Today marks the 72nd Anniversary of some 500 migrants from the Caribbean disembark the Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks, Essex to step foot on British soil for the first time on 22nd June 1948.
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Advocate, Lorna Dwyer, Senior Performance Co-ordinator – Age Group Lead at British Athletics, has collated these fascinating ‘Windrush Reflections’ from our Coaches, of their parents or grandparents that arrived from the Caribbean to the UK.
[Event Group Lead – Speed, England Athletics]
In February of 1956, my mother, Mary Anderson, disembarked from the SS Auriga at Plymouth Docks with her parents and four siblings. The vessel, carrying 1,100 passengers, arrived in the UK from the Caribbean following the HMS Windrush. Her family of 7 had made the 16 day voyage in search of better prospects in the UK. Following the end of World War II, the UK needed help to rebuild. Having lost a huge number of men in the war, the UK sent word to the Caribbean that there were lucrative jobs and a good standard of living for those who were prepared to relocate to its shores. My Grandfather was an oil grader in an oil refinery in Aruba and although my grandparents lived a very comfortable life there, they decided to emigrate to the UK.
My Grandfather sent money ahead to a contact to find his family a place to stay once they arrived, but when they reached Paddington Station, they were told that there was no lodging waiting for them. With nowhere to stay, they then lived in a hotel for two months before my Grandfather was able to buy a house in West Hampstead. My Mum recalls that despite having a good job and qualifications, my Grandfather found it very difficult to find employment. She remembers seeing signs in house windows that said “No dogs, No Blacks, No Irish”. Despite the promises that were made to them in Aruba, they found that they were not welcomed, and life was significantly harder than expected.
They knew it would be colder in London, but they weren’t expecting the fog and soot which covered everything. My Mum was 6 years old when she came to the UK, so her recollection was that of a child. She remembers my Grandmother crying for a week when they first arrived, her schoolteacher’s purposely not recognising her achievements in school and the racist names she was called walking down the street and in the playground. She remembers being ignored in shops when trying to pay for groceries and her father recalling how he was told “Blacks won’t get jobs here”.
Regardless of the barriers put in their way, my grandparents encouraged their children to work hard in school and insisted on high standards at home and with others. Despite his engineering background, my Grandfather eventually got a job in the postal service and worked his way up to being a supervisor. They rented out the top 2 floors of their town house to other families that had travelled to the UK from Carriacou. My Mum describes her life as being part of two worlds. There was the world of school and London life and then there was the Carriacou world made up of families who had also emigrated and established a close community in London. My Grandparents were able to bring their Caribbean culture and lifestyle into an environment that didn’t accept them. Despite having many good English school friends, my Mum didn’t feel that these two worlds could overlap until she was in her late teens (which would have been the late 60’s).
Over time, they adapted and grew as a family. My Grandparents were proud to say they raised eight children; a psychologist, an architect, a scientist, the lead singer of Hot Chocolate, an author, a member of Mensa, a wedding dress designer and a French teacher. They make up a family that I am extremely proud to say are my rock and they paved the way for the rest of our family to grow and thrive.