Immigration from India


  • Intro

    In this audio extract, Gilli Salvat remembers arriving in England from India shortly after partition in 1948. She and her family were among the first of many settlers who were lured to Britain by the promise of employment. She describes her parents' tears as the boat leaves India, and the racist attitudes of the English people that she was initially confronted by.


    The UK was rebuilding itself after the massive destruction wreaked by World War II, and there were severe labour shortages. Immigration was one solution to this problem. A 1948 Act gave Commonwealth citizens free entry to Britain, and the arrival of the SS Empire Windrush from Jamaica in June that year marked the symbolic start of the postwar immigration boom.


    Many hundreds of thousands came from India, Pakistan and the West Indies to Britain through the 1950s, not just for short-term work, but settling for good. Immigration has continued and widened ever since, resulting in an ethnic and cultural diversity that would have been unthinkable in 1945.


    The photograph, taken later in September 1957, shows young women in London, having arrived from Calcutta, India.


    Copyright Getty Images.

  • Audio

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  • Transcript

    Audio transcript

    I remember standing on the rail of the boat as it pulled away from India, and my parents were both crying and crying, and India was getting smaller and smaller, and all the lights were getting dimmer and dimmer, and, I didn't really understand why they were crying, but they were crying because they knew they would never see her again. We docked in Tilbury and it was a really grey day, really drizzly, and, I remember actually docking, but I don't remember the journey to London. And then we stayed in an immigrant camp, which was in the basement of this church, near Selfriges. And they had all the men and boys in one part, and all the women and girls, all on these iron cots,  it was just like, really, like Dickens, and they had all these English people, like, they were like were warders, that used to tell us off and everything, 'cos nobody wanted children, right? nobody wanted coloureds, nobody wanted children, and nobody wanted pets! [laughs] right? So you couldn't get anywhere. And my dad just walked all over London, yeah? The only shop that we knew about was Harrods, 'cos that's what had been in the magazines and everything. And they'd bought some of their savings, and they took us to Harrods, right? and bought me and my sister overcoats, and everything, 'cos we didn't have any warm clothing, yeah? And like, people were so unused to seeing, y'know, black people, or whatever in the street, we used to be walking along Oxford Street and people used to stop, right? and just stare at us. Stop in their tracks, yeah? and point at us and everything, we were just like, really, y'know - [laughs] - unusual, you can't imagine it now. And when I went to school all the kids, equally, used to take the piss out of me, right, because of how I talked and they thought that I was an Indian, from the States, yeah? like, a red Indian, right? And I think in about three weeks I changed my accent, and I started learning to survive.

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