Windrush Day

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | June 22, 2017 1


On 22 June 1948, the Empire Windrush arrived, bringing 492 people to Britain and marking the start of post-war immigration. 

Officially, Windrush Day is not a national holiday, yet within the Caribbean community, particularly for first and second generation citizens, June 22nd is a day of importance, as it was the first time Commonwealth citizens from the Caribbean, docked at a small port in Tilbury upon the request of the British Government to help rebuild a broken Britain after World War II.

In the wider community, Windrush day is earmarked as a day of importance because the first docking of MV Empire Windrush marks a time in British history where one of the greatest Colonial powers of the 20th Century was forced to accept that despite for all of its power, it was unable to be self-sustainable and that a more diverse and tolerant workforce would be necessary. 

Ironically, the ship itself did not begin as a symbol of multi-cultural British pride, instead starting life as a vessel used by the Nazi elite as a cruise ship named the Monte Rosa. On the outbreak of the Second World War, the ship became a Nazi troopship before being captured by Allied forces in May 1945 and subsequently kept by the British who retrofitted the ship for civilian use.

Ultimately, Windrush day shows a shift in the power dynamic that Britain once had over the rest of the world and marks the beginning of its dependence on Commonwealth citizens and migrant workers from across the globe- a state of dependence that has remained since ever since this day in 1948. 

It means that MV Empire Windrush has the dubious title of reminding Britain of its own weakness, but a weakness that it has turned a broken nation into one with a collective strength, as Windrush marks a point of origin in which any non-white British Citizen could become a source of national pride.

Take for instance the current Formula 1 World Champion, Lewis Hamilton. Before his World Championship winning season in 2008, he became the first British World Champion since Damon Hill in 1996 and since winning his second and third World Championship titles, Hamilton is the first triple World Champion since Jackie Stewart in 1973, becoming only the second Brit ever to do so. Lewis Hamilton is the first Black World Formula 1 World Champion, yet this is not the headline, his British birthplace and citizenship is and Windrush is the reason for it ever being possible. 

Windrush Day is more than celebrating a boat and the people who got off it because MV Empire Windrush is the ultimate symbol of choice. Yes, the tension and paranoia surrounding immigration was hotly contested in 1948, yet the 400 passengers who docked at Tilbury were some of the first people who came to the UK under the power of choice; not through fear of persecution or war, or against their will.

Windrush day is important for it marks the beginning of a transition, from an isolated country with nearly unmatched power but no support, to a country that was broken without it, to a time where cultural division is a mark of its competitive and self-sustained strength, and for that, Windrush Day should be Celebrated.

The Skibbereen Eagle

In 1898, to widespread bemusement, a small Provincial Newspaper in an equally small town in the South West corner of Ireland sonorously warned the Czar of Russia that it knew what he was up to and he should be careful how he proceeded for “The Skibbereen Eagle” was wise to his game and in future would be keeping its eye on him! It is doubtful that Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, even noticed the Eagle’s admonitions but as history soon proved he should have paid closer attention to the Eagle’s insightful opinions!

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