1945–1947: RHODES UNIVERSITY COLLEGE
I returned to my hometown, Durban, in July 1945, and, like so many other ex-servicemen, found it difficult to adjust to the new world. I had left home at the age of seventeen, and I was now twenty-two years old, and much had happened during those five years. I did not want to talk about those experiences, least of all my prisoner of war years, and family and friends were mostly uncertain how to treat me. To some I was still ‘young Dave’, seventeen years old, as I had been when we had last seen each other.
An additional difficulty was that my parents were obviously not getting on well: being a judge seemed to absorb all Dad’s energies, leaving Ouma lonely and frustrated, for she was always the more sociable, more outgoing one. I was in an in-between stage: I accompanied Paul to one army reunion, but was uncomfortable there, being no longer at ease with young men who had been my Dad. close companions a few years previously. Nor did the provincial narrowness of English-speaking Natal appeal to me.
Dad Durban, 1947
With relief I found a place where I could feel at home, Mignon Francois’s ‘salon’, in a large old rambling house in Essenwood Road. Mignon (aka Florence Mary Brokensha, my father’s cousin) had left her husband – an unthinkable act in her strictly Methodist family – to live with Leo Francois, a well-known artist, by whom she had a daughter, Babette, a lovely high-spirited seventeen-year-old. I enjoyed the bohemian atmosphere of their home, the range of people whom I met there, and the strident criticisms of all that was held in esteem by respectable Natal society. Through Mignon’s circle, I was invited to a party at the home of Dr Desai, a prominent opposition politician, and a member of the South African Communist Party. I was awed by the urbane, highly intelligent and charming Dr Desai, and deeply impressed by the sophistication of his home (my first Indian home), with its extensive library and wide collection of gramophone records.
Paul married Jil Barnes in Durban in December 1945. Left to right: Dad, Ouma, Paul, Jil, DWB, Jil’s mother Madge, Jil’s sister Puck and brother Jock
When I was demobilised in September 1945, I resumed my studies at Rhodes University College in Grahamstown. I took an ex-serviceman’s low interest loan, to be repaid within five years of completing my studies. This was a great help to me. Rhodes University College was still a small, conservative institution, favoured by white Rhodesian parents as a place where their daughters would be ‘safe’, i.e. protected from radical ideas about politics, or sex. It was also popular with young Rhodesian men, many of whom appeared to have come primarily to play rugby and have fun, and only secondarily to get a degree. I was given a sub-wardenship – being a sort of glorified prefect – at Botha House, where I had spent two terms in 1940. For my not very arduous duties, I was given free accommodation in my own flat. Botha House accommodated sixty young men, many of them first-year students, all in single rooms. (Sixty years later, in September 2005, I re-visited Botha House, which still housed sixty male students in single rooms. But the composition differed, I was glad to see: according to the names on the board – though not an entirely reliable index – there were fifteen Africans, eight Afrikaners, and five Muslims. Another change, hardly surprising, was the security: the entrance to Botha House was locked; next to each name was a bell, for visitors to gain admission.)
I was the first ‘whole’ (not war-wounded) ex-serviceman at Rhodes, and I was soon involved in student politics. Together with Hamish Dickie-Clark and Murray Carlin (both of whom went on to academic careers, in Sociology and English Literature respectively), I – and many others, across a wide political spectrum – tried to instigate some long overdue changes at Rhodes.
Any South African town of any consequence had a club: membership was restricted to white men, who tended to be conservative and English-speaking; Jews were seldom admitted. Newspapers were available, including The Times (of London), and comfortable easy chairs. The bar was a central focus, and the larger clubs would have a library, as well as extensive dining and sporting facilities. In a patriotic mood, the local Albany Club – which was small in scale but completely in character – offered honorary membership to ex-servicemen students, who took full advantage of this kind gesture. The bar profits certainly soared but, given the way we took over the place, we wondered whether the elderly members regretted their generosity.
Murray Carlin had also been a prisoner of war, although I did not discover this until years later. Both he and Hamish had been engaged in bloody combat, in North Africa and Italy respectively, about which they seldom spoke. We were all unsettled, after ‘the war’. We liked to play vigorous games of squash, then sit around drinking brandy, putting the university, and the country, to rights. Brandy was the – cheaply available – alcoholic drink of choice, having been made in South Africa for centuries. Even today, when a character in a South African novel is drinking ‘Klippies and Coke’ (Klipdrift being a popular local brandy), readers know that the drinker is an unreconstructed white man, of limited means and dubious intelligence.
Murray edited an independent student journal, Rhodes Outlook; I was Secretary of the Students Representative Council (SRC), and Ian Smith (later Prime Minister of Rhodesia, and declarer, in 1964, of Rhodesia’s infamous Unilateral Declaration of Independence) was SRC President. We challenged Ian Smith on two issues. The first was on the proposed admission of two African postgraduate chemistry students from Fort Hare College, a nearby university college for Africans, which did not have facilities for advanced studies. Smith had, unilaterally, told a nervous Senate (the governing body of the university in matters academic) that the white Rhodes students would not accept African students, and the Senate believed him.
DWB and Paul in West Street, Durban after demobilisation in 1945
Fort Hare had opened in 1916, as the South African Native College, at Alice, ninety miles north of Grahamstown. Those who have attended it include Nelson Mandela, Mangosuthu Buthelezi (the controversial Zulu leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party) and many Africans from further afield, including Robert Mugabe, later President of Zimbabwe.
Murray and I challenged the Senate ruling and organised a general meeting of students, which approved the admission of the Fort Hare students. What swung the vote was the testimony of the likeable Dent twin brothers, well known on campus because of their prowess at rugby: having attended classes at Fort Hare, where their father was a professor, they were able to assure the students that there was no problem in sharing lectures with African students. The second issue was the initiation of the ‘Inks’ – the first-year students. Ian Smith and I were two of the very few ex-servicemen who had been students at Rhodes before the war, which gave us a personal authority to speak about ‘tradition’, having ourselves undergone initiation. Whereas Ian Smith claimed that initiation was a great character-building institution, I had found it humiliating, and I was determined to ban it. We won a partial victory, initiation being banned in Botha House, where I was sub-warden. Sadly, the debate about initiation at South African universities continues to this day, with both Stellenbosch University and the University of Pretoria (following injuries, even deaths) having to explicitly prohibit this barbaric ritual.
We were also critical of General Smuts, the South African Prime Minister, whom we deplored for his brutal repression of the (white) miners’ strike in 1922, and even more for his current government’s treatment of Africans: little did we realise what would follow, the apartheid Nationalist government taking over a few years later, in 1948. We were marginally involved, as were many liberals at that time, with the South African Communist Party, attending a few meetings in Port Elizabeth, but not committing ourselves to membership. Twenty years later this proved to be a fortunate omission, when I applied for permanent residence in the US: the first question was ‘Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?’, with a positive reply ensuring rejection.
