British Ugandan Asians at 50
Highlighting the experience of British Ugandan Asians in and after 1972, and the many volunteers who helped them.
Interviewers: Paresh Solanki
Place: Curve Theatre, Leicester
Date: 18th June, 2022
Rob Waldron describes his time as a volunteer and the role of his father, Ronald Waldron, who worked at Heathfield Camp in Devon in 1972 to aid Ugandan Asians. Rob built a strong friendship with some Ugandan Asians and recalled his special friendship with Jay Chande. Other topics discussed include: food; trauma of dislocation; universal humanity; and reflecting on why such resettlement acts aren’t potentially being recreated in more recent instances of refugees coming from Ukraine and Afghanistan.
Involvement with the Heathfield camp
0:46 I remember the day my father was asked to help the Ugandan Asians at Honiton camp in Devon, because he was used to work with Asians and Indians during the period he was in India for five years, and he could speak fairly good Hindi as well. So they obviously thought was gonna to be actually quite helpful to get people to be able to establish themselves and to become relaxed into this new being in Honiton, or Devon, being in the UK and he had already started there.
I was nineteen then, so it was quite a few years ago as you can imagine, er working as an electrical engineer or training as an electrical engineer. And, over tea, Dad said, ‘Rob, would you mind giving me a hand?’ I said, as a ninteen year old, ‘How can I help you Dad?’ And he said, ‘Well as you know, I have just started working at the Honiton camp and helping the rehabilitation of Ugandan Asians’, which we had watched on the TV and everybody was watching on the TV. And I said, ‘How can I help?’ He said, ‘Well, there’s a lot of nineteen year old boys and girls at the camp that all of a sudden have had to uproot from Kampala, Uganda, and now they are sat in Devon, in Honiton, and the weather is not very nice. I just want you to be there, could you talk to the people and just be a friend, and just try and help them, learn about England and Honiton etcetera: what’s expected in colleges, education, and how things are different. Just make them feel at home.’ So I said, ‘Yeah, of course. That’s fine.’
I went there after work one evening, and Dad introduced me to three lads, one called Jay Chande – I used to know him as Jayprakash – and a lad called Ismail and another lad called Pinto. And they just introduced me to them and said, ‘Rob, Jay, get on you guys and have a chat over coffee’, and we used to eat there with them, chat about customs in England, and they told me stories of what they had had to put up with, and what they’ve had to come across over into the UK, and erm, we became firm friends. And, we are still are firm friends.
2:58 My father’s name was Ronald Waldron. He used to work for-, in the police station in Honiton and he was contacted by obviously government, or whoever, it was part of the Resettlement Board, asking him because they knew his background being in India. He was quite a distinguished gentleman, I’ll never forget his short cut moustache, very upright. Liked everything done absolutely spot-on. And during the war unfortunately he was-, he had a serious accident, he was blown up I should say, erm and he was rehabilitated back to the UK because of his injuries. My father used to tell me stories, a lot of stories about his time in India, and it is still on my tick list to go and visit, and to go back to where he was.
Impressions of the camp
3:34 When I first went to the camp, because obviously the camp used to be a military camp so I had been in it before, when it was used as a full military camp for different soldiers or whatever. Then I went there and there were all these Indian Asians there, and they looked lost. A lot did look lost, which is quite understandable isn’t it? Obviously they’d just been pulled-, wrenched out of their country, bang into a country which they didn’t know, er some struggled to understand the language, so you feel that you have to try and welcome them and make them feel wanted. Which is a lot of the volunteers, Bunty Charles who was part of the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service – a fantastic lady, I had known her for years – she was a big help in introducing and making them feel welcome. My father, again, because of his ability to understand the language and his past experiences. To make sure they were feeling welcome and they knew they were going to be looked after.
