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.”

Souza's letter to Ribeiro, 1949

Souza's letter to Ribeiro, 1949

Ribeiro’s brother, Souza, had travelled to England in 1949. A year later, Ribeiro followed to study accountancy. Aged sixteen, he made the 21-day voyage aboard the P&O’s ‘S.S. MOOLTAN’. It left Bombay Docks 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 his brother, Souza in London's Chalk Farm where he described their lives as an ‘open book’. He soon secured accommodation at the International Language Club in London’s East Croydon while studying but started pursuing creative interests, including life drawing in part-time day and evening classes at Saint Martin's School of Art (1951-53), jewellery manufacture and design and writing his first poems.

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).

Thomas Cook and Son Ltd. invoice for passage on the 'Mooltan', 1950
Bombed Theobald's Road, 1940s
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.

Ribeiro (middle front) in the RAF, 1954. Crown Copyright for RAF material.
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.