My Windrush Story
I was born in Frankfield, Clarendon, Jamaica. I was registered as being born on the 7th November 1957 but my Mom insists I was born on the 8th! She says I was born with a single grey strand of grey hair which, according to folklore, is a lucky sign.
My parents decided to come to the UK, like many of their generation, to seek better opportunities for themselves and their families. They left me to be looked after by my Mom’s relatives and they came to England to earn enough money to send for me and my sister later. We didn’t arrive on the Windrush but arrived by plane some two years later.
To this day I still remember the shock of arriving in the middle of winter in a strange country and, because of the time we spent apart, to come and live with strange people – who I was told were my parents. Back then my only reference point of familiarity was the Jamaican foods that my mother cooked, which were a reminder of home.
Although I had lived in this country since I was five, technically I was a foreigner because the British and Commonwealth passport that I arrived on was no longer valid. The only way I was able to claim permanent status was to go through the long and laborious process of becoming naturalised. I did so in my late 20s. If I hadn’t, I could have ended up in the same position as some of my contemporaries who came to this country at the same time as me and were threatened with deportation.
Now in my mid 60’s I am proud to be a British Jamaican. People often wonder why from such a small island extraordinary people arise and make a great impact on the world. Think of Bob Marley, Usain Bolt and many, many more. Well we Jamaicans know the secret. It is down to the food we eat and love!
To celebrate Windrush Day is important, it gives us as a nation the opportunity to reflect on how we as a generation have contributed to the greater good of Britain.
SAM KING MBE (1926-2016)
King was one of the 802 Caribbean’s who immigrated aboard the Empire Windrush after the Second World War. Upon arriving to the England King joined the RAF as a serviceman and later worked for the Royal Mail. In 1983/84 King became the first black Mayor of Southwark, furthermore he and Arthur Torrington set up the Windrush Foundation in 1995. This is the first charitable organisation whose sole aim is to keep alive the memories of all those young men and women who travelled to England on the Empire Windrush.
Born in Jamaica Lucilda was one of the few women passengers who travelled to England on the Empire Windrush in May/June 1948. Lucilda and her husband contributed tremendously to the community in Brixton and played a huge part in making it a pleasant place for other migrants to live.
At the age of 15 Curling was enlisted as a volunteer for the RAF against Germany. Along with many other Jamaicans, he underwent training on the island, before then travelling to England. After serving on the home front until the war ended in May 1945, Curling was discharged and returned to Jamaica. However, he did not hesitate to purchase the one-way ticket to England, when the Empire Windrush arrived at Kingston Harbour in May 1948. Yet, discrimination against black people in England at the time made Curling’s time especially difficult. He recalled an experience of going for a job as a cleaner but being refused as the owner did not want any ‘darkies’ working for his business.
Like many other young men in 1944 Anderson volunteered to join the RAF, he travelled to England, trained and served as a Medical Orderly. After being demobbed Anderson returned to Jamaica in 1947 yet struggled to find a job. Therefore, leapt at the opportunity to board the Empire Windrush for just £28.10. Similar to many other Jamaicans who travelled to England, Anderson found it difficult to find a job as well as accommodation. Eventually, he found a job as a road sweeper for a year, and then went onto work at a telephone company as a fitter. The housing situation was a constant struggle for Anderson, therefore he decided to save enough money to buy his first house in West London.
Wilmot returned to London in December 1947, after feeling there were greater prospects and possibilities. However, Wilmot ran into the same issues as many other Jamaicans travelling to England, finding a good job and housing was increasingly difficult. Subsequently, Wilmot spent many nights sleeping on the London Underground trains. After a while he obtained factory work in Acton and washing dishes at Lion’s Corner House in the West End. Yet, it was Wilmot ambition to enter the world of show business however he had limited success until Eric Conner (the Trinidadian actor and singer) came to England in 1954 that prospects were looking up. They formed a group known as the “The Southlanders”. When the group separated Wilmot worked in a Post Office as a telephone operator and was a member of the West Indian Ex-Service Association. This organisation highlighted the contributions that West Indians made during World War Two.
Born in Jamaica, Tom Douce, at the age of twenty-two travelled on the Empire Windrush to England. Yet, upon arrival at Tilbury Docks, Essex, he had nowhere to live and took the opportunity to stay at Clapham South Deep Shelter. The shelter had been used by local people during World War II as a refuge. Within a week of being in England Douce was offered a job at a foundry in Derby. Like many others house hunting was a big and increasingly frustrating challenge, as white landlords refused to rent rooms to West Indians. After eventually finding a room, Douce was able to work and save until he was able to buy his own house. Him and his wife then opened a shop in 1957 and later ran a successful nightclub in the 1970s.
Hudson volunteered to join the RAF in 1943 in response to advertisements in the Jamaica Gleaner. Initially, Hudson trained in Jamaica before travelling to England, his role in the RAF was to drive shuttling equipment and pats to radar stations in the UK. Like many others Hudson was demobbed two years after World War II ended yet struggled to make a good living in Jamaica. As a result, when Empire Windrush broadcasted for passengers, he emigrated to England. After arriving in England, he went to Cardiff where he found work, got married and settled in the city until 1952. After some time, they moved to London due to the lack of suitable jobs in Wales. Yet, in London it was increasingly difficult to find accommodation, he was able to find work at the Post office as a driver and later became a black cab driver. Hudson was among only a few black people in England to have had owned his cab.
Born in Jamaica, Cecil Holness at the age of twenty-two volunteered to fight for Britain against Hitler’s army in World War II. Holness was in the first group of Jamaicans to have signed up to serve the mother country. After the war, Holness continued to volunteer for service in the RAF and worked at Docks in London. In January 1948 Holness returned to Jamaica, until May when Empire Windrush took hundreds of West Indians to England. After working in the motor mechanic business for a short while, he felt unsatisfied and went to study at Avery Hill College. In the end, Holness became a youth worker in Brixton until retired in 1987. Holness played an active role in the development of the West Indian Ex-Service Association, which was formed to keep alive their contribution and sacrifice for Britain.
John Richards like many others arriving to England on the Empire Windrush did not have anywhere to go. Subsequently, he had to stay at the Clapham South Deep Shelter. He later found a job at British Rail where he worked for over 30 years until he retired.
DR J.S. RISIEN RUSSELL (1863-1939)
Russell served as a leading neurologist and today is largely celebrated for his exceptional contribution to the health and well-being of people in England.