William Besson – ‘A lot of young men, most of them in dressing gowns to keep warm’

Primary source material reproduced from William Besson, Caribbean Reflections: The Life and Times of a Trinidad Scholar, 1901-1986 (London, 1989)

On arrival, my friend [George Busby] took me to the digs of some of the West Indian students in Tollcross. There I saw a lot of young men, most of them in dressing gowns to keep warm, some of whom were playing bridge while others were studying ‘bones’ and reading anatomy textbooks. Most of the students gathered there to meet me were Trinidadians. So immediately on arrival in Edinburgh I was welcomed into a West Indian student community.

[…] After about two years I went outwith the West Indian community and, along with seven or eight of the West Indians, began to move among the West African students, especially as many of them were in the Medical Faculty. So we eventually became members of the West African Association. And then I observed that the Indian students also had a very strong Association with elaborate rooms in George Square. So I thought if you could have the West African Association and the Indian Association, why couldn’t you have a West Indian Association? So that led me to form the Edinburgh West Indian Association.

I met all the students singly and asked them if they would join such an Association and I got a good response and we formed the Association. That was about 1923. We must have had about twenty-five students for we had a cricket team of twelve, which was approximately fifty per cent of the whole membership […] In those days, in the early twenties, ‘The Meadows’ was the cricket playing ground of Edinburgh, and if you went on a Wednesday or on a Saturday you would see matches being played all over […]