Wednesday 17 Jul 2024

Ugandan refugee who became 1st mayor of Goan origin in UK

GOAN MAYORS IN UK-1

LUI GODINHO | JUNE 17, 2024, 11:23 PM IST
Ugandan refugee who became 1st mayor of Goan origin in UK

Then Mayor of Fishguard & Goodwick Joe D’Cruz interacting with Princess Anne in 1997 to commemorate the bicentenary year of the last invasion attempt by the French to enter the UK.


LONDON

When he was forced to flee Uganda on a Red Cross plane, and without a passport, to land in a refugee camp in Italy in 1973, Joe D’Cruz could never have imagined that 23 years later he would go on to become the first Goan mayor in the UK when he headed twin seaside towns in Wales.

This is the remarkable story of Joe D’Cruz, son of Francis Xavier Stanislaus D’Cruz and Clementine Eldama D’Cruz, who hailed from Parra-Goa, when he became mayor of Fishguard and Goodwick Council at Pembrokeshire, Wales, in May 1996. 

LIFE IN AFRICA

Joe was born in Nairobi-Kenya and lived in Mombasa. He eventually moved to Uganda and was employed as a driver for East African Railways, regularly driving locomotives between the two countries. He had also served with the Red Cross in Uganda.


Joe and Dorothy D’Cruz.


“It was through music – I was a trumpet player – that I met my wife-to-be Dorothy, daughter of Caetano Tolentino Francisco Dias and Especiosa Josepha Dias who hailed from Ambora-Salcete, as her brother and I had played in the same band,” said Joe, who shared newspaper articles documenting his fascinating journey. 

“When Idi Amin staged a coup and overthrew President Milton Obote’s government in Uganda, I was serving as head of the parcel's department in the main post office in the capital, Kampala, while Dorothy worked as a bookshop manager.”

Many Asians tried to send their savings to neighbouring countries using the postal service and when two of Joe's customers were arrested, he managed to secure their release from the notorious Makinde prison.

“I was warned by an Arab friend from Mombasa who worked in the special branch of the Uganda Army, that I should escape with my family as soon as possible, anywhere out of Uganda, because I became a marked man and was accused of interfering in matters of state. If we didn’t leave soon, our lives were in danger,” said Joe.

ESCAPE TO EUROPE

Having succeeded in getting Dorothy and their two sons, Kenny and Andy, out of the country, Joe embarked on a daring escape, fraught with danger, when he boarded a Red Cross plane, and without a passport, and flew to Italy. 

“After spending time in refugee camps in Italy, where I continued my work for the Red Cross, I was transferred to the RAF Gaydon near Warwick-UK, where there was a camp for Uganda Asian refugees,” said Joe.

“Dorothy and my sons joined me in Warwickshire from their refugee camp in Eccleshall, Staffordshire. From there, we were offered accommodation by the Pembrokeshire County Council in Goodwick.”

The D’Cruz family settled at Heol Y Felin in Goodwick and Joe recalled that they experienced nothing but kindness and help from the local community.

Joe worked for the Royal Naval Armaments Depot (RNAD). Their two sons, Kenny and Andy made it to University and eventually built careers in journalism and art respectively. 

Joe and Dorothy were closely associated with the Church of the Holy Name and Joe served as Grand Knight of St Columba, a Catholic organisation which supports local charities.

COUNCIL ACTIVITIES

Joe decided to enter council politics and became councillor at the Fishguard & Goodwick Council in 1978.

“I entered council politics to work for the twin towns of Fishguard & Goodwick, Wales, to make a contribution and pay back for the help and kindness extended to myself, my wife and two young sons, who were just 8 and 5 years old, when we arrived as refugees, having fled for our lives from Uganda with nothing, and were being housed by councils in the UK,” explained Joe.

Such was his connect with the community, having served as councillor for 18 years, that Joe was appointed Mayor of Fishguard & Goodwick in 1996.

“To be honest, I did not run for the post of Mayor, but the councillors decided to appoint me as mayor,” acknowledged Joe.

As mayor, Joe was involved in important projects in the two towns. Among the many memorable moments during his term as mayor, Joe recalled that 1997 was a very special year for Fishguard & Goodwick.

“It was the bicentenary year of the last invasion attempt by the French to enter the UK, when they sailed into Fishguard harbour. To mark the occasion, Princess Anne was invited to receive the freedom of entry to our Town in the form of a scroll, which I, as Mayor, presented to her,”  recalled Joe.

“Dignitaries from across the world attended the ceremony, and neighbouring mayors were also invited to participate in numerous events hosted by us, including a fly past by the Red Arrows.”

GOAN CONNECT

Having served as the first Goan mayor in the UK, Joe is aware that a growing number of Goans are now contesting council elections around the UK. 

Asked what would be his advice to Goans entering council politics, Joe replied: “My advice to the Goans contesting elections is that they should have a positive attitude and commit to doing the best they can for the good of their community. They should always be approachable and helpful to their communities.




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