And I was the same: I just wanted to make them feel safe really, after the traumatic time they had gone through erm which was really – well you couldn’t think of something, how scary it could be. And Jay – Jayprakash, a friend of mine, used to tell me what he had before he left; and all of a sudden, I think it was fifty shillings or something like this, you were allowed to take with you in a suitcase, if they were lucky. And I think, you just think how could you experience that yourself? You put yourself in that picture: having to walk out of your house which was your family home, and then all of a sudden put on an aeroplane with nothing, and this is now going to be your new existence. It must have been so traumatic and stressful for people.
5:25 When the Ugandan Asians came to Honiton, obviously all of a sudden they’ve got a different culture they’re moving into, so which you had total, they had respect for that, we had respect for their culture. So it was again an indication for them to understand how we were and how we tick, so to speak, with us also asking them questions about their culture. So it was a learning curve both ways. My mum was a maternity nurse at Honiton Hospital and she actually helped with the delivery of one I think the first Ugandan babies that was in-, born in Honiton. Which was a fantastic experience. I think there was actually a clip in our local paper. This was the first new baby born in England which was rather sweet. It seemed to be a natural, normal thing to do, you know, some people come into the country erm haven’t a clue of what’s expected: to be there to help them when we can, no matter what country they come from. It’s part of the human race, it’s what you should be doing, you know, you help one another.
Friendship with Jay Chande
6:24 Jay and I, we talked for hours about his life in Kampala and how the changes were going to be for him. It’s so difficult, I suppose, to try and re-establish yourself, as I said earlier, to try and re-establish yourself and try to understand that way of thinking. Jay was lucky. He could speak very, very good English and most of the people I met could speak very good English, but there was, there was a percentage there that couldn’t, so obviously their first task in life was to be able to understand the British language. So again, people were helping them there to learn the language. The education people were actually quickly on the case.
Jay came to our house and he had an English roast. The first time ever, he had an English roast and he mentions it now: these green brussels sprouts and he said, ‘What are these?’And I said, ‘Well, they are like mini cabbages.’, you know, he says, ‘What are they? What do you do with them?’ [laughs]. But English food is, I think, everybody soon gets to enjoy and like we also enjoy the Indian food, because I was there a lot of evenings, a lot of weekends, and joined Jay because Jay was working in the kitchen at the time. So we used to enjoy the Indian food and eating it. So, we knew their customs and we loved their food [laughs]. I’ve always been partial to Indian food. I think I prefer it to English, but don’t tell my wife that one! [Laughs]
7:50 So Jay and I became firm friends. And, he started off doing an Engineering course in Tiverton, learning mechanics and how to rebuild engines because he was very enthusiastic about it. He used to drive the cars as well, and ride motorbikes, he soon loved being a petrolhead, a bit like myself. And we grew firm friends. He then moved from there and come back to Honiton to work. Which we met again and we worked in a club together in the evenings and weekends. Jay then went to work in a hotel local to us erm, and it was-, he became part of Honiton really for a while, and then he obviously moved away for his own new career. But he was a welcome face within Honiton and people knew him. He went to Weymouth, I think, started his first hotel there. And then er, we kept in contact briefly there because obviously Jay was very busy man building his hotel business up.
I’m not sure of the exact date, but he contacted me and said he was marrying an Indian lady called Bobby, and would I like me to come to his wedding. Which, I was thrilled absolutely – it was in Heathrow, I think it was, anyway – fantastic two days there. Then he came down to our house. My daughter then was eighteen, so Jay being godfather to my daughter, he thought it would be bit of a lovely surprise, so he came with his daughter and wife to our home. My daughter was then at college, so it was a big surprise for her, when she arrived, to see Jay. My goodness, you know, she hadn’t seen him for a while and all of a sudden he was here to celebrate with a bottle of champagne on her eighteenth birthday.
