First years in England

1950-1955

“...London life is throbbing. The ‘Underground’ of London is an amazing feat of engineering. To go underground to the tiny trains called ‘tubes’ all one has to do is to stand on a staircase which moves and you reach below or brings you up as you wish. They are called escalators, which you must have heard about... the sensation at first on it is something unexplainable.”
A letter from Souza to Ribeiro, 1949
Souza's letter to Ribeiro, 1949

Ribeiro, aged sixteen, was secretly sent to London by his mother to study accountancy. He joined his artist brother, Souza, who had arrived in 1949 and had written home that the prospects for Lance in Britain held promise.

Ribeiro left Bombay on 26 August 1950 and made the 21-day voyage to England aboard the P&O steamship, the ‘SS Mooltan’ which, he wrote, was “his city for three weeks”:

“...I have never forgotten those early days, disillusioned and troubled days... I was alone, with nothing but a constantly growing fear. Why had I left home and all that I knew, felt and could touch?”
1950 Thomas Cook invoice Bombay to London on SS Mooltan
Thomas Cook invoice, Bombay to London, 1950
Bombed Theobalds Road, 1940s
Bombed Theobalds Road, 1940s
Photo of Ribeiro and Souza, 1950
Ribeiro and Souza, 1950

On arrival, he stayed with Souza in London’s Chalk Farm. He took up a refresher English course at the International Language Club in East Croydon while studying.

Photo of the International Language Club, 1951
Ribeiro (front row, wearing bow tie) with the International Language Club, East Croydon, 1951

London was still recovering from the Blitz. Rationing had been introduced in 1940 and would remain in place until 1954. Nevertheless, Ribeiro's archive conveys Britain's strong post-war communal spirit, amid the Festival of Britain (1951), the Funeral of King George VI (1952) and the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (1953).

Photo of Ribeiro in London, 1952
Ribeiro in London, 1952
Photo of Ribeiro in 1952
Ribeiro in London, 1952
Photo of Ribeiro and Ted Langley in Croydon, 1950
Ribeiro and friend Ted Langley in Croydon, 1950

Ribeiro soon abandoned his accountancy course and took up life drawing at St Martin's School of Art.

Ribeiro's life drawing, 1959
Ribeiro's life drawings, 1959
Ribeiro's life drawing, 1959
Ribeiro's life drawings, 1959

National Service in the Royal Air Force

Ribeiro would endure conscription into National Service which had been introduced in Britain in 1939 to cope with a shortage of soldiers during World War Two. Although the war ended in 1945, National Service continued and by the 1950s took nearly two million men into training.

On his brother's advice, Ribeiro started travelling to Europe to escape conscription. However, in 1954 he was caught by two military police and sent to do service as a British Empire National, in the Royal Air Force (RAF).

The days consisted of basic training in West Kirby (Merseyside), and a posting in Catterick (North Yorkshire). He found himself forced to shoot rabbits, following the highly-infectious myxomatosis outbreak which had reached the UK in the 1950s.

Photo of Ribeiro in the RAF, 1954
Ribeiro (middle front) in the RAF, 1954
Photo of Ribeiro in the RAF, 1954
Ribeiro (top row, third in from right) in the RAF, 1954

Meanwhile, tensions in the Middle East were escalating. He wrote home that the RAF would soon be sending him to Egypt. The leader of Egypt's nationalist movement, Nasser, was obstructing the Suez Canal – which was used by the British to access its East Asian markets. With the crisis looming, it took the intervention of his brother and V K Krishna Menon (India's first High Commissioner in London from Indian Independence) to secure his discharge in 1955.

RAF Telegram discharging Ribeiro, 1954
A telegram from the RAF discharging Ribeiro, 1954
RAF Service and Discharge Certificate, Ribeiro, 1954
RAF Service and Discharge Certificate for Ribeiro, 1954

He left for India and started working in life insurance.

A photograph of Lancelot Ribeiro