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House of Commons reception celebrates Windrush Generation

PICTURED: House of Commons speaker John Bercow and Windrush passenger Alford Gardner (Image: Rod Leon)

THE VOICE newspaper and Jamaica National Bank kicked off Windrush week celebrations with a joint reception inside the State Rooms of Speakers House at the House of Commons on Tuesday (June 19) to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush, which brought the first wave of Caribbean migrants to Britain on June 22 1948.

The reception brought together a host of elder statesmen and women from the House of Lords as well as MPs from across the political spectrum, Caribbean high commissioners, representatives from local councils, the church, health service, the police and from the world of entertainment and sports.

One special guest who received a huge round of applause when he was introduced to the gathering was ex-Royal Air Force veteran Alford Gardner, 92, one of the few surviving passengers who actually sailed on the Empire Windrush as it made its voyage to England 70 years ago, arriving in Tilbury Docks.

Other guests, including Jamaica’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Pernel Charles Jr, and Jamaica’s Police Commissioner, Major General Antony Anderson, heard short compassionate speeches from a number of persons who were specially invited to express the importance of the occasion.

Lord Herman Ouseley spoke of his early days in England when he among others faced abuse from white working class people who felt threatened that the new arrivals from the West Indies had come over to take away their jobs.

WINDRUSH LEGACY: From left to right, Jamaica's high commissioner to the UK Seth George Ramocan, composer Shirley Thompson, Jamaica’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Pernel Charles Jr, Labour MP Dawn Butler, CEO of Jamaica National Group Earl Jarrett and Major General Antony Anderson (Image: Rod Leon)

“Persons from my generation in the late 1950s had to endure a lot, but we overcame those abuses by showing with our ingenuity and determination that we were bringing something new and Britain has benefitted from our contributions to society, especially through politics and sports,” he said.

Barbados High Commissioner Guy Hewitt said while the Windrush 70 anniversary was something we should all celebrate, we must also not forget the recent scandal of immigration status questioning which members of the Windrush Generation are facing.

“The British government needs to correct a grave injustice which has befallen many descendants of people who were invited to this country to assist with its rebuilding after the war but now face being told that they don’t belong here because of a hostile immigration environment.”

Lord Bourne, Minister of Housing, Communities and Local Government, reiterated the announcement he made earlier in the week that June 22 has been declared a national day to recognise the contribution and ensure the legacy of the Windrush pioneers who first arrived in 1948.

Helen Hayes, Labour MP for East Dulwich and West Norwood, said she was pleased that the celebration of a Windrush anniversary has been given the approval of a national day starting this year as it will be a “fitting tribute to the contribution of those pioneers who came to England in 1948 bringing with them their culture, creativity and spirit which has enriched British society”.

The speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, also joined the reception and in a brief address emphasised the important contributions the Windrush Generation have made to Britain.

He said: “We respect the people of the Windrush Generation on an equal basis as everyone else in the United Kingdom.

“Our country is richer and better in every sense, materially, spiritually and culturally, because of the British African Caribbean community.

COMMEMORATION: Ex-Royal Air Force veteran Alford Gardner, 92 a huge round of applause when he was introduced to the gathering (Image: Rod Leon)

“Those wrongs around the Windrush immigration issues must be put right and I have the confidence that is the position of all the political parties as enunciated in the Commons in recent weeks. “

Other speakers included Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, chaplin to the speaker, who opened the proceedings, Paulette Simpson, director of The Voice and corporate affairs manager at Jamaica National Bank who gave the welcome address and Earl Jarrett, CEO of Jamaica National Group, who spoke of the bank’s commitment to recognise the contributions of Jamaicans who were among the Windrush Generation being honoured.

A national thanksgiving service to mark the 70th anniversary will be held at Westminster Abbey, London on Friday June 22 starting at 11.45 am.

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