Arthur Torrington co-founder of the Windrush Foundation argues that all Caribbean veterans who came for the war effort and remained in Britain should be officially included and recognised under the banner of the Windrush Generation.
In 2018 the British government came up with a definition of the ‘Windrush Generation’ as “Caribbean people who arrived in the UK between 22 June 1948 and 31 December 1971.” MPs apologised for the injustices caused by the Government’s hostile environment laws that brought hardships and financial ruin to many members of the generation and their descendants. Financial compensation was offered to those who were confirmed as victims. Now, claimants for compensation are doing so under a later definition that also includes other Commonwealth settlers1
The Windrush Foundation’s heritage work has proved an invaluable resource and platform for many. The Foundation was established in 1996 as a registered charity to manage annual Windrush Day commemorative events that were being enjoyed and had already solidified the definition of ‘Windrush Generation’. The term was first coined by Samuel Beaver King, WWII RAF serviceman and a Windrush passenger himself, who arrived at Tilbury Docks Essex, on 22 June 1948.
Who are the Windrush Generation?
Frequently overlooked, is the fact is that some 4,000 WWII veterans such as munitions workers, former servicemen and some from the Merchant Navy had remained in the United Kingdom when the war ended in 1945. Some, simply because they either liked the life here; had forged alliances such as girlfriends or had found work. It was these people who, in addition to the great public relations campaign in the Caribbean to encourage men and women to come and work who would write ‘home’ to their respective countries and encourage others to come to Britain. It is arguable that these should be recognised and included in debates relating to the Windrush Generation.
Arthur Torrington, an advocate for the inclusion of this group says “There was no discussion with the Windrush Foundation, who had initially proposed that the ‘Windrush Generation’ could be defined as: Those West Indian servicemen and women who remained in the UK after WWII ended in 1945 ;2 the settlers arriving before 1948; the passengers who landed at Tilbury Docks on 22 June 1948, having travelled on MV Empire Windrush and others who arrived in the UK before 1 January 1973.” He continues, “It was all of these people who helped to rebuild Britain and built cultural, social and economic platforms for later generations.”
The Windrush Scandal
The Windrush Scandal in April 2018 made major headline news. Soon after, the British government proclaimed 22 June a national and statutory annual Windrush Day. By this time there had been an outcry and heavy criticism around the injustices of the policies of the “Hostile Environment” campaign which directly negatively impacted the Windrush Generation. All of these former migrants and their descendants had a right to be here, but now many were compelled to provide documentation dating back 70 years to prove it. The misery continues for many.
First Windrush Day Celebration
The status of Empire Windrush became relatively obscure until The Sunday Times colour magazine ran a major feature in 1968 on Empire Windrush commemorating the 20th anniversary of its arrival. It referred to its arrival as “an historic moment.”
Windrush Day was first commemorated when Samuel King organised an event in Brixton, South London.
The Mayor of Lambeth hosted the 40th Windrush Day Celebration at Lambeth Town Hall on 22 June 1988. Sam King was pivotal in this as he had retained the names of many of the passengers he travelled with on the Empire Windrush in 1948 and organised for them to attend.
Donald Hind’s book Journey to an Illusion published in 1966 referred to the ship and briefly included two stories about the passengers. Noteworthy, is an interview with a WWII RAF ex-serviceman who told him, “That was the time that the SS Empire Windrush became a household word in the West Indies as ex-servicemen and their relatives trekked north. After a while people started writing to us, asking us to meet their relations and see that they received some sort of accommodation.” 3
It is these people who are frequently excluded in discussions yet they provided a much needed service and support for new arrivals, helping them to settle in their new homeland.
Windrush stories were not a topic of conversation during the 1950s. There were dozens of other ships bringing West Indian settlers to the UK at that time. By the 1960s migrants began to travel to Britain by aeroplane with the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).
The 50th Windrush Day anniversary was held on 22 June 1998 and received national media coverage.
The 70th anniversary and the Windrush Scandal coincided and made national headlines. This brought about new Windrush organisations that now follow Government’s definition of the Windrush generation and some have even devised their own definitions. Arthur Torrington continues to campaign for recognition of all.