Saturday, 8 December 2012

Back in touch – thanks to Google

Today I want to explain how my blog has, quite unusually, managed to reunite two people who were last in touch with each other some 50 years ago.

I’ve recently had an email from a lovely lady who noticed the image used in a blog posted a couple of years ago, entitled “Woven into the stuff of other men’s lives.” The image was of an inscription which appears on a bench in Addison’s Walk, Magdalen College, Oxford. The bench was donated to the college to commemorate Sir Humphrey Slade (1905 – 1983), a former student at the College who subsequently served as the first Speaker of the Kenyan National Assembly.

This lady explained that her 83 year old father, in Kenya was writing his autobiography, and was looking for an illustration or picture of sorts of Sir Humphrey Slade, who once served as a specially elected member of the Naivasha Settlers’ Association in the Rift Valley in Kenya: “I came across the shot of the commemorative bench at Magdalen, and wondered if I could possibly use it acknowledging of course yourself and your blog.”

I replied as soon as I could to the effect that of course, I was happy for her father to use the image in any way she wanted. I also explained at a very good friend of mine was Sir Humphrey’s son, and I asked if she would she like me to make the relevant introductions.

And fancy that – it turns out that her father also remembers my friend.

She then explained a little more about how Sir Humphrey, who features twice in her father's book, had been woven into her life.

The first mention relates to an incident s after Sir Humphrey and her grandparents had all arrived in Kenya, which was that time a British colony. Sir Humphrey had travelled from the UK. The lady’s grandmother was French, while her grandfather was Italian. As neighbours and fellow farmers, they were members of the Naivasha Settlers’ Association in the Rift Valley.

Their different nationalities were the cause of the second incident – because of the advent of the Second World War, where French and Italian citizens found themselves on different sides of the conflict as it affected people living in Kenya: “Sir Humphrey Slade was my grandmother’s lawyer from about 1940 throughout the war. As a very kind young lawyer he helped (pro bono) my grandmother when her husband became a POW and was locked up first in Kabete (Kenya) and then in Koffiefontein (South Africa).

Her grandfather did not enjoy his experience in captivity: “It was a very difficult time in their lives, my father born in 1930 was about 10 – 14 years old at this time and became the head of the family.”

But it got worse. The English wanted to seize all her grandmother’s assets as well, until she proved that she was still a French national. Sir Humphrey helped to save all their assets, including the farm in Naivasha, and had her identified as belonging to an allied country as opposed to an enemy alien one, by virtue of her passport and citizenship, despite the fact that she was married to an Italian Prisoner of War.

What a great achievement that was.

It is quite touching to realise that the internet can help get people together again, even when they have not been in touch for decades. Were it not for the internet, and for the search engines that index it, this lady would probably never have noticed my blog, and so might well have missed the opportunity to reconnect her father with a long-lost neighbour.

So today’s plea is a simple one. Before our regulators throw yet another fit about the influence that Google has over our lives, may I just remind them that it does manage to achieve a great deal of good, too.