Windrush Day 2018

Sorry for the gap between posts – it’s been a hectic few months.

Anyway, I had to return this month because there’s an important anniversary coming up for the black British community on June 22nd – the 70th anniversary since the arrival of the infamous Empire Windrush.

HMT_Empire_Windrush_FL9448

Now we all know, and I hope this blog has shown it too, that black people were significantly present in, and contributing to, the UK for centuries before the Windrush came to these shores, but obviously it is only fitting that we recognise this momentous occasion and celebrate the bravery of those first arrivals and the contribution they and their children have made to the UK ever since.

I have posted before about my mum taking the decision to come to the UK when she was just 19 years old to train as a nurse in 1967, and how I couldn’t imagine leaving everything I knew as a teenager for a life in a foreign country.

The 500 West Indians on board the Windrush will have faced a similar mixture of fear and trepidation – excitement at travelling to the ‘Mother Land’ but apprehension about leaving their loved ones and the life they had built for an unknown future.

Then of course, we all know that when they arrived, even though they’d been invited by the UK to come to rebuild the country after the horrendous damage caused by WWII, they were met with racism, anger and discrimination from every tier of society.

But of course they’d also come to the UK for personal reasons – to have a better life and possibly to help their families back home by sending remittances – so despite the hostility and ignorance of the British, many of them would stay and make a significant contribution to the UK financially and culturally.

I recently read on the Black History Month website that the Windrush was actually on its way back when it journeyed to the UK from Jamaica to Tilbury in 1948.

On the first leg of its voyage it actually went out to the Caribbean with hundreds of servicemen who had fought for Britain in the Second World War and were now returning to their islands with wounds and medals. I’d never heard this aspect of the Windrush story before and that’s an example of how history can be manipulated and key sacrifices forgotten.

Anyway, I’m glad the descendants of the people on the Windrush and others are making sure that those first few hundred West Indian migrants are remembered on June 22nd.

I won’t go into the recent scandal of deportations and mistreatment of the Windrush generation by the current Conservative government on this blog, but needless to say I believe it is our duty to make sure that our community’s contribution over hundreds of years, not just starting with Windrush, is never whitewashed.

So I urge everyone in the UK to salute Windrush Day 2018 by attending as many of the planned events as possible.

This is a chance for all of us to publicly show that we are proud of our ancestors and the journey they undertook; the courage they demonstrated; and the determination they displayed.

Further information – Windrush Day 2018

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Black soldier and firefighter honoured

Today I read about one of the first black men to serve in the British army and the London Fire Brigade – Trinidadian-born George Arthur Roberts.

Roberts was honoured last week with a blue plaque, organised by the Southwark Heritage Association, at his former home in Camberwell where he lived from 1923 to 1970.

London Fire Brigade

George Roberts – copyright London Fire Brigade

Born in Trinidad in 1890 he served in the army and made his way to the UK when the First World War broke out. He joined the Middlesex Regiment and earned the nickname the ‘Coconut Bomber’ when he threw bombs back over enemy lines in the same way that he used to throw coconuts as a child. He was wounded at the Battle of Loos and then in the Battle of the Somme.

When the war finished he briefly went home to Trinidad before returning to the UK and settling in Peckham. As World War Two began he joined the National Fire Service and battled blazes during the Blitz.

By all accounts George Roberts had a remarkable life, as in between his service he also helped establish the ‘League of Coloured People’, which was set up in 1931 to address the needs of Britain’s black community.

In 1944 he was awarded the British Empire Medal for his courage as a Blitz firefighter at New Cross Fire Station. He stayed in London for the rest of his life and died in 1970.

George Roberts is another shining example of the contribution Caribbean people have made to the UK – he put his life on the line for his ‘adopted country’ countless times and deserves to be recognised and remembered.

Read more here:

One of the first black men to serve in the British army honoured

Groundbreaking wartime firefighter recognised with blue plaque

World War One hero who could throw bombs 74 yards

Fighting for King and Empire

Well it seems a few people might be beginning to understand the value of Caribbean people to Britain over the decades, as there seems to be almost a plethora of news, exhibitions, articles and programmes that have emerged recently celebrating the theme of this website.

The BBC are showing a documentary tomorrow (Wednesday 13th May) that fits in nicely with some of the posts I have put on here about the brave men and women from the West Indies who voluntarily fought in WWI and WWII for ‘the mother country’. The film, called ‘Fighting for King and Empire: Britain’s Caribbean heroes’ will be shown on BBC Four tomorrow at 9pm and will then be available on demand on the BBC player.

The promotional copy for the documentary says: “This programme is based on a film entitled Divided By Race – United in War and Peace, produced by The-Latest.com.

During the Second World War, thousands of men and women from the Caribbean colonies volunteered to come to Britain to join the fight against Hitler. They risked their lives for King and Empire, but their contribution has largely been forgotten.

In this programme, some of the last surviving Caribbean veterans tell their extraordinary wartime stories: from torpedo attacks by German U-boats and the RAF’s blanket bombing of Germany to the culture shock of Britain’s freezing winters and war-torn landscapes. This brave sacrifice confronted the pioneers from the Caribbean with a lifelong challenge – to be treated as equals by the British government and the British people.

In testimony full of wit and charm, the veterans candidly reveal their experiences as some of the only black people in wartime Britain. They remember encounters with a curious British public and confrontation with the prejudices of white American GIs stationed in Britain.

After the war, many veterans returned to the Caribbean where they discovered jobs were scarce. Some came back to Britain to help rebuild its cities. They settled down with jobs and homes, got married and began to integrate their rich heritage into British culture. Now mostly in their 80s and 90s – the oldest is 104 – these pioneers from the Caribbean have helped transform Britain and created an enduring multicultural legacy.

With vivid first-hand testimony, observational documentary and rare archive footage, the programme gives a unique perspective on the Second World War and the history of 20th-century Britain.”

I’m going to try and watch it – I hope you will too.

See also:

http://www.the-latest.com/bbc-film-recognise-britains-caribbean-heroes

http://newafricanmagazine.com/britain-divided-by-race-united-in-war/