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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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The Empire Windrush strikes back

They came, the invited but unwelcome.

They came, clutching a grip* full of clothes and Dick Whittington dreams of streets paved with gold.

They came, a slow, steady stream on a ship of steam, the first 500 arriving on the HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks on 22 June 1948, 75 years ago this week. Things would never be the same again. Oh how the Empire strikes back, and in such style!

The stream burst into Pentecostal blaze, a Windrush of Caribbean culture, colour, carnival, and church. The bystanders watched perplexed, asking, ‘What is this and why are they here on our soil?’ So, even in June, the newcomers were met with something colder than the harshest British winter, the famous British reserve but now decoded in signs that read, ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’.

But with Lord Kitchener’s migrant anthem ‘London is the Place for Me’ blaring from the original ghetto blasters, the exodus had begun. The migrants in exile seeking the peace and prosperity of the land they believed the Lord had called them to belong.

On this anniversary, I am reminded that the Windrush story is my parents’ story, my story, and my children’s story. Stories my mum told us of being deliberately scalded by hot water in a London Transport canteen and my dad chased like prey for sheer entertainment.

And yet, they still come today.

Another generation of migrants full of dreams, unwelcome but this time also uninvited. Unscrupulously trafficked. Nameless people on nameless boats. Many never make it, and who will remember them? Dreams and bodies drowned in a watery, unmarked, mass grave.

Where today is the protection of the foreigner, the welcoming of the stranger, the feeding of the hungry (Leviticus 19:34; 23:22) spoken of in the words of the Christian faith? The migrant continues to expose our deepest darkest fears and prejudices.

Yet every nation needs a new stream of dreamers to reinvent itself culturally and economically. Those given the opportunity to settle in the UK need to be treated with dignity in the workplace, welcome in our neighbourhoods, and treated with respect on our streets. For they, like my parents, will gladly return the favour, caring for the sick in our hospitals, the elderly in our care homes, and educating our children in the classroom.

If we overcome our fears, turning our prejudices into a welcome, we could turn the migrant crisis into a future cause for celebration.

Chris Andre-Watson
Chris is a Baptist minister in Clapham, south London

*The nickname name given to the small suitcases in which West Indians brought their belongings.


  1. Thank you.

    By Hugh Wallace  -  23 Jun 2023
  2. I wholeheartedly agree. A radical change is required.

    By Chris Winnett  -  23 Jun 2023
  3. So sad, so true … thank you for your faithfulness and hope. May you and your family be blessed and continue to bring hope and change this nation so desperately needs.

    By Allison Berg  -  23 Jun 2023
  4. But the other side of the story needs to be heard too. The joy of learning and beginning to understand different culture, the warmth of black expression in church, and the enrichment we find in respectful interactions. It is usually fear that separates, and adds rationality to our prejudices. We need to learn not to fear.

    By Lesley Somers  -  23 Jun 2023
    • Amen Lesley couldn’t agree with you more.

      By Chris Andre-Watson  -  28 Jun 2023
  5. Just love this reflection!! Thank you Chris!

    By Kate Coleman  -  23 Jun 2023
    • Hi Kate thanks so much. Thank you also for contributing to my black history education

      By Chris Andre-Watson  -  23 Jun 2023
  6. ‘London is the Place for Me’ featured in the first Paddington film, accompanying the marmalade-loving bear’s arrival in the capital. This blog got me researching the history of the song. I now realise how poignant its inclusion in the film was.

    By Moira Biggins  -  23 Jun 2023
    • Thanks Moira who would have thought there would be a connection between Paddington bear and the Windrush that really is a clash of cultures.

      By Chris Andre-Watson  -  28 Jun 2023
  7. Thank you.

    By Matthew Lowe  -  24 Jun 2023
  8. Keep telling these stories for the next generation of settlers and arrivals

    By Darrell Holmes  -  29 Jun 2023
  9. Absolutely first class narrative, which l concur with.
    The Home Office unit responsible for reforming the department after the Windrush crisis has been quietly disbanded, after the UK home secretary, Suella Braverman, let it be known that she believes it is time to “move on”
    How can one move on when compensation has not been paid to all those due.
    As has been said we were invited to assist the rebuilding of ‘The mother land’ post WWII. Which we did and some. On the flip side this was despite not being welcomed by a significant majority of English people, and no gold on the street.
    We have enriched the country in every sector we find ourselves, such as education, medicine, cuisine, fashion, music, et al. To my mind that is palmary and is indeed something the English people should be celebrating. As for the Windrush generation and their descendants we should be commemorating the event for negotiating the ‘hostile environment’
    Lest we forget.

    By Eric Edwards  -  29 Jun 2023

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