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U3A Writing: Colonial Service

"When we arrived we did have a bungalow peeping out of the tall elephant grass surrounding it, but no water or electricity. For several months I was the only European woman there, and my two year old daughter the only European child. We were certainly pioneers, but grew to love the country...''

Kathleen Wakeham recalls days in Nigeria in the 1950s.

After being demobbed from the Army my husband entered Colonial Service in the early 1950's. We were sent to Nigeria where we stayed for over 10 years. His job was to build the College of Arts, Science and Technology, with a branch in the three regions, from thick Bush.

When we arrived we did have a bungalow peeping out of the tall elephant grass surrounding it, but no water or electricity. For several months I was the only European woman there, and my two year old daughter the only European child. We were certainly pioneers, but grew to love the country.

My husband had to assemble a work force of about 500 men, first to fell the huge trees and cut roads through the bush. Next to get an overhead electricity line, build a generator house, and buy (with great difficulty) the two second hand generators. Because of difficulties with them, they cut out at midnight, and the few people living there rushed home like Cinderella to beat the black out! His next job was to get piped water which was wonderful, after having it delivered daily by truck from the African township of Ibadan.

Eventually, the college, now the University of Nigeria, was built, also many houses and garden centre for vegetables and fruits. All the furniture for the college, and the houses was designed by my husband and constructed in our own workshops.

A wonderful sports stadium with international size running tracks and 30 tennis courts were also built by him.

When Princess Alexandria visited the College to present Letters of Administration to the Principal, she was so impressed by all she saw, and the acres and acres of parkland and gardens created from the Bush that she asked to meet my husband, although we had previously been told that there would be no presentations as she was so short of time.

We met many notables during our service there, and were honoured to be invited to attend lunch with the Queen and Prince Philip.

The Nigerian people were friendly to Europeans, but tribal enmity was a serious problem even then, and of course "Ju Ju" was rampant, although this often worked for the good in protecting people's properties.

My younger daughter was born in Ibadan and has many happy memories of the multi-racial school run by the Church, and of her many friends from different countries.

One of these was the daughter of Chief Akintola, later to be murdered during the tragic civil war, and whose son was the first Nigerian boy to be accepted for Eton.

We spent several years in Zaria in the North, which is the Moslem region, and also in Enugu in the Eastern region.

It was a happy and fulfilling time but sadly the country has deteriorated into an economic mess, and a dangerous place.

There should be no shortage of food, as plants grow so quickly. It is possible to eat a radish three days after planting the seed! Paw paws can be picked from the tree 18 months after planting a seed!

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