13 SEPTEMBER 1975, Page 5

Bygone world

Sir: It is not fashionable these days to say anything favourable about what used to be the (British) Empire. Perhaps I ought to start by explaining that one of the reasons why I suffer from no guilt complex on account of this country's period as a world power, is simply due to the fact that the late Mr Chuter Ede, when Home Secretary, obviously felt he could only take one important decision at a time and, therefore, gave priority to the Attlee Cabinet's policy to grant India independence from the Crown, before *lending his signature to my certificate of naturalisation, as a British object, in his pending tray!

Having traded with most territories, where the Union Jack used to fly, I have maintained a vicarious interest in their subsequent developments. When I read of political unheavals, bloodshed, assassinations, civil wars and sundry other symptoms of fundamental instability, or of expulsions of harmless men and women on no other than racial grounds, I cannot help asking myself whether the ordinary, inarticulate and hard-working ones, among those who in days past were simply described as 'natives' of the various colonies, may not sometimes recall, in retrospect, how relatively peaceful and stable life was under the Pax Britannica.

They were an extraordinarily small number of men, those who were responsible for supervising the smooth administration of the Crown's vast overseas possessions. That most-diffi

cult-to-join corps d'elite, the Colonial Civil -Service, consisted not only of highly dedicated men, but it produced a remarkable number of outstanding personalities in its relatively short history — and that applies equally to the former Indian Civil Service. Those still alive now live in relative obscurity. A few of the survivors are Members of the House of Lords. Irrespective of one's agreement or otherwise with their political views, they are men of character and integrity, qualities rather scarce in public life nowadays. It has been left to another foreigner to pay a tribute to the achievements of these former servants of the Crown. There is a passage in Andre Malraux's autobiography Anti-Memoires. On a trip to the Far East in the post-colonial era, he stops off in Delhi, Singapore and Hong Kong and spontaneously observes in passing, that as Hadrian's Wall will for ever remain a witness to the Roman presence in Britain, so will the infrastructure created by colonial administration remain as a witness of the (former) British presence in those territories. Peter Berliner 110 Guilford Street, Bloomsbury WC1