Empire Windrush 1948

A celebration of the Windrush generation's contribution to Britain and the NHS

Reshma Trilochun Thursday 18th June 2015 09:59 EDT

On Wednesday 17th June 2015, there was a celebration of the arrival of the passengers of the SS Empire Windrush into the UK, 67 years ago; a ship that brought settlers from Jamaica, on 22nd June 1948. The celebration was held at the prestigious St. Thomas Hospital, in London. 1948 also happens to be the year the National Health Service (NHS) was created; the event also commemorated the contribution of the new arrivals, who went on to help establish the health service. In particular, the event recognised the contribution of the Windrush generation towards the NHS.

Present at the event as the chief guest was Sam King, a survivor of the Empire Windrush ship, who went on to become the Mayor of Southwark. Also present was the Chief Executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, as the Chair of NHS Equality and Diversity Council, plus a range of workers from across the National Health Service.

As well as celebrate the people who came to Britain in 1948, Simon Stevens stated how this event should also be an opportunity to 'celebrate the wider contribution of people from 200 nationalities and more have made and make today, to the running of the National Health Service... the reality is that you can't walk around any hospital... without being struck by the fact that people from all over the world come to devote their careers and their lives supporting the National Health Service. And were it not for that fact, the National Health Service would not be here today.'

After the Second World War, Britain had encouraged immigration from Commonwealth countries, primarily to help rebuild the country post the war, as there was a shortage of labour, especially in the NHS and London Transport. Nearly 500 passengers arrived from Jamaica to the Tilbury Dock, London, and this marked the beginning of the postwar immigration which was to change the British society. The official figures were 492 passengers, however, there were several stowaways as well.

Although the British immigration was welcoming new arrivals onto its shores, there were many natives who were hostile to the idea of having “foreigners” in their country. Consequently, many of the new arrivals face discrimination, felt isolated and had to suffer extensively, especially in terms of finding accommodation.

Sam King joined the RAF World War II, however, was sent back to Jamaica after the war had ended. He was not happy with having to go back to Jamaica and took the opportunity to travel back to England on the Empire Windrush. Sam King reminisced about his experience of the Windrush, stated his ticket cost him 28 pounds and 10 shillings. He said, 'We as West Indians, we all came together and we survived. But the irony of it is somebody in parliament said, “All these people won't stay longer than one winter in England. They'll all return to the West Indies.'

He humorously continued, 'I came and I spent two years at RAF in Scotland during the war. And it is colder in Scotland than it is in England.'

Sam King has been an unwearying campaigner for the community. He also founded what became the first Notting Hill Carnival, as well as was a driving force being the first black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette.

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