A new polling for the Windrush 75 network found that six in 10 people in Britain agree that “Britain owes a great deal to the Windrush generation of migrants” while as many people also want the history to be taught in schools.
By: Shubham Ghosh
The 75th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush in the UK, which marked a key moment in the country’s history of migration, is a “Diamond Jubilee for modern, diverse Britain”, according to campaigners.
Voices from across British society – from sport and culture to politics, faith and business – have spoken out on why ‘Windrush 75’ matters and their plans to mark the anniversary this year.
From London mayor Sadiq Khan to actor Lenny Henry, politician David Lammy, historian David Olusoga and Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the Bishop of Dover, are among the dignitaries who have shown support for ‘Windrush 75’, besides the descendants of the immigrants who had arrived from the West Indies to the UK on board the vessel in 1948, and representatives of the NHS, the FA, English Cricket Board, Tesco and Royal Mail, which is set to issue a set of special stamps in June to mark the occasion.
It was on June 22 that Windrush had reached the British shores.
The arrival of the ship at Tilbury docks in Essex with 500 passengers from the Caribbean is a moment that symbolises the beginning of the post-war Commonwealth migration to the UK and the shift towards the multi-ethnic society which Britain is today.
A new polling for the Windrush 75 network — published this week — found that six in 10 people in Britain (61 per cent) agree that “Britain owes a great deal to the Windrush generation of migrants and should recognise their contribution as part of our national story”.
People also want the history to be taught in schools: a further six in 10 (62 per cent) agree that “The arrival of Windrush is a key moment in Britain’s history of migration and change. It is important for integration today that all of our children are taught about the shared history of a multi-ethnic Britain”.
The combination of a Coronation and the 75th anniversaries of the NHS and the Windrush makes 2023 a special year for identity in Britain, according to British Future, a leading identity thinktank.
Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, said, “2023 will be a special year for Britain, a year of identity. A Coronation year that ushers in a new era. One when we mark 75 years of pride in the NHS and 75 years of Windrush, the moment which symbolises the post-war migration that has shaped our society today.
“Windrush 75 reflects the complex story of migration to Britain, one of pride and of prejudice. But the endpoint of that story so far is us. This is who we are now.”
Patrick Vernon, convener of the Windrush 75 network, said, “Windrush 75 is like a Diamond Jubilee for modern, diverse Britain. We are celebrating four generations of contribution, legacy, struggle and positive change. And it is a moment to look to the future too, at how we address the challenges to come.”
London mayor Khan, said, “Seventy five years ago, Empire Windrush arrived into Tilbury Docks with hundreds of people from the Caribbean – the first of a generation – who helped to rebuild London as a leading global city. Since then, the Windrush generation has continued to help shape and inspire almost every aspect of our culture and modern life. Their enormous contribution to our country and our capital city deserves recognition.
“As we come together to mark this 75 year milestone, we must also recommit to putting right the mistreatment the Windrush generation have endured. Their appalling treatment by the government is a stain on our nation’s conscience, as is our immoral immigration system. I encourage all Londoners to take part in the activities taking place across the capital this year in honour of the Windrush generation.”
Actor Lenny Henry said, “It’s vital this year to celebrate the courage of those Windrush pioneers 75 years ago, who gave up the life they knew to seek a better one here in Britain. They paved the way for those of us who have followed.
“With my one man play August in England and upcoming TV series Three Little Birds I want to bring their stories to wider attention in 2023. Big respect to those pioneers – we stand on their shoulders.”
Historian David Olusoga said, “The arrival of the Windrush is a pivotal moment in black history and British history. We see its legacy every day, when we turn on the radio or TV, walk down the High Street or cheer for England at the World Cup. So it’s important that the anniversary is marked in a significant way and that everyone is invited to take part.”
Amanda Pritchard, CEO, NHS England, said, “The 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the work of our black and other ethnic minority colleagues and their significant contributions to the National Health Service, which is also marking its 75th year.
“From 1948 to today, the NHS has always welcomed talent from around the world. Many of the new arrivals’ contributions to the health service helped to create a new and free health care system for all. They were critical to the formation of the NHS, and I am honoured to work alongside their descendants and generations that followed in their footsteps.”
David Lammy MP, shadow foreign secretary, said, “The 75th anniversary of Windrush will be an emotional day in many communities as we remember the sacrifices of a generation which gave so much to this country, but it is bittersweet. A time to celebrate how migration and diversity has helped build modern Britain – but also to put pressure on the government to finally give the victims of the Windrush scandal the compensation they deserve.”
Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover, said, “The Windrush pioneers and those who followed have made such a contribution to our communities, our congregations and wider British society over the last 75 years. Offering a place of welcome is part of the Christian tradition, from the stories of the Bible to the work of our churches today. So it is only right that the Church celebrates the Windrush anniversary this year.”
Sajid Javid MP said, “For many of us who owe our lives in Britain to family who travelled here from overseas, the Windrush has a special resonance. That generation made a deep and lasting impact on this country and the 75th anniversary is a moment to celebrate the contribution they continue to make to our economy, health service and society.”
Reverend Michael King, whose father came to the UK on board the Windrush, said, “As the son of one of the original Windrush pioneers, Sam King MBE, the 75th anniversary is a very significant moment on a personal level and for the nation. As we come into the anniversary year, permanently raising the profile of the Windrush pioneers and their descendants should be an important aspect of the celebrations, to ensure people never forget the huge contribution made by this generation to our country. This is an awesome opportunity for black history.”
Zareena Brown, chief people officer at Royal Mail, said, “Royal Mail recognises the cultural importance of celebrating the landmark 75th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush to the UK. We are delighted to be issuing a set of Special Stamps in June that will honour the legacy of the citizens who emigrated from the Caribbean to Britain and their positive contributions to society.”
