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The Windrush Generation

Written by Matthias Comrie, KickOff@3 Volunteer

Introduction: How it started - Post war era

Rewind to the end of WW2. Germany were defeated and Japan had surrendered to the US following the 2nd nuclear bomb on their country. After the drinks and celebrations, everyone had to look at the losses suffered. Britain were victorious but not without heavy blows. For instance, 70,000 civilian casualties, comparing to 2,000 in WW1, with 40,000 occurring during the blitz.(1)

As were the rest of the world, Britain were looking to recover as quick as possible. In order to achieve that, personnel and resources were required. At the time, the country did not have either. However, due to the previous work of the British Empire there was an opportunity present for all parties considered in this movement.(2)  The countries in the West Indies (countries of the commonwealth) were inclined to send their citizens to the UK. 

The Empire Windrush arriving at Tilbury docks 

Naturally, those who saw the bigger picture of leaving their homeland to a more economically developed country to do their trade, were sold on the movement.(3) They were taught to believe that Britain is the mother country to all of commonwealth and therefore British themselves. The first wave of the West Indians were shipped over and arrived at Tilbury, Essex in the famous ship HMT Empire Windrush on 22nd June 1948.(4) It was a chance for commonwealth countries to be an integral part of the development of Britain though their kinsman. For the most part, they were skilled and experienced blue collar/labouring jobs such as Housing/DIY, mechanic, healthcare.(5) Moreover, the Royal Air Force (RAF) also reported to have numerous Carribeans recruited into the ranks, as well as the veterans who previously came for the war i.e. Sam King MBE later becoming the Mayor of Southwark in 1982, the first black to have that honor. He is hailed as a 'pioneer' for black politics.(6) It's also worth noting that that he was Mayor of the same Borough that co-founder Michael Wallace operates in, serving the community as a police officer.(7) By further adding to the legacy built, Michael has liaised with the RAF, who have continued supporting public to this day with continued enrollment opportunities but also as a key partner of Kickoff@3.(8)

Michael Wallace featuring in a Metropolitan Police recruitment advert

For the most part it became very successful. By the start of the seventies, the first generation have very much settled in the country, starting there own families and changing the British identity with their influences. One event that strengthened this change was the Notting Hill Carnival, its inception in 1966, the same streets West Indians were victims of racial attacks attacked years before.(9) The first celebration occurred in 1964 without a name, with the help of Claudia Jones, Rhuane Leslett and the before-then-Mayor Sam King. (1011) Later on, it became widely accepted as a British festival where all were welcome to play a part and/or play.(12) And that was the beauty of it: the social inclusion of all races and backgrounds were welcome to join and celebrate.

A Police Officer enjoying their time during Notting Hill Carnival

The appreciation for Notting Hill Carnival, as a time where West Indians had the chance to showcase their culture, was only ever temporary, as racism was still evident not only to them but the other ethnic minorities as well. Not only did they all have the ill treatment from their 'British' counterparts to be concerned about from the moment they touched British soil, black people were continuously faced with the discrimination from the British people who were in power.(13) With increased population due to migrants entering the country, vacancies were easily filled much to dismay of the prejudice. To go hand in hand with the deep recession, jobs were harder to find for black people than anybody else as most employers had race in their criteria for hiring people, leading them to have to start off with jobs below their expertise.(14) Continuing to the 80s, for the same reason, children were getting bullied in schools along with riots and attacks on streets occurred in various cities across the country, making life very difficult for them.(15)

90's - 2010's - the case that changed it all

 

What stood out in the 90's was the murder of Stephen Lawrence.(16) The reason for this is not because of incident itself but because the suspects were not sentenced until 2011 due to the police force at the time later branded 'institutionally racist'.(17) Although shameful at the time of the murder, it also shows that law enforcement has progressed to an extent as such that that the current authorities were able to recognise a dark moment and publicly address a time where the representatives carried out misconduct.

Current situation and my history

The Windrush generation, the children and their grandchildren have played a vital role in an redefining what it meant to be British, which can now be person may have origins of any other nation than this country. This migrant workers brought us the opportunities to do what we want thanks to the trouble and misfortune that they had to go through. With the people who are aware of the sacrifices the Windrush generation made, we must be dedicated in ensuring that their stories are remembered in our celebrations.

Wendy Cummins who started Radiate Windrush festival with her production team Wander Nation in 2018. 

For the project's namesake, I hope it continues long enough for future generations to recognise the team's good work.(18) When the 'Windrush history'   is spoken about, it may not be directly referred to the actual doings of the West Indians who travelled on Empire Windrush. Some people may class that as incorrect but maybe it is best way to describe the people of that time and generation as the people of the namesake and show respect to the ones who paved the way for future Migrants, not just Afro-Caribbean people.

As a third generation Jamaican, I am proud to say that my grandparents and parents belong in this pivotal group. My paternal side left together from Jamaica to settle in Birmingham with my maternal side meeting each other in London. The worked their way up the ladder to retire as a London Underground Officer and Nurse and respectively. Their eldest daughter has taken their interest in being crucial to more than one group by becoming a clinical Nurse Specialist in breast screening, along with being President of Nurses Association Of Jamaica (NAJ, UK) and secretary for the Mary Seacole Memorial Association who maintain her grave in Kensal Rise.(19) Mentions should also go to family that were missed i.e. my paternal great-grandad, who was a farmer in Jamaican province Westmoreland, understandably another hard labouring occupation he did to do right by his twelve children, leading his son, my grand-dad to make the big journey to the mother country.

Throughout the postwar era, the Windrush generation had to deal with various hardships to live away from their native country.(20) They sacrificed the comfort of being with friends and family for the opportunity to have better living circumstances for not just themselves but for their children and children after them.(21) For example, Norwell Roberts, the first black metropolitan police officer was first brought to the UK in 1954 by his mother, who left Leeward Islands a year earlier alone. That time alone allowed her to save more money for when her son arrived leading to a better living situation. All of which led to him becoming a metropolitan police officer, following in the footsteps of his grandfather and three uncles in law enforcement.

Being the first black person carved the opportunity and belief in those that came after him much like Michael Wallace, who believes that anyone can do what they truly want if you believe with the right attitude. I concur, especially when that conviction comes from someone else's story. Becoming a Nurse or Underground worker like my family members may not be in my calling but I know the qualities they had to spur them on to this point are the same qualities I inherited from them. It is thanks to the family members and people preceding me that there are more options out there for me to showcase my skills and professionalism and consequently represent them in a positive way.

What is saddening about the whole situation for people of the Windrush is that recently, The Home Office lost numerous key evidence of employer during the occurrence of a policy called hostile environment. This led to the government selecting a number of the Windrush generation who didn't have 'sufficient' evidence of their time living in the country and were then labelled as immigrants and forced to be sent back to their native countries during the scandal in two years ago.(22) Although a clear insult to them after serving the country in as British citizen, it also gave people a chance to either to learn or remember the major part of British history and pay homage to those involved.(23)

Conclusion

This article was written to give you a brief overview about the Windrush generation, the people involved and give you a chance to learn and appreciate the positive impact the people made on the British economy. Along with the references throughout the article for those who may want to learn more beyond the contents of this article, it also my contains details of the personal history of my family timeline.