Life

TV review: A Polish family's 10,000 mile journey to Britain

Remarkable trek: Passage to Britain traces the Rubchevska family's journey from Poland to Siberia, then India and finally England
Billy Foley

Passage to Britain, BBC 2, Tuesday at 9pm

Imagine this for a journey to safety.

As a teenager Ella Rubchevska was forced to migrate from Poland to Siberia after the Russians invaded her country following a pact with the Nazis.

They made the 4,500 mile journey in 1940 as women alone because the men had been killed. Ella was with her mother and her sister.

Their situation improved marginally in June 1941 when Germany attacked the Soviet Union and the Russians formed a new alliance with Britain.

The Rubchevskas now began a 12-month long overland journey to India where they were given shelter by the British for the rest of the war.

Indian independence and partition in 1947 meant the Rubchevskas and lots of other Anglo-Indians felt unsafe in the sub-continent and were given passage aboard the SS Asturias on a 15 day journey which left Bombay for Southampton on October 23, 1947.

Seven years after the Rubchevskas were forced from their homeland they arrived in a displaced persons' shelter in England. It is estimated 1,000 Poles moved to Britain in this way.

This and other fascinating stories were the subject of Yasmin Khan's brilliant exploration of immigration to Britain.

She also told the story of Reginald Arathoon who arrived in Britain on the same ship, another orphan of independence.

Arathoon was a member of the British army in India and as such, he felt he would have been a target under Indian rule.

We met his son who worked at a car factory in Ellesmere Port, Liverpool, who told us of his dad's struggles to get on in a country he had served loyally in its greatest colony.

This included an incident at work when he was 26, two years after Reginald arrived, when a colleague who did not like that an Indian was dating his sister, set up the ‘accident' which cost Arathoon the tops of his fingers.

Bert Scot, a photographer with the Times of India and the British army, also struggled to find work after leaving Bombay with his young family.

His daughter, Anne Tilley, who was three-years-old when she boarded the Asturias, recalled how he couldn't get a job in newspapers despite his great experience and excellent portfolio, including a picture of Louis Mountbatten leaving the viceroy's palace in Delhi for the last time.

The family believed that the accent he had gained after a lifetime in India marked him out as different and stood against him.

Tehal Singh was another new arrival on the Asturias, moving to Leeds when he worked as a door to door salesman, the only job he could get.

Sikhs, whose homeland Punjab was cut in two by the new border between India and Pakistan, numbered just 2,000 in Britain in the late 1940s but 70 years later there are 400,000.

Movingly told, Dr Khan's story of “how Britain changed them (immigrants) and how they changed Britain” is essential viewing for anyone interested in the world.

****

All-Ireland Hurling Final, RTE 2, Sunday

The televising of the All-Ireland final is a uniquely Irish experience with Up For The Match the night before and the broadcast from the winner's hotel afterwards, but it holds even greater significance when it's your home county.

Before I rang home on Sunday night, I hadn't realised that I had been carried shoulder high as a three-year-old to Colbert Station to see the victorious 1973 team arrive home.

This year 90,000 turned out to welcome their heroes in a city of 70,000 people.

And social media showed just how important the RTE broadcast was to the uncountable numbers of Limerick people around the world.

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