Mr Testa, former brick-worker, talks with Carmela about his first impression in coming to Bedfordshire from Italy.
“Tell me about when you came, how did you come?
I come with my mum and my young sister.
So your father and your older brothers and sisters were in England already and in Italy was your mum, you and your youngest sister and you came and joined the rest of the family here?
Yes. It was back in 1953.
Did you want to come and be with the rest of the family?
I was in two thoughts because I was coming in to a foreign country but because I was coming to the family I wasn’t worried at all. Everybody used to talk about when I was going to live over here. Of course you always think of your country but no regrets to leave it.
Who did you leave behind?
My mum’s parents had already died and my dad’s dad died, we left behind his mum and an aunty and two uncles.
What was your first impression when you came over?
It was so different. When my sister used to live on Bedford Road and we used to see a double-decker bus which we had never seen before. Hundreds and hundreds of people used to go to work on their bikes, the way of life here was so different. It was too late to go back to where I was from so everything was new.
What time of the year did you arrive?
It was in October, seventeenth of October we arrived. We were supposed to meet my brother and my brother-in-law in London. We were traveling with another Italian who had to fetch his wife and his family, they said go to one railway station, I can’t remember whether it was St Pancras or Kings Cross to get to Bedford, he said ‘No, you go to Victoria.’
So we had to get a taxi, from Victoria Station we had to go to St Pancras or Kings Cross, find someone who spoke Italian, the policeman did find somebody. It was the last train to Bedford and we had to get on that train, we didn’t know because we didn’t understand a word of English. This young lady was in the restaurant and she came and told me that you get on that train and the train stops in Bedford, it stops there so that is where you have to get off.
When we got to Bedford we couldn’t find nobody, we got a taxi and gave the address of where my sister used to live, by then she had her own house, and we went to live with her. We arrived after midnight. They weren’t expecting us, they thought we were still in London until we knocked on the door. My sister said ‘I recognise that voice, who could it be?’ When she opened the door and found that it was us she was very, very surprised, as a matter of fact we were so happy to see my dad, and my brother and my brother-in-law for the first time, my sister who was expecting, because of that we left one suitcase in the taxi. He was very good, he came back five minutes later and bought us the case that we left in his taxi. When I was talking I was shouting and they told me to calm down because I would wake the neighbours up. It was exciting.
Next morning, I think it was Saturday, and dad had to go to work for a half day. He had to go because he had said he would, and he kept his promise. That is how my life started in England.
You must have had difficulties with language, did you go to school to learn English?
No, I was too old. I was near to my eighteenth birthday and if I had to go to high school it would have been hard to learn. My young sister went to school for a short period of time.
Where did she go to school?
How did your mother feel about coming to England?
The only thing I can say is that she felt the same way as me because she had all the family around her. She felt that she didn’t want to leave but you can’t stay with your sisters and brothers when you have your own children to look after. She took the life just the same as I did.
What did you do for work?
I got an application form from my brother from London Brick, they said they would give me a job. I had to send my passport to the Home Office. From the time I came to England, probably a week after, I filled in the form, sent the passport to the Home Office and I had to wait to January to get a job. I started work on the eighth of January, 1954, on the Friday, at the end of the week. I worked the Saturday as well.
What was your job at London Brick?
Labourer, cleaning up around the pans.”