50 years since Ugandan Asians were resettled in Honiton

Heathfield where Ugandan Asians were re-located

Heathfield where Ugandan Asians were re-located - Credit: Honiton Museum

Margaret Lewis, curator of Honiton Museum, writes for the Herald.

Margaret Lewis (outside the Honiton Museum) is keen for the building to host the town's new TIC. mhh

Margaret Lewis (outside the Honiton Museum) is keen for the building to host the town's new TIC. mhh 25-16TI 2287. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of when Idi Amin the Ugandan President gave notice to all of the Asians living there that they had ninety days to leave the country. 1,800 Ugandan Asians came through Heathfield Resettlement Centre in Honiton.

W.R.V.S. leader ‘Bunty’ Charles was transferred from Houndstone Camp in Yeovil to Honiton to organise the 150 volunteers and get the camp ready for the refugees due to arrive at Heathfield, Honiton.

They had a mammoth task; the huts had been unoccupied for over eighteen months, and they had to be cleaned twice. Six hundred and eighty beds were made up.

The dreary run-down former NAAFI building was thoroughly cleaned and transformed into a welcoming reception area although there was no desk, chair, or telephone available to be used for a while. Huts were converted to classrooms, desks and chairs brought from all over Devon and teachers came from all over the country. By 6.30pm on Saturday 7th October 1972, the camp was ready for its new occupants.

When the first 586 people arrived, it had been pouring with rain all day.

They had been travelling for days, delayed by hours and were exhausted, bewildered, and hungry.

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The first night was spent settling people into their quarters. Each family was allocated an ‘escort’ who helped them with paperwork, medical checks and any other problems which needed attention.

As always, the residents of Honiton and surrounding villages were extremely generous with donations of warm clothing and toys and books for the children. Local people offered help with transport.

The St John’s Ambulance and the British Red Cross ran the medical centre. An evening coffee bar was set up for teenagers, a sewing circle was held for mothers in the mornings while their children attended nursery school.

Playing bingo was popular in the recreation centre and a piano was donated.

The Mayor Alderman H Black made an official visit to welcome everyone to Honiton and invited them to join in the activities offered by local people. Seven hundred people stayed for a just a few days and others stayed for another four months before moving on.

Bunty was awarded the B.E.M for her work in the 1973 New Year’s Honours list. Her uniform is on display in the Honiton museum.

A celebration of the 50th anniversary is being planned for October. We would love to hear from anyone who could help us with photos, newspaper cuttings, memories or memorabilia which would help us to create an exhibition.