Windrush

“Our father arrived in Britain not long after the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury in 1948.  Caribbean immigration to Britain was a mere trickle then, but we now think about our family history as being bound up with the moment when he made his own crossing on a boat whose name none of us can remember.  He would have been wearing a hat and a suit and an overcoat. In the old photographs there is practically nothing to distinguish hm from the men who walked the plank off the Windrush, and for us this recognition has become a reflex in which our imagination rushes to fill the gap between ourselves and those familiar images of the boat; the gangplank, the flock of tropical figures lining the rail.  In our minds it is the reality of arrival which has retreated, to be replaced by the myth of the Windrush”.  Mike Phillips and Trevor Phillips in their introduction to “Windrush - the irresistible rise of multi-racial Britain

 

 

George’s life as an adult could be said to be “book-ended” by Windrush-related events.  He stepped back onto Jamaican soil on the very day, May 24, 1948, that the Empire Windrush set sail from Kingston to Tilbury Dock, London.  He was still an RAF serviceman and waiting to be demobbed.

 

Two months later, on July 28, he was discharged from the service, in Kingston.  Had the dates of his arrival and discharge been earlier I think it likely that he would have travelled back on the Empire Windrush.  As it was, he came on the SS Orbita, which arrived at Liverpool on October 2, 1948, approximately four months later.

 

So he was part of the “Windrush generation” but did not sail on the ship of that name.  He rarely used the term “Windrush generation”.  That is, until the status of many of the people was concerned was put in jeopardy by the “hostile environment” introduced by the UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, in 2012. 

 

 

Advert for passage on M.V.

Empire Windrush from

Kingson, Jamaica to the UK

 

(Plantain - The 802 Caribbean Women, Children and Men of the MV Windrush)

 

It is often stated that the Empire Windrush was the first ship to carry people from the West Indies to the UK after World War II, but it was in fact the third.

 

Migrants from Jamaica in the 1940s

 

"Migrants initially travelled to the UK by ship.  They travelled on a British/Colonial passport with which they were issued in their home country in the Caribbean, and the journey could last as much as 4 weeks.  The most notable ship to arrive in the UK carrying migrants from the Caribbean was the MV  Empire Windrush, which left Jamaica on May 24, 1948 and arrived at Tilbury dock on June 22, 1948 [...]

 

According to a passenger on the ship, the journey from Jamaica to the UK took about 22 days, which to them was a long journey ]...]

 

Prior to the MV Empire Windrush’s arrival, two other ships landed carrying a much smaller number of Caribbean migrants [...] the SS Ormonde, which arrived in March 1947; and the SS Almanzora, which arrived at the Southampton dock on December 21, 1947 - 6 months before Windrush, were equally important to this pattern of migration."

 

(Extract:  Reading Museum - Windrush Day - The Enigman of Arrival)

 

 

Tillbury Docks

 

Who were those who came?

 

"They were a mixed bunch who came, ordinary folks, students, pastors, teachers, church members, and former soldiers many who had fought in the second world war and were now on their way back to Britain.  All in all, for those who came, this was a great opportunity, a once in a lifetime chance and the new arrivals grabbed it with both hands."

 

(Extract:  Roy Francis blog - London is the place for me)

 

 

Empire Windrush

 

 

"Empire Windrush was built in Germany and launched in Hamburg on 13 December 1930.  However, the ship was not originally called the Empire Windrush.  Instead it was called the MV Monte Rosa.  The vessel was built by German shipbuilding firm Blohm & Voss, the same shipbuilders who would also go onto build Second World War battleship Bismarck.  Monte Rosa was originally built as a cruise ship, taking German travellers to Europe and South America on Nazi-approved holidays [...]

 

However, with the outbreak of war the Monte Rosa was requisitioned by the Nazis and initially used to transport troops during the German invasion of Norway.  Later, in 1942… the vessel was one of a number of ships used for the deportation of Norwegian Jews […] destined for Auschwitz.

 

The Monte Rosa was captured as a prize of war by the British in 1945.  A year later the ship was renamed the Empire Windrush […] after the River Windrush in the Cotswolds."

 

(Extract:  Royal Museums Greenwich - The story of the Windrush)

 

 

Before the 1970s all people living in the British dominions and colonies were British subjects.  Commonwealth citizens who were already settled here automatically had indefinite leave to remain.  With new immigration acts, these citizens were now required to apply for indefinite leave to remain. 

 

George became well-versed in the pitfalls into which his countrymen and women could fall if they did not keep up with the necessary registration.  They often did not know exactly what information, documentation and records were necessary for their relatives to obtain a visa to come to the UK to attend christenings, weddings or funerals, or simply for a reunion with their families.  Commonwealth students who gained places at colleges or universities in the UK also had to find their way through procedures which they did not always understand, and the slightest mistake could jeopardise their educational opportunity.  Those who fell foul of immigration policy became known as “The Windrush Generation”.

 

 

Who are the Windrush generation? 

 

"The ‘Windrush’ generation are those who arrived in the UK from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1973. Many took up jobs in the nascent NHS and other sectors affected by Britain’s post-war labour shortage.  The name ‘Windrush’ derives from the ‘HMT Empire Windrush’ ship which brought one of the first large groups of Caribbean people to the UK in 1948.  As the Caribbean was, at the time, a part of the British Commonwealth, those who arrived were automatically British subjects and free to permanently live and work in the UK."

 

(Extract:   JCWI - The Hostel Environment explained)

 

 

George helped thousands of Jamaicans in and around Nottingham to achieve their rights, usually starting with a meeting round our kitchen table and sometimes ending with accompanying them to a court hearing.  He extended this assistance to other ethnic minority people such as Indians and Pakistanis, and from time to time helped white English people to take advantage of opportunities they were entitled to.  He would never allow people to pay him for such services.

 

In 2012 there was a new and sinister change to the political climate - the “hostile environment”.

 

 

The Hostile Environment explained

 

The Hostile Environment ”[...] is a set of policies introduced in 2012 by then Home Secretary Theresa May, with the aim of making life unbearably difficult in the UK for those who cannot show the right paperwork.  Or, as she said at the time; 'The aim is to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants.'”

 

To achieve this, the Government set about trying to cut undocumented migrants off from using fundamental services including the NHS and the police, and make it illegal to work, or for a landlord to rent them a property.  Doctors, landlords, police officers and teachers are tasked with checking immigration status, and often people who look or sound ‘foreign’ are asked to show their papers in order to rent a home or get medical treatment [...]

 

It turns us against each other – turning professionals whose duty it is to care into immigration enforcers. And it undermines trust in vital public services.  When some of us are afraid to go to the doctor or to ask the police for help, we are all made more vulnerable.  Yet the Home Office itself has admitted that the 'vast majority' of undocumented people have done, and will do, nothing wrong."

 

(Extract:   JCWI - The Hostel Environment explained)

 

 

George continued to help people trapped by these practices, but the processes of lodging appeals became more and more complicated, and a few years later, after George had died, these culminated in the “Windrush Scandal”.

 

The strain that various anti-immigration and racially discriminatory policies and practices have put on many thousands of people of African-Caribbean descent who have been resident in this country for decades, and in many cases had been born here, is immeasurable.  It continues to blight lives.  Even in the last year of his life George was still giving support and advice to some of these people.  Had he lived on, his ability to challenge the new and drastic situations would have been in great demand.  His expertise is now sadly missed.