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Remembering the Windrush generation

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ, & Director, CREDI. Visit for our columns, media releases and more.

The term ‘Windrush generation’ refers to the immigrants who went to the UK between 1948 and 1971 from Caribbean countries. When the MV Empire Windrush docked in Tilbury, Essex, on June 22, 1948, 802 passengers on board came from Caribbean countries. This included about 539 Jamaicans, and about 120 persons from T&T and Guyana.

Most of those who went to the UK from the Caribbean did so at the invitation of the British government—responding to job adverts in local papers in their respective countries. After World War II there was a labour shortage in the UK and people were needed to help with the rebuilding efforts.

Those who came thought they were coming to the “mother country.” As reported: “Many of the Windrush generation had arrived as children on their parents’ passports. And although they have lived in Britain for many decades—paying taxes and insurance—they never formally became British citizens.”

A Service to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the landing of the MV Windrush was held at Westminster Abbey on Friday, June 22. It was entitled: ‘A Service of Thanksgiving in memory of The Spirit of Windrush’.

I have been hearing about the service from many of my friends who were among the 2,000 or so persons, including UK PM Theresa May, who attended. Read Shirley J Thompson’s powerful Psalm to Windrush: for the Brave and Ingenious.

In April, PM May had apologised to leaders and diplomats of 12 Caribbean nations for the treatment of people from the Windrush generation. The leaders were attending a summit of Commonwealth heads of government in London.

In response to a question about the “scandal” regarding the deportation of some elderly members of the Windrush generation, PM Dr Keith Rowley, said: “I think it is offensive to us and I’m sure it’s offensive to British people as well because somebody has made a mess of something. And it created unnecessary pain and humiliation to our people, because we still regard those people as our people, and we still regard British prosperity as our contribution…we are not just passengers, we are contributors, right? And for those who don’t acknowledge that, we take offence and especially people at the end of their days to have been confronted with this… [it] is callous.” (Trinidad & Tobago Guardian, April 22)

Shortly before the Service at Westminster Abbey, UK Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Lord Nick Bourne, announced, on behalf of the Government, that a national day will be held

annually on June 22 to “recognise and honour” the Windrush generation. He said it would help “recognise and honour the enormous contribution” of those who arrived in 1948 to help the country rebuild, as well as their descendants.

In spite of this, the scandal of Windrush has left a “bitter taste” in the mouths of many. It will take a while for healing to take place. The new UK Home Secretary Minister Sajid Javid has pledged to “do right by the Windrush generation”.

Although he told the Commons home affairs select committee in May that 63 members of the Windrush generation may have been wrongly deported, the journalist, Luke de Noronha, stated in the UK Guardian (June 7): “We now know that nearly 1,000 flights were booked to deport people to the Caribbean in the 12

months up to March. We don’t know exactly how many were deported, but hundreds were forcibly expelled in the year leading up to the Windrush scandal breaking.” There are reports that some of those who remained, like Michael Braithwaite, lost their jobs and were denied services.

As I wrote on Facebook: “We must always remember those who paved the way for us. I recall the stories of many of the Windrush generation and of their courage and resilience in the face of racism. Each of us will have fond memories of men and women of that generation, for example, the late Connie Mark BEM, MBE, who died at 83 in 2007. I taught her grandson, Andrew, and she and I became good friends.”

Read about her life, and about the lives of people like Sam Beaver King, MBE, who was a Windrush passenger. He died in 2016. Inter alia, he served in World War II; was the first black Mayor of Southwark, London, in 1983; and was co-founder of The Equiano Society and Windrush

Foundation. Read some profiles of the pioneers:
The sterling contribution of those on whose shoulders we stand remains etched in the hearts and minds of many of us.