Ouma and Jake. West Street, Durban, 1945
A lingering fear of communists still persists in contemporary South Africa: when Stellenbosch University students recommended that an honorary doctorate be awarded to the late Bram Fischer, there was strong opposition from prominent Afrikaner scholars. Fischer, who belonged to a leading Afrikaner family, had been a major figure in the anti-apartheid struggle, and was also a member of the South African Communist Party. Eventually, the University agreed to make the posthumous award.
Botha House, Rhodes University. photo: Rhodes University Web Gallery
At Rhodes I attended lectures by first-class scholars. including Desmond Hobart-Houghton (Economics), who had also been a prisoner of war, although we did not discuss our wartime days with each other. The only reference that he made to our shared experiences was in his recommending to me an article ( Radford, 1945) analysing the operation of Gresham’s Law (bad money drives out good) in an Italian POW camp. The ex-POW author made an elegant analysis of how and why ‘bad money’ (Italian cigarettes) drove out ‘good money’ (British cigarettes), a scenario familiar to all of us who had been POWs in Italy.
JD Krige (Bantu Studies) provided my introduction to social anthropology, drawing on his book (Krige & Krige, 1943) about the Lovedu Rain Queen, who lives in what is now Limpopo Province. Many South Africans, black as well as white, are fascinated by Lovedu rituals and beliefs, which have survived to an unusual degree.
One of the first ethnographies that I read was Eileen Jensen Krige’s The Social System of the Zulus (1936). During a university vacation in 1946, I visited my brother Paul, then farming at Camperdown, in Natal. Paul’s Zulu headman, noticing my interest in Zulu culture, invited me to a wedding. I took my copy of Krige’s book, and I vividly recall the delighted shock when I realised that ‘she had got it right’. The wedding proceeded exactly as she had described in Chapter 6, ‘Marriage Ceremonies’, as though the participants had been reading the book, and were following the script. ‘They do a number of dances, trying very hard to outdo those of the bride’s party … the killing of the umQholiso, the special ox … the aggregation of the woman into the new kraal.’ The men even dressed in very similar fashion to those photographed by Krige a decade earlier. At one point the young men in the bridegroom’s party departed from the script, when they ran over a small hill, re-appearing a few minutes later. Puzzled, I asked the headman, who laconically told me, ‘They went to piss.’
Krige was succeeded by Monica Wilson, who was a major influence on me, both in terms of the subject, and also in her attitude towards her students. She – and Hobart-Houghton – separately invited small groups of students to their homes, usually on Sunday evenings, for supper. (In 2005, when I was invited to Graham Dickason’s birthday party at Maxwell’s, one of Grahamstown’s top restaurants, I was delighted to find myself having lunch in the Hobart-Houghtons’ elegant Victorian home, across the road from Drostdy Gate, with the lovely garden little changed.) They both appreciated the difficulties that we ex-servicemen were having in adjusting to student life, after many years in the armed forces. We often found lectures irrelevant, the discipline constraining, and student behaviour immature. Our hosts’ most welcome hospitality prompted Bernard and me, many years later, to give regular student parties at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Monica Wilson arranged a memorable visit for Hamish, Murray and me to Fort Hare, where we were entertained to tea by the formidable scholar, Professor ZK Matthews and his wife Frieda. That was an eye-opening experience for us, none of us having previously met Africans of this impressive intellectual and social calibre. We were happy to admit, driving to Grahamstown, that ZK and Frieda ‘could run rings round us’, and it increased our desire for a democratic South Africa, where people like ZK and Frieda Matthews could play important roles. I was gratified to be invited to write Monica Wilson’s obituary for the journal Africa in 1983, and to give the annual Monica Wilson Lecture at the University of Cape Town in 1999 (Brokensha, 2006). Monica set high standards in all respects, in terms of fieldwork, scholarship and ethical considerations: I could not have wished for a better mentor.
Lizzie, Durban, 1946. She was then working for another family.
Although I was interested in social anthropology, I majored in Economics and Politics, thinking that a thorough grounding in these two subjects would best equip me for my role as a sort of prophet. My aims were vague, I had visions of myself patiently explaining (to whom?) that the prevailing South African racial attitudes and discrimination were both unjust and uneconomic.
My life was not bound up by these lofty aims, however. I played water polo, and swam, as well as playing squash, and going for long walks in the hills above the university. I enjoyed the lively companionship of students such as Leon Gluckman, already producing memorable plays, and Herbert Kretzmer (who later composed the music for Les Miserables).
Few of us owned cars, so it was difficult for me to return home to Durban (six hundred miles away) in the short vacations. Furthermore, the tensions between my parents, who separated two years later, meant that ‘home’ was not an inviting place. One Easter break I was invited by my friend Dawid V, one of the few Afrikaners at Rhodes, to accompany him to his home in the Karoo, a hundred and eighty miles away from Grahamstown. We drove in Dawid’s old Chevrolet, arriving in time for a ‘tickey-draai’, an evening of Afrikaner country dancing.
Dawie’s mother told me to help her at the bar, where she and I conversed in Afrikaans: I had learnt enough Afrikaans while in the army to hold my own. At the end of the evening, Mev V (Mrs V) said to me, in English, ‘Well, you are not too bad for an Englishman,’ which I rightly took as high praise. Dawie later told me that, when he had asked his mother if he could bring me home for the vacation, she had refused, saying that she did not want an Englishman in her home. Dawie had responded that in that case he would not come home, so she had reluctantly agreed to have me. Mev V had been born in an Anglo-Boer War concentration camp, so I could understand her antipathy to the English. (These camps were the original concentration camps, where the prisoners, mostly women and children, were kept in shocking conditions, with a high rate of illness and death.) On this trip I also visited Harry Mortlock, whom I had last seen when we were POWs. After a gap of sixty years, we met again in 2006.
My serious friends were puzzled by my friendship with Dawie, not because he was an Afrikaner, but because he was no intellectual, and was apolitical. Dawie was five years younger than I, sturdily built, good looking, and light-hearted. After hours of earnest discussions with my friends about the future of South Africa, Dawie provided me with much appreciated light relief. After we had graduated, we did not see each other again, but a few years later I was told that he was also gay, and I realised that our attraction for each other had been partly physical, though neither of us at the time would – or could – have admitted it.
In 1947, I applied for an Elsie Ballot Scholarship, similar in terms and conditions to the better known Rhodes Scholarships, but tenable at Cambridge University rather than Oxford. Established by the widow of a wealthy mining magnate, the scholarships provided generously for three years study at Cambridge. Applicants were
View of Rhodes University, Grahamstown. Photo: Obie Oberholzer
expected, like Rhodes Scholars, to be ‘all-rounders’, and also to return, after their studies abroad, to South Africa and to engage in public service. During the WW2 years, no scholarships had been awarded, so as to give ‘our boys’ a chance, when we returned after the war. Eight scholarships were available and, in those more brutally honest days, after our interviews in Pretoria, the successful applicants were announced in order: I was Number 8, which I quickly realised would be as good as Number 1, once I got to Cambridge.