Paul Elliott, Special Advisor to the Chair and CEO at the FA, said, “The World Cup performance of England’s footballers inspired the nation last month. They show why our diversity is our strength – without the parents and grandparents who moved here from overseas, there would be no Rashfords, Sakas or Bellinghams wearing the Three Lions. So in 2023 football will celebrate the 75th anniversary of Windrush and the huge contribution that descendants of those first pioneers have made to our beautiful game.”
Kate Miller, England & Wales Cricket Board’s chief diversity and communications officer, said, “Of the many contributions the African-Caribbean community made to British culture throughout the 20th century, their passion for cricket shines through. Despite the obstacles faced by Black people at the time – including racism – an entire generation of African-Caribbean children were inspired into cricket by talented players, vibrant match-day crowds, and community-based clubs that were formed up and down the country.
“This year, the Windrush 75th anniversary year, will be an important one for the sport across England and Wales, with a continuing focus on equity in cricket. Since 2000, the numbers of Black professional cricketers, and Black children participating in cricket, have fallen away. We must go further, faster – listening and learning from the Black community directly to reverse this decline and drive inclusivity at all levels of our game, so that future generations can be inspired as past generations were.”
The Port of Tilbury will be a focal point of activities to mark Windrush Day.
Lucy-Emma Harris, Community Engagement Manager for Forth Ports, said, “The 22nd June is woven into the very fabric of our local history at The Port of Tilbury, and celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at the London International Cruise Terminal is very firmly on our calendar.
“Preparations have already started with workshops to explore ideas with artists on how we create an event that is a fitting celebration to mark the 75th Anniversary. We are also developing educational events, so our local young people understand how the arrival of the Empire Windrush in Tilbury was part of Great Britain’s national story.”
Towns and cities across Britain are preparing to make the 75th anniversary of Windrush special.
Andy Street, mayor of the West Midlands, said: “2023 marks the 75th anniversary of the Windrush arriving in the UK. This historic moment ushered in a new era for the UK as a whole and the West Midlands in particular – bringing newcomers to our shores who built their lives here and made a tremendous contribution to this country. Whether in arts & culture, sport, business or public service, the region I represent is a richer place today in all respects thanks in no small part to the migration and diversity that Windrush brought about. It’s only right that we mark this milestone with the level of reflection and ceremony it deserves.”
Bristol mayor Marvin Rees said, “2023 marks a number of important anniversaries for Bristol: 60 years since the Bristol Bus Boycott, 75 years since Windrush, and 650 years since we gained city status. Windrush was a watershed moment in our history, as post-war migration from across the Commonwealth and around the world helped to rebuild our city and country. We are working with St Paul’s Carnival, whose fringe programme will launch on Windrush Day 2023, and other partners around Bristol to mark these anniversaries and celebrate who we are as a city.”
Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A Museum, said, “The V&A will mark the 75th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush with a season of displays, talks, workshops and events beginning in May 2023 and running throughout the summer. The programme of events will tell rich, layered stories about the Windrush generation and their legacies through objects from the V&A Collection and beyond, showcasing artists and designers associated with Windrush and exploring the impact of the Caribbean presence on art, design and culture in Britain.”
Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director of the Young Vic theatre, said: “The Windrush embodies so many human stories – of dreams for the future, injustice and adversity, identity and belonging – which have spanned generations over the last 75 years. It’s a powerful symbol that will inspire culture-makers throughout 2023.”
Jason Tarry, Tesco CEO, UK & ROI, said, “We recognise that the 75th anniversary of Windrush is an important milestone for this country. The Windrush generation and their descendants helped rebuild this nation after the war and shaped the UK as we know it today.
“At Tesco, everyone’s welcome. We’re building an inclusive workplace that celebrates the unique cultures, preferences and experiences of all our colleagues, and reflects the diverse communities we serve. As part of our ongoing commitment to Black inclusion in our business and to mark this milestone we have partnered with The Making of Black Britain (MOBB).”
The Royal British Legion’s Director of Remembrance, Philippa Rawlinson, said, “The large number of serving and former Armed Forces personnel on the Empire Windrush 75 years ago underlines the importance of the contribution of the Windrush Generation. During 2023 we will commemorate the service and sacrifice of the Windrush Generation and its descendants.”
Marie van der Zyl of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said, “We celebrate Windrush not only because of the national pride and positive story of immigration and diversity that it represents – we celebrate its story of unshakeable hope, perseverance and redemption. Windrush is not just a powerful moment in our nation’s past. Windrush is a hopeful vision of our nation’s future.
“The history of the iconic Windrush ship is the human story in all its highest and lowest ideals. First named Monta Rosa by its Jewish shipbuilders in Germany, it made it possible for hundreds of refugees to flee persecution, tyranny and genocide. Under control of the Nazis, it was then used for the darkest evil – transporting Jews back to Germany and ultimately to their deaths in the gas chambers.
“The British capture of the ship, at the end of the War, paved the way for the Windrush to once again be the protagonist of a new redemptive story, as its final years were spent bringing thousands of Caribbean immigrants to Tilbury Docks – a defining historical moment for modern Britain.”
On Windrush Day last year, 100 individuals – including Lenny Henry, Benjamin Zephaniah, Trevor Phillips, David Olusoga, Sadiq Khan and cross-party parliamentarians including Steve Baker MP, Diane Abbott MP and Baroness Doreen Lawrence – made a public call on the government and all institutions to ‘step up’ and make the 75th anniversary of the Windrush a major national moment – “as important in Britain’s calendar as Martin Luther King Day is in the United States”.
The campaigners have set up the Windrush 75 Network to help coordinate efforts across the UK to encourage public participation in Windrush 75 celebrations throughout 2023.