Troubador Tea, Love and War

Released: 01/03/2012

ISBN: 9781780880891

eISBN: 9781780889658

Format: Paperback/eBook

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Tea, Love and War

Searching for English roots in Assam


The range of the book: from wartime England to colonial Assam; from sapper training in India to jungle warfare in Malaya – Tea, Love and War tells the unique true story of the child of an exploited village woman gaining recognition and acceptance in suburban England. It is split into three parts:?Stuart and?Mary’s story, David’s story, and Ann’s story. 

Stuart, working on a tea estate in the jungles of Assam, fathers a child by a teenage native woman. Stuart’s letters to his family in pre-war England vividly describe his life as a planter in colonial India but conceal his secret love life. When war breaks out, Stuart joins the Indian army, trains as a sapper and is posted to Malaya, blowing bridges in the desperate rearguard action against the Japanese invasion. 

Back in wartime England, his sister Mary marries Stuart’s best friend, Arthur, who decides to train as an army officer. Mary, now a young mother pregnant with her second child, tells of the year’s delay in hearing news of her brother’s death at the fall of Singapore. Before the child is born, she learns that Arthur has been killed in action in Italy. 

The story switches to a jungle village in Assam where a small Anglo-Indian child named Ann fights her way through poverty and discrimination, always seeking the identity of her father and his family. Tea, Love and War is a gripping true story, narrated by Mary through her son David. “Much of the text is taken from the many exercise books that she filled with her memories, and whilst my investigations have expanded and updated her story, the history of the relevant elements of the Second World War, the Blitz and public perception of the Malayan campaign leading to the fall of Singapore are more eloquently seen from her individual viewpoint.” 

The book will appeal to fans of autobiographies, history and social history – Anglo-Indian culture and exploitation of women in India are key themes in the text – and has been inspired by Wild Swans.

The main character of David's first book: Tea, Love and War is Stuart Poyser who left England in 1930 to work on a tea estate in Assam. Stuart fathered a child by a native woman on the estate and his daughter's quest for her roots is central to the story

'Moving tale of love and loss in wartime Assam'

Of Tea, Love and War – the Story of Ann Poyser and Her Roots in Tea
By Pullock DuttaJun 2, 2022 06:38pm
India teaTea farmtea farmerstea farming
Poyserbari Tea Estate - Ann Poyser
Ann Poyser, owner of Poyserbari Tea Estate, reflects on her family's tea roots, which is explored in the book "Tea, Love and War" by David Mitchel. (Photo by: Pullock Dutta)
Tinsukia, Assam (India) – The love of a daughter for her British tea planter father and tea tribe mother inspired her to set up a tea plantation in Tinsukia, to keep the family legacy alive in this part of the world.

Poyserbari Tea Estate, located in tea-rich eastern Assam, produces only about 1.6 lakh kgs of tea leaves annually, but a story of love and war is hidden behind the tea bushes in this lush green garden, in which leaves are ready to be plucked this time of the year when Assam produces the best teas of the harvesting season.

It’s the story of Ann Poyser, an octogenarian lady and the owner of Poyserbari Tea Estate, who fought against all odds to get recognition for herself and to keep her family roots embedded in Assam tea forever.

“I don’t remember my father because he died when I was just a few months old, but I heard so much about him from my mother that he has become an inspiration for me,” said Poyser.

“I have only seen a photo of him, which was in my mother’s possession,” said Poyser at her Tingari Bazar residence.

Poyserbari Tea Estate - Ann Poyser - India
Ann Poyser is the owner of Poyserbari Tea Estate. (Photo by: Pullock Dutta)
Poyser’s father, Stuart Vernon Poyser, was a tea executive during the British rule in India and was posted at Pengaree Tea Estate, where he fell in love with an Adivasi (tea tribe) woman – and married her. However, a few years later – and after transfers to at least three company gardens located in Assam – he joined the Army voluntarily during World War II and fell to a bullet at Singapore.

Stuart had left behind two daughters and the woman he loved in Assam.

While one of Stuart’s daughters passed away when she was about five years old, the younger sibling completed her education in boarding schools and worked in various tea companies doing paper work. Her mother, Monglee Kol, continued to live in her ancestral home near Pengaree Tea Estate. She died in 1995.

“I retired as the secretary to the superintendent of Makum & Namdang tea company in 1988,” Poyser said, who never had any connection with her father’s family, although she left no stone unturned to get in touch with them.

“I have given up hope of making a connection with my father’s family,” she said.

