Book tells tales of immigrants coming to Scotland

Picture: contributed
Picture: contributed
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SOME arrived with little more than the clothes they stood up in, a tiny stash of cash and, in a few cases, their favourite food from home.

But all brought high hopes for a better future, to a land that greeted them with bitter cold winds, curious stares and, regrettably, more than a few insults.

As their stories in a fascinating new book show, the immigrants who arrived in Scotland in the 1950s and 60s shared a determination to work their fingers to the bone, often clawing their way up from the most menial of jobs to run their own ­businesses.

And – perhaps a harsh reality check for those wary of today’s migrants – they showed a remarkable work ethic, fortitude and spirit, setting aside homesickness and fear of the unknown to contribute and colour our drab Scottish lives with a splash of Asian, Eastern and African vibrancy.

Now their stories have been brought together in Scottish Memories, a collection of written portraits of the men and women who left families in far-flung lands to lay the foundations for today’s multicultural nation. The Heritage Lottery funded book was put together by Trust Housing Association, Hanover Housing Association and Bield Housing Association in a bid to tell their tales for the first time.

Project developer Rohini Sharma Joshi says: “Many of the people who appear in the book had difficult experiences as newly-arrived immigrants to Scotland and struggled with language, the cold and finding places to live and work. They worked very hard and have made an important contribution to Scottish life in so many ways.”

The book was launched by Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop who paid tribute to the “resilience and tenacity” shown by those who arrived 50 years ago.

Lord Provost Donald Wilson commented on the contribution the new arrivals made to Scottish life. He said: “Immigrants bring with them a wide variety of new ideas, beliefs, customs and skills – benefiting the city’s economy and its diversity.”

• For further details of the book, e-mail Rohini Sharma Joshi at


In her white wedding gown, Mariat Badamas stood on the cusp of a new beginning. Not only was she to become a wife to Hamid Majid, soon she would journey from Freetown in Sierra Leone to Scotland for a new life unlike any she could have imagined.

Hamid was already studying marine engineering at Leith Nautical College. And his 18-year-old bride, known as Marie, was to join him.

“I arrived in the dead of winter and had never seen snow before, so I was extremely excited,” she recalls. “All I had with me were some clothes.”

It was 1964 and home was a rented room in East Restalrig Terrace. Marie, at first desperately lonely, found a job at the John Berry factory, working with material that was used to clean ships. But falling pregnant brought hardship when the couple learned they had not lived in the UK long enough to claim benefits.

Marie trained as a nurse, but had to send her two children back to Sierra Leone while she studied. It would be seven years – and another two pregnancies – before the entire family was reunited and living in a four-bedroom home in Meadowbank.

But 1980 brought terrible news when Hamid suffered a fatal heart attack. Marie, 69, from the Inch, has no regrets: “I’ve never felt depressed about living in Scotland. This is my home now. But I never forget where I’m from.”


HAMIDA Murtaza was 26 when she swapped her father’s home in Pakistan for a small flat in Leith. Her arrival at Edinburgh Airport in 1966 was her first shock. “People were looking at us and we were looking at them. It was so shocking to me to see white people all around me. It was terribly cold and I had only brought a few light clothes. I became ill because of living in such confined spaces in our flat in Leith. I knew virtually no English.”

She relied on her children to translate for her while her husband worked as a bus conductor. By 1968, he had set up his own greengrocer business. Capital Wholesale went on to be a major supplier for hotels, restaurants and schools. Tragically he died in his 40s leaving Hamida alone to raise their family. All her children would go to university – one is a doctor and others have degrees in chemistry. “It’s important for children to know how hard it was for us to settle and live here,” says Hamida, 73, of Newington. “We had to build ourselves up and it took years and years.”


TWELVE-year-old Gurcharan’s introduction to life in Scotland could have been better.

His family made the three-day journey from India in 1957 sustained by nothing more than a single banana each. Once here they found thick snow: “We wondered how it was possible to live in ice,” he recalls.

Home was shared by three families, one family per room. And at school he endured racist taunts.

When he wasn’t learning English, he’d be at Dunedin Amateur Weight Lifting Club – by the time he was 18 he was the Scottish featherweight champion.

A drapery business followed.

Now 68 and living in Leith, he says he wants the younger generation to understand the sacrifices and hardships made by his generation.


His father’s word was final – Bashir Ahmed was to go to Scotland. “I had no choice. The main aim was to support the family,” he says, recalling events in 1966.

Within a week, clutching a bag containing just a few possessions, Bashir Ahmed left his village in Pakistan for a flight from Karachi to Heathrow and then into the heart of London.

“I arrived at King’s Cross desperate for the toilet,” he recalls.

“I was anxious to find help but I didn’t speak English. Then a Sikh man asked me in Urdu if I had just arrived. I said yes and he took me to the toilet and helped me buy a ticket to Edinburgh.”

His luck continued in Edinburgh when a passing stranger took him to Stockbridge and a house where he found people he knew staying. Eventually after a long search he found work as a bus conductor with Edinburgh Corporation Transport.

“I liked being on the buses because you worked independently and there were a lot of Asians working there. We were prepared to do night shift and long shifts.

“We all started as bus conductors then we got the chance after one-and-a-half years to become bus drivers.”

Once married, Bashir opened a small shop, Iris Fashion, in Stockbridge, initially balancing the business with driving the number 22 bus before quitting to open a further two shops.

The hard work ethos was shared among his friends at the time, he says.

“Most have been very successful. We set up the Pakistan Association of Edinburgh and built the first mosque in Roxburgh Street in 1969-70.”

Bashir, 73, of Colinton, went on to be a founder member of World Without Hunger charity.

“Scotland gave me the future for my family. My grandchildren can achieve anything they like here.”


The snow was piled high when eight-year-old Akbal Singh arrived with his family in 1957 from the Punjab.

That was challenging enough. Even more tricky was that Akbal knew nothing about Scotland and even less English.

“I had problems communicating and used to get in fights at school where other kids used to grab my turban and call me names,” he says.

“I got the belt a lot. I wasn’t a troublemaker but people used to wind me up.

“The bullying happened every day until I was 15. There was never a day when I didn’t get in a fight. The teachers didn’t bother.”

Outside school Akbal was a choirboy at Canongate Kirk, took up Ghurka fighting and loved weightlifting.

Eventually a job making fudge for Margiotta brought money into the house.

By 1971 and married to Jagdish Kaur, Akbal decided to seek a better paid job.

“I applied to work on the buses and they told me I would have to cut my beard and hair. Some Sikh men did cut their hair to get a job and others went without work because they wouldn’t do it.

“I was angry about this.

“I was talking about it in the temple and Professor G B Singh helped me take it to court where I was questioned about my turban in front of 12 people. We won the case. I became the first conductor to wear the turban and I went on to become a bus driver.”

After ten years he bought a grocery shop on Wardlaw Place and then sold it for a larger one near Saughton Prison, working long hours and without holidays.

The couple set up home in Shandon Place. Today they have 13 grandchildren and Akbal, 65, of Duddingston, is back behind the wheel, as a minibus driver for Lothian Community Transport Services.

“It’s important to tell our story to let people know how we survived and got by. We were 15 people in a two-bedroom house then. Nowadays the children all want their own room!”