Windrush 70 and Beyond

Relates to the period 1948- 1968 when people emigrated from the Caribbean to Britain in search of work in the UK, the ‘Mother Country’. To understand why Windrush took place, it is important to consider the global influence of the British Empire which was made up of countries all over the world.

These countries were ruled by Britain, paid taxes, supplied workers and raw materials to the British industry Caribbean countries who were then a part of the Empire gave Britain support,  they contributed men and resources during the First and Second World War.  The Government realised there was a need to fill the British labour market to reconstruct its economy due to  economic depression after Second World War in Britain. Large numbers of workers and their families from Hungary, Ireland, Poland, Italy, the Caribbean, India and Pakistan fulfilled Britain’s call for workers. The British Nationality Act of 1948, gave all Commonwealth citizens free entry into Britain, it encouraged immigration to Britain; this was an attractive situation for the British passport holders, for whom at that time, an open door policy existed.  Many Caribbean people came to the UK which is referred to as the ‘Windrush’ period.

There were advertisements offering cheap passages to England in the Jamaican paper, ‘The Daily Gleaner’. With the cheapest fares costing only £28, ( about £1,000 in today’s money) . Despite worries about the cold, wet climate and if they would be met with open arms or violence, Caribbean people boarded the Empire Windrush. SS Empire Windrush sailed from Australia to England. En route, the ship stopped in Jamaica, initially to pick up servicemen who were on leave from their units, it also took on additional passengers. There were skilled tradesmen on board in search of work in the ‘Mother Country’, where there was a labour shortage.  The ship departed Jamaica on 24th May 1948, it arrived in the UK on June 22nd 1948. The day that SS Windrush discharged its passengers at Tilbury has become an important landmark in the history of modern Britain.

These were not the first people from the Caribbean to settle here. Black people lived in Britain before 1948. The recent facial reconstruction using DNA taken from the fossil of the ‘Cheddar Man’ is evidence of this. It is also stated that Emperor Severus was not the only Roman of African origin in Britain. There are excavations in York where the largest number of human skeletons from Roman times in Britain were exhumed. Archaeologists suggest that several of these people could have been of African origin.

The Empire Windrush was not the first ship to arrive with Caribbean people in Britain, there is the SS Ormonde and the SS Almanzora ships that brought Black people to Britain.  The Empire Windrush is the first to be given such publicity and is more widely known because it was the first visible mass migration of black people to Britain; this noteworthy occurrence changed Britain forever.

The new arrivals were met with unease by some. It prompted complaints from some Members of Parliament. One MP remarked the new immigrants would be on the first boat home once the British winter sets in. SS Windrush was followed by other ships such as the SS Auriga, the SS Orbita, the SS Reina del Pacifico, the SS Castle Verde and the SS Georgic. From this moment, ships from a variety of countries got into the business, making regular journeys between the Caribbean and Britain.

There were two main sources of recruitment. One was London Transport, the other was the hospitals. Some heard about the voyage and wanted to see England, ‘the mother country’. Others hoped for better career prospects in Britain, as there was high unemployment in the Caribbean. Many of the migrants intended to stay in Britain for a few years.

Despite the hardship finding homes to live in,  racism at work and as they went about their everyday lives, the negative attitudes of the native people from Caribbean, amazing contributions have been made by Black people who have helped make Britain great. They fought and died in battle for the United Kingdom, boosted its economy, cared for its people, and produced some of its greatest athletes.

We should all be proud but also consider how we care for our Caribbean veterans and the legacy we pass on to our young people.

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Kingsway Project  2018

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