The Anglo Indian men who escorted millions of refugees to safety

(Left to Right) My grandfather Bundy Nixon, 2 bearers – one sitting & one standing, my Uncle, Norman, Rob (an Australian Gurkha officer) and my father, Leslie. Pagdhal, Hoshangabad District, Madhya Pradesh, 1946

Image and Narrative contributed by Deborah Nixon, Sydney

My family has a history of having lived in India for four, or possibly 5 generations- they were all Railways people. Both my grandmother and great grandmother were buried in Bhusawal. My father Leslie Nixon, was born in Agra in 1925, schooled in Mussoorie, trained with the Gurkhas and joined KGV’s 1st OGR (King George V’s regiment). He worked during the Partition to transport refugees in and out of  the Gurkha head quarters in Dharmsala (then Punjab territory, now in the independent state of Himachal Pradesh) to and from Pathankot, Punjab, by train.

This photograph was taken at Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh in 1946 . Behind them was an empty elephant stable. I like this photograph because it is at variance with the way the British in India were depicted on Shikar (Game hunting). This was an ordinary Anglo Indian life away from the metropolis and now there is very little to be seen of it. My father, aged 22 then and his friend Rob May were very young and had to take on an enormous responsibility and an almost impossible task during partition in protecting refugees. He, like millions of others, was left deeply affected by it .

My father archived all of the family images in India and thanks to him I have been lucky to have a ‘bird’s eye view ‘ of partition. He kept a lot of old army documents and memorabilia from the few years he served with the Gurkhas. When he migrated to Australia he went to University and became a Geologist. He has been very interested in my own Phd thesis which focuses on the ‘experience of domiciled Europeans and Anglo Indians up to and during the Partition‘ and sometimes the memories have been painful for him. I am planning on visiting India again later this year to do more research I think your project is absolutely remarkable I read about it in ‘The  Australian‘ newspaper and thought I had to try and get a picture in although my family were not Indian they were a part of India!

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This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. rafiq kidwai

    There is the India partition Archive project the link is
    i am sure this would be of interest to you
    many of us were educated in Missionary Schools and grew up with many Anglo Indians. sadly there are fewer of them always associated Music and laughter with them .
    Good luck with your thesis
    There is a renewed interest in the Partition which destroyed many lives and a way of life and 60 years on people have started talking about it
    i hope one day we get to read your thesis

    1. deborah

      Thanks Rafiq I hope to finish this year and publish a book out of it. There is a renewed interest in Partition, as it was experienced by ordinary people, and especially by the generations removed from those who were directly involved. As you would know, it was a terrible time for all. I think it was too painful for my Dad’s generation to want to openly talk about it but now there are very few witnesses left . Fortunately at 89 he is still going!!

  2. Frances

    Hi, My grandfather, HP Watts was principal of Oak Grove school Mussoorie for many years…. 1920- 1946. I wonder if you have any recollections from your father. I understand the school was for children of railway employees. My mother was in the WVS in Assam during the last year of WW2 and also a VAD In Quetta earlier in the war. She met my father in Lucknow…he had been fighting in Burma. My mother had a strong affection for India and regretted leaving in many ways.
    Was your father in the 1/8 Ghurkas I wonder? I am looking for memories of Quetta in the early 1940s.

    1. Bibhash Das

      Hi,FRANCES, I too have studied in Oak Grove School – MUSSOORIE,probably u will get more information from our Oak Grove Association

    2. Margie White

      Hi Frances, My father, Alfred Cox attended Oak Grove school during the time the your father was principal there. Dad went to India with his parents at the age of 6mths in 1920 and left in the late ’30’s; Granddad was in the East India Railway. We foolishly didn’t record any of Dad’s fabulous stories of his school days at Oak Grove but do still have some photographs of a sports day and prize giving event. I am now at the start of a research project on my Grandmother and her life in India. You write that your mother had a strong affection for India; it would be good to talk to you further as you may be able to help me build up a good picture of my grandmother’s life in India.

      1. Frances

        Hi Margie,
        Interesting to read about your fathers family. I wonder if you have photos from mUssoorie/ Oak Grove at the time. I have one or two, and a couple of years ago I visited the school, saw the school diaries and looked round the family home. Fascinating. I got the feeling that it was a very remote life and my mother told stories about various murders that had taken place at the school. She was in fact sent to England for schooling until the start of the war whe she flew back. My aunt was educated there until the suicide of my grandfather in 1947 and my aunt and grandmother, escorted by their bearer, left for England during Partition.
        I compiled a book of my parents letters ” Wanted on Voyage” ( Letters Crossing Continents) which gives some idea of middle class lifestyle in India during the last years of the war. I am currently working on a book about my fathers war service in India and Burma, including his own diary.

    3. deborah

      Hi Frances my father went to St Georges but I have interviewed old students from Oak Grove by the family name Maelzer they were Anglo Indian although of german european and Indian background. My dad was born in Agra of railway people they were here for generations. He served with the 1st Gurkhas. After 1947 My father couldn’t leave India fast enough he was very traumatised by the violence. It has been my trips that have reconnected hin to it it. I love travelling in India. Regards Deborah

  3. Jason Tilley

    Hi Debhora, very interested in you Phd study as I also have a huge collection of photographs from the final days of the Anglo’s in India in the run up to partition. My Grandpa Bert Scott was a photographer for the Times of India and also the Indian army, wonder could I have you e-mail please.

    Mine is Number 75 on the archive.

    jason Scott Tilley

    1. gurpreet singh anand

      Hi Jason ,

      Wonder if you have in your father’s collection photographs of Rawalpindi and or Murree and or people migrating in 1947 from these areas ..due to partition .

      Would appreciate your reply.With regards and best wishes.Gurpreet

  4. Sabina Mehta Jaitly

    In 1947 there was no Himachal Pradesh. All of what today constitutes Himachal Pradesh was Punjab. Himachal was carved out of Punjab (as was Haryana) in the re organisation of States in the early 1960’s.

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