However, as luck would have it, in 1988, Poyser retrieved a two-page document from a waste paper basket at the superintendent’s office, where she found the name of her father.

“It was a letter written by the commanding officer of the Assam Valley Light Horse Regiment addressed to the superintendent of Makum & Namdang Tea Company, informing about the officers who had joined the Army from various tea gardens in Assam and had died in the war at Singapore,” Poyser recalled.

Assam Valley Light Horse Regiment was raised in 1891 and formed part of Indian volunteer force. The regimental headquarters was at Dibrugarh in Assam, and it recruited volunteers from the European community in Assam – mostly tea planters.

Poyser said that she requested the superintendent to take up the matter with Assam Valley Light Horse Regiment to know details about her father.

“Although the superintendent took up the matter with Army authorities in London, they declined to share details as my mother was not legally married to my father and my father’s family had no idea about us,” Poyser told World Tea News.

Poyser was twice lucky when she found a copy of the Daily Telegraph, London, at her office, where an article written about the war at Singapore was published. “I contacted the author of the article, one Major General Edward Fursdon, the Singapore-based defense correspondent of the newspaper.”

After several correspondences with Fursdon, Poyser learned that her father hailed from Bedford.

Fursdon sent her a photo of the mass grave, where her father was buried. “Fursdon also informed my father’s family about me and my mother. Hitherto, they never knew about our existence,” said Poyser.

Finally, Poyser landed up in London with her daughter (Ann married an Air Force officer while she was working at the Assam Branch of Indian Tea Association office at Dibrugarh) in 1978, where she was greeted by her father’s family members. “I still have a close connection with my father’s family,” she said.

Poyser’s story was compiled in a book – Tea, Love and War – written by David Mitchel, Poyser’s first cousin. The book is available on Amazon.

Tryst with Tea

Soon after her retirement from Makum & Namdang Tea Company in 1990, Poyser decided to start a tea estate in memory of her parents. By then she was well connected with her father’s family, which was always a support for her.

“I had some ancestral land belonging to my mother near Pengaree Tea Estate, so I decided to start a tea plantation in memory of my parents,” she said.

She named the garden Poyserbari – meaning Poyser’s garden. “Bari” means garden in the local dialect.

Poyserbari Tea Estate
Poyserbari Tea Estate (Photo by: Pullock Dutta)
Hesam Ansari, the manager of Poyserbari Tea Estate, said that Poyser has toiled hard to set up the tea estate in memory of her parents, and workers of the garden respect her for her efforts.

The garden – one of the well-maintained ones in the area – is a Trustea certified garden today. Trustea is an Indian sustainability code and verification system for the tea sector.

“I had to take lots of trouble starting the garden because I had no idea about tea making,” Poyner explained. “Although I worked in tea companies, I was engaged in paperwork; I received a lot of help from the workers.”

Anita Poyser – Poyser’s daughter – said that her mother had gone through lots of hardship in life, but she has come out as a winner. “She has given us an identity and managed to keep our family roots embedded in Assam tea. I salute her,” Anita told World Tea News.

Poyserbari Tea Estate Owner Ann Poyser
Ann Poyser (right) with her daughter, Anita Poyser (left) (Photo by: Pullock Dutta)

The Telegraph, India

Asomiya Pratidin newspaper (in Assamese)

Old Epsomian

Leicester Mercury

The Bookseller Buyer's Guide, Spring 2012

Leicester Mercury, March 2012

This is the most poignant story I have ever read and it is a biography!

You are transported back to the time of the Second World War and through the characters share the agonising waiting for news of their loved ones in the combat zones. Eventually the dreaded news arrives with the consequences affecting the subsequent lives of the widows and their families. Thoroughly moving and a triumph!

by Simon Gravett

This book is one of those that you cannot put down. I have been reading it up till 2.00 am. Superbly written, it is a dramatic story, and makes us eternally grateful for those who gave their tomorrow for our today.

by John Sharp

These are a few of the many letters, emails and messages I have received from readers - to whom many thanks for your input.

'I finished the book last night - great read - great book - congratulations'

'I have been enthralled by your book, an extraordinary story with equally excellent structure. Your have brought together the many strands and rendered the true tale with great style - well done. It must surely become a best seller. Congratulations on a wonderful read'

'Congratulations! I loved the book and all the people in it. You covered times that I personally lived through and your research in every area was mind boggling.'

I have just finished reading Tea, Love and War and I want to tell you that I found it absolutely riveting - and superbly written.'

