Windrush Day reflections

The SS Empire Windrush docked on 22 June 1948 and since then, those who arrived on the ship and their descendants have made and continue to make an enormous contribution to Britain. Not only through the vital work of rebuilding the country and public services after World War II, but in enriching our shared social, economic, cultural and religious life.

Ben Lawson, community hubs project manager at Bracknell Forest Council, has significant connections to Windrush through his grandad and uncle. With Ben’s permission, we’d like to share their stories.

Steve Mitchell

In 1944 when he was just 19 years old, Ben’s grandad, Veron (Steve) Mitchell, volunteered to join the Royal Air Force. In March 1945, Steve and other West Indian volunteers arrived in Britain, just 2 months before the end of the war with Germany.

We know that the Windrush Generation were met with racism and intolerance, and because of this Steve’s service was short-lived. In the forces, West Indians did not receive fair treatment, and relationships with white colleagues were often unpleasant. Fights would break out when verbal or physical abuse took place, and Steve was among a group of men who always stood up for their rights.

In 1947, Steve returned to Jamaica under military escort because a superior officer said he had not followed his orders. Having decided not to return to England again, he and a friend started a motor mechanic business. However, things had got worse after the war, and the business proved unsuccessful.

Because of this, Steve and his friend made the decision to return to England on the Empire Windrush, docking at Tilbury Docks on 22 June 1948. With just £5 in his pocket, Steve made his way to Cardiff where he was able to work up until ill health forced him to retire in 1980. Steve’s family still live in Wales, and also England.

Maurice Hudson

Ben’s uncle, Maurice Hudson, was born in Cuba in 1919 and moved to Jamaica at the age of 5. In 1943, Maurice volunteered to join the Royal Air Force (RAF), and after initial training in Jamaica he travelled to England.

In the RAF, he did a general mechanics course, but his main role was as a driver shuttling equipment and parts to radar stations. Two years after World War II ended, Maurice was released from the armed forces, but he was unable to make a good living at home in Jamaica. He decided to emigrate to Britain, and returned to England on the Empire Windrush.

He found work in Cardiff, got married and stayed settled until 1952, when they moved to London in the search of more job opportunities. Maurice eventually became a black cab driver and was among only a few black persons in Britain to have owned his cab.

If you, your relatives or your friends are part of the Windrush Generation, we’d love to hear from you and share first-hand accounts and personal reflections. Please email Communications.Marketing@Bracknell-Forest.gov.uk.

Windrush Day was first introduced in 2018 and is a chance to honour the generation that helped build the society we know today, while also understanding the hardships and sacrifices they have endured.