The British Empire Library

by Enid Bamforth

Courtesy of OSPA

Terry Barringer (former Librarian of Royal Commonwealth Society, and OSPA Research Project Officer)
I first encountered Enid Bamforth and her husband Howard in the pages of Harry Mitchell's Remote Corners: a Sierra Leone Memoir (Radcliffe Press, 2002). Mitchell comments on the helpfulness and friendliness of this couple and also that he later discovered that Howard "had reprimanded Enid for talking too much" on their first meeting.

Her book opens in media res with Enid, her baby in arms, boarding the MV Apapa in October 1952 to join Howard in his new posting as ADC at Bo. A note on the back of the book describes this as the "continuation of her fascinating memoirs" but I have not been able to trace any previous publication. This account is obviously intended primarily for family and friends and future historians will regret the lack of any introductory material, biographical background and more details of dates and names. (Many colleagues and friends are referred to by their Christian names only.) The chosen title is uninformative and somewhat misleading. It might be mistaken for an introduction to Sierra Leone resources on the internet.

Howard Bamforth went on to posts in Port Loko and Makeni before becoming Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Health, finally leaving Sierra Leone shortly after independence to take up a post in the Bahamas. Enid, plus infant and the family dog, usually accompanied him on his tours and there are some lively descriptions of these, of the election of a Paramount Chief, of rioting and the subsequent Commission of Enquiry chaired by Sir Harold Williams. She touches on attitudes to the coming of independence (in a familiar almost cliched vein) and on meeting the future Prime Minister Milton Margai. However her narrative is primarily domestic and social with attention given to surrounding fauna (sinister wildlife and much loved pets) - son, servants, snakes, spiders and scorpions feature more prominently than the work of administration or political and economic development. "The worst thing that could happen to a woman was to be allocated a quarter whose previous tenant had been a bachelor and this seemed to happen to me frequently". Enid's efforts outside the home were sometimes more well-meaning than effective. She attempted a reading class for the wives of the court messengers but "as the majority of men could not read it was impossible for them to accept that their wives could. From that time on we had to settle for knitting lessons and they were all producing woolly hats in no time, very useful in temperatures of plus 40*C."

There are a few minor errors such as "Hurst Press" for Hearst Press on p 194 and VSO expanded to Voluntary Service Order (for Overseas) (p253). The family photographs, if not especially remarkable, are well reproduced and sufficiently evocative of time and place.

Sierra Leone is sadly under-represented among Colonial Service memoirs and, for this reason if for no other, this contribution is to be welcomed.

British Empire Book
Enid Bamforth
Stamford House Publishing
1 904985 24 6


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