BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

24 September 2014
GloucestershireGloucestershire

BBC Homepage
»BBC Local
Gloucestershire
Things to do
People & Places
Nature
History
Religion & Ethics
Arts and Culture
BBC Introducing
TV & Radio

Sites near Gloucestershire

Bristol
Coventry
South East Wales
Hereford & Worcs
Oxford
Wiltshire

Related BBC Sites

England
 

Contact Us

Voices: Our Untold Stories »Asian Stories
Mohammed Sharif as a young man

Mohamed Sharif

Born near Lahore, Mohamed Sharif came to England via Venice in the 1930s and has vivid memories of wartime life. He moved to Tewkesbury in 1977 and ran a market stall in Leominster for nearly 50 years.

Mohamed Sharif as a young man

I was born in the Kasoor district of Lahore in the days when it was part of British India. I went to High School in Kasoor. As part of our curriculum I joined what we called the scouts - a watered down version of the English variety.

I have two sisters and I was the only boy. After school, I went to Lahore and studied shorthand typing as my commercial subject.

In order to learn the trade, my first job was as a volunteer before a friend referred me to be a clerk in the magistrates' court. The magistrate was Messiaeh. He was a strong influence and taught me good English.

quote
The ticket to Venice cost £10 but I had a £2 discount from the travel agent who refrained from charging his commission. All I had to do was acquire a passport for five rupees. On arriving in Venice, I took a continental train to Switzerland, France and came to England. quote
Mohamed Sharif

There was no bribery. He was a good magistrate and I remember we tried many cases for illegal distillation.

When I was 19, I became secretary to a prominent member of the Legislative Assembly of the Indian Parliament.

Allah Baksh-Tiwana was from a wealthy landed family and was also a magistrate. I took notes but mostly accepted or declined his invitations to dinners or parties.

We lived in New Delhi in the winter, because that was the seat of the Indian government. In summer we went to Simla in North India. It was comfortable living and I still had contact with my mother by post.

The governor of Punjab and the Viceroy of India were resident in Simla during the summer. There were no cars allowed in Simla, only rickshaws.

Mohamed Sharif
Mohamed (right) soon after he arrived in the UK

When Gandhi went to see the Viceroy, they offered him a rickshaw. He refused, saying: "I don't want to be driven by human being". So he was the only person beside the Viceroy and the governor to be given a car to travel in.

I enjoyed a couple of years' service there but got 'itchy feet' and went to Bombay. There, I found a job typing at a car dealer. I had help from the Muslim Association that was run by followers of the Aga Khan and helped any Muslim of any denomination.

Then I saw an advert for a job with customs. It was very boring because I used to keep statistics on what's going in and out of the country.

quote
The minute the war started I left for Birmingham with just a few pounds in my pocket. There were no Indian families at that time - it was men only until the 1950s and 1960s. I had to stay with other men at a lodging house in the city. quote
Mohamed Sharif

The office was situated near the Indian Ocean. I used to see the boats coming in and going out and in 1936 I got "wanderlust". I had been doing part-time jobs in the morning and in the evening to earn some extra money to make up the fare.

I used to do some work for a travel agent and a couple of hours doing correspondence for importers and exporters.

The ticket to Venice cost £10 but because I worked for him I had a £2 discount from the travel agent who refrained from charging his commission. All I had to do was acquire a passport for five rupees.

There used to be two Italian boats; one was the Comte Russo but I boarded the Comte Verde, an Italian cargo ship with some passengers. On arriving in Venice, I took a continental train to Switzerland, France and came to England.

Before I left the agent gave me some names and addresses of some people who he had already arranged to travel to the UK. I wrote to them to ask if I could stop with them until I could find my own place. They said "yes". I've still got some of those letters.

So I stopped in Glasgow for a couple of years and they were very, very happy times. One day I was travelling to Chelmsford to visit friends, when I heard that war had been declared on Germany.

The minute the war started I left for Birmingham with just a few pounds in my pocket. There were no Indian families at that time - it was men only until the 1950s and 1960s. I had to stay with other men at a lodging house in the city.

