C. R. Williams's Wheels and Paddles in the Sudan is an attractively written personal account
of a quarter of a century's service (1923-1946) in one of the Sudan's most famous
institutions, the Sudan Railways - a department which, despite its earth-bound title,
also included a celebrated Steamers Section. Mr. Williams, who reached the 'semifinals'
out of sixty-two applicants for the eight vacancies in the Sudan Political Service in 1923, accepted the sole Oxford nomination to work under the Manager of Sudan
Railways when he realised his age was, at 27, a bit high for the DC entry. Twenty
years later he had out-distanced many of his potential colleagues by becoming a
member of the Governor-General's Council. His memoirs are both a pleasure and
informative to read. One matter for regret; there is no index.
Rosemary Kenrick's Sudan Tales is a different kind of affair. First, of course, she is a she, not a he. Secondly, Mrs. Kenrick went to the Sudan two years after Mr. Williams had left
(though some of her stories reach back to 1926), and stayed there right through to
independence. Thirdly, her husband was a member of the Political Service, ending up
as one of the last Governor-General's last advisers on constitutional and external
affairs. And fourthly, her book is not a single memoir but the collective recollections
of a score of wives of members of the Sudan Political Service. There are detailed
biographical notes on the contributors, a fine index, and over fifty photographs.
Rosemary Kenrick has handled her rich but difficult material with great sense and
sensitivity. By drawing on and skilfully editing the reminiscences into thematic, and
not generational or locational, chapters ("The Service They Married'' - "First Time
Out'' - "Wives in the War" - "On Trek" - "Coping with Children"), she has indeed
produced not only a book which is a coherent book (and not a discrete collection of
unrelated Blackwoods-like tales) but also makes a first-class and invaluable contribution
to that still understudied aspect of the Service lives of all of us - the "wives-eye
view", to quote A. R. Wahnsley's Foreword, of what it was like to marry into a
If Williams was inspired, as he tells us, by re-reading Arthur Grimble's A Pattern of Islands, Rosemary Kenrick's volume will remind readers of the 'We Were There'
school of history exemplified by Charles Allen and June Knox-Maw and, in particular,
in Joan Alexander's comparable 'wives' approach' to Service history. A splendid,
attractive and absorbing achiement, Sudan Tales is at once good history and a very