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windrush at 70 

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Windrush


22 June 2018

Athletics is the most diverse sport globally and to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the arrival of HM Windrush into Britain on Friday 22 June 1948, UK Athletics and England Athletics have teamed up to showcase staff, clubs and athletes who have links with Windrush.  We share some stories of those who are descendants of the Windrush Generation; their parents or grandparents came over from the Caribbean to the UK to help rebuild post-war Britain.

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I have always known that my parents were from the island of St Kitts and Nevis a Commonwealth country, Saint Christopher, Nevis, and Anguilla was a British colony in the West Indies from 1882 to 1983, consisting of the islands of Anguilla (until 1980), Nevis, and Saint Christopher (or Saint Kitts). From 1882 to 1951, and again from 1980, the colony was known simply as Saint Christopher and Nevis. It gained independence in 1983 as the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis.  Independence Day is something that my parents still celebrate. They are very proud of their heritage and told me stories from a very early age of white sandy beaches (dad claims Nevis has the best in the West Indies), mango trees and natural hot springs. My dad once stumped his toe running to see the Queen when she visited his island of Nevis in 1966.

We have not talked much about their journey to the UK, but recognition of the impact from the Windrush inspired me to ask questions of how they travelled to England and their feelings of leaving their homeland behind.  Both my grandparents set off leaving their children behind in St Christopher and Nevis (which was what it was called then) to find work and create a new life for themselves in England. 

My mom came to England at the age of 10 years old and my dad at the age of 15 years old.  They missed the warm sunshine. My mom told me stories of the long journey by a very big ship, (my Aunt remembered the ship she had travelled on was the SS Begona) where the smell of diesel made her feel very sick.  Being very tiny she remembered getting lost on board.  The journey was long ending in Genoa, Italy from there it was on to England by a noisy train where she was met by her dad at Moor Street Station, Birmingham. Birmingham was cold and dark, with smoke came out of the house chimneys, my Aunt recollected that she thought at the time this was bizarre as she had only ever seen smoke from fires!

When I was 18, I visited St Kitts and Nevis and I loved it, the hot sun and gorgeous beaches I couldn’t understand why anyone wanted to leave. In fact, I cried when it was time to come home. I often ask why my grandparents didn’t go back, but now I understand that living in England longer than they had lived in St Kitts and Nevis meant that England is well and truly home.

Karen Forbes, Event Manager – Athlete Logistics

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My parents came over to England in 1960. My dad, who was my mum’s second husband was 26 and my mum was 40.  My mother had 11 siblings and my father 1.

They both came over to this country as there were job opportunities to make a better life for themselves and provide for their families in Jamaica.  They lived with my uncle in Hockley until they found a room to rent in Handsworth. I was born in 1965 when my mother was 45 years old. I was the 7th child for my mother who had previously lost 5 children in their infancy. I was the only one born in the UK. She always said if they were born in the UK they would have survived. Both got jobs straight away; my mother worked at Dudley Road Hospital and my dad worked for IMI. This I believe was the only job they had and they worked hard every day, my mum until she retired and I unfortunately lost my dad at the age of 49. I remember them being close to their work colleagues who remained friends for life. My mother was never late for work - in fact, she always went to work two hours early to make sure. My mother was also a dress maker and made most of her clothes and bought a Singer machine which she never used.  It was a cupboard which opened up as a sewing machine. They always sent money back to Jamaica to their families and clothing, buying large barrels to send over there.

One of the stories I remember is my mother saying when she first saw the snow she thought the clouds were falling from the sky and how she fell so many times trying to walk through it. She also talked how they were barred from various places due to the colour of their skin. I recall being racially teased when we went away to the seaside. I attach the passport photos of my parents and also one of me and my mother, as you can see I was not in a good mood. I recall with most early photos they did not smile and they were surrounded by flowerpots and everyone had a handbag as if we were going to church.

My only regret is not getting as much info from them about their experiences when they were alive.  I would love to have documented it all.

Sharon Morris, PA to Talent Director &Performance Pathway Senior Coordinator, British Athletics

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I often dream about the sacrifice, resilience and unstinting loyalty of public servants who sailed from the Caribbean to rebuild post-war Britain. 

I am more than overwhelmed that 22 June will now be formally known as Windrush Day, which is a major victory. I am glad for that, because it is about my ancestors, my elders making that decision to come to the United Kingdom, to what they saw as the mother country. When Britain called, they answered that call to come and The Windrush generation stepped forward and very much laid the path for other migrant communities coming into the UK.  It's fair to say as well as its great achievements they suffered some discrimination, some huge challenges integrating into a country that was not a diverse country!

I have attended many events and listened to many heart-breaking and powerful stories about the Windrush generation. Whilst these have been very eye-opening experiences it as also encouraged me to think about my own place in life. How much I learnt from my late grandparents and how they equip my parents to have a life in Britain.   

I owe the Windrush generation so much respect, for their bravery and for their courage which has paved the way for me and my daughter’s life, as well as the lives of current and future generations.

Lorna Dwyer - Senior Performance Coordinator - Age Group Lead, British Athletics 

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My parents were not part of the Windrush generation, but followed in their footsteps in the 1960’s.  My Dad was a talented mason and carpenter, learning his trade from his father, yet he had many other skills including midwifery and a baker; hence his nickname Baker. Both Mum and Dad came from big families; Dad was one of seven children and Mum was one of eight.  Providing for their family was extremely important to them, so when Dad made the decision to leave the beautiful island St.Vincent and the Grenadines to travel to England in 1961, leaving his two daughters and girlfriend (my Mum) behind, he was determined to do well for his family. His older brother was already in England, so he knew ‘family’ would be there to meet him at the other end. 

My parents always told us stories about their journey’s to the UK – both were completely different.  Dad enjoyed his 11 day experience and spent a lot of time on deck to take in the Atlantic sea breeze and was fascinated by the mechanics of the ship.  Mum on the other hand, who left St.Vincent and the Grenadines in 1962 to join Dad, had a nightmare and spent most of her journey with sea sickness.  Mum wasn’t happy with her cabin mates as in her words “they were not friendly at all”, so found her school friend and bunked in with her for the rest of the journey. She recalls being happy to see the shores of Italy, but disappointed they couldn’t leave the ship to explore the country

When Dad docked in Southampton, the train journey to East Croydon was exciting as he’d not been on a train before and recalls the fog and the funny roofs. 

When Mum arrived, she struggled to adapt to the cold weather and standard of living. It wasn’t the land of hopes and dreams as they were led to be believe.  They tied the knot on 27 October 1962 and shared a house with other Caribbean families and both worked hard to save and send money back home - eventually they saved up to buy their own home.  Their West Indian values and morals remained strong and they opened their home to close family and friends to live with them until they were able to buy their own properties.  

Mum and Dad’s plan was to spend a few years in the UK and then return ‘home’, but that ended up being over 50 years. From as far back as I can remember, they would purchase many household items saying, “this is for when we go back home”. They are now both in their 80’s and are finally putting things in place to “go back home” to live out the last years of their lives and to enjoy the house they worked so hard for in the UK.

I commend the courage and resilience of the Windrush generation who paved the way for my parents and many other Caribbean families – leaving the islands they knew as “home” to venture to an unknown country thousands of miles way for better opportunities and help rebuild a nation – a nation, I call home.

Donna Fraser
UKA Vice President and Equality, Diversity & Engagement Lead

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Windrush imagery
Karen Forbes' Grandmother
Windrush 70
Sharon Morris and her mum
Windrush 2
Lorna Dwyer's Grandfather
Windrush 3
Donna Fraser's parents passport photos