The whole thing started in 1962. In the spring of that year, John (J.V) Shaw, whom many will remember as a senior member of the Provincial Administration in what was then Tanganyika, was appointed General Secretary of the Victoria League for Commonwealth Friendship which was then based at 38 Chesham Place, London, SV1. John’s appointment was very shortly followed by the election of the late Lord Twining to be Chairman of the League.
These appointments were being made only shortly after Tanganyika had achieved her independence in December 1961. The months immediately following this event were marked by the return to Britain of a considerable number of people who had previously been in Government service in that country.
Now, no-one who remembers the ebullient personality of Lord Twining who had been Governer from 1949-1958 will be the least bit surprised to learn that he gave encouragement to the view that it would be a splendid thing if, from time to time during the year, informal gatherings should take place so as to reunite those of us who had lived or worked (and, as I am fond of pointing out, some of us actually did both) in Tanganyika. And what better place to hold these meetings than the Victoria League with John Shaw by then firmly in the saddle?
According to John’s own memory, which must surely be the best authority available, this first “get-together” was in late 1962 or just possibly, early 1963. In any event, we are assuming it was in 1962, and so we shall, this year, treat the 1986 party as our Silver Jubilee. There may be some raised eyebrows at the need for such an assumption. Surely our records should put the matter beyond doubt? Certainly, but as far as I or anyone else can discover, there just ain’t no records. I did say the gatherings were informal!
Obviously, however, they were successful for by 1971 no less than three sundowners were being held each year. They were always held at the Victoria League under John Shaw’s genial management and John was ably assisted on the clerical side by Nora Young.
My records go back to 1971, the last year in which the Victoria League was host to these gatherings. The charge was then 10/- each. Some time in early 1972 at just about the same time that John Shaw retired from the General Secretaryship, the Victoria League decided upon a major change of policy which involved the future usage of 38 Chesham Place.
I was asked by two former Provincial Commissioners, Mike Molohan and “Fanny” Waldron if I would be prepared to take over the running of the reunions and find a venue. They had already recruited Vicky Young who had recently retired from the East Africa Office in Trafalgar Square, to assist me with the administration and paperwork of these gatherings. I gulped and said “yes” and little did I imagine at the time that 14 years later the parties would still be happening. Vicky has been a tower of strength aver all these years.
The first decision that we came to was to reduce the number of parties to two each year. The second, after a good deal of shopping around, was that we would hold them at the Royal Overseas League. On this basis we continued until 1986. All the time great care had to be taken to balance the budget, for we had (and have) virtually no reserves to fall back on to cover any possible losses.
In 1977 after considering the numbers then attending in relationship to the cost, we decided to reduce the frequency to one party each year. At about that time also we decided to change the venue to the Royal Commonwealth Society. I discovered also that if the date could be arranged to coincide with the Test Match at Lords, there was an added incentive for those living in, for example, Scotland or the West country to come up to London.
Inflation and the increasing costs which resulted also persuaded us that we must budget so as to be on the safe side of danger. As a result we have been able, since then, to make each year a modest donation to the Overseas Pensioners’ Benevolent Fund from the usually equally modest surpluses.
So now the reunions continue. It is remarkable how each year we seem to attract new “recruits” who have only recently heard of the function for the first time.
The parties are open to everyone with Tanganyika connections, their spouses and children of drinking years. For several years now we have been delighted and honoured to entertain H. E. the High Commissioner and his wife as our guests. People really seem to enjoy themselves; certainly so if noise is to be the criterion.
Long may they continue! Vicky and my wife (who helps a lot) and I are determined that they shall do so as long as people show that they like coming and as long as we can keep them financially viable.