Howdy Neighbour

An interview with Des Simpson .

Written by Sarah Faeyman.


How long have you been living at Winona?
I have been here since 1991.


Where were you bom?
In Belfast, Nothem Ireland.


Can you tell us something about your family?
I lived with my mother, grandfather and uncle. I was an only child and they looked after me well but there was discipline.

What was school like?
From age 10,1 attended the Royal Belfast Academical Institution - better known as “Inst”. It was the topmost private school and difficult to qualify for it because of the high standards. It was like getting into Eton or Harrow.

How did World War 2 affect you?
All my teen years were spent during the war. Everything was rationed and the city was heavily bombed. 25% of the city was destroyed and half of the remainder was damaged.


We were in North Ireland but South Ireland was neutral with a German Consul still there who was busy contacting Berlin and managing to provide supplies to German submarines that would then attack the allied convoys.


When the war with Europe ended I wanted to travel. I applied to an American Jute Co. to work in India and was chosen over twenty others. My family was very worried because the Japanese army was still stationed in Burma and they feared for my safety.However, the voyage by ship to Bombay was lengthy and by the time I arrived in Calcutta by train three days later, the bomb had been dropped and the war with Japan was over.

How was your adjustment to living in India?
It was great!!


There were one thousand men under me and I was known as Simpson Sahib ( high status). I had servants who did everything for me. In Calcutta, which is in Bengal, the working class people spoke Hindustani while the upper class spoke Bengali or Urdu. As I wanted to communicate with my workers,


I learned Hindustani. I first lived above the community centre and could come down to play snooker (he won a snooker tournament) and go to the bar.

What stands out in your mind about that period?
Many wonderful adventures. One year after my arrival in India, I took a train to the foot of the Himalayas and then transferred to the famous Darjeeling Assam Mountain Railway. On my 21st birthday I ascended Tiger Hill in the dark, 9,000 feet up in the Himalayas and watched the sun rise and illuminate Mount Everest about 40 miles away.


Another great adventure was a visit to New Delhi to see ‘The Red Fort’ (4 palaces enclosed by a huge wall that provided fortification during battles). Because I spoke Hindustani, I gained the confidence of people who were unaccustomed to foreigners speaking this language. Therefore, I was let into “the secret of The Red Fort”. On the Mosaic walls,


I was told to gaze deeply at a carved rose. I looked and looked and eventually discovered that the floor plan of the entire wing of the palace was engraved on the rose. Legend had it that the Maharajah kept all of his wives and concubines busy guessing what the secret was in order to win a big financial reward.

Another amazing sight was Kutb Minar - a magnificent stonework conical tower. From the top, one could look out over the desert and see a depression one mile away. I was told that this was the site of the Sacred Well-Divers of India. Of course, I went to explore. The tower was 120 feet high with doors every 20 feet going up the wall.


The Sacred Well-Divers lived there. On the top, looking down, it was like looking through the opposite end of a telescope as the space became narrower and narrower toward the bottom where there was only 5 feet of water. The divers would jump from the top and dive directly into the water. This fete was achieved by first practicing, when they were children, by diving from the lower doors and working their way higher and higher.

On a trip to Agra to see the famous Taj Mahal, I discovered yet another secret. I was gazing at the huge stone caskets in the palace that contained the bodies of the emperor and his favourite wife. Once again, the fact that I, a foreigner, could speak Hindustani, so impressed the guard that he beckoned me to follow him. He took a -torch, lit it, and led me through a door, down the stairs below to a chamber directly below the caskets upstairs. There were identical tombs to those above and these contained the actual emperor and wife. The ones upstairs were only replicas.

How long were you in India?
I was there 4 years in all. After 3 years I went back to Ireland, married and returned to India. We were there when India gained independence in 1947 and when the country was divided into Pakistan and India. There were uprisings and some Sahibs were killed.


It was 1949 and I decided it was probably time to leave. Additionally, my family wanted me to return to enter the family business which was one of the largest lithographic and box making factories.

What made you decide to leave Ireland after 8 years?
The conditions were actually very good. I obtained exclusive prime land (like The Bridle Path) that was part of Lord Derramore's estate and the lease was for 9,999 years. I designed the layout and we lived in a very big house .


My first son was bom in 1951 and soon there was another son and a daughter. However, in 19561 could see that the Catholic/Protestant clashes were intensifying and felt that it would be better to emigrate.


Family and friends felt I was making a terrible mistake in leaving behind the house and the business. Perhaps because I had been away, I could see things better. I said: “In 10 years , the political situation will worsen and they will be at each others5 throats”. I was wrong. It took 11 years.

Why did you choose Canada?
I was in a bar, chatting and drinking with some Canadian sailors and I decided tha