“They were war veterans called on to rebuild the Mother Country that they had already fought for,” said Reverend Michael King of those first Windrush Pioneers, who included his late father Sam King MBE. This important historical context – many of those onboard the Windrush were former RAF and other servicemen returning to Britain after serving in WW2 – set the scene for an online discussion ahead of Windrush Day that spanned the past, present and future. “Education, property and absolute hard work,” were the principles of the Windrush pioneers that need to be passed on to younger generations, he added.
The event, ‘Why Windrush matters today,’ was convened by the Windrush75 Network, which seeks to help coordinate efforts across the UK over the next 12 months and beyond to encourage the maximum public participation in Windrush Day as a national moment, as we approach the 75th anniversary next year.
Siobhan Aarons, co-founder of Conservatives Against Racism For Equality and board member of the Black Equity Organisation, soon brought the discussion to the present day. “Windrush is not just a story, it’s my life,” she said. “Without my grandparents taking that journey I wouldn’t exist.”
So marking Windrush Day is about history but also about the descendants of those who came on the Windrush and the many that followed and about their contribution and place in our shared society. “It’s not just a marker of what happened 74 years ago – it’s also about us today,” she said.
For Patrick Vernon, convenor of the Windrush75 Network and author of 100 Great Black Britons, Windrush Day is a “bittersweet” moment in the annual calendar. “Sweet, as it brings the recognition that the Windrush pioneers deserve,” he said; “But bitter because of the injustices that are still unresolved for the Windrush generation.”
The discussion, aided by lively contributions from the audience, soon turned to the future. More than 100 voices from politics, culture, sport and civil society have signed a joint letter in The Times, calling for every institution to ‘step up’ and play its part in making the 75th anniversary of Windrush next year a major national moment. What might that look like in practice?
Patrick suggested that family history and genealogy is important. It would be great, he said, to see grandchildren interviewing their parents and grandparents. Those interviews could form part of a national repository of Windrush stories as an educational resource.
Sunder Katwala of British Future, chairing the discussion, developed this idea further. “The BBC should get hold of the passenger list,” he suggested. Exploring the histories the three generations of descendants that followed would tell a story of the growth of today’s multi-racial Britain.
Siobhan echoed this idea, stressing that the individual, personal stories of the Windrush pioneers and their descendants would help bring this history to life in all its diversity. These stories should be the foundation for “a national conversation about ourselves and what it is to be British today,” she said.
Michael had bigger plans. “It should be on Eastenders!” he suggested. “This truth is part of the fabric of British society and it needs to be heard. We need a big, positive, worldwide noise,” he said.
After many more contributions from the panel and the audience too – from banknotes to street parties – the last word as given to Reverend Michael King.
“I think my father would be very proud of what everyone is doing and the changes moving in the right direction,” he said. “But he would also want a bit more. So I would like to see a statement from her royal highness the Queen acknowledging the Windrush generation and that’s what I’m hoping and praying for.”
Those prayers were almost answered today, albeit with a gap of two generations, when HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge spoke at the unveiling of the new Windrush Monument at London’s Waterloo Station. The second in line to the throne paid tribute to the contribution of the Windrush generation while acknowledging the injustices of the Windrush Scandal. “Over the last seven decades the Windrush Generation’s role in the fabric of our society has been immense,” he said. “You can count on mine and Catherine’s support in ensuring a future we can be proud of.”
Our event closed with an invitation to everyone interested in commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Windrush next to join the Windrush75 Network. Do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to know more.
WATCH A RECORDING OF THE EVENT HERE: