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Windrush, 70 years on

MEMORIES: Harold Phillips and his wife meet Prince Charles in 1998, 50 years after Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks

WITH AN award of £97,500 made possible by National Lottery players through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Windrush Foundation will next year commemorate and celebrate the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the ship Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks, Essex, in June 1948.

The project will engage the community with a programme of heritage workshops that will discuss how the Windrush migrants built their lives in Britain and feature their contributions to the community. It will also explore key individuals of the Windrush generation and how their efforts contributed to the development of a more inclusive society.

A commemorative brochure and a PDF version will highlight 70 champions of Caribbean heritage who have made outstanding contributions to their communities and to Britain and whose work will be included on the project website.

The project plans to develop educational resources for children studying at Key Stage 2 level.

TV programmes will include interviews, discussions, and heritage news and information.

The project intends to highlight the work of the co-founder of Windrush Foundation, Sam B. King. Dione McDonald, granddaughter of King and one of Windrush Foundation’s directors, said:

“One of my granddad’s passions and goal was for the importance of Windrush to be acknowledged, understood and never forgotten. This project is of great value to our community as it aims to give a public platform to the verbal and non-verbal narrative of strength, hope, resilience and philanthropy at the heart of our significant journey.”

Stuart Hobley, head of HLF London, said:

“The arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks was an incredibly significant moment in the history of the Caribbean community – extraordinary stories from everyday lives that have shaped London’s culture.


“We are delighted that we are able to support the commemoration of this important anniversary next year.”

One of the Windrush champions is Allan Charles Wilmot, who was born in Jamaica in 1925. In 1941, he saw an advertisement in the Jamaica Gleaner when he was 16, stating that the British government needed recruits for the Royal Navy. Allan applied, and was accepted.

After WWII ended, the British were quick to demob thousands of West Indian servicemen and women. Wilmot was among them, and having returned to Jamaica in 1946, he felt that it was not the place in which he would settle down, and so he returned to London.

It soon dawned on him that he could employ his talent in London’s showbusiness, and he did so with a degree of success with The Southlanders, a male singing quartet who dominated the entertainment scene in Britain from the 1950s and the 1960s. Their hit records were produced by George Martin, whose production in the 1960s made the Beatles international superstars. After 24 years in the business, he realised his days as an entertainer were numbered.

Wilmot got a job in the Post Office’s telecommunications department in 1974, and retired from the service in 1990. In the two decades that followed, he played an important part in the establishment of the West Indian Ex-Services Association (now the West Indian Association of Service Personnel).

Another champion is Harold Phillips, also known as ‘Lord Woodbine’. Paul McCartney spoke of him with affection in The Beatles Anthology TV series. Phillips settled in Liverpool after arriving on the ship Empire Windrush from Trinidad in 1948.

As a builder and decorator, and a calypso singer, he formed the All-Steel Caribbean Band, resident in his own New Colony Club. He also booked The Beatles and promoted them in their early years. The All-Steel band also played evening sessions in the basement of the Jacaranda, a coffee bar venture run by Allan Williams. After Phillips left, it remained there as the Royal Caribbean Steel Band, until 1960, when they were poached by a Hamburg club agent.

The Beatles were, twice nightly, accompanying a Mancunian stripper at Williams’s and Woodbine’s New Cabaret Artists Club. When the agent requested a group for another of his Hamburg clubs, Phillips drove the then-five Beatles – drummer Pete Best, bass player Stuart Sutcliffe and guitarists George Harrison, McCartney and John Lennon – to Germany in a minibus. The necessity of keeping up a party atmosphere for their audience began the transformation of The Beatles from clumsy provincials to a peerless live act.

Phillips later lived quietly in Toxteth and resisted the chance to cash in on the group’s fame.

He died in 2000.

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