9:47 There was a bit of a gap then, because as you know, life changes, we get involved in your own families. So we didn’t contact for a while, erm, which was a bit of a shame, but we all were doing our own things, so which is totally understandable. And then, erm, it was on Facebook, I think. Initially I saw the celebration of the Ugandan Asians coming to this country fifty years ago, and I thought this is the time I need to make contact again. So that was a gap of twenty-six years, I think, that we hadn’t actually seen each other physically. Erm, and it was amazing. I’d put in, I think on a Ugandan website, I wrote, ‘Does anybody know a Jayprakash?’ I said, ‘He’s got a wife called Bobby. He had a daughter of about seven – who’s probably is now in her twenties – and he was at Honiton camp. Please, if you know him or know his details, let me know or give me a call.’ Within no time, in a matter of weeks, with this fantastic network that there is [laughs], I got a call, that said, ‘Yes, here’s Jay’s number.’ Fantastic. So, we immediately rung him up and said, ‘Hi Jay, its Rob.’ My goodness!
And we probably chatted for about an hour. We have obviously been speaking with each other on the phone quite a few times, and for hours, talking just reminiscing as everybody does, telling us about how our children have grown and done, what they’ve done in their lives. It was all so much information there, that we obviously had missed for a while, and it was great. Jay telling me about his family all married, and mine – I’ve still got a daughter at home, not found her a husband yet, hopefully will soon – and so it was fantastic just telling what we both have done with ourselves, and how well we have done with our lives, and now we are as I say, to our retirement and we can sit back and enjoy. We’ve been together now for fifty years [laughs] I suppose off and on.
11:50 As our lives evolved, we do things and just recently we’ve kept in contact again, due to this celebration of the fity year anniversary – and we felt, as we have both now retired, I’d put out that I needed to find Jay again, so it’s probably been twenty-five years since we actually saw each other. And my children were obviously quite small, Jay’s children were very small then. In fact, Jay who was at my wedding – he was my Best Man for my wedding – he was also godfather to my eldest daughter, so that’s how firm a friendship we became. And, erm and we are still in touch.
12.30 Jay Chande and Rob conversing whilst looking at the ‘British Ugandan Asians at 50’ exhibition:
Jay: They’ve all done well.
Rob: Its fantastic, absolutely fantastic. It shows what people can do when they put their mind to it.
Jay: Well, within three months from when we were in Honiton, everybody was put in a house, jobs, colleges, schools.
Rob: Yeah, yeah, it can be done. It’s so-, the Government back then were able to do it.
Jay: And it wasn’t the only camp.
Rob: No, there was camps all around the UK wasn’t there.
Jay: And they all did very well, very quickly.
Rob: Back then you had people offering their voluntary services to help those people to re-establish themselves in the UK. People like your age – it was easier because you’re learning all the time aren’t you.
Jay: A lot of us had to start from the beginning. Some of the families were broken up. Some were in different countries. Don’t think it’s all in the UK. Some stayed, some family didn’t have passports, only kids here, or parents, all that had to be, together.
Rob: Yeah, yeah. Well, can you imagine, if you think of yourself now, if you were in Kampala now, at our age, and all that you’ve got, and then all of a sudden, you have to leave everything and you are sixty, seventy years old now, and then, bang! Here you are in England.
Jay: I think we are fortunate. Not only that we made a lot of friends. In Honiton I was probably the only coloured chap. And, everybody seemed to know you, and everybody welcomed you. Whenever you went in the pub, they were offering you a drink.
Rob’s final reflection
14:00 I can’t understand, personally – how well we achieved a necessity, and brought Ugandan Asians from Kampala into the UK – and I think it went very well. It was a struggle, it was a difficult time for all, and we should use those memories of how well we did it. And I can’t understand why we can’t still do it, with the refugees with Ukraine and Afghanistan. We have done it once; we’ve seem shown we’ve done it; we’ve shown the world that we can do it. We should welcome all, personally. We are all here. We are Homo sapiens, we’re here, on this planet! You know, why can’t we just be together?
Last modified: 20th Nov 2022