Obituary: Sir Alexander Waddell
Thursday 24 June 1999
Always respected, always liked, enjoying nothing better than the touring needed to learn about the people he served, he was straightforward, cool- headed, modest and kind, doing the job he loved to the best of his ability.
He was never in the grander colonies, but his experience of the problems of smaller ones was wide: Japanese occupation during the Second World War; the restoration of order and the rehabilitation of economics after it; guiding people unsure of their ability to compete in the world along the path to independence; a close encounter with Indonesian aggression; and, with the unhappy Banabans of the Gilbert Islands, wrestling with the aftermath of decisions taken long before.
Born in 1913, the younger son of the Church of Scotland Minister at Eassie, Nick Waddell (as he was known to family and friends) won a scholarship to Fettes and went on to read Classics at Edinburgh. Inspired by a Nyasaland missionary staying in the manse, he joined the Colonial Service in 1937 and was posted, not to Africa, but to the British Solomon Islands.
The Japanese invaded in February 1942, and in October that year Waddell (commissioned in the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve), was, with Captain Carden Seton, put ashore on the island of Choiseul (also in the Solomon Islands) by the US submarine Grampus as a "coastwatcher". This involved reporting shipping and aircraft movements, rescuing American airmen and harassing the Japanese garrison, which was over 4,000 strong. The coastwatchers and the rescued airmen formed the "Ancient Order of the Rubber Rafters of Choiseul", dedicated to inebriation on the anniversary of each man's rescue.
When Guadalcanal (the largest Solomon Island) was retaken in 1943, Choiseul was bypassed in the island-hopping strategy, so Waddell was there for 15 months. His total dependence on Solomon Islanders, not only for his safety but also for food, had a profound influence on his subsequent career. He knew that he was as dependent upon the peoples he served as they on him, hence his constant desire to repay the debt he owed.
Out of the Navy, he acted as Resident Commissioner in the Solomon Islands before joining the Malay Civil Service. He was posted to North Borneo in 1947, where he was responsible for the rehabilitation of the shattered economy and for development. He was identified as a highflyer, and in 1952 achieved his early ambition to go to Africa: first as Colonial Secretary in the Gambia (1952-56) and then as Colonial Secretary and Deputy Governor in Sierra Leone. Here he remained until 1960, during the last great decade of empire, presided over by two outstanding Secretaries of State, Oliver Lyttelton and Alan Lennox-Boyd, and culminating with Macmillan's "wind of change" speech.
It was a time devoted to preparation for self-government in which the West African colonies took the lead. Waddell played a key role in the reform of local government and constitutional development, as the pace accelerated with Ghanaian independence in 1957.
From Sierra Leone, in 1960 he went to be the last British Governor of Sarawak. Speaking in Malay at his installation, he quickly established himself by extensive touring of the interior and the warmth of the hospitality which he and his charming wife, Jean, offered at Astana, former palace of Rajah Brooke. Politically it was a difficult time. Plans for federation with Brunei and North Borneo were set aside in favour of incorporation into Malaya, arousing anger in Indonesia which led to years of border warfare.
By the early Sixties opportunities for talented governors were few but Waddell was appointed British Phosphate Commissioner, presiding, with commissioners from Australia and New Zealand, over the exploitation of phosphate-rich islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans.
One of these islands was Banaba (known as Ocean Island) in the Gilbert Islands. Waddell fought hard for recognition of the moral right of the displaced Banabans, who had been relocated in Fiji in the Thirties, to receive provision after phosphate had been exhausted.
The long-standing and unhappy dispute finally reached the High Court in London in the mid-Seventies where the case brought by the Banabans against the commissioners (Tito v Waddell), established a new record for civil proceedings of 106 days. Little was then solved, but Waddell's good relations and understanding helped to enshrine Banaban participation in independent Kiribati (as the Gilbert Islands became in 1979).
It was typical of Nick Waddell that this year he initiated and generously supported an appeal for a scholarship at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in recognition of the debt owed by the colonial service to the peoples they served.
Alexander Nicol Anton Waddell, colonial administrator: born Eassie, Angus 8 November 1913; Cadet, British Solomon Islands Protectorate, Colonial Administrative Service 1937, District Officer 1938, District Commissioner 1945, Acting Resident Commissioner 1945; DSC 1944; joined Malayan Civil Service 1946; Principal Assistant Secretary, North Borneo 1947-52; Colonial Secretary, Gambia 1952-56; CMG 1955, KCMG 1959; Colonial Secretary, Sierra Leone 1956-58, Deputy Governor 1958-60; Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Sarawak 1960-63; UK Commissioner, British Phosphate Commissioners 1965-77; married 1949 Jean Masters; died Cirencester, Gloucestershire 14 June 1999.
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