Windrush …75 years on

    Windrush …75 years on

    This year marks the 75th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush, the passenger cruise liner which brought 1,027 passengers from Jamaica to London on 22nd June 1948.

    The benefits of skilled migration were not widely understood in the post–war world, but 75 years on we know that the economy of the host country can be boosted with a huge cost/benefit ratio, and global links leading to trade will ultimately benefit the world’s poorer countries too. At the same time, tens of thousands of English workers headed around the world to Australia and New Zealand attracted by a scheme called ‘Bring out a Briton’ as war veterans took their families off into the sun in pursuit of a new life.

    But amidst the positivity surrounding the benefits of migration there are the human elements of homesickness and the struggles to settle into a totally new environment and culture.

    Windrush Day aims to celebrate those migrants from the Caribbean to the UK, invited to help rebuild Britain after the Second World War, but it’s also a chance to give support to those who suffered hardships since leaving their homes to come to England. Many were met with hostility and intolerance and some were shamefully returned to their original country following an almighty mess at the Home Office in the 21st century.

    But, as we look back, the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks on 22nd June 1948 was a symbolic moment in the early days of multicultural Britain and if paved the way for many more to follow. Some of the first group of migrants were returning to England following the war, including Alford Gardner, now 97 years old, who had served with the Royal Air Force as a ground engineer during the war. Alford now lives in Leeds and has 16 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.

    Alford’s sister had seen an advert in the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper and, with the help of his father, he paid the £29 pound ticket, almost three times the amount the Brits were paying to move to Oz. He was re-united with other ex-servicemen from Trinidad and Barbados, men he thought he wouldn’t see again after the war ended. But the initial welcome in his new home wasn’t as warm as Alford and his mates had hoped for. As the ship approached the English shores Prime Minister, Clement Atlee, considered diverting the ship to East Africa, while trade union official, Arthur Creech Jones, a conscientious objector, said ‘they won’t last one winter in England.’

    Alford was made of sterner stuff than Jones and he coped with the ‘damn cold’ though, not impressed with London, he settled in Yorkshire where it is even colder! Life wasn’t easy at first as Alford struggled to find work, or approval from his white partner’s parents; but he survived and thrived and is delighted by how things have changed over the past seven and a half decades.

    But, like the rest of us, he looks back at the Home Office Windrush scandal, which came to light in 2018, with dismay. 83 people were wrongly deported and many others were denied access to medical care as, between 2012 and 2017, authorities had wrongly detained over 800 people. The issue arose because many of the Windrush generation arrived as children on their parents’ passports, a practice allowed at the time, so they lacked the required documentation to live in the UK. But such nuances are clearly too much for the faceless bods at the Home Office to cope with and the Government had a fair bit of apologizing to do.

    So much for the post-Brexit, outward looking Britain!

    Today, though, is a day to celebrate the citizens who arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1971 and have done so much to help make our country, and our culture, what it is today.

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