Like most university towns, Grahamstown had an excellent bookshop, Grocott and Sherry. Before I left Rhodes, I called there to say good-bye, and was most touched when I was invited to choose a book, any book, to take to Cambridge. I still have my copy of TS Eliot’s Collected Poems 1909–1935, inscribed ‘Best wishes from Hugh Vincent Grocott, Grahamstown, 26/6/47’.
Later that year, I crossed London Bridge, reciting quietly and with much satisfaction – the colonial boy had made it:
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
On my 2005 visit to Grahamstown, I noted, sadly, that the venerable Grocott and Sherry bookshop had been subsumed by one of the national chains. I gather that soon afterwards the connection was severed completely when the new bookshop moved to other premises.
The next step was to find a college at Cambridge. A colleague of my father’s had recommended his own college, Christ’s, which accepted me – once I established that I had taken Latin for my Matriculation at Durban High School. So in September 1947 I sailed, as one did then, to England.
Arriving at Cambridge, in September 1947, I was vastly relieved to be out of the South African ‘prison of colour’, but it did not take me long to realise that I was in a ‘prison of class’. Christ’s College was then an all-male institution (the first women students were admitted twenty years later). The student who had the room opposite mine was the son of a Yorkshire coal-miner, and told me of his feelings of discomfort, inferiority and anger when faced with confident, arrogant English ex-public schoolboys. Being from the Commonwealth, I was, fortunately, relatively ‘classless’, and socially mobile, and I soon learnt to distinguish the nuances of class distinction: the cryptic codes of school, accent, vocabulary, dress and personal characteristics.
I had what I later learnt was an almost universal reaction of foreign students. Arriving with high expectations, my initial feeling of euphoria was followed by one of increasing irritation and frustration at the puzzling manners of the natives, which in turn gave way, eventually, to a more balanced understanding of the host culture.
My first year in England was full of wonders, of discovering nightingales and blackbirds, daffodils, snowdrops and crocuses, madrigals, landscapes and locations which were familiar to me from a large variety of my childhood literature, including Beatrix Potter, Rudyard Kipling (Puck of Pook’s Hill) the Just William series, comic books like Triumph and Champion, and the more sophisticated literature of my later boyhood.
I had difficulty adjusting to Christ’s College dinners: the post-war cuisine was dismal, with its unappetising over-cooked cabbage and nondescript meat, served in the ancient and oppressive dining hall (Christ’s celebrated its four hundred and fiftieth anniversary when I was there), with its backless benches.
Socially, too, I was at sea. Perhaps part of the problem was that at Rhodes I had been a ‘big frog in a small pond’, whereas at Christ’s I was an insignificant nobody. Most of the other undergraduates were not only five years younger than I was (an important gulf at that time), but their conversational modes were strange to me, and it took me a while to learn what were the accepted openings and the permissible replies.
I did meet some congenial men through swimming and rowing. I had been used to strolling to the large, open air swimming pool at Rhodes, and found it a shock to have to cycle four miles, through wintry gloom, to the Victorian municipal swimming baths, which were open to students for a few hours a week. Rowing was also a challenge, involving first cycling three miles to the river, then rowing, in an eight, in often foggy or rainy weather. I was in the college third eight, which, in the annual Lent term races, achieved two ‘bumps’ (the river was too narrow for a boat to pass a rival, so that a bump counted as a win). A celebratory dinner had been arranged in advance, and as neither the first nor the second eights had had any success, we in the third eight were the heroes, and the justification for the planned celebratory dinner.
I avoided most of the sixty South African students, partly from a conscious wish to get to know ‘the English’, and partly because many of my compatriots seemed so hearty and so confident, that I,
River Cam, Cambridge. March 1948. Christ’s College Third VIII making a bump. DWB at No 3
with my many unresolved questions, could not easily engage with them. I did become friendly with a few South Africans: John Peter, a postgraduate student, first told me about the legendary and controversial don and literary critic, FR Leavis. John wrote articles for Leavis’ radical critical journal, Scrutiny, which was challenging and heady stuff. John and his wife Barbara lived in Grantchester, three miles out of Cambridge, where I would join them for supper on Sunday evenings. The journey to Grantchester was always enchanting, whether I went on foot, or – as I did more often – by bicycle. I soon left the built-up area of the city of Cambridge, and went through fields and meadows. One winter day the Grantchester meadows were frozen, forming a colourful scene with skaters, and a chestnut vendor beside his brazier – reminiscent of medieval paintings.
Julius Lister had also been at Rhodes, but we had not known each other then. He was five years younger than I, had a keen, critical intelligence, and an iconoclastic outlook, and we became close friends. Julius extended my circle of friends, and those I met
Julius Lister. Cambridge, September 1949 Christ’s College’s front gate
included Sita Chari from India (who gave me the Letters of John Keats for my birthday). Other students, from Ethiopia and Uganda, were interested in and charitable towards Julius and me, their new white South African pals.
Another South African friend was Doris Krook, later well known for her analyses of the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein who was then a formidable and intriguing Cambridge figure. At Doris’s request I took her sailing, along with her fifteen-year-old sister Rachel. Doris wished to learn to sail, but she was far too intellectual to be successful: she kept asking why I did this or that, and I could not answer her satisfactorily. Her attempts to sail the boat nearly led to our capsizing. Then Rachel, no scholar, asked to try, and immediately sailed like an experienced skipper. When Doris asked her how she managed it, Rachel replied, ‘I watched David, and did what he did,’ providing me with a useful lesson in the distinction between the practical and instinctive approach on the one hand, and the intellectual on the other.
Inevitably, part of my conversation with my South African friends consisted in mocking, or trying to explain ‘the English’, about whom we all had puzzling anecdotes. Nowadays foreign students are given preparation for their new culture – I have participated in such instruction – and many helpful texts are available. In 1947, we were left to fend for ourselves, which might have been better for us than too much coddling, and I came to feel as much at home in England as I do anywhere.
DWB. Cambridge, September 1949
Early in my stay at Christ’s, my Durban cousin Babette arrived with a small, noisy, colourful group of South Africans, all then working for John Wright’s puppet company. How they brightened up a winter morning, with Babette, then aged nineteen, dramatically and loudly exclaiming, in the middle of the sedate First Court, ‘DARLING, this is MARVELLOUS!’ A part of me was embarrassed, but a larger part was thrilled by the verve and colour and life which my visitors brought.