' L loved it and just couldn't put it down - something that I haven't done with or to a book since very early days of reading. Congratulations and thanks'

'the way in which the story is told will hold, entertain and also educate the reader'

'We both thought it to be one of the best books we had read for a long, long time'

'Well done - a really good read, and I did shed a tear in a couple of places - what a story. I do feel it would make a wonderful film.'

'I thoroughly enjoyed David Mitchell's book on heart-wrenching survival under heartbreaking conditions. His research on India and the tea plantations was exhaustingly well done. Surely this has the bare bones of a movie in the future.'

I hope some Hollywood mogul picks up your story and puts in on screen'

'Congratulations, I have just finished reading your literary masterpiece and loved it. I was riveted to Ann's story and what she had to go through particularly in her early life. The tragedy of war and later happiness so vividly portrayed by the family story. Well worth putting on paper.'

'I enjoyed it enormously. Three brilliant stories, all very well told. Thank you very much'

'I have just finished reading your book and would like to congratulate you on an extraordinary publication. It is a fascinating story and one which I thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end. I will be quite amazed if it does not become a best seller and even a film! It is one of the best books I have read - I could not put it down'

by David Mitchell

A book review by Ami Ganatra, Year 9D
Whilst the author compares his book to a ‘patchwork’, ‘Tea Love and War’ is more a tapestry of literature in my opinion; a mycelium of threads expertly woven together to form a dramatic epic novel. The book provides a very interesting outlook on much of 20th century life with particular focus on World War 2; the author David Mitchell through his mother Mary, explores the rich and remarkable history of his family life, in places ranging from India to Malaya to England.
Initially, the story begins with loose threads. Fragments of an Anglo-Indian girl’s life at a convent school are introduced in the first couple of chapters. This gives the reader something to bear in the mind whilst the core of the first book narrates the stories of Stuart and his sister Mary Poyser. They both voice their experiences as Stuart travels to work on a tea estate in India and England braces itself for war. Whilst Stuart finds himself falling in love with an Indian teenager on one hand, he is diligently managing busy tea factories on the other. Mary becomes a devoted sports enthusiast in England and gains more senior sporting positions as her life goes on. From the start, both their stories are fascinating and engage the reader immediately. As war erupts, the story becomes more turbulent both in England and abroad and one is shown a more personal side to life then. Love lives are turned around, as the war spreads; just as war subsides in one part of the world, it begins to gain pace in another. As the years pass, life goes on and almost every page of the book continues to captivate the already engrossed reader.
Thereafter, the story develops further. New characters come to the forefront, the story now being looked at from their eyes. The author’s powerful writing style frequently evokes the reader’s more emotional side; no sooner is the reader crying with sympathy at the moving climaxes than they are cringing with nausea at the gory descriptions.
All in all, by the story’s conclusion, the loose threads throughout the book eventually intertwine harmoniously, coming together for a deeply satisfying and happy ending.
The art of putting together such an in-depth true story, and relating it in such an eloquent manner is in itself admirable. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the novel, and found that there are many messages I could take away from it. Firstly, that life goes on inexorably. The characters contend with the many problems they faced, and one must apply that to life today. The other is that one must not give up easily. I quote from the front cover, ‘Searching for English Roots in Assam’; this is the quest in the book that took an entire lifetime, but still was never given up.
The universality of the novel means it can appeal to nearly all ages and both genders, and can give one a real insight into life in the heart of the 20th century. I believe that David Mitchell has crafted a truly brilliant book, which has shown me a very different perspective on a period that I have read numerous books about. This book is also extra personal to me in that it features my home city, Leicester – I feel I cannot pass by Morland Avenue again without mentally exclaiming “That was in ‘Tea Love and War!’”
In all, I heartily recommend ‘Tea Love and War’ by David Mitchell.

by Ami Ganatra

This is an extremely well written and absorbing book which tells a truly moving story; highly recommended.

by Richard Woodgate

The most riveting read I have experienced in years - I could not put the book down. I am about to reread it again in case I missed anything - beautifully written - this would make a wonderful film. Highly recommended to anybody who loves the unusual and loves biographies.

by Mandi Cramer

David Mitchell

The author of Bluffer's Guides to both Law and Divorce, David was inspired to write Tea,Love and War by the extraordinary history of his newly discovered Indian family. David is a solicitor and former judge, a trustee of a leading independent school and enjoys golf, tennis and squash. His book on Leicester Squash Club celebrates the building of new courts to mark the 75th anniversary of the Club

David Mitchell

Stuart Poyser aged 20
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