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Departure, arrival and first impressions

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Esme Lancaster:
"We came to the land of money so the saying goes,
From the land of poverty, that was what we had supposed,
But soon our hearts with sorrow were filled as we wandered along each day,
Trying to find somewhere to live and to make our new abode."

[Poem by Esme Lancaster]

Saji Kaur: I think like any other peasant society where there were limited jobs in India and there was always the hope of that the grass is greener on the other side and there was a tremendous amount of immigrants who moved out of India during the World War. So I suppose my parents came to Malaya hoping that things would be better. So it was during the time of the Second World War that my father and my mother took the boat to the ship and sailed across to Malaya and the moment, the week that they came to Malaya, the Japanese landed. So they were more or less stuck into the mining village and living through the war times and again like the grass wasn't greener on the other side. And then as things didn't work out economically for him he thought the best thing for him to do was to leave Malaya and move on to England and this was in the 1960s. Again, that in Britain the streets were paved with gold concept that things might improve. So he came over here in 1962 and I must have been about nine years old, and the whole ambition of his was that maybe if we got to England he'll save enough money for the whole family to go across.

Nurul Hoque: Well, you know the local market, when you go to the market, people talk about go to England, have a good earning, you can live prosperously and so on. So I pick it up from the market, This is the bad period when my father had died. This is the only time I suffer a bit financially because every three years, one after another had flood, insect, Have a little income to survive but hardly to pay anything to servant, hardly to buy anything, you know, you cannot sell anything except your land. Therefore I had to sell about 24 Cader of land to survive you know, keep everything going [3.5 Cader is around 1 acre]. If you go to England you can have a job, you have a good earning, so you can live prosperously. Also you can look after your family and so on. That's all I know, I had to sell some land and some bamboo plant to buy the ticket.

Carlton Duncan: At the time it was a craze, you know, that the place to be was England, "the Mother Country" and the streets were paved with gold. Everything was right about coming to England. We're talking roughly about round the early, what, 1955 in fact, they travelled to England and the then Labour Government full-employment policy and the shortage of unskilled labour, there was a very heavy demand for people to do unskilled jobs in Great Britain. In fact the invitation came from "the Mother Country" to the various West Indian Islands, appealing for people to come along to this country and do what essentially were jobs that the local people, the national people would not do, and that is what really explain the great influx of what used to be called West Indians then, from the various islands, Jamaica, and Barbados and Trinidad in particular. I was then despatched to stay with relatives in Frankfield, Clarendon, which was quite the fashion for people emigrating to this part of the world to actually leave their younger ones with other relatives, aunties, grandparents, sisters, brothers.

Sakiina Haaruun: It was an exciting time of my life, basically, you know as a child and there was this thing about you know if you have somebody in England. And there was something about getting a letter from England because you could always look forward to probably getting a parcel that had some clothes that you could then say it came from England.

Zahoor Ahmed: When I used to live with my grannie in India the money order used to come from Birmingham in the 1940s. So you can see that even then we know the address, Bath Row, Birmingham, was from here. The money order used to come.

Carlton Duncan: The letter came from England, from my parents, father, mother and step-father saying, "Look, you come to England, the place is riddled with teacher-training colleges, riddled with universities, you gonna have it so much easier getting into one of these places." And of course the lure, the attraction of the foreign land and travel and the fact that my ambition would be enhanced and more easily obtained and so forth. A young person, just nineteen plus at the time, I jumped at it. But what a disappointment, It really was a major disappointment.

Esme Lancaster: Well I left the place I was teaching, it was a Friday morning and I cried a lot before that. But that day I didn't and when we got into the line, when the plane came and I asked Mary, the stewardess, to take my passport, one of the immigrations officer came up to me and said, "Let me have that passport." And he looked at the air stewardess and says, "Stewardess, excuse me a bit, I just have to talk to her," and he said, "What are you going to England to do?" I said, "Well I am going to develop my studies." He said, "That's three loads of children out there crying after you and if you were going to England just to work," he said, "I wouldn't let you go because those children needed you," he said, "but since that what you going for," he said, "OK go on, because if you're going to England to work you would never make it in England."

Ryland Campbell: So we were like cattles actually and we stopped in France and we were to board a train not knowing that your luggage would follow you. Some people get excited when they couldn't get their hand luggage and then I understood down the line that a French man hit one of us and it's like it was gonna be a fight or something because no black man take that sort of thing you see and then he just rest his hand on his gun and so everybody else backed off. That was another like lesson number two, you know, try and understand before it.

So when I went in the boat again, our language, you can hear it is a sort of mixture of all sort of region and if you didn't know correct words to enunciate you would be just like a babbling nothing. And so I understood a little bit of French because I was at this place when they were talking about "Monsieur" or "Mademoiselle" or something like that and "pardon-nous" and all that sort of thing. So when I sort of get to the boat and I wanted something now, I go up and say, "Pardon nous Monsieur?" and the Frenchman say, "Monsieur?" I say, "Biscuit, Coca-cola, drink" and the man say, "Yes, Monsieur" and so I jumped the queue. And I thought that was music because it played back the sounds, the sounds is relevant and it will be pronounced and understood and so then for England, it's "please", "thank you", and if you know those things and be humble with them they can get you around.

