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News > Deaths & Obituaries > WALKER, Hugh Peter, MBE

WALKER, Hugh Peter, MBE

You are warmly welcomed to leave a message below, share your memories, and celebrate the life of Hugh Walker, who we sadly lost in 2020

WALKER, Hugh Peter, MBE

The following obituary was published by The Guardian on 19th October 2020

My uncle Hugh Walker, who has died aged 89, was a colonial administrator for the British in Kenya and Aden during the 1950s and 60s before switching to work for the BBC’s Somali Service and then moving to Hong Kong as a civil administrator.

Hugh’s life began badly: born in Eltham, south-east London, he was one of three unwanted children from a long affair between a nurse, Muriel Rogers, and a married man, Hubert King. A rich elderly spinster, Violet Walker, who lived in Wadhurst in Sussex, found Hugh in a children’s home in Wittersham in Kent, after which she adopted him and sent him as a boarder to Tonbridge school in Kent.

National Service from 1949 to 1951 was spent in the Somali Scouts regiment, where he learned to speak fluent Somali within two years. This led him into the colonial service and, after a year’s training for colonial officers at Oxford University, he was posted as an administrative officer in 1953 to British Kenya, where many Somalis lived.

Hugh Walker with a group of Maasai men during his stint as a colonial administrator in Kenya in the 1950s

There Hugh fell in love with the lifestyle of the Maasai people, and spent a lot of time photographing their rituals. He adopted a lion cub, got boils from riding camels and read the Riot Act in the country’s wild northern frontier land during a violent strike at a shoe factory. Rising to be a district commissioner he nonetheless came to disagree with a number of decisions taken by his superiors, including in relation to the Mau Mau rebellion and a decision to refuse self-determination for local Somalis prior to Kenyan independence.

Hugh always liked what he described as “wild and woolly” places, and so he was happy enough in 1964 to be posted from Kenya to the British protectorate of Aden (now part of Yemen), where an armed nationalist uprising was in full swing. There, as a political officer, he supplied favoured Yemeni tribes with guns, ammunition and silver Maria Theresa coins, a role that led to assassination threats against him.

Although Hugh had relished working in the colonial service, he became disillusioned with his work, and in 1967 decided to leave. Back in Britain he landed a job as language supervisor at the BBC’s Somali Service, becoming a producer and a programme organiser before promotion to be head of the service.

After seven years with the BBC he moved to Hong Kong to work for the Department of Trade Industry and Customs there, then as a clerk to the Hong Kong executive council. He ended up as civil secretary for the Fire Services Department and retired in 1992.

In 1982 a letter had arrived from a woman called Deirdre Curwen – my mother. She told him she was his sister, and that he also had another, Audrey. Deirdre had tracked down their mother, who revealed the story of their early upbringing. Hugh flew to Britain and we were able to meet and offer him the family love he had never known. My mother and aunt were with him at Buckingham Palace when he was appointed MBE.

In retirement Hugh lived in Sherborne in Dorset, where he married the artist Anne Moorse, whom he had first met in Aden, living a happy life with her extended family.

He is survived by Anne, by her two children from a previous marriage, Rowena and Charles, and by Audrey.

(SH 44-48)

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