On June 22, 1948, 492 Caribbean people arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex on the Empire Windrush ship. While news reports claimed that the number was 492, the ship’s records show that more than a thousand passengers were on board. The United Kingdom suffered significant losses after the Second World War, and the British government decided that it was essential to recruit Caribbean migrants for the production of steel, coal, iron, and food, and running public transport.  

On 15th April 1948, a small advertisement was placed in a newspaper announcing a ‘passenger opportunity’ to sail from Jamaica to the UK on theHMT Empire Windrush. The price of a ‘troop deck’ ticket was £28 (equivalent to around £1000 now). 

The newspaper advertisement 

The HMT Empire Windrush was en route from Australia to England when it crossed the Atlantic Ocean into the Caribbean, picking up passengers for Britain from Jamaica, but also Trinidad, Mexico, Cuba, and Bermuda. Many of the passengers were men, but there were also women and children who were making the crossing. Some were ex-members of the wartime RAF hoping to re-join. Others were skilled and educated people: engineers, musicians, academics, nurses, and civil servants. As travel in the post-war period became cheaper and more accessible, they decided to take the chance and leave their homelands behind to try their luck in Britain.  

HMT Empire Windrush 

The 8,000-mile journey from the Caribbean to Tilbury Docks in Essex, UK took 30 days. The HMT Empire Windrush dropped anchor on the 21st of June 1948. The passengers disembarked a day later, on the 22nd of June. Many of the new arrivals stayed in London, finding employment with the NHS and London Transport, and settling into homes in the Brixton and Clapham areas of the capital. Over the next few years, many West Indians arriving in England would also decide to stay in these areas. The transition was not smooth, and the first Caribbean immigrants faced violence and intolerance from much of the white population. Black people were also banned from many pubs, clubs, and churches. 

The arrival of the HMT Empire Windrush and its passengers was a landmark event that was the start of many more people from British colonies, including India, migrating to the UK between 1948 and 1971. Today, people who arrived in Britain during this period are often called the Windrush Generation, named after the ship, which brought the first migrants to the country. 

Many people who had migrated only planned to stay in Britain for a few years before moving back home, but lots ended up settling permanently, having families, and considering Britain their home. This has resulted in the vibrant, diverse, and multicultural modern-day society we now have, which we celebrate on the 22nd of June each year. 

Sources cited:  

historycollection.com/the-windrush-generation-and-the-rebuilding-of-post-war-britain 

Windrush The Passengers by Mark Philips 

National Today – History of Windrush 

Additional Link to related Television programming.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0018ljt