Windrush Day was introduced last year on the 70th anniversary of the landing of the first Caribbean migrants in the UK. According to the government, the purpose is to “encourage communities across the country to celebrate the contribution of the Windrush Generation and their descendants”.
Following the losses of World War II, Britain was in dire need of labourers. This prompted a campaign to entice people from the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth to immigrate to the UK, especially those who had served in the British Armed Forces.
On 22nd June 1948, the ship HMT Empire Windrush landed at Tilbury Docks, near London. On board were the first 500 immigrants from the Caribbean. Its passengers disembarked the day after, 22nd June, to begin their new life in Britain. More came in the years that followed. It is estimated that around 500,000 people living in the UK are part of the ‘Windrush Generation’. (This includes all who arrived between 1948 and 1971 and their families.)
While the Windrush Generation and their descendants are honoured for their immense contributions to British society following the trauma of the Second World War, the first Afro-Caribbean immigrants were met with extreme intolerance from large parts of the white population. Many are now happily settled, considering themselves to be British. Sadly, though, it hasn’t always been like this. Many early immigrants were denied access to private employment and accommodation on account of their skin colour; and some were also banished from some pubs, clubs, and even churches. The government faced a lot of criticism last year when some members of the Windrush generation were mistakenly told they were living in Britain illegally.
From today’s perspective, the arrival of the HMT Empire Windrush was a major landmark not only for the country’s recovery from the turmoil of war, but also for the establishment of modern British multicultural society.