Every year on June 22, Windrush Day is celebrated in the UK to mark the anniversary of the arrival into Tilbury Docks, Essex of the passenger liner HMT Empire Windrush in 1948. On board were hundreds of immigrants from the Caribbean, who were invited to cross the ocean to help rebuild the shattered British economy after the second World War. Large parts of the UK were in desperate need of nurses, bus drivers, postal carriers, steel workers and many, many other skills – roles that were filled by this initial group of immigrants, as well as the thousands that followed over the coming decades. With them they brought an explosion of dance, art, writing and music – ska, reggae, calypso, jazz funk, lovers rock, and pop – which would add to the rich diversity of British culture.

People who immigrated into Britain from the Caribbean during the period 1948 to 1973 are referred to as the Windrush Generation. During this time, my mother immigrated from Jamaica and my father from Dominica.

Map of Windrush route across the Atlantic Ocean

My parents’ immigration to the UK

My father came to England from Dominica in March 1955. He saved up £60 to purchase his ticket on a boat that was transporting bananas. Literally!

It was a less than luxurious 15-day crossing from Dominica to Southampton, although nowhere near as horrendous as the journey his ancestors had made in the opposite direction almost 200 years earlier. His destination was London, to join his older brother who’d made the journey two years before and was working as a carpenter.

Dad didn’t like working outside in the English climate, even though it was early spring, so he chose to work on the Bakerloo Line of the London Underground, initially as a train guard, then as a driver. His pay was £6.60 a week, out of which he had to find £2.00 for renting a room which he shared with four other West Indian men. To make extra room, the landlord converted the kitchen into another bedroom. The stair landing became a cooking area with the use of a portable stove. 

There was no bath in his shared accommodation, so they’d have to visit the public baths once a week. To stay clean in between these visits, they’d fill up a large tub of water to have stand-up washdowns.

During this time, finding accommodation was getting difficult. The initial hospitality shown by the English population had started to evaporate, although Dad didn’t experience any overt hostility or racism. His cheerful Dominican demeanour meant he could get on with most people.

After several years, Dad’s landlord persuaded him to invest in his first property in West London in 1963, and after 5 ½ years of working on the underground, dad joined the post office. During the recruitment phase, a kind Englishman offered to help him complete the application form after assuming he couldn’t read or write. He was wrong. Dad had always been a prolific reader. He was initially offered a job as a driver but chose to be a postman, where he was paid £11 per week. During his later years of service, he took a job as a delivery driver, which was his job until his retirement in 1992.

My mother came to England in 1959 on a BOAC plane from Kingston, Jamaica. She hated the idea of travelling by boat. Landing at Heathrow, she made the short journey to West London and found accommodation in Ladbroke Grove. She found work locally as a seamstress making dresses. Many people from the Caribbean settled in this part of London, which is now part of the route for the famous Notting Hill Carnival, an annual Caribbean carnival event that had (prior to COVID) taken place in West London since 1966.

Listening to my parents’ generation describing the hardships and prejudices they faced together along with the contributions they made to rebuilding this great nation makes me proud to call myself a “son of the Windrush.”

Visit the following links for more information about Windrush Day and the Windrush Generation:

Floyd Powell

Service Delivery Manager

Floyd Powell, based in London, UK, shares his parents' experiences as immigrants from the Caribbean to Britain as part of the Windrush Generation; how they adapted to and were received in the UK, and how they created lives for themselves there; and the importance of the Windrush Generation to Britain's history and culture.

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