With the recent death of Lady Thatcher and this week’s local elections, it has been a time of strong political debate. Recently, I watched a party political broadcast by the Labour Party, in which its leader Ed Milliband discussed his party’s policy on the thorny issue of immigration.
Now I am not about to regale you with my opinion on immigration, I don’t have one and to be brutally honest I don’t care!
But I am going to use this opportunity to point out that the designer of some of Britain’s most successful cars was an immigrant who did not set foot in Britain until he was 16 years old.
He was born on 18 November 1906 in Smyrna in the former Ottoman Empire. His mother was German and his father was of Greek ancestry, but he was a British citizen. His grandfather had obtained British citizenship through the UK consul in Smyrna, for reasons that would not be acceptable to today’s Identity and Passport Service. Neither the grandfather, father or mother of this car designer had a drop of British blood in them, and had never visited the United Kingdom.
The car designer was brought up as British, and in later life, would come across as more British than a native-born citizen.
However, WW1 resulted in the collapse of the Ottoman empire, and Greek troops occupied Smyrna in May 1919. Turkish nationalism flourished. In September 1922, Turkish troops closed in on Smyrna. Refugees flooded into the city, and an international naval evacuation began. The British citizenship of the car designer’s family came in useful, and they were evacuated by the Royal Navy to Malta. They had lost everything, and had gone from riches to rags – and Smyrna burned, to be rebuilt by the Turks. It would be renamed Izmir.
The father of the car designer was taken ill on the journey to Malta. He and his mother travelled by train to reach England, while his father languished in a Malta hospital – finally dying on 1 June 1923, after a nine month illness, and never seeing the country he admired so much.
The mother was able to sue the British government for compensation for the loss of the family fortune. She won, although the sum was only able to tide mother and son over for a short while.
The son studied engineering and went on to become a famous car designer. He was knighted in the summer of 1969 and died on 2 October 1988.
He was of course Sir Alec Arnold Constantine Issigonis CBE.