Abraham Wilson was born in East London to a Ghanaian father and Indian mother in 1934. The following is an extract from his contribution to ‘The Frontline’.
“The idea that Black immigration to Britain started with the arrival of the Windrush is a load of nonsense.
I was born in 1934 at 61 Cable Street in the East End of London. My father was of the Fante tribe in Ghana, which was a British colony at the time known as the Gold Coast. He was a merchant navy seaman and spent most of his life at sea.
He was a stoker, one of those who shovelled the coal in the boiler-room to power a ship’s engine. My mother Lilian Wilson was Anglo-Indian, born on Cotton Street in Poplar, East London, in 1909.
Her father was a strict Muslim from the Punjab region of India and had come to Britain as a silk merchant. He would go door-to-door selling his merchandise. One day my mother travelled from the East End of London with her father to Cardiff for a few days to collect silks. While there, she got married in Bute Street.
It was an arranged marriage, a business transaction between her father and the man she was to marry. She never met her husband before she married him and that had a profound effect on her. She was 18 and he was 36. Her husband was an Afghan, Pashtun seaman, named Saifulle Makarab.
My father’s relationship with my mother was very controversial because he was lodging at 61 Cable Street and had an adulterous affair with her. She already had children and was married to the man from Afghanistan, who was at sea at the time. Seamen and travellers from all over the world stayed there, so it doesn’t take much imagination to understand what eventually happened.
Consequently, I was born, and all hell broke loose.The love triangle didn’t last very long because my father’s love rival drowned at sea in a heavy storm when I was only six months old.
Around Cable Street there was every nationality you could think of. My mother looked Indian and her best friend was Irish. There was an African man from Ghana who lived across the road.
Then we had the Battle of Cable Street in 1936. Oswald Mosley and the Blackshirts were trying to make their presence felt. The area was very diverse and heavily populated with Jews.
When Mosley wanted to march through the streets with his army of Blackshirts, the anti-fascists and people of the neighbourhood weren’t having it and erected barricades.
My brother was looking out of the window during the battle and told me how horses were falling over because people were throwing marbles and different objects in the street so that the horses couldn’t stand up.
When the Second World War broke out, I have no doubt that I saw the first bomber that flew over. I looked up one day and saw this black object over the sky, and I heard this huge explosion.
The bomb exploded only a couple of miles from where we lived. I was evacuated from London at the age of five with my older brother Yousef. People used to tease us and say that we were not brothers because I was darker than him. I was Black and he looked like he came from Afghanistan.
We were evacuated to Penzance in Cornwall and placed in a big hall where people came and selected the children they would take in.
They couldn’t get rid of us. We were the last of the batch. We ended up staying in Cornwall for over four years, until the end of the war.”
Photo: Abraham Wilson with his parents and siblings
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