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Windrush Day 2023

Authored by Rex Cleaver
Published on 22nd June, 2023 6 min read

Windrush Day

Today (22/06/2023) is Windrush Day, marking the 75th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush to the UK. Carrying over 800 migrants from the Caribbean, the arrival of the vessel at Tilbury Docks, Essex in 1948 marked the beginning of a significant wave of Caribbean immigration to Britain. Officially beginning in 2018, the day holds profound importance in recognizing and celebrating the invaluable contributions made by Caribbean immigrants who arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1973 and who have since come to be known as the “Windrush Generation”.

Originally bound from Australia to the UK, HMT Empire Windrush was initially a troopship, intended to bring British servicemen stationed around the world back home to the UK. Docking in Kingston, Jamaica to pick up some servicemen who were on leave, the far-from-full ship agreed to offer cheap transport for anyone wanting to travel to the UK. Following the Second World War, the UK was faced with a major labour shortage. Having failed to attract enough immigrants from mainland Europe, the government decided to actively recruit people from the former countries of the British Empire as well as the Commonwealth to plug the increasingly large gap in the labour market. Attracted by the prospect of a better quality of life, the numerous job opportunities, and just sheer curiosity, hundreds of Afro-Caribbeans boarded the Windrush destined for the UK. Many onboard were hoping to take full advantage of the British Nationality Act of 1948, a policy that was still making its way through parliament and would grant citizenship as well as the right of entry and settlement to any resident of the UK and her colonies.

Although it was not the first ship to bring people from the West Indies to the UK, the Windrush received widespread media attention, helping to cement its iconic status as a symbol of a modern and newly multicultural Britain. As highlighted by this magazine clipping from The Sphere [1], migrants from the West Indies were also motivated to come to the UK by the often-extreme unemployment faced in their home countries such as Jamaica which faced unemployment levels of around 25% in 1948[2]. It is additionally worth noting that, as evidenced by The Sphere, most of the widely read newspaper and magazine publications of the time erroneously counted the number of migrants as being around 400-500 in total. Analysis of the ship’s records, kept in the National Archives, conclusively indicate that 802 passengers gave their last place of residence as a country in the Caribbean. [3]

The Sphere, July 3rd 1948 

After arriving in the UK, migrants from the West Indies quickly got involved in jobs that were essential to the reconstruction of post-war Britain. These jobs included the production of steel, coal, iron, and food, as well as careers in the service sector, such as running public transport and staffing the recently founded NHS. 

Despite being official British subjects, many migrants from the West Indies faced intense discrimination, racism, and the arduous task of assimilation. However, they displayed remarkable resilience and played a pivotal role in the reconstruction and shaping of post-war Britain. As evidenced by the Windrush Scandal which emerged in 2018, the West Indian community continues to face immense challenges in Britain.

Arising because of changes in immigration policies and the implementation of the "Hostile Environment" policy. The Windrush Scandal emerged as a result of government attempts to reduce illegal immigration by introducing stricter regulations that required individuals to provide evidence of their legal status. Many of the Windrush generation, who had been living and working in the UK for decades, were unable to provide the necessary paperwork to prove their right to remain in the country.

As a result, numerous members of the Windrush Generation faced dire consequences. Some were wrongfully detained, denied access to healthcare, lost their jobs, and faced the threat of deportation. Many of them had never applied for or possessed official documentation because they arrived in the UK as British subjects, with the understanding that they had the right to live and work there indefinitely.

Having originally started a petition for Windrush Day to be officially recognised back in 2013, social commentator and former Labour councillor Patrick Vernon began to actively campaign for the day as a result of the extreme negligence and mistreatment suffered by the Windrush Generation at the hands of the British government. Facing numerous accusations of insensitivity and malpractice for failing to protect the rights of British individuals, one of the restorative measures introduced by Westminster was the official support and a £500,000 grant for Vernon, finally bringing Windrush Day the official recognition it deserved. The government grant helps fund a wide variety of events that occur in conjunction with the day such as talks, exhibitions, festivals, and performances. 

 As commented by Vernon during his campaign: 

we need to remember that many aspects of British society today would be unrecognisable without the contributions that immigration and integration have made: from the NHS to the monarchy, our language, literature, enterprise, public life, fashion, music, politics, science, culture, food and even humour. [4] 

Indeed, Windrush Day provides an opportunity to honour and appreciate the immeasurable contributions of the Windrush generation. It serves as a reminder of the struggles they faced, their determination to succeed, and the lasting impact they have had on British society. The day should encourage dialogue, understanding, and appreciation for the diverse tapestry of the United Kingdom, ensuring that the remarkable legacy of the Windrush generation endures for generations to come. 


[1] The Sphere, July 3rd, 1948. British Online Archives. 

[2] The National Archives UK. "Unemployment Statistics: British Colonies." Commonwealth Migration Since 1945, Accessed June 16, 2023.   

[3] BBC News. "Windrush: Who exactly was on board?." Last modified June 21, 2019. Accessed June 16, 2023.  

[4] The Guardian. "Windrush Shaped Britain. After 70 Years, It Must Be Recognised with a National Holiday." Last modified May 9, 2018. Accessed June 16, 2023.


Authored by Rex Cleaver

Rex Cleaver

Rex is an Editorial Assistant at British Online Archives

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Notable Days


The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

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