During vacations, I had two friendly bases, the first being the home of Aunt Hilda and Uncle Charlie West, near Chipping Norton. I used to borrow Charlie’s bicycle and explore the quintessentially ‘Beautiful Britain’ villages in the vicinity. Among these were Little Tew, Great Tew and Great Rollwright – where I would find the pub, nurse a half pint of bitter beer and observe the locals. My other refuge was with my sister-in-law Margaret, Guy’s widow, who was living between Wick and Thurso, in Caithness, with her parents and her young daughter, Deirdre. I loved the open Scottish moors, after the crowded countryside of England; Margaret would provide me with sandwiches and a flask of tea and I could walk all day, often without meeting a soul.
At the end of my first year at Cambridge my tutor told me, with satisfaction, that he had arranged for me, as one of the five South Africans at Christ’s College, to spend the next year in ‘ Smuts’ rooms’, where the famous WW2 leader, and United Nations founder, had lived in the 1890s. I am embarrassed by my earlier prissy self, because at first I declined the offer, saying that I did not approve of General Smuts’ internal racial policies. My tutor fortunately told me not to be silly: ‘I have gone to a lot of trouble to get you these rooms, Brokensha, and you’d better take them’, and I moved into the best set of student rooms in Christ’s College, with a living room and a tiny separate bedroom, and a view over the First Court.
During that year General Smuts was appointed Chancellor of Cambridge University, and all sixty South African students were invited to a reception in his honour. I persuaded a reluctant Julius to come, and he and I stood out, the only ones with beards, wearing shorts, and with Julius barefoot – as a calculated sign of disrespect. Smuts surveyed the room as he entered, identified us as likely troublemakers, and walked across, put a hand on each of our shoulders, and said, ‘Well, how are you, chaps?’ Had we been dogs, Julius and I would have been lying on our backs, wagging our tails, such was Smuts’ charm and charisma. So much for our radical views.
Since those youthful days, I have learnt more about Smuts, whom I now see in a kinder light, and I was glad to have followed (literally) in his footsteps when I climbed Table Mountain in Cape Town. I now appreciate Smuts’ qualities and contributions as a naturalist who knew a great deal about his country’s flora and geology.
In my first year at Cambridge, I read Economics, in the belief (as I have indicated) that a proper grounding in this subject would enable me to persuade white South Africans to change their views of, and their behaviour towards, Africans. (Fat chance!) I had an excellent and strict tutor at Christ’s, and I did well enough in the examinations, but Economics failed to grip me, and in my second year I switched to Social Anthropology. The department was small and congenial, with only six undergraduates in my year.
Many people, including Bernard, have prodigious memories, recalling details of their childhood and early adult lives in impressive detail: I have a selective memory, and of the social anthropology faculty I remember little. The department was headed by Professor JH Hutton, who had been in the Indian Civil Service, and has left only the dimmest impression on me. The lecturer whom my fellow students and I liked best was the eccentric Reo Fortune, who had done fieldwork in New Guinea, and had been married to Margaret Mead. When Reo lectured about head-hunting in New Guinea, his descriptions were so graphic that we wondered whether he had carried ‘participant observation’ to extremes, and joined in the battles himself! We were invited on Sundays to have afternoon tea with him and his wife Mildred at their country cottage. I recall those afternoons in detail, cycling out, even in winter, and being regaled with a substantial tea (this was the post-war period of austerity) and lively conversation. The Fortunes’ hospitality increased my awareness of the importance to students of such informal social occasions. John Peristiany, always helpful and kind, was the only other significant lecturer.
Apart from Eliot, what was I reading at this time? A very mixed bag, including a long spell with DH Lawrence, Kafka, EM Forster, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. I discovered Thomas Traherne, John Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Godfrey Lienhardt arranged for me to sit in on a seminar given by Leavis – a heady experience, which sent me off to read the books I had not already read (Henry James, Joseph Conrad) from his recommendations in The Great Tradition. Leavis has been much criticised, but his influence on me was wholly beneficial: I took away from that single seminar the importance of ‘the text: look at the text’. I interpreted this as encouraging me not to be diverted by personal details of the writer, nor what the critics had written, but to use my own judgement and to concentrate on THE TEXT.
Apart from literature, this was an exciting time, discovering other treasures – chamber music, opera, paintings in the National Gallery in London and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
Julius and I went to Germany in the summer of 1948. It was not easy, nor was it cheap, in those immediate post-war years, to travel independently in Germany, so we joined a United Nations youth camp, giving us the opportunity of spending a few weeks there. We had initial misgivings – neither of us being what Bernard called a ‘groupie’. The stated aims of the youth camp were to promote peace, increase international understanding, and expose us to European culture. All very vague, but it was a great success; we shared an eight-man tent with French and German students, all of whom were congenial, interesting and friendly. We attended concerts, one including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (of course!) with the orchestra led by the well-known conductor Wilhelm Fürtwangler.
The Deutsche Mark was devalued at the end of our stay, leaving us with very little money. Julius and I had reluctantly decided that we would have to curtail our holiday, and return to England, when Karl Mey, one of our new German friends, arranged for us to spend ten days with his uncle, who had a small farm in the Oberallgäu, in south-western Bavaria.
Karl’s uncle and aunt received us kindly, and, despite continuing shortages of food, we were given good, simple meals, and happily explored the lovely countryside on borrowed bicycles, and climbed the foothills of the Alps. Julius and I had both been reading DH Lawrence’s poems, and were thrilled, on climbing in the mountains, to discover true, wild, deep blue Bavarian gentians. DHL wrote ‘Not every man has a gentian in his house’, but we could literally reach out and touch the ‘blue, forked tongue of this flower’. Our encounters in the Allgäu went a long way to enabling me to see the Germans as individuals, not as enemies. I could manage simple conversation in German, which I enjoyed practising whenever I got the opportunity.
After our graduation, Julius invited me to join him in Vienna in the autumn of 1948, but I was short of money. Ken Parkinson, who lived in my block of rooms at Christ’s College, suggested that I earn what I needed by working on his father’s farm, near Stonebridge, about thirty miles north of Cambridge, in the fen country, familiar to me from Dorothy Sayers’ novels.
My six weeks there as a farm worker were memorable, I felt at times that I was living in the nineteenth century, in a Thomas Hardy novel. The farm machinery was rudimentary, and much of the work, such as stacking the grain, was still being done by hand. The other farm workers were kind to me, instructing me in the best methods, even though I often found their rustic dialect incomprehensible. I was a squeamish townie, and one thing I did not relish was when the harvester drove round the wheat field, in decreasing circles, until the rabbits, trapped in a tiny area, would leap out, to be clubbed by the men and taken home for supper.
