Back to Blighty


“After four months I returned to England, where I worked in industry as an electrician, electrical tester and electrical fitter for about nineteen years.” George’s CV.


'Blighty':  An informal term for Britain or England used by soldiers of the First and Second World Wars.


The return journey




He was repatriated to Jamaica on May 7, 1948, when he set sail on a ship, courtesy of the RAF, which arrived at Kingston Harbour three weeks later on May 28.  He may or may not have known that H.M.T. Empire Windrush set sail from Kingston, bound for Tilbury Docks, on the same day.  On board were hundreds of Jamaicans who were answering the call of the British Government for people from the Commonwealth to help out with labour shortages in “the mother country”.


On August 28, 1948, three months on, he was discharged from the RAF, in Kingston.





His journey back to Britain


He had  already planned to return to England as a civilian.  He tried persuade his sister, Bibby, to join him on this venture, but was unsuccessful.


He set sail back to Britain on the 'SS Orbita', arriving at Liverpool on October 2, 1948.  If the Orbita’s journey took a similar length of time as the Windrush had taken in the opposite direction, its departure from Kingston would have been around the first week in September.  This is in accord with a statement in George’s CV, above.



SS Orbita passenger list, 1948

Enlarged entry from the passenger list 




"The Orbita (15,486 grt, 569 ft. long) was completed for the Pacific Steam Navigation Co. in 1915.  She was used as an auxiliary cruiser and troop transport during WW1 before she could sail on her maiden voyage to Chile in 1919.  Between 1921 and 1927 she sailed for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. She was sold back to the PSNC in 1927.  A troop transport again in 1941, this work lasted until 1950 when she was broken up."



The SS Orbita, registered to The Pacific Steam Navigation Co., sailed to Jamaica from Trinidad, and on to Liverpool, arriving on October 2, 1948.  The passenger list shows that Powe, Oswald G. embarked in Jamaica and landed in Liverpool.  He was allocated Class “A”, that is, over 21.  He was aged 22 and his proposed address in the United Kingdom was 10 Prescott Street, Burnley.  His 'profession, occupation, or calling' was as an electrician.  The 'country of his last permanent residence' was Jamaica, and the 'country of intended further residence' was England.


If he went to Prescott Street, Burnley, it would have been for only a few days.  The first address on his National Registration Identity Card shows him at Fern Lea, 123 Quarry Street, Woolton, Liverpool, from October 11, 1948.  His next move, on November 15, 1948 was to 185 Bristol Road, Edgbaston.  His first job, starting on November 30, was as an electrician’s mate in Ladywood, Birmingham.  By December 2, 1948 his ID Card is stamped for “NS Hostel”, Langley, Oldbury, near Birmingham.  Causeway Green Hostel was the address given on George’s marriage certificate as his residence.


The fact that the address given on George’s marriage certificate, and on his identity card, was Causeway Green Hostel, came as a complete surprise to me.  He had never spoken about this part of his life, and, when I researched the conditions under which the residents were living I could see why this was.



Causeway Green Hostel


A home fit for heroes?


I found two very informative sources relating specifically to Causeway Green Hostel, one written by a Polish woman who worked there, and the other an article written by Kevin Searle, reprinted in The National Archive.


His residence in the hostel lasted from October 11, 1948 until January 19, 1950, when he moved to an address in West Bromwich.  Almost contemporaneously, from September 8, 1948 to October 1949, a Polish woman, Amelia Paklos Gagola, was working in the hostel’s kitchen.  She had arrived there from a hostel at RAF Ludford Magna Airfield, Lincolnshire.  She married a Polish resident in August 1949, and they left the hostel in October 1949.  She wrote a memoir of her stay, which gives some idea of the experiences of ex-servicemen like George.


Emilia’s memoire, translated by Dorothy Gagola describes life there.



From the memoirs of a Polish woman in Causeway Green Hostel


"Causeway Green Hostel was the home of single men of many nationalities.  The Irish, Germans, Ukrainians, Jamaicans, including the large majority of demobilized Polish soldiers of General Anders’ army all kept each other company.


Accommodation was provided for them in long wooden buildings built on a brick foundation [...]


With so many men of many nationalities and religions living in one hostel, disputes were not unusual. One particularly nasty brawl occurred as the result of a Jamaican stealing an Irishman’s girlfriend.  The police were notified and several men were taken to hospital suffering from injuries such as lost teeth, bruising and bloody noses."



Emilia worked in the kitchen and the canteen, alongside Marysia Iskra- Lawdo, with whom she shared a room. She met up with her future husband, Anton Gagola, in October 1948.  He was a demobbed member of the Polish Armed Forces in the East, who fought on the Allies Side from 1942, notably against Nazi German forces in the Italian Campaign, including the Battle of Monte Cassino.


Emilia makes reference to attending Saturday night dances in the hostel, to which women from the neighbouring areas were invited.


They were married in August 1949 and in accordance with the rules of the hostel, as a married couple, were required to leave within a month. There must have been some delay in finding other accommodation, as they left in the October.



Before Notting Hill: Causeway Green and Britain’s anti-black hostel riots, Monday 22 June 2020, Kevin Searle


"Of the approximately 700 men staying at the Causeway Green Hostel in August 1949, 235 were listed as Poles, 18 EVWs, 235 Southern Irish, 50 Northern Irish, 65 Jamaicans, and 100 English, Scottish and Welsh.


The breakout of violence at Causeway Green on Monday 8 August was preceded by a number of incidents at the hostel.  On Wednesday, there was a ‘slight scurry’ between the Jamaicans and Poles after a dance at the hostel.  On Friday, there was ‘a more serious affair’ over the attentions of a woman, which escalated to involve ‘a crowd fighting with bottles in the main reception hall’.  The Jamaicans then withdrew, only to return ‘armed with miscellaneous weapons’ and ‘throwing bricks etc.’, before the arrival of the police.  Some damage was done to hostel property, including broken chairs, tables, window frames and panes of glass.  Eighteen people, including a policeman who received a blow to his head requiring stitches, attended the sick bay for treatment.  On Sunday, the residents informed the hostel manager that the Poles intended to retaliate in the canteen at midday.  The police were called, but, excluding a ‘skirmish’ on the road between three Irishmen and two Jamaicans at 23:00, no incident took place [...]


The management, although in general agreement with the police that the Jamaicans should be removed, deemed it impractical at the time, and sought to evict the Jamaicans ‘before the Poles and British Isles residents returned from work’ the following evening 8.  However, in the face of this prejudiced response, the Jamaicans displayed an important act of resistance, and as the Birmingham Gazette described it, ‘stayed put’ [...]”