscript is animated with wonderful photos and the quality of the
prose is outstanding. Thank you, Margaret, WBE extraordinaire.