Empire Windrush

On this day in History, June 22, 1948, a German cruise boat, the Empire Windrush, traveled up the Thames to the Tilbury Dock, London, where she disembarked 492 settlers from Kingston, Jamaica. Many of the travelers were ex-servicemen, who had served in England during the war. This was the first wave in Britain’s post-war labour recruitment from the Commonwealth marking the start of modern immigration to the United Kingdom.

One of them was a future Mayor of Southwark, Sam King, who passed away June 19, 2016, served in England with the wartime RAF. In ‘Forty Winters On’, published by Lambeth Council, he recalled getting two wireless operators among the passengers to play dominoes innocently outside the ship’s radio room and eavesdrop on incoming signals. They heard on the BBC that Arthur Creech Jones, Colonial Secretary in the Labour government, had pointed out that: ‘These people have British passports and they must be allowed to land.’ He added that they would not last one winter in England anyway, so there was nothing to worry about.

The newspapers were already interested in the voyage of what they embarrassingly called ‘the sons of empire’ and the Colonial Office, the Home Office and the Ministry of Labour were busily engaged in trying to dodge responsibility for the newcomers, whose imminent arrival they viewed with alarm. Eventually the Colonial Office, defeated in these arcane bureaucratic maneuverings, reluctantly opened the deep air-raid shelter under Clapham Common and about 230 of the new arrivals moved into it. The labour exchange nearest Clapham Common happened to be the one in Brixton, in Coldharbour Lane, and it was this that made Brixton the first of London’s new West Indian ghettoes.

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