Ranjit Sondhi: I was a mere sixteen years old when I first came and do you know I had never travelled on my own until the point when I was put into a Jumbo Jet and sent through the skies into a new country altogether and do you know I didn't feel at all apprehensive about this. I jumped into that plane and landed in England and I felt as almost as if I had come to a country I had known all my life, until I met the immigration officer who appeared rather cold and distant and a bit suspicious, until I showed him my letters and so on and then he waved me through.

Nurul Hoque: I was a bit worried when I landed in case I did not meet my relations, could not find a place to live and so on but when I meet that Pakistani person and he seen - he went towards me saying, "Where are you coming from?" I said, "Sylhet, Pakistan" and [he] asked me which village I come from. He asked me my father's name and say, "Where are you going?" I say, "I don't know, I have a relation living in Birmingham, do you know him?" He say, "Yes" and [I] say, "Would you kindly take me to him, I have no English currency", and he say, "Don't worry about it, I will pay your train fare, taxi fare and take you to your relation", and so he did.

Avtar Singh Jouhl: And so I boarded KLM and stop over in Amsterdam and then I arrived in London, Heathrow Airport, and when we came off there was nobody to receive me because my flight was arranged at the eleventh hour and then couldn't communicate with my brother here. In those days no telephones direct [laughs], it used to be only telegrams but I said to my uncle, "We should give the telegram," he said, "It's alright, you got London address, you go there and then from there you send the telegram to your brother and they will come and take you away." So I arrived and I met at the airport by two Indians and they used to go to the airport, taking their car and getting passenger. I remember they said, "Hello boy", and also they said, "You look from college, from India." I said, "Yes" in Panjabi and then they asked, "Where you going?" I said, "Well I'm going to London but my brother lives in Birmingham, Smethwick." And they asked what's the name of my brother, and I said, "My brother's name Gashi, he live in Smethwick." They said, "Oh yeah we know him, we know him, we work with him, don't worry, we will take you there." But my uncle warned me he said, "Don't go with anybody", and what happened, "They will say they charge you £5, when they go there they will say we want £10," and in those days £10 lot of money. And they said, "Don't worry boy we will take you." Twenty-year-old young person! And they said, "We know your brother, we know Gashi and we take you." I said, "No" and then they said, where I'm going in London?' I said, "I'm going to Jasvir Singh Sanghera," and they said, "Oh, then you alright" [laughs], because they knew that person as well.

Ryland Campbell: That's it and so we came and at twilight and then one of the next thing that really hit me is some loud-mouth West Indian, who think he knew and we were newcomers, "£1, all night, ten shilling stand up." So what is he on about? So he's saying, oh he's talking about girls. In other words he was hustler, he would know where to take you as newcomers to go and get girls. But the next thing is I saw this white man, dirty coat and all that and he was diving and picking up dog-ends off the streets and I thought wow!

Esme Lancaster: Well I was surprised when I came to England, first because comparing it to our houses in Jamaica, we thought that every house that we looked at were factories because we didn't have to have chimneys because of the tropical country, but when we came and saw that ... The next thing again, was I came in winter, just early in December when the trees were bare and I was saying to them, "Why do they keep so much dry trees around?" I didn't know that the winter, the leaves had gone.

Sakiina Haaruun: The day I arrived in this country I never did like it, it was cold, it was damp, it was mouldy, it was wet, it was funny, I remember having to go to town with my mother and somebody else to buy a coat.

Zahoor Ahmed: I was quite surprised to find the place was very cold, even in May, and I found people liked to keep indoors most of the time.

Badrun Nesa Pasha: When ! came to this country my goodness, it was in October, so cold. I had my overcoat because we don't usually put overcoat on in Bangladesh and I didn't have that shoes because we wear sandals type, sandal shoes, so those type of sandals, but I did have lots of socks on.

Frank Scantlebury: I think it was just a few days before Christmas. Of course it was very cold at the time. We were having severe frosts during the night and so on, it was very cold. Still I hadn't seen snow, only the frost on the pavements and on the roof-tops and so on. And I remember hearing a knock on my door on the Sunday morning and I answered the door and the landlady said to me, "Frank, come and have a good look at the snow, it's here at last, you can see what it's like." And I was amazed when I went and looked through the window, her garden was covered with the snow, it looked just like a beautiful white carpet. And, as you know, the city of Bath is surrounded by hills, I could look on the slopes of the hills and see it. It was so beautiful, it was breathtaking, quite an experience and I rushed outside and I took a handful of it and made a ball with it, you know, and I thought what a thrilling experience this is. At last I've seen snow and I was just like a ten-year-old boy really all excited about it.

Sakiina Haaruun: I just didn't like it. I remember the first experience I had using a toilet in this country and I sat down on this toilet seat and it was so cold I jumped up [laughs].