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... 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, made the 21-day journey to England aboard the P&O's 'SS Mooltan'. It left Bombay on 26 August 1950 and was, he wrote, “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?”

On arrival, he stayed with Souza in London's Chalk Farm where their lives were an ‘open book’. He soon took up a refresher English course at the International Language Club in East Croydon and lodged there while studying for accountancy which - despite letters from home urging him towards success - he keenly abandoned, taking up life drawing at St Martins School of Art. These were times of financial strain and the family wrote of their anguish at hearing he had had to pawn his clothes.

Ribeiro's life drawing, 1959
Ribeiro's life drawings, 1959
Ribeiro's life drawing, 1959
Life drawings from Ribeiro's sketchbooks, 1959

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).

1950 Thomas Cook invoice Bombay to London on SS Mooltan
Thomas Cook and Son Ltd. invoice for passage on the ‘Mooltan’, 1950
Bombed Theobalds Road, 1940s
Bombed Theobalds Road, 1940s
Photo of Ribeiro and Souza, 1950
Ribeiro and Souza, 1950

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. Crown Copyright for RAF material.
Photo of Ribeiro in the RAF, 1954
Ribeiro (top row, third in from right) in the RAF, 1954. Crown Copyright for RAF material.

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.

He left for India and started working in life insurance.

A photograph of Lancelot Ribeiro