About the author
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The Last Bature (pronounced Batuuree) By Kenneth C Ryeland is a policeman’s story set in Nibana, an imaginary West African state, shortly after gaining its independence from the British in 1962. What begins as a straightforward investigation by the last British policeman in the Northern Region and an African police inspector, quickly turns to intrigue when the intelligence services of the superpowers vie with each other to secure a breakthrough in weapons technology. Combine this with the machinations of an irrational regional military governor hell-bent on overthrowing his brother, the head of state, and the basis for an exciting story emerges. With the cold war as a backdrop and a second coup imminent, the action moves quickly from the heat of the Omdu Hills, through the stench of the Laguna slums to the waters of the Bight of Laguna, giving the reader an insight into the grubby world of espionage and life in West Africa during the turbulent sixties.
The Law’s the Law
The day had been very hot and Mike Stevens was pleased he was now off duty and could enjoy his first cold beer of the evening at the Kabala Club bar. The car park was full, as usual, and as he parked his black three-litre Rover saloon, Mike noticed that the manager of the Nibanan Motor Company had once again come to the club in a new and unregistered Land-Rover fitted with trade plates. Mike had warned the manager about the misuse of trade plates on previous occasions, but clearly his warnings had been ignored yet again.
“That’s it,” said Mike to himself. “He’ll be getting a ticket this time. I’m sick of telling the bloody man.”
The Nibanan doorman saluted smartly as the white man walked through the main entrance to the club and Mike acknowledged the salute with a slight wave of his swagger stick.
“Are you well, Baba?” (This is generally taken to mean father, but can also be used as a term of endearment when addressing an elder of the tribe.) said Mike as he stopped to read one of the notices pinned to a board on the wall behind where the old doorman was sitting.
“Yesa, I am very well, sa. I hope master is well,” replied the doorman, smiling broadly at the white man.
“I am very well, thank you, Baba. Especially now that I’m off duty,” quipped Mike.
“You go catch plenty big palaver job, sa,” retorted the doorman as Mike walked away from the entrance hall into the main lounge and bar area.
It was not often that Mike Stevens attended the club in his police uniform, but he felt the need from time to time. It was necessary to remind the expatriates who gathered there that he was a policeman and would behave like a policeman, even if he had to deal with his friends and fellow expatriates in the course of his duty.
Several Europeans turned and greeted Mike as he strolled across the lounge towards the bar, where the steward welcomed him with a smile and said, “A cold beer, sir?”
Mike nodded and the steward made his way into the back room to select a cold beer from the large bottle cooler.
“I’ll get that for you, Mike,” said a young white man approaching from the other end of the bar.
“Come on, Neville, you know my rules. I’ll pay for my own beer, thank you.” said Mike, in a friendly voice.
“You coppers and your rules; what does it matter if I buy you a beer? No one is going to think I’m trying to bribe you, Mike,” said the young white man, flippantly.
“No, but I like to keep my business dealings and my private life separate, it’s easier that way,” said Mike as he touched the bottle to check that it was cold before nodding to the steward that he may begin to pour the beer into a pint glass.
“Business dealings?” queried the young white man, with something of a sneer. “Who are you going to arrest at the Kabala Club, the bloody gardener, one of the stewards or the doorman?”
Mike ignored Neville’s poor attempt at sarcastic humour and said, “No, but I shall be arresting you if you don’t stop using your bloody trade plates illegally,” in a tone that did not give any room for misinterpretation.
“Bloody hell, Mike, it is Christmas you know and in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a bloody white man,” said Neville, somewhat taken aback.
“It’s not Christmas, Neville, it’s the 19th of January 1964, and I don’t care what colour you are; I will not have trade plates used for anything other than business activities. It’s difficult enough stopping the Nibanans from abusing the law, without having to worry about people like you, Neville. When you’ve been in this country a bit longer, you’ll realise how important it is for us whites to obey the law to the letter. This is the third time I’ve warned you, so I shall be issuing you with a fine of two pounds in the morning. It’s your own fault, Neville. You should use your own car, though I suspect you’re saving on petrol by using unregistered company Land-Rovers, not so?”
