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Windrush Day: time for a public holiday to celebrate

THE ARRIVAL: The SS Empire Windrush

IN 2008 after making my documentary A Charmed Life about the life of the Ex Serviceman Eddie Martin Noble I suggested that we should choose the day when the MV Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury in 1948 on the of 22 June as a public holiday.

This is arguably the most powerful and iconic symbol of migration and the rise of modern day multicultural Britain to date. The Windrush is not simply about the 492 Caribbean men and women that arrived in Britain on that ship but everyone from the Empire and the Commonwealth who were British subjects and saw Britain as the mother country.

With the success of the Olympic Games in 2012 and with the latest census which highlights the current and future demographics of this country I believe it is time to commemorate and celebrate the contributions to Britain particularly over the last 65 years of Black, Asian and other minority communities. It would also remind us that Britain has been and will always be a nation of migration and a home for political refugees and asylum seekers.

The MV Empire Windrush ship itself has an interesting history. It was first a German cruise ship called the ‘Monte Rosa’ used by the elite of the Nazi Party. Then it became a German troopship during WW2 and was capture by Allied forces in May 1945 as a prize of war. The ship was subsequently used as a troop ship and renamed MV Empire Windrush after the river Windrush which is a minor tributary of the Thames that leads to Oxford and the Cotswolds.

Thus the history of the ship itself has a major historical and cultural significant from being used by fascists to becoming a symbol of multiculturalism and tolerance. It is a powerful reminder of the lessons from the past.


Danny Boyle and Paulette Randle were aware of this history thus ensuring that the Windrush along with the creation of the NHS was part of the national narrative in the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 There is now a growing demand from faith leaders, equality campaigners, politicians and high profile personalities who think that we should have public recognition of multicultural Britain using the Windrush as a powerful symbol around an annual programme of events or a public holiday.

Sadly the constant drip drip references to the failure of multiculturalism and the loss of ‘Britishness’ as an inclusive concept creates much uncertainty and lack of confidence for young people and the most recent migrants to Britain, apart from the super-rich, who now feel under constant attack and scapegoating.

CALL: Patrick Vernon with Baroness Howells

A Windrush Day is important if we want a tolerant, respectful society especially if want to tackle all forms of political extremism and terrorism. Also the day could also be considered as an opportunity to celebrate our diversity and our shared history of struggle and achievement.

Such a day would prevent political parties from using the race card and immigration card to appease certain white voters and now a growing established Black and Asian middle class. Windrush Day would be different from celebrating Commonwealth Day which not many people are aware of. It would be similar but not the same as Holocaust Day which takes place on the January 27 every year to commemorate the victims and families of Jewish and other people affected by the Holocaust but also modern genocide and extermination of ethnic groups globally.

This adds to the importance of teaching about the Windrush as part of the national curriculum for a generation of young people who can learn the history, survival techniques and strategies which can help them to influence the world they live in today. Windrush Day would further add value to events such as Black History Month /African History Month, Notting Hill Carnival, Diwali and Eid which have now been embraced by central and local government, education with inclusion in the national curriculum, museums and the arts.

The Windrush Generation is now disappearing as many of these pioneers have passed away, suffering from long term health conditions or languishing in residential or nursing homes. A number have immigrated back to their countries of birth.

Many of those born between 1910-1940 may not be around at the next Windrush celebrations in 2018.The question we need to ask ourselves is why wait either every five or 10 years to celebrate this achievement.

We will regret as a country if we fail to take individual and collective responsibility for systematically documenting their history and contribution to Britain and beyond, as a legacy for young people of all ethnicities and nationalities.

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