I stayed with the Parkinsons, and started work early in the morning. There would be a lunch break at noon, when Mrs Parkinson set up a trestle table outside the farmhouse, with cold ham, pickles, good farm bread, and tea laced with rum. In the afternoon, a girl would come out with a pitcher of beer. We worked until dark, which suited me, because I was a ‘target worker’, eager to earn as much money as I could. At the end of the day I was pleasantly tired from all the work. Once or twice I joined the farm workers for a half pint of beer at the local pub, and I tried to accustom myself to their slow conversational pace, with long silences, then often cryptic remarks, and many ‘ahs’ and ‘mms’.
We did not work on Sundays, and on Saturday afternoons (when work stopped early) I sometimes cycled the thirty miles to see John and Barbara Peter in Grantchester. It was a picturesque, if flat, route. I had to concentrate to adjust to the brisk and challenging conversational mode at the Peters’ home – strange to me after the slow rustic style. It was good to be challenged, to comment on the latest issue of Scrutiny, or to speculate about the political situation in South Africa.
Knowing that I was anxious to earn money, Mr Parkinson lent me to a neighbouring farmer for my last two weeks, where I picked onions. It was back-breaking work, but it paid well, providing me enough for my third class rail fare to Vienna and some pocket-money.
I stayed with Julius, who introduced me to opera; I had seen, as a boy, some of the Carl Rosa operas in Durban, but it was Julius, with his musical abilities and knowledge, who opened this magic door for me. We saw Smetana’s The Bartered Bride and Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, the latter being performed at the historic Theater an der Wien, the location of one of the earliest productions of this opera. We also saw Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier – with Julius’ new ‘swoon’, the young and then virtually unknown Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, singing Sophie. Although Vienna in 1948 was still recovering from the war, Julius and I had an exhilarating few weeks there, well worth my farm work in the fields of Cambridgeshire.
Julius and his mother, Nancy, who spent much time in England, had a difficult relationship, from which I benefited. Nancy often suggested that Julius join her for a short holiday, and Julius would reluctantly agree, ‘providing Dave comes’. Nancy was happy to spend much time painting – she was a good landscape and portrait painter – leaving Julius and me free to explore. In this way we enjoyed a winter skiing holiday at Seefeld, in the Austrian Tirol, where we learnt to ski moderately well. It was my first and last attempt at skiing: later there always seemed to be other things, less complicated and less expensive, to do.
On another occasion, Julius and I cycled, on our standard student bicycles, from London to St Ives in Cornwall, to join Nancy. I was eager to ‘do a roots trip’, to see St Just (not far from St Ives) from where my father’s father had emigrated. Once, when Nancy wanted Julius to join her at Stratford-upon-Avon to see the plays in the Shakespeare Theatre, I was again – very willingly – co-opted to keep the peace. I was by no means a poor student, my scholarship allowance being generous, but I could not have afforded these peace-broker holidays on my own, and I was delighted to play my part.
At one stage during this time I went away for a couple of days to see my aunt and uncle at Chipping Norton, thirty miles away. On my return, Julius handed me a telegram which, as was the custom then, he had opened, in case he needed to communicate the contents to me. The telegram (in 1949 a frequently used method of communication) was from a young man with whom I had a brief dalliance a week earlier at Cambridge. Four pages long, Ivan’s telegram declared undying love for me and asked me to meet him as soon as possible. I was mortified, because I had not then accepted that I was gay, and of course I was concerned about what the resolutely heterosexual Julius would think. I need not have worried: later that evening, sitting up in the double-bed that we shared – a practice that then usually had quite innocent associations – Julius was at pains to tell me (a) that he had long since recognised that I was attracted to men, and (b) that it did not matter.
Julius was the first to tell me something I later thoroughly accepted, that what mattered was the quality of a relationship; the existence of genuine love. I can still vividly recall that scene, of how comforting Julius’ earnest words were, and how, for the first time in my life, I could contemplate, without dismay, the possibility that I might be irrevocably homosexual.
My years at Cambridge, once I settled down, were heady, with intense friendships, keen late night discussions, a sense of excitement and hope and discovery and expanding horizons – the typical staple of student life. It was as though I was enjoying the youth that I had missed both during WW2, and also while at Rhodes University, because of the inescapable and oppressive South African problems of race and poverty. I did not feel personally involved in, nor responsible for, British social and economic problems, which at that time centred on the type of economy suited for Britain, the position of labour unions, and the underlying pervasive nature of class divisions. When I was allowed to vote in Britain, I always voted Labour, but I took no other part in political life.
My final examinations, in June 1949, consisted of nine papers, of three hours each, taken over one week. I was relaxed after a South African friend, a medical student, had persuaded me to join him sailing, near Cambridge, rather than spend the weekend before the examinations desperately ‘swotting’. My close friends Paul Baxter and David Pocock both got First Class passes, and, not to my surprise, I received a ‘2:1’, a Second Class, First Division pass. (My ‘2:1’ stood me in good stead when I applied to join the Colonial Service, as I explain later.)
Because Social Anthropology at Cambridge was very limited when I graduated in 1949, the Scholarship Trustees allowed me to spend my third year in England at Oxford, doing postgraduate study at Wadham College. Paul Baxter and David Pocock also made the move to Oxford, and both later had distinguished careers in social anthropology, at Manchester and Sussex respectively. Baxter’s fieldwork was in East Africa and Ethiopia, Pocock’s in India.
After my graduation, in 1949, Julius and I decided to do a Grand Tour of Europe, by canoe. We both wished to spend time in Germany, he on a ‘roots trip’, and I to rid myself of any lingering prejudices as a result of my wartime captivity. We both had ambivalent feelings about Germany: Julius’ father’s father had been Graf von Mengershausen, but after his father’s death his mother reverted to her maiden name of Lister because of anti-German sentiment.
We first considered canoeing on the Danube, but in those Cold War days this was not practicable, so we decided on the Rhine. But first we met Margaret Brokensha’s brother-in-law, Martin Lloyd, who had canoed down the Rhine in 1937. He not only gave us good advice, but also lent us his invaluable set of river maps, designed specifically for British canoeists.
In Cambridge we hired a Folbot, a collapsible canoe which was popular at that time. We travelled by third class train to Basel, and grandly told the taxi driver to ‘take us to the Rhine’. There we started to assemble the canoe, but discovered that one vital bolt (of a pair) was missing. So I left Julius at the river bank with our belongings, and raced back to the city. Fortunately, I had enough German to explain, at a friendly workshop, that we needed a replica bolt, which was made at once. By the time I reached the river again it was nearly dark, but we were determined to spend the night in Germany, rather than in a bleak industrial suburb of Basel, and we began our month-long odyssey.
We camped on the banks, mostly sleeping in the fields, although we did have a small tent, and we continued this practice for the duration of our trip. We swam every day in the then clear waters of the Rhine.
