Heckmondwike Stories In A Suitcase: Mohammad's arrival in Heavy Woollen District

Mohammad Yasin came to England at the age of 16 as a second generation migrant from Pakistan in January 1966.

By Kirklees Faith Network
Sunday, 3rd July 2022, 5:00 pm

He now tends to divide his retirement between the residential address on School Grove where he lives in Dewsbury Moor, and at his son’s house on Kaye Street in Heckmondwike.

Mr Yasin was part of a large group of Indian and Pakistani nationals who were encouraged to come and work in England’s mills throughout the post-war decades of the 1960s and 1970s.

These migrants came due to a severe labour shortage existing at that time across the whole country.

Mohammad Yasin

As someone who now makes up a dwindling generation, Mr Yasin has agreed to be interviewed by the Kirklees Faith Network’s “Heckmondwike Stories In A Suitcase” project.

Speaking to the Reporter Series, Mr Yasin said: “I came to England at the age of 16 on a British Airways flight in January 1966. My father, who was already working in the mills of Dewsbury, had sponsored my visa application.

“My father’s name was ‘Sephoy’ (Private) Fazal Karim. He had been a soldier in the British-Indian Army during the Second World War.

"He fought bravely in Malaya and was taken prisoner along with thousands of his white English-speaking comrades after Singapore fell to the Japanese.

“He was obviously set free when hostilities ended in 1945. But not before my father had spent nearly four horrific years in a Japanese internment camp.

“After the war, the British government desperately needed manual workers to fill up the severe labour shortages in our region’s mills.

“Job vacancies were available everywhere, and the mill owners of that period seemed eager to employ anyone and everyone in their empty factories. The textile mills in our district had the most work.

“So, my father came to England in the year 1964. He was one of those many British-Indian Army veterans who were invited by the government to come and work in the country.

"In fact, lots of ex-servicemen like my father began arriving around this time into the local area from the Sub-Continent. The Whitehall establishment had clearly remembered their previous military services given to the Crown.

“Although I myself was born after the war and had no army background, I was nonetheless the son of a British-Indian Army soldier.

“So, I too was now entitled - and allowed - to come to England, and to settle into the local Heavy Woollen District as a migrant worker.

“My airline ticket to England had originally been booked for a departure date in September 1965. But the travel plans were disrupted when a sudden ‘Border War’ broke out between India and Pakistan during that same September month.

“Some of the biggest tank battles not seen since the Second World War were fought amongst the Indian and Pakistani armies during this infamous ‘border’ conflict. Jet aircraft from both countries also bombed each other’s cities.

“Although the 1965 ‘Border War’ lasted just three weeks, commercial air travel to both India and Pakistan was not able to fully resume until the following year - leaving people like me stranded in limbo.

"Otherwise, I would have probably arrived in England a few months before the first wintery snows had started falling, had it not been for the border clashes.

“I can still remember as a 16-year-old boy staring curiously - four months later - through a small oval window next to my seat, as the aeroplane I was travelling on landed at Heathrow Airport on a cold dull January morning. I had eventually come to England. The year was 1966.

“It was difficult to see outside because of a thick atmospheric mist hovering everywhere. But my eyesight was sharp enough to get a quick glimpse of the snow-covered ground.

"More heavy snow was falling on top of the existing thick layers. I was fascinated at first by the sight of so much snowfall!

"This was the very first time in my life I had ever seen anything like it - and to see such scenes of white would certainly not be the last occasion!

“Everyone on board began to feel a cold chill when we got up from our seats to disembark. The temperature felt much colder as soon as all the passengers slowly began moving towards the opened airplane door.

“The cold air was a sign I had arrived in England. I did not have any gloves with me. The only thing in my hands was one small suitcase - along with a meagre £4 in my pocket!

“The airport at Heathrow was much smaller in those days. There was of course a cafe, along with public lavatories, and a ‘check in’ desk where I lined up in a queue to have my passport stamped. But everything was so small compared to today’s standards.

“Even the few aeroplanes I saw standing on the runway were not as big as the huge airlines used nowadays.

“A gentleman called Mr Ditta Bhatt was waiting in the arrival’s lounge as I came outside. He was another ex-British-Indian soldier.

"Upon my father’s instructions, this chap had driven all the way from Dewsbury in his second-hand Morris Minor to collect me. My father had obviously paid for the petrol. We now had a long return drive back to West Yorkshire ahead of us.

“The 200-mile journey from Heathrow Airport to Dewsbury was a lengthy one. The M1 motorway was not yet connected to any of the major northern cities like Leeds, Bradford, or even to our Heavy Wollen District. So, Mr Bhatt drove his car through some lonely desolate country roads.

“The journey was hazardous due to the heavy snowfalls. In fact, the only thing we saw on our long route was snow, snow, and more snow!

“This is what people lived through in those years. They had to learn to adapt their lives alongside the cold harsh winters.

“I felt amazed at Mr Bhatt’s skills as he manoeuvred his car through the treacherous weather conditions. I could only admire his confidence. He seemed to know his route. Men like him had to adapt quickly during that post-war period to the new life in Britain.

“His Morris Minor made its way across long stretches of white snow-laden countryside until the vehicle safely reached Dewsbury town in the dark evening - but only after a long seven-hour drive!

“After Dewsbury was a few more minutes of driving on Bradford Road. The Morris-Minor soon came to a halt outside a small terraced house in Batley where my father was waiting eagerly and where a new life was also waiting to begin for me.

“The heavy snow was my first impression of 1960s post-war Britain, and of our Heavy Woollen District."