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British Ugandan Asians at 50

Highlighting the experience of British Ugandan Asians in and after 1972, and the many volunteers who helped them.

Mayur Seta

Stradishall Camp

Interviewers:  Tom Hearn, Mia Huckstep, Josh Slay (Stoke College) and BUA50 team

Place:  Wickhambrook Parish Church, Wickhambrook, Suffolk

Date:  20th April, 2022

Mayur Seta, now an accountant, recalls the process and feelings he experienced as a child fleeing Uganda. He speaks about life at Stradishall camp, particularly the food as his mother was ‘head chef’, and the joy of being given toys at Christmas. He remembers being injured as a child in Uganda, and expresses a desire to go back. He also emphasizes thanks and gratitude to the volunteers at Stradishall, those that made them welcome, Prime Minister Edward Heath and Peterborough City Council. He speaks about the importance of recording this for future generations.

Transcript

Leaving Uganda

0:45 I was seven and half years old. I heard my parents talk about it on that day – 4th of August 1972. Mum was really crying and everything. We had lot of phone calls, there was panic, there was you know, yeah it was just horrible, you know. We had ninety days to leave the country.

1:01 As soon as the announcement happened, they started lining up at the immigration,  wherever it was, and getting all the papers and stamped everything, getting the tickets ready. We got to the airport and my aunt, my masi, she erm, her daughter was probably four at the time, and she had a teddy bear, and then what happened was, the army guy, the soldier tried to take the teddy bear off her, and what my aunt done was to pinch her really hard [gestures pinching his arm] and she started, yeah, she just screamed. So obviously the soldier said, goes, ‘Wh-, wh-, oh, what happened?’ She goes, sorry you have just taken her teddy bear away. You can’t do that. So he gave it back to her. And in there she had put all her jewellery [laughs]. And she got that out of the country that way. So you can see lot of the stuff – they were checking everything. So, we only had the clothes we were wearing and a few bits, you know, to take out of the country.

 

Arrival in Britain

2:01 I was really excited, because I was on an aeroplane, you know. And I forgot everything about the fact, that we were leaving the country, everything. I was just excited that we were flying. First time in my life, you know, that I flew. So the whole family, obviously we got on to the plane. Everybody was, you know, praying in God’s name. And as soon as the plane lifted off, everybody started cheering, you know, because we were safe, we were out of the country. Landed in Stansted, just, I think it was early October 1972, er went through customs. Then we were taken to a room where we were given tea and biscuits and then once we had that, we were taken to another room where they gave us er – it was like all the jackets, and jumpers, everything, shoes, everything that you know, we could take something because it was very cold and everything. So you know, we could take a jumper and whatever it was and coats and everything else. We were all given that and then we were all put on a bus and we were taken to the camp here, locally, Stradishall.

 

Stradishall Camp

3:05 We came late at night. I remember we went straight into a big hall. I think that’s where we were put the first night, because I’m sure the other place, think in the other place, the people were sleeping and everything. So they put us in this big hall. I think we slept there on mattresses or whatever it was. So that was our first night and then I think, next day, we were put into houses, you know, in different areas.

3:28 So, what happened was, in the morning, we went to the canteen – the morning after we landed. We went to the canteen and obviously, you know, there was cornflakes, Weetabix and all the normal breakfast, fantastic. We all had that. In the evening, we had, we went to the canteen and there was food there which was, you know, we thought, ‘What is this?’ It’s all meat and everything, you know, chicken and pork – whatever it was. It was alien to us. And there was no way that-, a lot of us wouldn’t eat that, you know, especially the elder lot, would not eat that. And obviously we had the mashed potatoes, beans and everything. And then a day later my mum and a group of ladies approached the manager, say look, ‘We won’t be able to eat this food. Is there any chance we can make our Indian food?’ And he said, ‘Yes, that’s no problem. If you tell me what you need, you know, we’ll get everything.’ So my mum and two ladies, they went to Cambridge to a local Indian shop and bought all the herbs and spices that needed to make all the food. They got six women, my mum got six women who cut all the potatoes, all the other stuff that needed to make the food. My mum was the, the person in charge. She’ll make the main, the masala and everything to mix in the potatoes and all that. She made all that and the ladies would you know, cook it and everything. So within two days, we were having an Indian meal everyday. It was fantastic.

