In early 1972 the President of Uganda, Idi Amin, ordered the expulsion of the country’s Asian population – mostly Indians – giving them just 90 days to leave the country, uprooting tens of thousands of families from the country they had called home.

Following the expulsion around 27,000 Asians departed Uganda and arrived in Britain, in one of the largest dispersion operations since WWII, leaving many with nothing but the clothes they stood in and what they managed to pack in a bag before fleeing.

A former RAF base in Stradishall, Suffolk became a temporary refuge to many of these new arrivals all hoping to build a new life. One of those arrivals was local Bolton resident Mohindar Pancholi who tells us about his experience coming to the UK:

“I was born in Entebbe (Uganda). My parents came to Uganda from India (Dad in 1944 firstly to Kenya then Uganda and Mother came to Uganda in 1953). At the time we had to leave Uganda I came to the UK with my mother, sister, three brothers, two sister-in-law and their children.

The local airport was in our town, Entebbe, and when we arrived there were Ugandan army officials overseeing the operation. It was a very hostile environment, and some of those arriving from outside of Entebbe were beaten or robbed as they tried to get to the airport.

We arrived in the UK on 26 September 1972 – the day after my 16th birthday!

It was a completely strange experience. On arrival at Stanstead Airport we all had to have a medical and then all the arrivals were put on double-decker buses and taken to our accommodation.

Around 150 of us were taken to Stradishall camp in Suffolk. We arrived late in the evening and had to wait to be assigned our accommodation. Some families were given private bungalows, but we had a shared accommodation – what reminded me of a hospital ward. We would go for all of our meals in a canteen which was about 10 minutes’ walk away from our accommodation. I always remember that for Diwali a full vegetarian traditional Indian meal was brought in the canteen.

We came to the UK with just £52 and very little possessions – I had just the contents of a small suitcase. The WRVS (Women’s Royal Voluntary Service) and other societies were very helpful to us during this time as we adjusted to our new life in the UK – like providing second hand clothes. They also arranged for us to visit local families on a Sunday who would cook us our tea.

Shortly after arriving I got a job as a potato picker at a local farm. It was incredibly strenuous work, I would stagger home like I was drunk as I was so tired. We were given a bucket to pick the potatoes and put them in a one-cubic metre wooden box. I would earn 50p for every wooden box I filled with potatoes. On average I would bring home between £5-8 a week.

My sister had moved to the UK in 1970 and lived in Bolton, and after a few weeks of arriving here we had a visit from a friend in Bolton who said we would easily find work there.

On 4 November 1972, after my brother successfully secured a job at a mill in Bolton, we moved from the camp at Stradishall to a house on Parliament Street, off Deane Road.

I remember that on his first day at the mill he was late as he got lost. He didn’t last long there and got fired whilst doing his training. Not long after, he found a job at a mill in Pendlebury. He would go to and from work via a crew bus, and on the 4th night at work, the bus crashed on the journey back to Bolton leaving my brother hospitalised with significant injuries.

At around the same time myself and my other brother tried to enrol at Bolton Technology College – as the term had already started there was only one space available. I enrolled and my brother instead found a job to help support the family, working at a local factory ironing clothing.

I then went on to study my A Levels and degree in Electronics at Bolton Institute of Higher Education. After moving to Bolton in 1972 I still call it my home today and live here with my wife and children.”

2022 marks 50 years since Mohindar and many others arrived in the UK from Uganda. This is not a story commonly seen on our stages and screens – so we thank Mohindar for sharing and here are some links to read more about what is was like to arrive in the UK at that time.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/legacies/immig_emig/england/suffolk/

https://www.nytimes.com/1972/10/18/archives/uganda-exiles-in-rural-britain-a-difficult-time-for-both-sides.html

https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2002/aug/11/race.world

Our upcoming production An Adventure tells of a similar journey by husband and wife Rasik and Joyoti not from Uganda but from Kenya during the political tensions there in the 1950s and then how they made a life together in the UK in the 1960s and beyond. Based on the real experiences of the playwrights grandparents.

If you have a similar story you would like to share please get in touch by emailing info@octagonbolton.co.uk