Race, Railways and Domiciled Europeans

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Deborah Nixon


The focus for my PhD research is on where domiciled Europeans positioned themselves in their recounts of partition experiences in 1947. In particular I would like to investigate how those in the military saw partition and what has inflected their retelling of events and their recollections on life up to and during partition. I have used my father, Leslie Nixon, as a case study for this research as he served with a Ghurkha rifle regiment as a young subaltern from 1945-1947 and spent the second half of 1947 transporting Muslim and Hindu refugees through Himachal Pradesh to and from the trains at Pathankot. His position, as a domiciled European, is tangential because of the nature of the social boundaries that were constantly being constructed, negotiated and blurred at the time by the British about themselves.
At times there are dissonances between what he remembers about social relationships and evidence from the vast number of photographs he brought with him from India. The photographs have become an invaluable window into the time and have provided me with a great deal of biographical detail, place names and people that Leslie would otherwise have not remembered. They are in themselves not the ‘truth’ but together with the information from interviews with Leslie it is possible to pastiche a wider snapshot of the time. Memory, trauma and the time that has elapsed have worked on Leslie’s recollections. His voice may be fossilised in a moment but what that moment reveals is of value. I have attempted to place his voice: what shaped it and how it reflects the discursive constructions of the time.
As well as being a narrative about surviving the partition this is also a story of migration, and the complexities of identities constructed around the flow of migrants between and within India, Britain and Australia.

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