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Oxted & District History Society

In the mini-symposium held in early January to start the Oxted & District History Society’s 50th Anniversary Year, there were four presentations by members on ‘What were we doing when the society was founded 50 years ago?’

Keith Addis, appointed by the Colonial Service in 1948, was one of 14 Colonial Service staff managing an area of Eastern Nigeria the size of Yorkshire.  He painted a picture of a system which worked well.  The police were unarmed.  There were post offices, telephones and electricity most of the time.  Basic foodstuffs such as meat, milk and even ice-cream were available from local warehouses.  As a District Officer he had a wide variety of duties requiring effort, tact and good judgement.  He organised elections, ran a prison service and heard appeals from local courts which were often lengthy disputes over land ownership.  His final tour of duty was prior to Independence, after which things became more difficult and he resigned his post.

Ruth Hughes, an agronomist, went to the Sudan with her botanist husband in 1950 and stayed for 20 years.  Her husband worked in cotton management and while officially she was not allowed to work she did a voluntary job in the agricultural library in Khartoum and later had another job drafting scientific reports.  At home she employed two servants, a cook and two gardeners and her garden was irrigated from a canal off the Nile.  She had a pet cat which had been abandoned by its feral mother.

Stephen and Joy Miles spoke about the Dar-es-Salaam Mutiny in January 1964.  Stephen worked in the Diplomatic Service and was posted to Tanzania in 1963. 

The small Tanzanian army mutinied and arrested its British officers but the commanding officer, Brigadier Douglas, managed to avoid capture and took refuge at Joy and Stephen’s house.  Stephen liaised with President Nyerere and Duncan Sandys in the British Government to obtain help from the British Navy which had a destroyer and aircraft carrier stationed off Aden.  Although the army had a grievance over pay and promotion the situation might quickly have got out of hand as in the Congo but luckily Dar-es-Salaam was on the coast and easily accessible by the British Navy. Joy accommodated and fed sixty British citizens taking refuge at her house during the Mutiny, confiscating firearms from them as they entered the house and putting them in a bath, until it was full. Emptying her freezer of food and buying a van load of produce from a local chicken farm.  Joy and Stephen’s 3 daughters were among the 17 children in their house and they had to lie on the floor and keep quiet at one stage when rebel soldiers surrounded the house. A tank broke through the iron gates of the house, drove onto her emaciate lawn and stoped, gun pointing at the front door.  Joy, incensed by this outrage marched out to the tank and banged on the front with an umbrella, the turret hatch opened and a soldier appeared. It was her gardener, “”What the hell do you think you are doing Rashidi?” “get this off the lawn immediately”. The red faced soldier disappeared back into the turret and the tank revered back out of the gate, knocking one of the gate posts and gate over.

It was Stephen’s 90th birthday on the day of the mini-symposium and History Society members sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to celebrate the occasion.

By contrast, Michael Compton, an art historian, was Director of the Ferens Gallery in Hull with a staff of five.  The Gallery had an endowment of £2000 a year which was matched by another £2000 a year from Hull Council. The Gallery’s income of £4000 a year enabled him to acquire pictures with a then value of £100,000 for a little over £20,000 over 5 years by purchasing modern art and old masters at a fraction of their value, including a Frans Hals portrait, in lieu of death duties.  He worked closely with the Chairman of the Gallery Trustees who was very supportive. He later worked at the Tate in London, organising exhibitions, overcoming an attempted student occupation and coming to terms with conceptual art after a presentation by Gilbert and George.


What were we doing when the Society was founded 50 years ago?