Windrush Day is a time to remember and to heal

Roy Morris has a double reason to toast Windrush on its 73rd anniversary today - without the ship he wouldn’t have been born.

Tuesday, 22nd June 2021, 7:30 am
Updated Tuesday, 22nd June 2021, 7:32 am

His grandfather Stan McDonald was one of the first Jamaican settlers aboard the famous Empire Windrush when it arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex on June 22, 1948.

And his dad, Ripton Morris, made the same voyage just a few years later, also to make his home in Preston.

“My dad rented a room at Stan’s house in Frenchwood Avenue and that’s how my he met my mum,” said Roy. “If it hadn’t been for Windrush I wouldn’t have been here.”

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The Empire Windrush docks at Tilbury in June 1948.

That first group of West Indians, who made the historic 14-day crossing from the Caribbean in 1948, spread out across the UK to help rebuild the nation after the ravages of six years of war. They had answered an SOS call from the British Government. But, far from being greeted with open arms, they found a country brimming with hostility and prejudice.

“They went through a hell of a lot,” said Roy, 57. “People renting out rooms or houses had signs in their window saying ‘No Irish. No dogs. No blacks.’ It was that brutal.

"Being in that first group to arrive my granddad had accommodation and a job to come to. But those who came in later years weren’t so lucky. For my dad it was ‘no room at the inn.’

“Granddad saw what was happening so he started renting out the rooms in his house to fellow West Indians and Dad was one of those who he took in.”

Roy Morris's parents Ripton and Esmie on their wedding day in Preston.

More than seven decades on many descendants of those early settlers are still finding it tough to feel truly accepted.

The Windrush Scandal, uncovered in 2018, exposed the Government’s shameful treatment of the pioneers and their descendants under “hostile environment” immigration policies brought in when Theresa May was Home Secretary in 2012.

Thousands were being denied access to healthcare, employment and welfare. Some were wrongly detained, denied legal rights and even deported.

In 2019 a compensation scheme was launched, but two years on many are still waiting to be paid out for the misery they had to endure.

Marilyn Meade with her ex-Army husband Tommy both came to Preston from Montserrat.

“It was really hard for them when they came over,” said Marilyn Meade, from Ribbleton, who arrived in Preston as a 10-year-old from Montserrat in 1960. “My father came over first in 1958 and then my mother in 1959 and my elder sister. My other sister and I joined them almost a year after that.

“But it was so hard to get a house and a job. There were jobs, but they were poorly-paid jobs. We always rented houses sharing with other people.

"At school some of the kids, especially the boys, weren’t nice to us. They would call us names, which I won’t repeat.

"We had some good English friends, but I had one who used to take me to her house at lunchtime and her mum was really racist. She used to say: ‘What do you have to bring her here for?’

Adrian Murrell's Windrush Initiatives group runs the Open Wounds project in Preston.

"Even so I think we were lucky really in Preston, we didn’t suffer as badly as other people in other towns and cities. Some of the treatment they suffered was terrible.”

Marilyn’s husband Tommy, also from Montserrat, served in the British Army and later helped found the city’s Jalgos Club.

“When he came out of the forces in the sixties he went out for a drink with some English friends into a pub in Preston and the landlord said: ‘We’re not serving him.’ His friends were upset and it started a big fight.”

Charlie Cummings, 70, came from Barbados to Coventry in 1962 as an 11-year-old and later spent 20 years in the Army, before settling in Preston.

“At school I used to get the Micky taken out of me quite a bit, they used to call me Gollywog,” he said at home in Ingol. “It wasn’t done in a nasty racist way, it’s just that people were still ignorant in England at the time.

“I also got it in the Army. Any black lad would get called either Chalky or Midnight. But again it was more banter from the other lads who were really mates. I never took offence.

“I married an English girl from Preston and we both used to get a bit of stick because I was black and she was white. But apart from that I think I was lucky really, Preston in my experience is a pretty tolerant place on the whole.”

THE PAIN GOES ON

It is called Open Wounds and founder Adrian Murrell says it is all about healing.

Despite the pandemic, the co-founder of the Preston-based Windrush Initiative has been bringing victims together virtually to talk about their experiences of racism in the hope it can help ease the pain which, for some, goes back decades.

“We’ve realised that a hell of a lot of community are walking around with open wounds that haven’t been healed,” he said as his group marks the 73rd anniversary of the first Windrush settlers arriving in Britain.

“People have kept some absolutely horrific incidents to themselves for a long, long time.”

The members of the Windrush Initiative have been unable to meet up to talk through their problems since the first Covid lockdown. So Adrian, who is also founder of the city’s annual Windrush Festival, decided to take the group online to allow them to unlock their feelings to others.

“Racism has been a massive issue since the George Floyd incident in America,” he said. “But it has always been massive for us for years before that.

“So we decided we needed to talk about it online and people were sending stories to us from the 1980s right up to the present day, stories they have kept to themselves and never discussed.

“When they write them down it takes them right back to the time it happened, right back to, say, 1979, because they have not been able to deal with it.

“We’re talking about open wounds that haven’t healed despite being decades old. We are talking about relationships, or being beaten up in town, or stopped by the police, or being treated unfairly at work. All those incidents are still troubling them years later.”

Adrian, whose family come from Barbados, works with Preston North End and the Football Association to educate children on school visits. And he admits there is much work to do in the city to eradicate the problem.

“I was taking to a grandfather last week who said his eight-year-old grandson was getting monkey chants playing football,” he said.

“We have a lot of work to do - and we aren’t going to stop until it stops.

“Racism may not be on the streets as much as it was, but its more online on social media now. Look at what professional footballer are having to put up with.

“Nothing changes if we stay silent. It’s a sad story, but we’re trying to tell that story, even though it’s a hard one to listen to.”