Neville did not answer immediately; instead, he called to the steward and ordered himself another beer. He then turned to Mike and said, “I suppose you’re right, Mike. I’m sorry, it won’t happen again. Here’s your two quid; send me an official receipt in the post.”
Mike looked at the proffered pound notes for a moment or two and said, “Thanks, Neville, you know it’s for the best in the end. We have to show the Nibanans there’s no favouritism; otherwise, the place would be ungovernable. Now let me give you some advice regarding those pound notes in your hand. I would be much obliged if you would put them back in your wallet. What do you think it looks like to the other members and especially the club stewards, Neville? Use your head for God’s sake. Wait for the fine notification to arrive in the post and then pay the two pounds to the Native Authority treasurer at the Town Hall, and be sure to get a receipt. That’s the proper procedure, OK?”
“OK,” said Neville despondently, placing the banknotes back in his wallet.
As Neville Watson walked away from the bar with the fresh bottle of beer the steward had just brought to him, leaving Mike Stevens standing there alone, he muttered quietly to himself, “Bloody coppers, they’re all the same.”
The bar steward, having now moved further along the bar to the small sink to wash some of the dirty beer glasses, smiled wryly to himself. He had witnessed many similar exchanges between the white policeman and other expatriates before, and he was pleased that the white policeman behaved in this way. It demonstrated impartiality, a very important attribute for a policeman in Nibana. It was the reason that this particular white man commanded respect from most of the Nibanans in Kabala: he was not corrupt and he was scrupulously fair. It was exactly what the majority of ordinary Nibanans wanted from their policemen and soldiers, but the evils of tribalism and nepotism had always intervened, making life very difficult and sometimes very dangerous for millions of Nibana’s people.
SDPO Mike Stevens
Mike Stevens had been a policeman for most of his adult life. Born in Birmingham in 1922, he left school at the age of fourteen and busied himself with various dead-end jobs before coming to his senses some twelve months later. To his father’s great relief, Mike eventually found himself a good job at the Birmingham Small Arms company (BSA) as an apprentice toolmaker and he started work immediately at their factory on the corner of Golden Hillock Road and Armoury Road in the Small Heath district of the city.
When Mike joined the company in 1937, the world was carefully watching the antics of a certain chancellor in Germany. Despite the British prime minister of the day, Neville Chamberlain – ironically a former director of BSA – pursuing a policy of appeasement towards the Nazis, the company wisely turned much of its motorcycle production facilities over to the manufacture of Bren guns, Lee-Enfield rifles and the formidable Browning 0.303-calibre machine guns fitted to Spitfires and Hurricanes. When war eventually came, the company was in the happy position of being able to meet government orders to supply the various aircraft factories with machine guns and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) with Bren guns, rifles and motorcycles.
Mike Stevens’ existence thus far had been largely happy, if not a little dull. He enjoyed serving his apprenticeship at the BSA and was well on his way to becoming a skilled toolmaker. However, his life soon spiced up when Adolf Hitler inadvertently changed Mike’s future forever by sending the Wehrmacht to invade Poland. Anxious to do his bit for Britain and hoping to experience some excitement, Mike, with the blessing of his employer who promised to keep his job open, joined the Second Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment on the Monday following the declaration of war on Sunday the 3rd of September 1939. The recruiting sergeant had studiously ignored the fact that he was a few months short of his eighteenth birthday, and Mike, full of excitement, began his basic training immediately.
His Battalion, equipped with Brens and Lee-Enfields manufactured by BSA, utilising machine tools that Mike had probably made, soon embarked for France with the BEF. After a relatively uneventful period on the Franco-Belgian border – often referred to as the ‘Phoney War’, though it certainly was not phoney as far as the Royal Navy was concerned – things began to fall apart. The entire BEF had no choice but to retreat to the sea at Dunkirk when faced with overwhelming firepower from the German armoured divisions as they rolled relentlessly through Western Europe towards the Channel ports.
