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  • Stefan Donnelly

A unique piece of Chagossian history: make a bid and make it yours

Auction deadline extended to 31 October!

Producing articles, tweets and blogs about the Chagossian campaign is a bit part of my role as Communications Manager of UK Chagos Support Association. So I spend a lot of time typing 'chagos' into boxes. Usually they're boxes on Google News, Twitter or Youtube.

For a change though I recently made a speculative Ebay search for 'Chagos.' And I stumbled across a rare, fascinating piece of history: a 1975 copy of the Radio Times featuring an in-depth article on the Chagos Islands.

Over the next week, we'll be auctioning this off, with all proceeds going to support our work campaigning for justice for Chagossians. Please place your bids in the 'comments' section at the bottom of the article, or if you would prefer to bid anonymously, please email your bid to contact@chagossupport.org.uk We'll keep all bidders updated until the auction closes on 31st October at 20:00 GMT. Bids start at £10!

The article is focused on a documentary programme (The World About Us), aired that week on BBC1, presented by naturalist David Bellamy. The programme followed Dr Bellamy as he explored the unique history and environment of the Chagos Archipelago. Supporters may remember David Bellamy backed Chagossian return, speaking a few years ago about the amazing experience he had on the Chagos Islands. Dr Bellamy also went on to write a book about his experience in the Chagos Archipelago, Half of Paradise.

Although a fascinating article, reading it now you can't help feeling a sense of sadness and frustration. Reflected in the piece is the general ignorance about the fate of Chagossians amongst the outside world at the time. Referencing the fate of Chagossians, the author (Russell Miller) writes:

“Some of the islands where inhabited, until 40 or so years ago, by Creoles, who farmed the coconut plantations for copra.”

Bear in mind this is 1975, just two years since the final Chagossians were forcibly removed. More to the point, the article makes clear the programme was made in the first few months of 1973: when several hundred Chagossians were actually still living in the islands of Peros Banhos. The final deportations did not occur until May.

Even in the next paragraph there are hints the removal was a lot more recent, as the article describes coming across a 'Ghost Town,' with drugs still in hospitals, beds and linen in tact and boats unlaunched in the boat sheds.”

A “little railway” which Mr Bellamy is described as “spending hours shunting the trains up and down on,” seems to give some hint of the unnamed island he was on, as does the description of it being “75 miles to the north of the main archipelago. It sounds like Dr Bellamy and his crew where on Ile Boddam in Salomon Atoll.

Presumably unknown to the team was that the native population, which they believed to have been removed before the second world war, were present on a neighbouring island. They had most likely left the island “ghost town” at most a couple of years previously earlier, explaining why the “linen” had yet to perish.

Elsewhere in the article there are colour photographs of the wildlife and beautiful natural environment of the islands. The native birds, including the Brown, Red Breasted and Masked Boobies, are pictured across several islands. The marine wildlife, including native jellyfish and some of the unparalleled Chagossian corals are also described and pictured in detail.

The scientific aspect of how the Chagos Archipelago, a coral atoll, was formed is also described within the four-page article. Its not all science, however, as we also get Dr Bellamy's account of close encounters with sharks and descriptions of Moray Eel biting off someone's finger.

The article is a uniquely well-preserved, well-presented piece of Chagossian history. And yet like so much of Chagossian history it is bitter-sweet to read. It shows just how successful the UK and US governments' attempts to keep their abuse of the Chagossian people under wraps.

When this piece was written, the US government was still denying the islands had any native people. The issue of the Chagossian people had scarce, if ever, been raised in the UK Parliament.

Yet the article also hints at the potential for a positive future. The remnants of Chagossians thriving society are noted. The beauty of their homeland and its importance suggest the future Chagos and Chagossians could have in eco-tourism and environmental protection.

And whatever the winner of this auction pays for this unique artefact, they'll be contributing to making that positive future a reality. We're an entirely voluntary group so every penny you donate goes to supporting the Chagossian community and their fight for justice.


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