The next day, while we were canoeing down the upper reaches of the Rhine, we were joined by several other canoes, paddled by excited German boys. Guards along the bank had forbidden them to canoe on the river, but seeing us, they came out in force, and laughingly ‘captured’ us, one group taking Julius, another me, to their homes. What a wonderful way to start our holiday! The boys were too young to have taken active parts in the war, and despite shortages of nearly everything, they entertained us royally. Julius, who was musically very gifted, joined enthusiastically in the after-supper singing. Today, more than fifty years later, I can still see those smiling teenage faces, and recall the simple loving hospitality and the warmth of our welcome.
Julius was never an early riser, so I would often walk to the nearest village or town to attend the early morning mass. In those pre-Vatican II days, the service was in Latin, but the readings were in the vernacular – which also helped me to improve my German.
From Mannheim we took our canoe by train to Tübingen, to see the student friends whom we had met at the youth camp the previous summer. After a few days with them – which included drinking steins of beer at a riverside café – we canoed down the lovely Neckar valley, with vineyards lining the hills. When we reached Heidelberg, we saw on the landing stage an advertisement for a concert that evening. ‘Come,’ said Julius, ‘if we hurry we can attend the concert.’ Despite my misgivings about leaving the canoe and all our goods unguarded, we rushed up to enjoy an open air concert at the castle – an ideal setting for my first live hearing of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Whenever I now hear it, it brings back to me that summer evening. Our possessions unscathed, we rejoined the Rhine and continued downstream. There was little river traffic – in contrast to the never-ceasing procession of barges and river tourist vessels that crowd the river in summer today.
For much of our journey the river carried us downstream, and little paddling was needed, but we had some hard work negotiating the rock of the Lorelei, the legendary maiden whose song was said to have lured boatmen to their death on the rock. Julius sang Schubert’s Lorelei song lustily as we careered down the rapids at alarming speed. We finished our journey at Cologne, where we just had time to see the great cathedral. Julius insisted on a thorough inspection, and only with difficulty did I drag him away to catch our train – by the skin of our teeth.
It was, up till then, my most memorable and satisfying holiday. That summer holiday marked, in a way, the end of my youth, and the start of a more serious period preparing for a career.
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
I was received into the Catholic Church in 1950, when I was twenty-seven years old. Many of my friends (probably most, if I include my academic friends) are agnostic; some ask me in bewilderment why I became a Catholic. I find it difficult to give a precise answer, so let me recount my own religious background, and what led to my conversion – which proved to be one of the major turning points of my life.
As an undergraduate at Cambridge University in 1947, I had at first little interest in organised religion. My father’s father, Francis Carne Brokensha, a staunch and stern Methodist, was a stereotypical Victorian paterfamilias, insisting on strict rules for his family of thirteen children. When they left home, my father and his seven brothers rebelled, only one retaining formal church membership. As boys, Guy, Paul and I, together with our parents, spent most of our Sundays sailing or swimming, based at our beloved Salisbury Island weekend home. Dad said that he felt closer to God – if there was a God – on the bay than he ever did in church.
When Paul and I joined the South African army in 1940, I was asked to state my religion. When I hesitated, the sergeant said, ‘Come on, if you are not RC or Jewish, you’ll be C of E.’
I made no protest. During my five years in the army, even in the darkest of prisoner of war days, I developed no interest in religion.
Ouma. Cambridge, 1949
In Cambridge, in 1948, I met two remarkable men, Godfrey Lienhardt and Talog Davies. They were remarkable in two respects: first, they were both bright, Godfrey was one of the most outstanding British social anthropologists of his generation and Talog became Attorney-General of Malaya; second, they were both Catholics. I had met a few Catholics at Durban High School, and in the army, but I knew almost nothing about them. I had the typically Anglican, patronising attitude that Catholics were different – ‘foreign’ (Irish, Italian), and probably intellectually inferior.
Knowing Godfrey and Talog made me revise my perceptions. Not only were they unmistakably clever, they were also witty, well-informed and articulate. They were also proudly RC – although they could, and did, mock many aspects of Catholicism with affectionate irony. I was intrigued. They certainly made no attempt to convert me, but I did go, at Godfrey’s suggestion, to one of Father Gilbey’s informal Sunday afternoon receptions at Fisher House. Fr Gilbey, Catholic chaplain to the university, entertained a remarkable range of people, cutting across barriers of age and class. It was an easy social occasion, quite unlike what I remembered of Uncle Percy’s stern Methodism. Most of those present were Catholics, but there was no explicit, serious talk of religion. Like Godfrey and Talog, the people I met were at ease with themselves, and with their faith.
What happened next I find difficult to analyse: I went to see Fr Gilbey ‘to find out more about Catholicism’. In our initial discussion, I told him that my reading of Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene had encouraged my interest in the Church. He acknowledged Waugh as a conduit, but was clearly less enthusiastic about Greene. I soon found myself starting instruction in the Catholic Faith. I say ‘found myself’, because I cannot recall a distinct time of decision; I simply drifted irrevocably towards my goal – those within the church might say that it was the Holy Spirit at work.
For my first term at Oxford University in 1949, I had a room in Wadham College, which had a loose association with Christ’s College. Many years later, when Bernard and I were living in Dorset, our friendly neighbours, the Cochranes, had a cocktail party, where Anne introduced me to a pompous retired naval commander, saying, ‘Oh, you’ve both been at Oxford.’ The commander spent some time telling me how he had been at Balliol, (one of the oldest, grandest and most intellectually prominent of the Oxford colleges), then he asked me which was my college. When I told him that I had been at Wadham, he paused, then said, ‘Oh, Wadham. Yes. Nice little college.’ This was the sort of remark that used to irritate me when I was getting used to the strange ways of the English, but on this occasion Bernard (who had overheard our conversation) and I were amused.
And indeed Wadham was a very nice little college, even though I, as a postgraduate, and living mostly out of college, was much less involved in college life than I had been at Cambridge. I did, however, join the Wadham College Swimming Club, and even swam for Oxford University, although not against Cambridge in the major competition. In the summer I used to swim at ‘Parson’s Pleasure’, a stretch of the River Isis where men could swim naked; several times I saw our Warden, Maurice Bowra, there. He would greet me cordially, while inspecting the talent. Bowra, whose tenure lasted thirty-two years, was one of Oxford’s characters.
I continued my Catholic instruction, meeting once a week with Father Fitzgerald, a Jesuit at Campion Hall. After some months, I suggested that I was ready to be received into the Church, and it was a shock when Father F disagreed, telling me that I still had a long way to go. I had thought that the RCs were so eager for converts, and here was the priest putting more difficulties in my way! However, on 6 June 1950 I was eventually received into the Church at St Aloysius, in Oxford. This was the church where Gerard Manley Hopkins had been an assistant priest, producing some marvellous verse, such as ‘Binsey Poplars’ and ‘Duns Scotus’s Oxford’.
