By David Reid, VCS Support Officer

Published: 22 June 2021


Windrush day is here, a celebration marks the first arrival of 500 people from the West Indies in 1948 on the ship Windrush Empire at Tilbury Docks.

Between 1948 and 1973 100a of thousands followed arriving from West Indian Islands such as Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. They had been legally invited here by the British Government to help re-build Britain after the second world war.

During the period after the war Britain had a severe shortage and reached out to its West Indian Islands which were part of the British Colonies for workers to come and fill the vacant jobs.

With hope and ambition that this invitation from the “Mother country “would provide opportunities of guaranteed work many had a 5 - year vision, planning that they would come to Britain work hard get paid send money back home to look after their families which they left and build lovely homes that they would return to shortly because of their new found prosperity

But this was only illusion they had been told that streets of Britain were paved with riches, but when they arrived instead of being greeted with open arms by the host population, they were welcomed with the experience of signs of Job Vacancies: No Blacks. Coloured’s, No Irish need apply and “Rooms to Let - No Blacks, No Coloured’s, No Irish, No Dogs”

Life was not a bed of roses that they had thought it would be but they were resilient they had to be. They knew that work was scare in the West Indian Islands where they came from and many had children who were dependant on the money, they would send back to family members who were caring for their children. They were in Britain now and had to make it a success.

This significant period which marked the arrival on mass of West Indians in Britain was to change the country for the better.

The immense contribution that West Indians made to the development of the newly formed NHS in 1948 arriving as nurses, auxiliary workers helped boost the workforce, without their input the NHS would not have survived it would have failed before it had time to establish itself. A similar story can be told for the transport system in London, Hundreds of West Indians took up employment with the London Underground or on the London Buses and helped turn the transport system arguably into the number one transport system in the world. West Indians also found themselves in the construction sector rebuilding homes and offices destroyed by bombs during World War 11.

Isn’t it ironic and sad that the Windrush Day Celebration was not created in 2018, because of the visible contributions West Indians have made to the UK in all areas of society not only in the sectors mentioned above but also in education, politics the arts and sports? But because of the mistreatment by the UK Government of this generation who had worked hard paid their taxes, obeyed the law then suddenly treated as illegal immigrants.  Many were deported back to the West Indies, some hadn’t visited there over 30 years; others had never even been to the West Indies because they were born in the UK. They lost their jobs and their homes because they were not able to prove their status. This unfortunate signalling out of West Indians under the Government’s “hostile environment” policy has been named the “Windrush Scandal”

I must end on a positive note. The Windrush Generation came here initially to work and build a better life for themselves to return to the West Indies to make things better for their families which they left behind.  But, found things tougher than they expected and stayed much longer than they had imagined. They had children and their chidden had children. Over seven decades these generations have made an enormous contribution to shaping and enriching British culture and still continue to do so. The legacy they have left and are still leaving is here to stay.

Let’s celebrate Windrush Day