FEATURE: Wartime immigrants laid foundation for descendants

This week's final feature concludes everything and looks at the Asian population's contribution made over these last 50 years within the Heavy Woollen District.

Thursday, 21st September 2017, 10:05 am

It takes things up to the present day by looking at four different generations that have made up the local Indian and Pakistani communities of Dewsbury, Mirfield, Ravensthorpe, Batley and Heckmondwike.

The first-generation migrants arrived during a period when a large workforce was desperately needed in our local mills – to fill up the severe labour shortages seen immediately after the war.

These ex-servicemen kept the factories running day and night, in rain, mist, fog and in heavy snowfalls, throughout the decades of the 1960s and 70s.

For these men, life before the factory shifts had been in the British-Indian Army fighting the Germans during the Second World War, at places like El-Alamein in Egypt, or at Monte-Casino in Italy, and on the Normandy beaches in France.

Others had taken on what at the time seemed the unstoppable Imperial Japanese Army in Burma and Malaya “for the defence of Britain”.

Since the war, our Indian and Pakistani communities (like the local white English-speaking population) have changed considerably, more so over these past fifty years.

Their history – and future – has been moulded and shaped by four different generations.

After retiring from the local mills, the men from this first-generation went on to perform one last important task in their lives – which was to go on the sacred ‘Hajj’ pilgrimage.

From shepherds, to soldiers, to mill workers, to retired ‘Hajj’ pilgrims, it had been an amazing lifetime of various different phases.

Their children, the second-generation came to Kirklees during the late-1960s.

This was the group that bore the brunt of some of the most violent aspects of ‘Paki-Bashing’ racism especially in the school playgrounds. Yet, they still made an equally valuable contribution to the local economy.

From factory workers in the 1970s, most of the second-generation men became taxi-drivers during the 1980s – providing a much needed service to the area’s white English-speaking residents. A group even decided to do something else as a way of earning income.

They opened up the first takeaways and Indian restaurants in Dewsbury, Batley, and Heckmondwike - and from these restaurants Muslim culture gave Seekh Kebabs and Shammi Kebabs, Biryani rice and Pulao rice, Samosas and Bhajis, different varieties of curry dishes, Lentils, Chappatis, naan bread, and mouth-watering desserts like Rassmalai, Halwa, and Metai sweets as well as much more to the Heavy Woollen District.

The best of local Muslim culture was making the first direct contact with its local English-speaking residents.

The next, third-generation were the ones in school during the 1970s and throughout the 1980s. Some studied to qualify as solicitors or accountants.

Others gave a boost to the local economy by opening up their own businesses and creating jobs for a lot of individuals who would have otherwise been unemployed.

Their children, the next fourth-generation, speak English as their first language (rather than Potwari or Gujarati).

Many are also turning into a professional white-collar generation immediately after graduating from university.

They are the ones working in the banks, in the call-centres, in the school classrooms, in the legal profession, in our local pharmacies and in the NHS.

It is a generation that proudly sees Britain as its home and is also proud to feel British.

The thinking of this fourth-generation clearly shows how much Asian society has changed across the Heavy Woollen region.

Together, the second, third, and fourth generations within the Asian community, as well as our local white English-speaking residents, owe a debt of gratitude to that amazing ‘wartime’ first generation who made so many sacrifices for everyone and gave so much to the local area.

The six feature stories have been a tribute to that same long gone Muslim generation of former soldiers from the old British-Indian Army, who fought for our freedom in the Second World War, and then after the war helped to keep our local mills running at a time of severe labour shortages.