5:00 So there was mum and dad and five brothers, including myself. So seven of us. We had a house, on the camp site. It was comfortable, it was really comft-, you know. We had the kitchen, the dining area, the bedrooms. It was quite nice. I think there was a sofa, you know in the kitchen it had everything, you know – all the toaster, kettle, and all that, and you know, all the beds and everything. It was a small, little, you know [nodding to self], it was nice, it was comfortable for us anyway. And I had some cousins, not friends, cousins, who were in the same camp as us. We used to play around with them. Uncles, aunts and all that.

5:40 I remember Roger now, the Headmaster. I remember going there, you know, learning maths and English mostly but yeah, I used to go there everyday. And I think the best bit for me and my brother was, we finished school, at 3 o’clock. All the kids went back to their houses. We came back to the canteen. That’s where my mum was and she would sit us in the corner and we had the whole- everything for the evening, all the deserts, the cakes, everything was on display. We could have anything we want. So me and brother used to eat all that. It was fantastic! Every day that was. You know it was the highlight –  3 o’clock [laughs], fantastic! I forgot everything about what happened in Uganda; you know, going to the canteen everyday, looking and eating the food there – the chocolates, the biscuits, cakes, you know, all that, took that all away. So, I thought I had a fantastic time, especially with my mum being the head chef. So it was great.

 

Memories at the Camp

6:37 One of my founding memories was, it was Christmas time. They called a Father Christmas in and we all went to the main hall, which I think was the school, the class room. And we all got there and they brought these big black dustbin bags with toys in there. And ee had one bag each. All the toys were brand new. It was absolutely amazing. I was seven and half at that time. I thought, ‘Wow! This is fantastic.’ All the kids, we all got one bag each. There were toys galore in there. And, you know I played with that for months and months. I loved it, it was fantastic! Ah, I’ll never forget that.

7:11 I remember all the volunteers. You know, I mean, a lot-, there was a lot of organisations that came out to help us. There was so much happening, and one of the things that happened was, I think, it was every two weeks on a Saturday, Sunday – the public would come, would drive into the camp and we would all line up and we’ll get into their cars. So it would be the guy, you know, the owner of the car, and the four of us would get into the car, and then we’ll go to their house to spend the day there. They’ll feed us and everything and you know sometimes they even gave us money and everything, you know to my mum and dad, and they just looked after us for the day. One couple we got to know was John and Kathleen. When they first came to the camp, you know, we just happened to get into their car and we’ve known them for thirty years until they passed away. So we kept in touch with them for over thirty years, you know.

They came to the weddings, all the weddings we had, you know, all the brothers got married, they came to the weddings and they were like family to us and a fantastic couple, really really good. So we kept in touch with them. Unfortunately now they’ve passed away.

 

Moving to Peterborough

8:18 We arrived probably early October, and obviously the camp closed around the 16th of March. That’s when all the last people left. Then we went to another camp. It wasn’t far from here. So we were moved there after we finished, after this place closed down, and then what happened was, erm, Charles Swift who was the leader of Peterborough City Council, he visited Stradishall and the other camp and he invited fifty families to come and settle in Peterborough. So, you know, he wanted us to come there. As soon as he announced that fifty families were coming to Peterborough, he got a lot of hate mail, people outside his house, he had to be taken to work everyday with police protection. Yeah, he had lot of problems because he invited the Asians there and also obviously, locally, the locals were also, in you know, in this area, who were also, you know thinking, ‘What’s going to happen because if these Asians live in this area, then lots of the jobs will go.’ But obviously the local Council at the time said, ‘Look, they’re just here for six months or so, and they’ll move to different cities. They are not going to live in this area, they’ll find jobs somewhere else, so don’t worry about it.’ So the panic was, you know, taken away from the locals.