GWR ticket
A ticket from one of his first journeys on the GWR railway

The first job I did when I got to Birmingham was loading a goods train for British Railways. I did two nights work at the goods station and then got a series of engineering jobs before ending up at BSA (British Small Arms) - a very old firm that used to make bicycles.

The factory was bombed one month before I went there. There were heavy casualties and they couldn't get some of them out of the ground. The victims are still buried at the site. No one wanted to work there after that but I spent the rest of the war years there.

When the war started, it was all raids. The Germans used to come with 200-300 planes every night. Either they went to Coventry or Birmingham or the docks in London, Liverpool or Plymouth. They suffered heavy damages.

In Birmingham we had our share of raids but after a few we got used to it and nobody took any notice. Throughout the war there were many government restrictions you had to obey.

quote
The war was a trying time for the British people but they were very good. They were my best years in England. Everybody was friendly because they all had their backs to the wall. There was no colour bar - nobody mentioned colour. We respected each other and we carried on.
quote
Mohamed Sharif

You couldn't show your lights on the car - you had shaded lights. Anybody who wanted to drive could do so without passing a driving test. The driving test started in 1935. I passed my test in 1937 in Glasgow.

During the war, things were very bad. Everything was scarce. Food was rationed and we had clothing coupons. When the coupons in the book were finished, you couldn't buy any more, except on the black market.

If people didn't have any coupons left, they'd buy coupons from the people with big families who didn't need as much. You had to fill forms to get everything. I used to keep two chickens at my house, so I had to get a permit to get chicken-food!

The war was a trying time for the British people but they were very good. They were my best years in England. Everybody was friendly because they all had their backs to the wall. There was no colour bar - nobody mentioned colour. We respected each other and we carried on.

During the war, I volunteered for service in civil defence. After brief training, I was stationed at Birchfield Road in Birmingham and two nights a week I was on duty as a fireman. In addition, I made friends with a man from Cardiff and I volunteered with him to be a firewatcher. We slept in a church in Hockley, so that in the event of a bomb, we could immediately go to help until the arrival of the main fire fighters.

Mohammed Sharif
Receiving an award for 48 years of non-stop trading at Leominster market

At the end of the war, I was sent off to other BSA branch in Montgomery Street. I remember they had good canteen. A meal cost one shilling with a cup of tea.

However I soon decided to start a business on my own and in 1947 I started a market. During the war, the British people were all working to make items for the war - consumer goods were not made.

As the war finished, the production of consumer goods began again. Because during the war the country was bankrupted, they were trying to export as much as they could.

As a result is was almost impossible to get consumable goods here. They were trying to starve the home market at the expense of the exports. You couldn't buy anything. You couldn't buy even a comb, toothpaste or soap. You couldn't buy babies' bottle teats and you couldn't buy babies' ribbons. Nothing at all.

If I could buy those things and take them to a shop or market, I could sell it in a day. There was so much short supply; you could only buy a bit here and a bit there. The business couldn't flourish with nothing to sell.

In addition there were no new goods to be cast away. People wore and used goods longer than they will do now. They mended their clothes. The younger sister had the elder sister's clothes and so on. They saved and skimped.

quote
1947 and 1963 were the coldest winters I've experienced. I'll tell you how cold it was - inside an abattoir in Hereford, the spilled blood from the animals was freezing as soon as it came out. quote
Mohamed Sharif

I've lived under 13 Prime Ministers. I started with Baldwin (1936) who was still Prime Minister when Edward V abdicated. Then Churchill, Attlee, Churchill again, Macmillan, Douglas Home, Heath, Wilson, Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher, Major and Blair. Attlee was my favourite. Nowadays, politicians are all actors. He was a very humble man, Attlee. No nonsense, no show.

I was never injured in the war. I used to travel four or five miles in the morning on my bike to work. While in the foundry I narrowly missed a bomb once. Otherwise I was lucky. When the first time Birmingham got bombed, everybody went to the shelters.

They used to call them Anderson shelters, after the Home Secretary. He was a former governor of Bengal and he was a bad man there. I went the first night to the shelter and never went again. People would say, "If it's going to happen, it's going to happen". A lot of people just carried on and stayed in their own houses.

