SYNCRONICITY:- a tabular arrangement of historical events or personages, grouped according to their dates.
In the early hours of Tuesday June 22nd 1948 an 8,000 ton passenger ship, the ‘Empire Windrush’, slipped into Tilbury Docks and began to disembark nearly 500 Caribbean migrants. By some quirk of synchronicity this sociologically significant event – the beginning of mass migration into the UK – took place precisely 68 years before the people of the United Kingdom, concerned about the economy and immigration, prepared to vote on their place in the European Union.
The majority of the passengers on the ‘Windrush’ were no strangers to Great Britain. Many had served here during the 2nd World War, often with the RAF and now they were attracted back by an advert in the Jamaican ‘Daily Gleaner’ offering cheap transport to Great Britain (£28 for below decks ‘troopship’ accommodation and £40 plus for a cabin) to anyone who wanted to work in UK. Our country was in desperate need of labour – to rebuild the bomb damaged cities, to kick start the Welfare State and staff the main utilities, buses, railways, the postal services and hospitals. One of the passengers, Ena Sullivan from Jamaica, worked as a nurse at our local West Middlesex Hospital. Few of those that came in 1948 intended to live here permanently. They just wanted to see what the ‘Mother Country’ was like and make something of themselves… and many of them did. Amongst the 492 passengers were Euton Christian who became Britain’s first black magistrate and Sam King, who later became the mayor of Southwark. His family sold three cows to pay for his passage. The local National Front saluted Sam’s mayoralty by threatening to burn down his house and cut his throat! Another passenger was “The King of Calypso” Lord Kitchener who not only held a concert on the ship to pay for the passage of a 25 year old stowaway, Evelyn Wauchope, but also wrote a special celebratory calypso on his arrival. “London is the Place for Me” was a cheery song dripping with optimism for the future…
“I cannot complain of the time I have spent
I mean my life in London is really magnificent
I have every comfort and every sport
And my residence is Hampton Court
So London, that’s the place for me.”
The ship they came on, the ‘Empire Windrush’ was built in Hamburg in 1930 as the ‘Monte Rosa’ and used by the Nazi Party as a pleasure cruiser in their “Strength Through Joy” (Kraft durch Freude) programme designed to promote and supervise after-work activities, holidays and leisure time. During the war the Monte Rosa was used to transport Jews and other prisoners from Norway back to camps in Germany. At the end of the war the ship was seized by British forces in Kiel and claimed as a ‘war prize’. After being refitted as a troop carrier on the Clyde the ‘Monte Rosa’ was renamed ‘M.V Empire Windrush’. One of its first jobs was to bring ex-service personnel ‘migrants’ to Britain. The ‘Empire Windrush’ finally sank on 30th March 1954 off the coast of Algeria following a fire. It was bringing troops back home from Korea.
On the 50th anniversary of its arrival in Tilbury on Tuesday, June 22nd 1948 the ‘Empire Windrush’ and its passengers were commemorated in the naming of Windrush Square in Brixton where many of those early migrants settled. A plaque also marks the event at the London Cruise Terminal in Tilbury. In 27th July 2012 a small replica of the Windrush appeared in the opening ceremony of the 30th Olympiad in London.
The youngest of the ‘Empire Windrush’ passengers coming into Tilbury in 1948 was 13 year old Vincent Reid. He remained in Britain with his parents and like many of his fellow shipmates stayed on. He became a respected teacher and lecturer on Caribbean and African history. He was an active fighter against racism and injustice and a founder of the former Inner London Education Authority Inspectorate. He and his migrant colleagues became part of Britain’s institutions – trade unions, local councils, professional and staff associations and in return enriched our culture with their own – music, style, festivals, language, churches and food. The Windrush Generation, their children and grandchildren and all other migrants into the UK have played a vital role in creating a new concept of what it means to be British – no longer exclusively White, no longer exclusively Anglo Saxon and certainly no longer outsiders but a familiar part of our nationhood – living together comfortably in a new model of citizenship. In a way we are all migrants and children of the ‘Windrush’. I wonder how we will vote on the 23rd June.
…the only thing that is British about the island is the island’s rock itself. The men and women who have come to stand on it, farm on it, hack at it and build on it have always been strangers and offcomers. That is how our great ruffian mongrel nation was made and is being made still.
STUART MACONIE – “Hope and Glory”
London is the Place for Me
by Lord Kitchener
In memory of VINCE ALBERT REID 9th Jan 1935 – May 11th 2001
— from Martyn Day