Reflections on Windrush Day
Monday 22 June is Windrush Day, a day to celebrate and commemorate the outstanding and ongoing contribution of the Windrush generation and their descendants, to our NHS and across our public services.
My name is Judith, I work as an NHS health visitor in west London, and I am a child of the Windrush generation. My father did not travel on the Empire Windrush; he was a passenger on one of the many ships that sailed here from the Caribbean. With his permission, I am able to share his memories, as well as give my own reflections.
Let's go back. Within a month of the Windrush generation arriving in the UK in 1948, the NHS was born. Caribbean nurses in particular played a vital role from the earliest days. Facing the challenges of racism and discrimination, working in the NHS wasn’t easy for Black NHS workers and it took decades for things to improve.
The term "Windrush generation" refers to the immigrants who were invited to the UK between 1948 and 1971 from Caribbean countries such as Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados to name a few. The name derives from the ship MV Empire Windrush which on June 22 1948 docked in Tilbury, Essex, bringing nearly 500 Jamaicans to the United Kingdom; there were a total of 1,027 passengers abroad the Empire Windrush.
There has never been a time like this in the history of the National Health Service - from its inception on 5 July 1948 to now, June 2020.
In 1948, Britain was just starting to recover from WWII. Thousands of buildings had been bombed, thousands of houses were destroyed and it all needed to be rebuilt.
In the Caribbean, lots of young men and women had served in the British armed forces because at the time, many Caribbean countries were still under British rule and not yet independent.
After the war, some of these people answered an advert which invited Caribbeans to Britain where there were lots of different jobs. Other people just wanted to see Britain, which they had heard so much about in that the streets were paved with gold.
These brave young women and men boarded the Empire Windrush, which departed from the Caribbean, to travel thousands of miles across the Atlantic.
This was the first time so many Caribbean people had come to live in Britain. Many more arrived in the following years.
When the Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks in Essex, the Caribbean passengers did not get the friendly welcome they had hoped for.
Many of them experienced racism and discrimination and oftentimes found it very difficult to get proper homes to live in and to make friends with British people.
It wasn't always easy for the new arrivals to get jobs. Some companies said they didn't want Black people to work for them.
Later, many of their children were bullied at school because of the colour of their skin.
Some of them suffered racial attacks and in later years there were riots in cities across Britain.
My father's experience
My father Delroy (pictured) shared the story of his journey with his children. Whilst he did not travel on the Empire Windrush, he travelled on one of the many ships that sailed to the United Kingdom from the Caribbean, his journey took two weeks.
On arrival at a UK port, he travelled to Bristol where he was reunited with his sister. They looked for more suitable accommodation only to be faced with signs stating “No Blacks, No Dogs and No Irish,” and as a result of this my father said that multiple Caribbeans lived in unsuitable accommodation.
My father vividly recalls setting foot on English soil and stated how shocked he was visually, especially regarding the scenery, recollecting that the difference was as stark as night and day. He left behind sunshine blue skies and all the trappings which came with a tropical climate, and replaced this with smog and similar looking terraced houses coupled with overt racism.
He shared with us that one of his friends was killed in Bristol by a gang of teddyboys and because of this, he and a number of friends got together and protected themselves against the skinheads and teddyboys.
He worked on the buses and dealt with much discrimination. My father thought it was strange that none of the accommodation had baths and so every weeked he would queue up with many other Caribbean people on Eastville Road, Bristol to take a hot bath at the local swimming pool. He remarked that you had to get there early as the bath was not cleaned between users and so the later you arrived the more grime formed in a ring around the bath.
My father also shared with us how odd it was to see uncovered bread and milk placed on the door steps. He met my mother in Bristol and it was love at first sight for my father, though it took my father much wooing to secure a relationship with my mother.
My father shared how difficult it was to get bank loans and so the Caribbean community set up a saving system which enabled them to purchase property. There are too many memories to share, many sad, many funny and other just ridiculous. I wish we had recorded his stories.
Since 1948, the NHS has recruited thousands of staff from all over the world - Africa, India, Eastern Europe, Malaysia and the Philippines. They did this to sustain and develop its services. By 2018, a quarter of nurses and midwives and around half of hospital doctors were of BAME heritage. But only recently has attention focused on the significant contribution these individuals have made to the NHS.