Coming to the weather, 1947 and 1963 were the coldest winters I've experienced. I'll tell you how cold it was - inside an abattoir in Hereford, the spilled blood from the animals was freezing as soon as it came out.

We survived but we had no central heating, no double-glazing. We had windows we called sash windows because pulling on a sash would pull up half the window. These windows were never a tight fit and on windy nights or days they would bang. You'd get noise and the wind used to come through.

People are spoiled now. People in those days were very hardy; they could withstand the winter much better. Nobody had inside toilets. There were no washing machines. We had no carpets, floorboards were covered with linoleum.

Mohammed Sharif's home at Tewkesbury
Mohammed's daughters outside their home in Tewkesbury - and his beloved Morris van, right

Rich people had a thick lino with a halcyon back, which lasted years. The poor families had a thin lino, which would crack. If there were four or five children and if they weed, the urine went through the cracks and the house would smell. The only carpet was a hearthrug.

There were no bathrooms; everyone went to the municipal baths every Sunday. It cost four pence. There was no traffic in the cities. When I lived in Birmingham, I used to go to the city centre and I would park and nobody would take any notice.

During the war, you couldn't buy a car no matter how much money you had. You had to put your name down and they'd say 'five years or ten years time'. When I first started doing market, I went on a motorbike and a sidecar. A couple of years later I was able to get a van. It was a lovely Morris van.

No sport

During the war, you listened to the radio and one very popular programme was ITMA (It's That Man Again), with Tommy Handley on Sundays. In 1938 I listened to the Tommy Farr and Joe Lewis fight from America in Glasgow at four in the morning.

There was no sport during the war; no football league matches, no cricket. The first cricket team to come to England in 1946 was India. Nawab Parodi captained the side and it took them 46 hours to travel by plane, as they had to change at six places.

Nawab Parodi was very popular. The first match they played was in Worcester and they'd only arrived that day in the early hours of the morning.

I went to the cinema every Sunday. There were some good English films and there were a lot of musicals. There was a great deal of queuing to get into the cinema on Sundays. The big films were shown in the city centre but the old films were shown at most local cinemas.

The old black and white films were best. I haven't seen a film at the cinema for the last 25 years.

The last film I saw in Birmingham was South Pacific. In the city, ticket prices were sixpence in the afternoon. The locals were cheaper but we called them fleapits because many of the patrons were unwashed.

I only saw one live cricket match and one football match. I went to a football match in Clydebank, Scotland and I saw a cricket match in Worcester.

» See 'The Pakistani Community'

This article is user-generated content (ie external contribution) expressing a personal opinion, not the views of BBC Gloucestershire.
Untold Stories banner
» Back to Our Untold Stories index
MORE ASIAN STORIES
Asian colour montage
Introduction
An historical perspective
Gloucester's Islamic roots
Gujarati Muslim community
» Mahmood Patel
» Ebrahim Surty
» Mahmood Moolla
» Salim Kholwadia
Shia Muslim community
» Gulam Musa
Hindu community
» Ramjibhi Popat
» Maniben Patel
» Nandiben Patel
» Lalubhai Patel
» Gulabbhai Patel
Bangladeshi community
» Badsha Meah
» Amzad Ali
» Mohibul Hussain
» Mohibur Rahman
» Waris Ali
» Namder Meah
» Haris Ali
Pakistani community
» Ehsan-Ul-Haq
» Mohamed Sharif
» Babar Vaqas
Sikh Punjabi community
» Avatar Duggal
» Harjit Singh Gill
Christian community
» Manny Masih
Roshni Women's Centre
Gymnation
Parmjit Dhanda MP
The first Asian doctors
Islamic Girls' School
Harry Worrall
About the Authors
» Umara Hussain
» Lalit Dandiker
» Mohammed Hansdat
» Sakina Choudhury
Links page
 
 
What is Voices?
Capturing the stories, concerns and aspirations of those unheard voices across the UK.
Find out more here

 


BBC Gloucestershire Website, London Road, Gloucester, GL1 1SW
phone:01452 308585 | e-mail:gloucestershire@bbc.co.uk


About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy