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15 October 2014
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My Memories of the War in India and My Uncle’s Fortune in Scotland by Mr S E Ali

by HaringeyLibraries

Contributed by 
People in story: 
S E Ali
Location of story: 
Sylhet, India and Greenock, Scotland
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
30 June 2004

This story was submitted to the People’s War website by Annie Keane of the BBC on behalf of Mr S E Ali and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

A child in Sylhet
I was 9 year years old and living in Sylhet, India at the time. I remember seeing a dogfight between an Allied and Japanese plane above our school. The Allied plane saw the Japanese off. We had an air raid siren and we all had to go to the trench, I didn’t want to go in and was punished by the headmaster.

Many Allied Soldiers (Indian, Australian, American and English) made a camp in a field of our school, we used to talk to them. They took over the High School to make a hospital for the injured soldiers. The pupils came to our school and we had to go in shifts. We went 7-11am and then the other students came in the afternoon.

There were so many military trucks passing through our town, we couldn’t cross the road, they were on their way to Burma (about 200 miles away). By my uncle’s house was the main supply route to Burma, lots of wounded soldiers were brought back in Red Cross trucks.

The British government took all the food for the war effort. This had a bad effect on us prices were very high and people couldn’t buy food and I saw many people dying in the streets.

My Uncle’s fortune
My uncle, Mr Ali was living in London at the time, he had a boarding house in Victoria (5 Star) and one in the East End which got bombed. He went to Glasgow in Scotland and got another building in Greenock which was a Seaman’s Boarding House. There were between 2,000 and 3,000 seamen staying there, including men from China, Burma, Malaysia and India.

He was a millionaire at the time, in the Asian community he was the richest person here. He once had a near miss when a bomb landed nearby and sent a telegram to my father saying ‘I’ve had a lucky escape, pray to Allah’.

After the war King George 6th went to visit the hotel and meet my Uncle

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Message 1 - Re: My memories of the War in India and my Uncle’s Fortune in Scotland by Mr S E Ali

Posted on: 03 July 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Ms Annie Keane and Mr S E Ali

You state that "The British government took all the food for the war effort. ... people couldn’t buy food and I saw many people dying in the streets."

I have read Indian history fairly widely and deeply, particularly the period from 1919 to 1947, both from a British and an Indian point of view. I can find no reference whatsoever of the British government stripping India of food in any way, let alone to cause such inhuman mass starvation. Your story has prompted me to look again, but again I cannot find any reference to this, even during the turbulent period following the Cripps Mission of 1942 and the subsequent violent "Quit India" campaign and the counter-insurgency operations.

What food would be sent to Britain, and by what route? Food was rationed in the UK and Britain imported less food than during peace time. The staple British diet was based on wheat, not rice. As to transport, ships from India had to make a hazardous journey around the Cape. If, on the other hand, the food was taken for the Indian Army why was the Raj able to feed the army during the interwar West-Frontier campaigns? The bulk of the Indian Army was engaged in Africa and Europe and was fed by Britain.

Since the story was posted by a member of the BBC on behalf of Mr Ali, perhaps you, Annie, could research this further. Such a grave accusation against the British Government needs either to be fully substantiated or withdrawn.




Message 2 - Re: My memories of the War in India and my Uncle’s Fortune in Scotland by Mr S E Ali

Posted on: 03 July 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Once again - I must agree wholeheartedly with Peter regarding the theft of food from the poor Indians in order to feed themselves...these sort of stories become tiresome as they are generally
the product of ignorant minds as facts are to be ignored.

There was an old saying which is perhaps not quite PC these days - it went like this - If the Maharajahs - Rajahs - Millionaires etc in India - and elsewhere would give up a few diamonds, gold etc.......there would be no dying in the streets of their fellow citizens -- or anyone !

Instead it was left to a little Albanian Nun to do what she could to relieve the suffering of starvation !

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This story has been placed in the following categories.

Childhood and Evacuation Category
Burma Campaign 1942-1945 Category
Glasgow and Argyll Category
India Category
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