Windrush 75 will be the “last great chance” to say thank you to living pioneers

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A roll call from famous and influential figures has heralded the start of the 75th anniversary year of the Windrush generation (Image: Getty/PA)

The 75th anniversary of the Windrush’s arrival in England will be the “last significant chance” to recognize the generation while it has surviving members, a prominent campaigner has said.

Patrick Vernon OBE called for national celebrations to rival Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee as a host of prominent figures supported the milestone year.

The arrival of HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks on 22 June 1948 with passengers from the Caribbean invited by Britain to fill the labor shortage is considered a defining moment in modern British history.

The journey, which saw 802 people disembark from the islands, was part of a post-war wave of migration credited with supporting the British workforce, which played a key role in establishing the then fledgling NHS and helping the country become a multicultural society .

The Windrush 75 campaign is being launched today by prominent figures such as Sir Lenny Henry, MP David Lammy, historian David Olusoga and Bishop of Dover Rose Hudson-Wilkin.

For Mr. Vernon, organizer of the Windrush 75 Network, this year will be his last major opportunity to honor the enterprising pioneers, including his own parents, in his lifetime.

The generation had its defining moment with the ship’s arrival, but is generally considered to be people from the Caribbean seeking a better life in Britain between 1948 and 1971.

For the early pioneers, who have often faced racism, the anniversary is one of the last opportunities to recognize their year-long achievement nationally.


British liner Empire Windrush will forever be the focal point of post-war Caribbean travel to Britain (Image: Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images)

Mr Vernon told “The 75th anniversary will be the last big chance to celebrate the Windrush people while they’re still with us.

“With my own parents, who came from the Caribbean in the 1950s, my father is 91 while my mother is in her 80s. When we reach the 80th or 85th anniversary, most of the generation will be gone, so it’s very important to recognize and thank members of the generation across the country while we can.

“We want to say that we will never forget their sacrifices and their contribution to all aspects of British society. Some have been recognized through the rolls of honor and in other ways, but not many have received the recognition and recognition they deserve.’

This year’s anniversary comes at a time when the NHS, which Windrush nurses helped build, is under severe pressure and the cost of living crisis continues to plunge people into food and fuel poverty.


Arrivals from the Caribbean are greeted by British Colonial Office officials after ex-troop ship HMT Empire Windrush landed in Tilbury (Image: PA)

The social historian and commentator told that the legacy of the pioneers shows the need to respect frontline workers and people from all backgrounds to improve Britain’s fortunes.

“We have to look to the future,” he said.

“If we want a vibrant, multicultural Britain, we must acknowledge the ongoing issues surrounding racism and discrimination.

“We must create a more inclusive society and recognize that post-pandemic, we must support frontline workers and treat them and other people with respect and dignity.

“We need to think about what kind of Britain we want for the future and what talent isn’t being respected and recognized out there.”

75 Years Windrush Generations 2023 UK 50p Silver Proof Piedfort Front Edge

A 50p coin commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Windrush generation features a design by artist Vaida Jackson (Image: The Royal Mint)

The activist believes the celebrations should be comparable to the 2012 Diamond Jubilee for the late Queen Elizabeth II, which included street parties and a concert outside Buckingham Palace.

“In addition to the community events that people are already organizing across the country, there should be some significant major events that bring the whole country together, like the Diamond Jubilee,” he said.

“The Royal Mint will have a Windrush coin and the Royal Mail will have a Windrush stamp so a lot of things are happening and in the coronation year it would be fantastic to see King Charles honoring Windrush members as well.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 22: Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge accompanied by Baroness Floella Benjamin, Windrush passengers Alford Gardner and John Richards and children pose for a photograph next to the National Windrush Monument at Waterloo Station on June 22. June 2022 in London, England. (Photo by John Sibley - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with Baroness Floella Benjamin, Windrush passengers Alford Gardner and John Richards and children at the Waterloo Windrush Monument (Photo: John Sibley – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Windrush's 75th year will be the

That Wassifa Soundsystem members shown outside their Birmingham headquarters more than 30 years ago, are among the Windrush descendants who have enriched British cultural life (Picture: Wassifa showcase)

“The BBC and other major broadcasters should recognize the story and the contribution as much as they did during the Diamond Jubilee.

“We are telling people this is coming and we invite communities, the corporate world, the NHS and the public sector and all aspects of British society to acknowledge this story and contribution.”

In a poll for the Windrush 75 Network, six in 10 Britons agreed that elders, whose contribution should be recognized as part of the national history, owe “a lot”.


Patrick Vernon has invited people from all walks of life to attend the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush Empire (Photo: Patrick Vernon)

Among those ringing in the year is Sir Lenny Henry, who said: “This year it is important to celebrate the courage of the Windrush pioneers 75 years ago, who gave up their lives to seek a better one here in the UK .

“You paved the way for those of us who have followed us.

“With my one-man play August in England and the upcoming TV series Three Little Birds, I aim to bring their stories to a wider audience in 2023.

“Great respect for these pioneers – we stand on their shoulders.”

Jamaican immigrants arrive at Tilbury Docks, Essex, 22 June 1948

The new arrivals catch up on the news as they arrive in Tilbury (Image: Daily Herald Archive/National Science & Media Museum/SSPL via Getty Images)

Historian David Olusoga described the arrival of the prospective workforce at the Essex docks as an event that resonated through British life.

“The arrival of the Windrush is a defining moment in black history and British history,” he said.

“We see his legacy every day when we turn on the radio or television, walk down the high street or cheer for England at the World Cup.

“It is therefore important that the anniversary sets a significant tone and everyone is invited to participate.”

Generations of Windrush descendants can trace their roots back to the early arrivals (Image: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Generations of Windrush descendants in Britain can trace their roots back to the early arrivals (Image: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The Windrush scandal and the fight to get compensation for people victimized by immigration officials as a result of the ‘hostile environment’ policy under previous Tory governments remain in the background of the anniversary.

David Lammy MP said: “The 75th anniversary of Windrush will be an emotional day in many communities as we remember the sacrifices of a generation that gave so much to this country, but it is bittersweet.

“A time to celebrate how migration and diversity have 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.”

Activists formed the Windrush 75 network to coordinate and encourage participation in the 2023 celebrations.

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Justin Scacco

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