Windrush Day this year celebrates 75 years since the HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury, Essex, in 1948. Onboard were more than a thousand passengers, including men, women, and children from across the Caribbean. Although it wasn’t the wave of West Indian people moving to Britain, its arrival has become a symbol of those who arrived in Britain between 1948 and 1971 from the Caribbean.
Many were encouraged to migrate to Britain to fill postwar labor shortages. But the reality of life in post-war Britain was very different from the expectations and hopes of the new arrivals, suddenly in the metropolitan center of a quickly fading empire.
The weather was cold, food was still rationed, and there was a shortage of places to live – partly because a lot of buildings had been destroyed by bombs, and to do prejudice with some landlords refusing to rent them rooms. Although they had been invited to Britain to help with the shortage of labor due to the Second World War, black immigrants were viewed with suspicion and prejudice, leading to unemployment, lack of equal pay, difficulty finding accommodation and even being
served in shops.
Today the personal stories of Afro-Caribbean children’s authors are real-world examples of the Windrush generation’s hard-won fight to be accepted in modern-day Britain.
Trinidad-born Baroness Floella Benjamin emigrated to Britain in 1960 which she captured in Coming to England (2020), the inspiring true story of her arrival here aged 10. Her novel, with illustrations by Diane Ewen, makes the book readable for 5-year-olds and over, is the ultimate tale of determination and courage trumping adversity. From the 15-day voyage with her sisters to the racism and hardships she faced on arrival, and her success as an award-winning children’s presenter. She eventually became a life peer in the House of Lords in 2010 and made her dream of meeting the Queen come true. Taking her opportunity in front of the Queen at a lunch at the University of Exeter she relayed her story to her, saying: “You know, Ma’am when I was a little girl in Trinidad, I used to stand in the playground and sing ‘God Save the Queen’ and learn all about British history. I was told I was part of the motherland but when I came to Britain in 1960 it was not like that. I faced so much
adversity and had to break down so many barriers… But I told her: ‘You know, I don’t hate anybody for what they did to me because I’m not a victim. If I keep hatred in my heart, I remain a victim. So I’ve forgiven them all. No resentment.”
British poet and writer Benjamin Zephaniah’s parents were firmly part of the Windrush generation. Like many his Jamaican mother saw a poster advertising migration to Britain and set out to start a new life. Benjamin is the author of Windrush Child (2020) which tells the story of a Jamaican-born boy called Leonard who emigrates to the UK from Jamaica.
The author was diagnosed with dyslexia and left school at 13 unable to read and write. Experiencing severe racism in the 1980s, he began to write and publish his first poems, influenced by black and Afro-Caribbean music and rhythms. The book is suitable for 5-year-olds and over, and unlike Coming to England isn’t shy of racist terminology. His advice on teaching the racism faced by the Windrush generation is to confront it sensitively and to have fictional stories reflect real life. “I haven’t gone as heavy as it could be,” he told the Book Trust, “you’re going to have to read some truth…I had to give readers a flavor of what it was like”. In the end, the past is a different place, and we have to take lessons from it and move forward, he said.
If you have any books from the Windrush generation that you would like to donate to our school, our app is available to download on both iPhone and Android.