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
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.