Mike’s Battalion was involved in the costly rearguard action at Dunkirk during the first three days of June 1940, but despite all the odds, he was one of the lucky 338,226 British and Allied officers and men evacuated from the stricken port. Mike’s escape on the last ship to leave before the Waffen SS stormed the town was, in his estimation, nothing short of a miracle.
After a period of rest, re-training, re-equipping and re-deployment in the UK, Mike’s Battalion eventually saw serious action when they landed at Sword Beach on the morning of the 6th of June 1944.
Having fought their way off the beaches, the Battalion faced fierce opposition at Caen, taking many casualties. Later, after further heavy fighting in Belgium and Holland, Sergeant Mike Stevens, along with Field Marshal Montgomery’s 21st Army Group, crossed the River Rhine into Germany in March 1945. At the time, Mike was just twenty-three years old and he had seen more than his fair share of trouble in the last six years.
Though the war in Europe ended in May 1945, Japan fought stubbornly on until August. However, twelve months after the final victory celebrations, Mike received his demob papers and made his way home. Within weeks, he had rejected his old job with BSA, married the girl next door – almost, she actually lived several streets away – and joined the Birmingham City Police Force as an ordinary constable, learning his trade the hard way by pounding the beat around the bombed-out streets and slums of Aston and Nechells.
Seven years later, having been a police sergeant for five of those years, Mike became disillusioned with the direction of modern policing in Britain and, in a moment of frustration, he applied for a police inspector’s job in the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong. No one was more surprised than Mike, or his wife, when the Crown Agents granted him an interview in London. He acquitted himself well and the interviewing officer invited him to take a written test. Four weeks later, he received a letter confirming his appointment as an inspector.
Five years later, having attained the rank of superintendent in the Hong Kong Police, (It did not become the Royal Hong Kong Police until 1969, when Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the title and Princess Alexandra became the commander-general of both the regular and auxiliary forces.) Mike Stevens applied for a senior police post in the West African Colony of Nibana. Though he had enjoyed his time in Hong Kong, having been instrumental in setting up the very successful Police Tactical Units to combat the criminality of the triads and the looting and rioting they inspired throughout the colony, Mike Stevens had become disheartened. Over recent years, the policing work had tended to concentrate on catching the endless stream of illegal immigrants and shipping them back to mainland China, from whence they came. Well aware of the reception they received on their return to the motherland, and what happened to them after that, Mike did not feel he could continue with such work, hence the submission to the Nibana Police Force.
Justifiably, Mike’s application was successful. The colonial administrators were desperate to recruit experienced officers, able to handle the increasing civil unrest that had gripped the colony recently.
In the early months of 1958, just four years prior to Nibana’s independence, Mike was assigned to Kabala where he occupied the position of district police officer – not the most dynamic of titles, but it was equivalent to a chief superintendent in the UK – with responsibility for the eastern sector of the massive Northern Region of Nibana.
Delineated by the Kuna/Laguna railway line as far as the River Enube, the river itself as far as the border with the Eastern Region, and the whole length of the border as far as Yula and the Omdu Hills in the east, Mike’s sector covered more than one-third of the country. (Approximately 120,000 square miles.)
Now, six years on, Mike, having attained the position of senior district police officer (Equivalent to an assistant chief constable in a large county force in the UK.) some three years ago, was well known and respected by the civilians in the major townships on his patch, and well liked by his officers and men.
He thoroughly enjoyed his job and always looked forward to his eighteen-month tours of duty, even though Nibana was now no longer a British Colony. Naturally, Mike and his wife also enjoyed their three months home leave in the UK, but they were always pleased to get back into their ‘colonial’ lifestyle.
When Mike initially joined the Nibana Police Force there had been quite a few senior British officers serving, but over the years many of them had left or retired and had not been replaced by other expatriates. Now, Mike was the last white policeman in the Northern Region. However, notwithstanding his solitary position and the occasional feeling of isolation, he still enjoyed his work and had an excellent professional relationship with his boss, the Northern Region police commissioner, who, quite naturally, was a Nibanan and a member of the Usmar tribe.
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