Empire Windrush Background
After the Second World War people were needed due the to labour shortage. An advert in the Jamaican "Daily Gleaner" appeared, advertising that there was a journey on the troopship SS Empire Windrush (SteamShip) costing only £28.10. On that troopship there were space for 300 passengers below deck. For the poor people living in Jamaica this was the chance of a lifetime. On the 24th of May in 1948 the ship left the harbour of Kingston in Jamaica with 300 passengers below deck and 192 passengers on the deck This ship was on the way from Australia to the UK. Most of the people travelling to England were ex-servicemen and women. Most of them did not know what to expect in England. 25% of them were promised to get a job in the RAF. 30% being ex-servicemen who expected to get a job anywhere in the UK. Approximately 45% were unsure about what to expect, hence leaving it to fate.
When they got closer to the coast of the UK, it was heard on the radio, that, if there were any disturbances on the Windrush, the HMS Sheffield (His Majesty's Ship) would send them back. Some of the men on the Empire Windrush started to panic and a few were already crying because they thought that the ship would take them back to their home country. This was told by Sam King an ex-RAF serviceman and Windrush emigrant. They also heard that the newspapers "The Daily Graphic" and "The Dispatch" were printing that the Empire Windrush should be turned back and that there were great discussions in the Houses of Parliament , on whether the settlers should be turned back or not. It was the Labour Government's Colonial Secretary Creech Jones who said that they would be allowed to land as long as they had British Passports. He added that this would not be a problem because the settlers would not stay longer than a year anyway.
Baron Backer was one of the few West Indian servicemen who stayed in England after the war. He was demobbed in 1948, when the Windrush settlers came to the coast of England. So he went to a man called Major Keith who was an official from the Colonial Office. Since the Colonial Office had nothing prepared for the settlers to live in, Baron suggested the use of Clapham Common Deep Shelter. He told Major Keith that the shelter had been used for German and Italian prisoners of war and was no longer used. This could be used to house the settlers for a short time. Baron knew about this shelter as he had used it when he came to London and had no where to live. Major Keith told Baron Baker that he should get in touch with Joan Vicars who later became Dame Joan Vicars. Baron went there and got in touch with Fenner Brockway and Marcus Lipton. They discussed the situation in detail and Baron decided that he would go on the ship and tell the people not to leave the ship until the telegram had arrived.
One hour after he was on the ship he received that telegram he was waiting for. The shelter housed 236 settlers that night. Brixton was made a multi-racial community. As the shelter was less than a mile away from Brixton, most of the settlers found places to live in that locality.
After that the London Transport started in April 1956 to recruit more and more people from the West Indies. At least 3.787 Barbadians were taken over to Britain. There were still more people needed. Finally 11 million workers from other countries were recruited, that was 5% of the workforce in the UK. These people were faced with many problems, especially since most people did nor accept them in the UK. Many signs could be found in pubs and hotels saying, "No coloureds, No Irish, No dogs".
But things became better for the black /ethnic minority people after the first Race Relation Act in 1965 was passed. After this in 1968 and in 1976 further Race Relations Acts were passed. In spite of this many black people were harassed by many people and threatened by thugs and other people. Nevertheless the black people stayed and they will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Windrush this year.
Information gathered from various sources
Produced April 1998