In their ‘odd clothes and dazzling ties’ the Windrush generation landed in Tilbury…
THE Windrush scandal has rightly been making the front pages of many newspapers recently.
Yet back in June 1948, when the Windrush pioneers docked at Tilbury, full of hope for a new and better life in England, the story only made page 4.
The Grays and Thurrock Gazette newspaper carried a picture story charting the arrival of the 492 immigrants as they stepped foot onto British soil following their 8,000 mile journey.
Local reporters were waiting at the dock as the Empire Windrush troopship dropped anchor at Tilbury Docks on June 22, 1948.
The ship was packed with hundreds of men (many ex-servicemen), women and children from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands who were seeking a new and better life in post-war Britain.
The Gazette described the scene: “Dressed in an odd assortment of clothes, many wearing ties of dazzling designs , over 450 Jamaicans arrived at Tilbury Docks on the Empire Windrush to settle down in the Mother Country.
“Many have jobs to come to, others have friends in this country but over half of them have little money and no work to go to.
“All had great faith in Britain, however and their hopes of making good here are high.”
The Gazette described how the passage had not been without its thrills as several stowaways were found on board including a Jamaican woman.
“Her difficulties were soon over, however because when she was discovered the other colonials subscribed (paid) her passage,” told the Gazette.
As the passengers filed out across the docks, special trains were laid on to take them to different parts of the country – although most were taken to London.
“Trains had been charted for the ordinary passengers who had nowhere to go and were taken to London by road and given good and shelter.
“Everything is being done to find them jobs to which they are suited,” reported the Gazette.
“Quite a few of the men said they had some kind of knowledge of work on the land and would be prepared to take similar jobs in this country.”
The men told reporters of poor conditions and a lack of jobs back home in Jamaica.
One such passenger, Eric Linton, a 35-year old welder, told the Gazette he had been out of work for two years
“When you are desperate you take a chance, he said. You don’t wait until you die.”
The Gazette reporter was allowed on to the Windrush for a brief time to chat to passengers.
He wrote: “Mingling onboard with these people from the West Indies was an experience.
“There were painters, carpenters boxers and musicians and even a dance band complete.”
Within hours of the Windrush docking at Tilbury, more stowaways were found. Ten men were caught by customs officials as they floated down the river on a raft and were taken to Grays Court.
They all pleaded guilty to two charges of travelling on the vessel without having paid their £28 fare – and also with secreting themselves on board.
“All the men said they could not find work in Jamaica. Some were married and had left their wives and children behind.
They hoped to gain employment and eventually send for their families,” the Gazette reported.
“One man said it was impossible to carry on in Jamaica under the current conditions and stressed that because he didn’t intend to steal, he came to Britain to find work.
Three weeks after arriving it was reported that of the Windrush passengers, 76 had gone to work in foundries, 15 on the railways, 15 as labourers, 15 as farm workers and 10 as electricians.
The others had gone into a wide variety of jobs, including clerical work at the post office, coach building and plumbing.
Those who did not find work straight away didn’t have to wait for long. The newly-established National Health Service soon welcomed West Indian nurses, and London Transport recruited bus and train drivers and bus conductors.
Despite the Windrush pioneers – and subsequent waves of immigrants from the Caribbean who came to Britain during the forties and fifties – believing they were answering a call to help re-build ‘the mother land’ after the war, some reported incidents of racism and discrimination.
Although many of the Windrush passengers flourished and were welcomed by communities, others were left disheartened by the negative treatment they received from some of the white British population.
This treatment included not being able to find accommodation, open bank accounts or secure loans or mortgages.
Now, with the recent scandal which has seen many of the ‘Windrush generation’ threatened with deportation, denied access to NHS treatment, benefits and pensions and stripped of their jobs – despite being here legally- that hostility has come full circle.