Letters from Gervas
The letters are trascribed using dictation software, so there WILL be mistakes. Please report any that you may spot - Click on the "CONTACT US" tab on the left.
Gervas Charles Robert Clay (GCRC, usually referred to as simply "G.") went out to Northern Rhodesia, aged 23, as a Cadet in His Majesty's Overseas Civil Service (H.M.O.C.S.). He had come down from New College, Oxford, from which during the previous summer vacation he and some friends had toured Europe. That had been his first trip overseas; this was his second, so he saw everything with "new eyes". His father had served in South Africa during the Boer War.
Gervas had been born and brought up in Burton-on-Trent, where his father had been a Director of Bass's Brewery, from which he had retired in 1925, and they had moved to Weston House, Albury in Surrey, which they rented, and then in 1937 they bought Abbotswood, in Hurtmore, near Godalming, Surrey.
Gervas's father was Gerard (Arden) Clay (GAC); his mother was (Ella) Violet Clay nee Thornewill (EVC), and both had grown up in Burton-on-Trent, where both families had been established for over two hundred years. Gerard had been the first of his family to go abroad, and Gervas the first to make his career
Gerard and Violet had married in 1906, and spent part of their honeymoon in Paris. Violet's sister Katty, also known as "Ardie", married Bertram Sargeaunt ("Uncle Berkie"), quondam Government Secretary to the Isle of Man, and previously Secretry of the United Services Institute. Berkie's other was Alice Fisher, sister of Admiral Fisher, 1st Baron Fisher (1841–1920) the father of the modern Royal Navy.
Upon graduating from Oxford in 1929, Gervas was recruited by H.M.O.C.S. (His Majesty's Overseas Civil Service), the Colonial Office of His Majesty King George V, and, after doing a year's post-graduate course in Jusrisprudence at Oxford, Gervas, then 23, sailed out to Africa, and then travelled by train to Northern Rhodesia, where he served for three years. Then he flew home on leave, after which he sailed back to Africa for another three year tour, after which he sailed back home on leave again - but this trip was different! On board ship, he met a young girl. They fell in love, became engaged, married, and sailed back to Africa the day after the wedding.
During his first six years, his first two tours of duty, Gervas wrote a letter home to his parents amost every week, and those are presented on this WebSite. After their marriage, his wife took over, writing (again almost every week) a letter copied to both her parents and to his; these will be found by clicking >here<.
Here's what Martin Davies was so kind as to post about these
These letters home of G. are amazingly revealing and show us the nitty gritty of how to build a modern state from barbarism..
These letters form a short introduction to G’s 34-year career in the Administration of Northern Rhodesia, and what do we see?
The impact of radical changes to the people’s lives in Northern
Rhodesia that effective, honest, British governance had on the people of Northern Rhodesia.
Beyond the incredible positive social good of Pax Britannica,
let us not forget, a mere 20 years earlier, it had brought to an end
hundreds (thousands?) of years of intra-African tribal warfare and Afro-Arab slave trade along with the pain, short lives and misery of the average African peasant / slave.
We see Britain energetically engaged with the tangible creation of a
new proto-modern nation, Northern Rhodesia and G. and his colleagues are in the vanguard in making this happen.
This includes the building of modern infrastructure including roads and airfields, and the provision of medical clinics providing modern medicines with the benefits of reductions in mortality and lengthening of lives.
Also the building and managing of the various organs of governance such as Post Office, police, money transfers (from the mines to the tribal lands), tax collections, worker registrations and training schemes, and a modern system of justice to replace the witch-doctor.
New enterprises emerging creating jobs in the mines on the Copperbelt, government jobs, and commercial work, and domestic servants, all of which created a modern cash economy which allowed the acquisition of totally new modern devices like bicycles and an appreciation by Africans of the value of proper dams, roads and bridges, water reticulation and sewerage, and electricity.
New cash crops - to feed the mines, and the construction workers at
the new airfields being built - involving both women (maize) and men
(fish) who are acquiring cash for the first time.
A microcosm of how Britain built and managed its Empire.
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