The British Empire Library

Wind of Chance

by Dr. Bruce M. Nicol

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by S.S.R.
Bruce Nicol's Wind of Chance is the memoir of a son of the manse of Skelmorie, who embarked upon a distinguished career in the Colonial Medical Service in Nigeria by chance because of a delay in processing his application for a permanent commission in the R.A.M.C., a service in which he had been employed throughout W.W.2, ending up as the youngest Lt.Colonel in the Guards Armoured Division whilst commanding a Field Ambulance unit at the Battle of Arnhem.

Dr. Nicol died in 1990. His autobiography is his memorial, published posthumously by Pentland Press, presumably, at the insistance of his family with the encouragement of Dr. J. K. Robson, Editor of the journal, the Ecology of Food and Nutrition, of which Bruce was a valued member of the Editorial Board for eighteen years. Dr. Nicol was well known internationally as a research scientist with a profound knowledge of the nutritional problems of the Third World. A list of his publications shows that he published fifty nine papers in learned journals between 1939 and 1980, of which twenty were published during the twelve years of his service in Nigeria.

Many expatriate civil servants in retirement who knew Bruce Nicol in the Colonial Service in Nigeria, will rejoice in the privilege of having access to this modest, yet sensitively comprehensive, record of achievement by a colleague, who was ever ready to share with them the travail and frustrations of life in the Nigerian bush. At no time in his service, did Dr. Nicol seek to shut himself up in the secretariat or in the ivory towers of academia: he and his family were always social assets in the complex accident-prone Nigerian/expatriate communities which congregated in the up-country out-stations. He was always open to a helpful chat with anyone honestly looking for a helping hand but he was intolerant of fools and had no time for long-winded time-servers in the Service or for the occasional public servant, European or African, abusing his position in corrupt venality. He is scathing in his condemnation of the activities of the succession of "roadworkers", who, as Nigeria moved towards independence, flocked into the out-stations for one night stands sponsored by international technical assistance agencies.

Dr. Nicol was disappointed to discover some time after his retirement, and whilst he was employed in research by W. H. O., that the Nigerian Nutritional Unit which he had established in Kaduna with the help of the international agencies, interested in nutrition in the Third World, had failed to carry on with programmed research and that his Nigerian successor had wound up the facility and returned to Lagos.

In Dr. Nicol's eyes. Government Service was required to be dynamic and developmental: Colonial government, in particular, was responsible for more than the maintenance of law and order and the status quo. It will amaze his erstwhile colleagues in the Nigerian Civil Service that Bruce Nicol's outstanding achievements in applied medical technology and research in Nigerian bush villages were not recognised in the Imperial Honours List.

His field studies in Bida and Warri revealed that the nutritional balance of local diets could be significantly improved by the introduction of new crops and through extension education in domestic economy in the villages. Nicol called for "more fruit and vegetables north of the Niger-Benue line and, south of that line, the replacement of the production and consumption of roots by rice grown in Nigeria and parboiled rather than polished. "District Officers in Northern Nigeria were soon made aware of Dr. Nicol's enthusiastic campaigns in Kano to collect composted night soil for sale to farmers for growing of fresh vegetables for the markets, the plan to plant a fruit tree (and, particularly, guava) in every compound in Borno and the transportation to the South of large quantities of sun-dried stink fish from Lake Chad. Nicol also stimulated the interest of food technologists and manufacturers of infant foods to process local supplies of milk products and groundnuts into protein concentrates in an effort to reduce the high rate of infant mortality from "Kwashiorkor". This was a development which must have saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of infant children in the famines and civil upheavals in Africa during the past three decades.

Mind of Chance is one of the more notable additions to the archives of the Colonial Service. It will be widely read as informative and entertaining by those nostalgic about life in the African bush and the military cantonments of British India. It is also an important introduction for scholars of applied nutritional science and Third World development.

British Empire Book
Bruce Nicol
The Pentland Press


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