9:42 So, but Peterborough City Council, yeah so, they took us on. We got there and they gave us a house.  I remember, going shopping, they gave us £50 which was quite a lot in them days, back in 1973. My mum and dad bought all the food, lots of it and we had a house and everything. And my dad got a job already, locally, working for Baker Perkins in Peterborough. And my dad became like ambassador to all the Ugandan Asians, ‘Please come to Peterborough. Come and live here. It’s a great city.’ I would get up in the morning, at my house and there’d be people sleeping in our- in the lounge, and I’ve never seen them in my life and my dad’s asked them, come over from wherever they were, in a camp. ‘Look I will settle you somewhere in Peterborough.’ And my dad helped all of them to settle, a lot of them in Peterborough. So, obviously my mum and dad had a big impact on the Ugandan Asians, you know. Still to this day, a lot of women tell my mum, thank you for cooking the meals, we remember that because otherwise we just had mashed potatoes and beans every day!

10:53 Like I said, Peterborough City Council wanted us to come there. If you look at Leicester, they said,’Please don’t come here.’ Peterborough wanted us to go there. My family is still there. I moved out in 1993 and I went to Leicester, but my family’s still there. Yeah, it’s great. You know, they love it. Lot of Ugandan Asians are still there.

11:20 When I went to Peterborough, the first area I went to was all Asians – Pakistani and Indian, just full of Asians, not any white people in that area at all. The school I went to had all Indian and Pakistani kids and after one and half years, I moved to the city centre area and moved to a school where there was all ninety-nine percent English. I went to the school and the headmaster, first thing he done, told all the students – he was a fantastic guy, Mr Swinson – he told all the-, all the students that if he finds any racism from anybody, they’ll be chucked out of the school and we never faced any racism in that school. It was fantastic, it was due to that headmaster of the school.

 

A Ugandan memory

12:08 I was going to go [to Uganda] two years ago in 2020, when the Covid hit us. So, I always want to go back. I want to go back to the place where I was born. I really want to see that. I will go, I really really want to go, because I remember a lot of it. And, one of the things that happened to me in Uganda when I was little: all my friends came round to say, ‘Shall we go and play?’ and I couldn’t find my shoes and I told my mum,’Where’s my shoes?’ and she was eating. She said, ‘I will give them to you once I have eaten.’ I couldn’t wait, so I just went without my shoes, in bare feet. I was running across this land and suddenly I felt something whoosh…there was blood everywhere and they took me home and there was blood just all the way. Got home. Mum and dad were really worried and they looked on my feet and my middle toe has been chopped off [laughs]. So they traced the toe back all the way to where it was, they found it. So, I’m hoping it’s still there somewhere in that glass jar in the place where I used to live [laughs]. So yeah I’d love to go there one day.

 

Reflection

13:15 I am an accountant, basically. And all my friends who came from Uganda, most of us are in you know, some of them are doctors, pharmacists, dentists, all sorts, you know, they’ve gone into all sorts of trade. When I look at the stats,  you know, there was just over 28,000 people who came over, I reckon half of them have passed away now, probably more than that; and then, and then, from that fourteen- twelve-, 14,000 that’s left, erm, I think a lot of them were young – probably six or seven.  So you haven’t got that many people who remember what happened in Uganda, but from that eight to 10,000 who are left, like my mum, I asked her about some of the stuff, you know, what happened at the camp. And she goes, ‘I forgot- I have forgotten everything.’ So you know that’s gone. So it’s people like me, my brothers who remember what happened, but you know in the next fifty years none of us will be here and all this [BUA50] is fantastic to have, so that… remember, I’m a second generation. My kids are third generation. It’s the fourth, fifth, sixth, all them generations one day, will have to, you know, will go to one of the museums and see this, and say ‘Oh hang on’,  that was my great great grandad. He was part of that, Ugandan Asian. So keep the heritage forever. So it’s a fantastic project what you are doing.

On behalf of all the Ugandan Asians who came here, I’d just like to you know, thank Edward Heath, who was the Prime Minister at the time, that was Conservative party, and everybody in this- at the Stradishall camp, all the volunteers, the headmaster – everybody that looked after us and then Peterborough City Council, especially Charles Swift – all of them, we are really grateful for them. And, I know in a million years we won’t be able to repay the British public. What they done for us is amazing, you know and we will always remember that for the rest of our lives because it was fantastic, what they done for us.

 

Last modified: 28th Nov 2022

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