It’s been 71 years since 492 passengers disembarked
from the Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks.
They were Invited to Britain as part of the first generation of workers from the Caribbean, some went on to serve in the armed forces. Over the decades they served in conflicts around the world as British citizens – or so they thought.
After the Second World War, many parts of the UK needed to be rebuilt.
Caribbean people who had served in the British armed forces were encouraged to come to Britain to work.
Some came for specifically to find jobs, others wanted to travel overseas to experience life in a place they’d heard a lot about.
Many of those who decided to move to Britain boarded a ship called the HMT Empire Windrush.
The ship – which dropped anchor on 21 June and released its travellers a day later – was carrying 1,027 passengers, including two stowaways, according to BBC analysis of the ship’s records kept by the National Archives.
Alongside those travelling from the Caribbean for work, there were also Polish nationals displaced by World War Two, members of the RAF and people from Britain.
Passenger Lucile Harris, who settled in Britain from the Caribbean, recalled her arrival in Tilbury in an interview with the BBC in 1998 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Windrush sailing.
“It was a lovely day, beautiful, and they [family] were all at the dock waiting for me… I was very excited.”
According to the ship’s passenger lists, more than half of the 1,027 listed official passengers on board (539) gave their last country of residence as Jamaica, while 139 said Bermuda and 119 stated England. There were also people from Mexico, Scotland, Gibraltar, Burma and Wales.
Overall, 802 passengers gave their last country of residence as somewhere in the Caribbean.
Many of them had paid £28 (about £1,000 today) to travel to Britain in response to job adverts in local newspapers.
Among them were John Hazel, 21, a boxer, Harold Wilmot, 32, a case maker and John Richards, 22, a carpenter, seen here in a photograph taken on arrival – alongside their records from the National Archives passenger list.
The listed occupations on the passenger lists give some indication of the wide range of skills that were on offer. Among those arriving from the Caribbean were mechanics, carpenters, tailors, engineers, welders and musicians.
According to the RAF, dozens of the Caribbean passengers were also RAF airmen returning from leave or veterans re-joining the service. A future Mayor of Southwark, Sam King, who had served in England with the wartime RAF, was among them.
Also among the Caribbean passengers was a hatter, a retired judge, a potter, a barrister, two hairdressers, two actresses, two piano repairers, two missionaries, three boxers, five artists and six painters.
As many of the eyewitness accounts have stated since the majority of the people on board were men. There were 684 males over the age of 12, alongside 257 females of the same age. There were also 86 children aged 12 and under.
Newspaper reports from the time state how those who had no accommodation stayed in shelters like the old bomb shelter at Clapham South underground station, they went on to find jobs through the nearest Labour Exchanges (Job Centres), one of which was in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton.
Many then moved into rented houses and rooms in the Brixton and Clapham areas, working for employers such as the National Health Service or London Transport.
From here, large Caribbean communities developed, contributing to the political, social and musical life of Britain ever since.
DISCRIMINATION AND RACISM.
Those who came to Britain from the Caribbean with hopes of creating a better life for themselves and their families were not treated very well.
Racism and discrimination were quite common and migrants struggled to feel settled.
Some even found it difficult to get jobs or proper homes to live in and many children were picked on at school because they looked different.
This CH4 Documentary shows the struggles the Windrush generation faced;
What problems have the Windrush Generation faced recently?
The government faced a lot of criticism in late 2017 as some members of the Windrush generation were told they were living in Britain illegally.
Many of these people had lived and worked in Britain for a long time, but changes to the law required them to have official documents to access certain services like healthcare.
Some of those who were unable to provide these documents were sent to immigration detention centres and others were forced to leave Britain.
Following a review of almost 12,000 cases, it was found that many people may have been wrongfully detained and deported and some received apology letters from the Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said last November that at least 11 people who had been wrongly deported had died since returning to the Caribbean.
Mr Javid said officials had also been unable to contact much thought to having been caught up in the scandal, suggesting the toll could be higher.
He said there were 83 cases in which it had been confirmed people were wrongfully removed from the country and officials fear there may be a further 81.
The DFLA’s view.
A comment from a DFLA follower
“There are a number of issues, firstly, Britain after the war went to the former British colonies and brought these people back to rebuild the UK after world war two, they also done jobs that British people were not interested in doing. (I live in Ireland and saw similar attitudes here 15 years ago with the Polish happily doing jobs that some Irish considered beneath them. That is my first point but this is my second and it’s the most important. Many of these Windrush victims have been in the UK for over 50 years, worked paid tax and integrated. Yet these people were forcefully deported with no right of appeal !!! Now, why was this never used against extremists or convicted terrorists ?? These people get millions of pounds of legal aid fighting to stop them from being deported. It appears to me that the Windrush victims had no one fighting their corner. How can you deport one section of society that the Government asked and encouraged here, with no right of appeal and yet spends hundreds of millions on legal expenses fighting to deport people that have only one aim to eradicate you. Madness”.
Many of us have grown up with life long friends from the 2nd and 3rd generation of the Windrush generation, some even the original ones (won’t name names 😂)
Many firms have a history of black lads in big numbers, Birmingham, Spurs, Westham Arsenal to name a few, terrace legends at Chelsea and Millwall as well.
The family values of West Indians was always something I admired and my black mates would tell me
“never to mess with a west Indian mum”!
But we must never forget the tough times those faced from when they arrived and through the ensuing decades, from discrimination at work to black footballers having bananas thrown at them by their own fans, but just when things seemed to be getting better the government then start deporting you for no fault of your own!
It has to be said the problems we face today with knife crime and gangs which predominantly involve youngsters from the black community, although not exclusively from those of West Indian heritage, it would be great to see the Windrush generations discipline, family values and respect come back to the fore but I guess that could be said for all different groups of people in this modern day society we live as they’re all just as guilty for one reason on another with the lack of respect shown by the many youths of today.
But one thing is for sure the many DFLA followers that turn up week in week out still hold these values dear and teach their kids what is right from wrong.
We welcome the news of a Windrush memorial at Waterloo station to serve as a reminder as to what those early settlers did by assisting in rebuilding this country after the War.
We hope the government can sort out the mess that they have created and that no more innocent people from the Windrush generation are unfairly persecuted.
Happy Windrush day!
TOGETHER WE ARE STRONGER.