My sponsors when I was received into the Church were Godfrey Lienhardt (then lecturer in Social Anthropology) and ‘E-P’ (my professor, EE Evans-Pritchard). There were several other converts in the Institute of Social Anthropology at about this time (including my friend David Pocock), and it was often said that E-P and Godfrey ‘lured’ us into the Church, and that the Institute favoured RCs. Both allegations were untrue. I knew E-P fairly well, as is inevitable in a small department, but before my reception into the Church, I had never discussed religion with him: he offered to be my sponsor as a voluntary – and, it seemed to me, a kindly – act. I treasure the certificate, with E-P’s and Godfrey’s signatures.
Over the years, various friends, either implicitly or explicitly, have accused me of evading responsibility by surrendering my free will to an authoritarian church. On the contrary, however, one of the aspects that consciously attracted me to Catholicism was the emphasis on personal responsibility. Throughout my instruction the stress was on being responsible – blaming not parents, nor childhood circumstances, nor anything else. I was also attracted by the responsibility of using one’s talents, whatever they were, to best advantage.
When I told my father of my conversion, he wrote a gracious letter, a model of a letter from a father to his son, saying that while he could no more understand my faith than he could his own father’s faith, he envied us both for having the capacity to believe.
In my second term I moved out of college to a flat in North Oxford which I shared with Ouma, who had by then separated from my father. (There was no formal separation, but from 1949 until their deaths, both in 1967, Ouma and Dad lived separate lives, although remaining on cordial terms.) Ouma was ‘a good mum’, fitting in well, and being regarded with affection by my contemporaries. Julius once remarked, ‘Ouma is unusual, in having no capacity for boredom’ – a nice compliment. When she joined me in 1949 she was seventy-one years old, and enthusiastic about the world. She would take herself off to stay with her sisters, Hilda near Chipping Norton, and Olive in Lancaster, or with friends. After I left for
First Court, Wadham College
152 Tanganyika, Ouma stayed at a guest house at Boars Hill, near Oxford, where she became friendly with Mrs Lawrence, the mother of TE Lawrence, and they maintained a correspondence for years. Mrs Lawrence had left her parson husband for her lover, who was the father of TE and his brothers. She was said to have remarked that, having committed – by the Church’s standards – one grave sin, she was determined that the rest of her life would be beyond reproach. I saw parallels with my own life – shared with Bernard when ‘society’ disapproved – and I was determined to try to live beyond reproach, though of course I did not always succeed.
This was a golden age in British social anthropology, with Professor Evans-Pritchard presiding at the Institute of Social Anthropology. The staff included Meyer Fortes, John Peristiany, who had also moved from Cambridge, MN ‘Chamu’ Srinivas (later one of India’s foremost social anthropologists) and Franz Steiner. Encouraged by Godfrey Lienhardt, who was then a lecturer at Oxford, I used to visit Franz in his little bed-sitter. It was only in 1999, when I read a biography about him, that I appreciated Franz’s many facets, including a close relationship with Iris Murdoch, and his stature as a writer and poet. Franz, a Jewish refugee whose entire family had been wiped out in the Holocaust, had been brought to Oxford by E-P. He encouraged me to talk about my wartime experiences; I seldom spoke of those years, being – or making myself – too concerned with the present.
Meyer Fortes left Oxford in 1950 to become Professor of Social Anthropology at Cambridge, where he soon established a first-class department. At that time, only six British universities offered postgraduate training in social anthropology, three of the professors being South African, and Jewish – Meyer Fortes at Cambridge, Isaac Schapera at the London School of Economics, and Max Gluckman at Manchester. All three had been attracted to anthropology, as I had been, at least partly by discomfort with the circumstances and racial divisions in our native land.
There were few formal lectures, the emphasis being on the ‘Friday Seminar’, when a member of the department, or a visitor, would present a paper, followed by discussion until 6 p.m., when the pubs opened, and we repaired to The King’s Arms to continue the discussion informally. Another South African student at the Institute was Piet Koornhof; very Calvinist, he did not join us at the pub. His closest friend was a Nigerian, who shared his evangelical Christian outlook. On his return to South Africa Piet joined the Nationalist Party, eventually becoming the Minister of Co-operation and Development – a euphemism for enforced removals. In an ironic twist, Koornhof later divorced his wife and married a coloured woman thirty years his junior.
Among those who gave seminars were Godfrey Lienhardt, who had recently returned from his first fieldwork among the Dinka in southern Sudan; the American couple, Paul and Laura Bohannan, back from their studies of the Tiv of Central Nigeria; and John Beattie, who had spent eight years in the British Colonial Service in Tanganyika, and had started his studies with the Bunyoro of Uganda. They all gave exciting, challenging seminars, and were available to us both formally and informally.
Perhaps I should have been over-awed, the little PRC (‘poor ruddy colonial’ as a contemporary once jokingly but affectionately called me) among these sophisticated giants, but I was not, mainly because I was met with kindness, and constantly pushed to be articulate and to defend my own positions. The French sociologist Emil Durkheim was then much in vogue, as was Marcel Mauss, and I did feel at some disadvantage when everybody else (apart from the Americans, and other PRCs) was fluent in French. The basic conversational French I had learnt in our Italian POW camp was not adequate for reading Durkheim’s Anomie, or Suicide, in the original text.
We all read a great deal. We did fit in time for non-anthropology books, but our main attention was on becoming familiar with the anthropological corpus. This was much more a practicable aim than it would be today, with the explosion of publications, many of which I, and many of my contemporaries, find unreadable. The Institute of Social Anthropology had a good library, and less frequent visits to the university’s Bodleian Library always left me awed. When today I see first-year African students gazing round the library at the University of Cape Town, probably on their first visit, I recapture my own reaction at the Bodleian.
We all had bicycles, and even if I found Oxford relatively congested after Cambridge, traffic was still manageable compared to today’s crowded scene. I made frequent visits to the cinema, mostly to see the new, exciting French and Italian films, and went on frequent walks – in the parks very close to the Institute, where E-P liked to walk his visitors briskly around, and I also went further afield, to The Trout, a riverside pub on the Thames, or to Binsey, immortalised in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, ‘Binsey Poplars’. When I walked out to visit David Pocock, then living in a caravan at Binsey, I would murmur:
Not spared, not one That dandled a sandalled Shadow that swam or sank On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
Postgraduate students were required to write a library-based thesis, of about ten thousand words, as a test for their ability to pursue studies in anthropology. Preparing my thesis, ‘Some Political Institutions of the Southern Nguni’ (i.e. the Xhosa) gave me a much keener insight into the South African frontier wars fought in the Eastern Cape from about 1780 till 1850. I read with anguish of the ruthless exploitation and the inexorable collapse of Xhosa society, culminating in the young visionary girl, Nongqawuse, persuading her people in 1856 that the ancestor spirits had commanded them to kill their cattle and burn their crops, so that the white men could be driven away: the results were catastrophic.
