EMPIRE AND WINDRUSH

21 June, 2019

The 22nd June 1948 became an important landmark in the history of British society. On this day, having arrived in England the previous day from the only voyage that she had made to the Caribbean, 1027 passengers disembarked the MV Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks, Essex. The passengers who had set off on the journey from the Caribbean reportedly comprised 492 British citizens from Jamaica and other Caribbean countries totalling 802. In addition, to two stowaways, there were people from Mexico, Poland and, of course, the servicemen who were on leave in Jamaica, for whom the ship had originally been sent to the Caribbean on its way from Australia to England.

Some of those who embarked on the journey from the Commonwealth were ex-soldiers who had heeded the call once before and had fought for Britain in WWII, some were adventurous young men who wanted to see what the “Mother Country” was like as advertised in the Jamaica Daily Gleaner. Many were children. Above all, they came in response to the call from the “Mother Land” to help to rebuild Britain after WWII. Significantly, the British Nationality Act 1948 had recently been passed giving the status of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKC status) to all British subjects connected with the United Kingdom or a British Colony. The rights of these citizens and their children, the Windrush generation, was further guaranteed in the Immigration Act of 1971.

Then, as now, the arrival of the Windrush on that day continues to forge a landmark in the British Empire’s social, cultural and political history. Anecdotal evidence is told through the Trinidadian Calypsonians’ about the new country of residence. The newly arrived citizens encountered not just disagreeable weather, non-spicy food and jobs other people did not want. Sadly, they were faced with the overt racism of some of the native citizens in an institutionally racially intolerant society with its varied forms of discrimination. Though being socially and economically excluded these resilient visionaries used institutions they brought with them such as churches, the co-operative ‘pardner’ system of saving and their music while participating in areas of society to which they had access such as trade unions, local councils and professional and social groups.

This year we commemorate the 71st anniversary of the arrival of the MV Empire Windrush at Tilbury. We celebrate the legacy of the Windrush generation in this our multicultural modern British society.