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Special Collections

Personal lives of the British in the Sudan

British officials playing table tennis on the veranda of a house from the collection of P.P. Howell

Table tennis (P.P. Howell, SAD.59/6/)

Leisure pursuits were an important part of the British experience in the Sudan. Part of the appeal for recruits to the Political Services was the emphasis on recreational activity - not to mention the generous terms of leave on offer. Participation in sporting activities was encouraged amongst British officials - activities such as tennis, polo and big game hunting were popular throughout the Sudan. Cultural pursuits, such as amateur theatricals, were also widely popular, whilst British society was mirrored in the establishment of officials' clubs and common interest groups.


(Please click on the thumbnail images below to see the full image and any additional pages)

(W.N. Monteith, SAD.D1/191-193)

Extract from the diary of W.N. Monteith, recounting his arrival in the Sudan and his initial impressions, 29 August 1937

The level of comfort provided to Sudan Political Service officials was considerable, particularly in the larger towns and cities. As the vast majority of British officials were Oxford or Cambridge educated and from country families, more often than not the Sudan proved a home from home as officials found themselves mingling with colleagues from largely similar backgrounds.

(K.M.E. Wood, SAD.85/11)

Menu from a St Andrew's Dinner organised by the Khartoum Caledonian Society, 1947

British clubs and societies in the Sudan essentially mirrored the class distinctions and group identities of the homeland. Clubs were established based on rank, and common interest groups were set up for officials with shared backgrounds and pursuits, as is evident in the celebration of 'Scottishness' in this dinner menu.

(P.P. Howell, SAD.59/6)

Photograph of British officials playing a game of polo on donkeys using hockey sticks, ca. 1940

Sport was encouraged amongst British officials, in support of Lord Cromer's vision of a service of 'active young men, endowed with good health, high character and fair abilities...'.Tennis was the game of choice for many, whilst team sports such as cricket and polo were popular in areas with a higher concentration of British residents. Where the equipment or facilities were not available, improvisation was often the solution, as seen in this photograph.

(K.M.E. Wood, SAD.85/11)

Theatre programme for 'Goodness, how sad!', performed by the Khartoum Repertory Company, September 1947

 A number of amateur music and theatre groups staged regular performances for the benefit of their fellow officials. In this example, the Khartoum Repertory Company is advertising a performance of 'Goodness, how sad!', which had first appeared as a film in 1938.

(L.H. Gwynne, SAD.26/9)

Photograph of a children's party organised by Bishop Gwynne, ca. 1940

Social functions provided a means for officials to meet each other in an informal setting. One of the more popular events in the social calendar was the annual children's party organised by Bishop Gwynne. This was a family event, when children dressed up in fancy-dress costume.

(P.P. Howell, SAD.71/2/)

Extract from P.P. Howell's diary of a trip to Uganda and Nairobi, 1943

Whilst many chose to return home for leave, many unmarried officials or those whose families had accompanied them to the Sudan often used the generous leave offered by the Sudan Government to explore neighbouring countries. As demonstrated by this diary entry, sightseeing was often mixed with business.

(R.L. Hill, SAD.973/7/2-3)

Extract from a diary written by R.L. Hill criticising the amount spent by officials on alcohol, 1930

Certain 'leisure' activities, such as drinking alcohol, were not universally popular amongst all officials. In this diary extract the Sudan Railways official, R.L. Hill (who later became the founder of the Sudan Archive) complains of the profligacy of those British officials who chose to spend a 'tithe of their pay on drinks'.