My thesis was accepted, after a gruelling hour with the external examiner, Max Gluckman. The viva was ‘gruelling’ because Gluckman had read my thesis intensively, and asked me searching questions, almost page by page, demanding satisfactory answers, no shillyshallying allowed. Afterwards, I felt flattered by this keen and most professional interest in what was at that time my most ambitious academic attempt. Max Gluckman had moved in 1949 from Oxford to Manchester, founding what became one of the leading departments of social anthropology in Britain.
When I went to Oxford in 1949 I had fully expected to return the following year to my native South Africa, as stipulated in my scholarship conditions. The Department of Native Affairs, in Pretoria, grudgingly offered me a temporary, poorly-paid post as a clerk: clearly they were not interested in employing an English-speaking, liberal young man, who had three university degrees, two of them from England. The National Party, which had taken power in the previous year, was already implementing their apartheid policy. Neither they nor I could see any place for me in their grand design.
I explained the circumstances to the Elsie Ballot Scholarship trustees, who agreed that I might fulfil my obligation by doing administrative work in another part of Africa. My first thought was of southern Sudan (which fell under the British Foreign Office, not the Colonial Service Office). Having been steeped in the lore of the Nuer (by E-P) and the Dinka (by Godfrey Lienhardt), I found the prospect of being a District Officer in remote, romantic Sudan highly appealing. I was disappointed when I was turned down, the rejection being tempered by a civil letter, explaining that while I was considered a suitable applicant, and while E-P (who was held in high regard by the administration in the Sudan) had recommended me, it was not politically expedient to appoint a white South African, with independence for the Sudan looming (it became independent in 1955). I was beginning to learn the handicaps of being a white South African, as apartheid was being implemented with increasing ruthlessness and repression.
In 1953 I was granted British citizenship (my mother having been born in England), so I gave up my South African citizenship, which was automatically restored on my return to South Africa in 1999. Despite the change in nationality and passport, I always regarded myself as a South African, and I never pretended otherwise. During the apartheid years, friends sometimes advised me to say that I was British, to avoid possible criticism, but, perhaps perversely, I declined.
When I was deciding what I should do, my friends at the Institute of Social Anthropology intervened. John Beattie pointed out that after his colonial administrative experience he had returned to university to study social anthropology, and was convinced that his eight years in Tanganyika had served as an excellent preparation for academic anthropology. Meyer Fortes echoed these comments, assuring me that I would always be welcome should I decide, later, to resume my studies. Chamu Srinivas urged me to become a colonial administrator, and to take advantage of my anthropological training by making a study of my colleagues. (Years later, Anthony Kirk-Greene, who had served in the Colonial Service in Nigeria, pioneered major studies of this topic, but I did not find time to tackle it.)
Both Beattie and Fortes recommended that I apply to the Colonial Service, and Meyer arranged for me to be interviewed by Sir Roger Furse, head of the Colonial Service Office in London. I was accepted by the Colonial Service and, after another interview, was given my first choice of country, which was, with John Beattie’s influence, Tanganyika (now the major part of Tanzania). My other choices had been Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) or Nyasaland (Malawi). I decided that I would refuse to go to Kenya, if offered, not wanting to get involved in another simmering conflict between white and black. (The Mau Mau insurrection started a few years later.) The official told me that I would be required to take a year’s ‘colonial cadet course’, at a British university. This was June 1950, and I was twenty-seven years old, and impatient to start my career. I asked politely if I could go to Tanganyika right away, having already studied anthropology, history, economics and law, the staples of the course: the language, Swahili, was the only segment that would be new to me. ‘So, you think you know everything?’ he asked, ‘No, you must do the course.’
The year 1950 was a ‘ Holy Year’ in the Catholic Church, when pilgrimages were encouraged. I planned to join a Cambridge friend on a walk to Rome while I was waiting for the result of my interview for the Colonial Service. We had both read Hilaire Belloc’s Path to Rome, a vivid account of his pilgrimage from Toul in France to Rome, in 1901:
In early youth the soul can still remember its immortal habitation, and clouds and edges of hills are of another kind from ours, and every scent and colour has a savour of Paradise …
However, we had to forgo the pleasure of following in Belloc’s footsteps, because the Colonial Service Office told me that I should not leave England, as I had to be available to receive my orders. I could not say that I would keep in touch by email – France and Italy were then, to the official mind, more distant than Tibet is today.
My interview was successful, and the good news was that I would do the course at Oxford, so I was able to keep in contact with my friends at the Institute of Social Anthropology, and Ouma and I could stay on in our pleasant flat in north Oxford. I was also able to fulfil the six terms at Wadham College, which was later beneficial, six terms being a requirement for enrolling for a D Phil, which I did ten years later.
When I started my colonial course at Oxford in the autumn, I went to mass every morning at St Aloysius. On Sundays I used to join Godfrey and others for 11 a.m. mass at St Aloysius, after which we would go next door to The Horse and Jockey – the landlord was a sidesman at our church.
Ouma and DWB. Oxford, 1950
The year of my colonial course at Oxford was the most relaxing of my whole career. I had time for extensive reading, going to concerts, playing village cricket at weekends, making occasional trips to London, and generally enjoying myself – free from the constant pressure of the examinations which had been a major factor in my life for the previous five years.
The lectures were well-prepared and easy to follow, my fellow cadets, particularly the four who were also to be posted to Tanganyika, were congenial. In addition to formal teaching, we went on several trips: to the Law Courts (including the Old Bailey in London) to prepare us for our magisterial duties; and to prisons, hospitals, and social service agencies. We all got on well, and were highly motivated to be conscientious, and to pay attention, being keen to make a good start in our colonial careers.
We had a gem in our Swahili teacher, Ali Ahmed Jahadhmy, a gifted teacher and a born comedian, making all lessons both challenging and entertaining, and giving us a thorough grounding in the language. Ali Ahmed came from Kenya: his ancestral home was the pretty coastal town of Lamu, and his kiSwahili was kisafi sana (very pure). He insisted on high standards, which stood us in good stead later. I was so grateful to Ali Ahmed, when, on arriving in Dar es Salaam in September 1951, I found that I could easily engage the local people in conversation. (Twenty years later, I helped Ali Ahmed to come to the University of California, Santa Barbara, to teach Swahili.)
Looking back, I suppose there was some ‘stress’ during my Oxford days, but I do not remember this as a significant factor, nor did we talk about it: by this time I had acquired the Oxbridge style, lightly mocking all that worried me.
When British people discovered that I had attended both Cambridge and Oxford, the inevitable question was, ‘Which team do you support in the Boat Race?’ I was tempted to say, sententiously (and truly) that I did not give the matter much thought, but I did concede that my sentimental ties to Cambridge were much stronger, and I was pleased when the Light Blues won.
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