The 22nd of June 2023 will mark the 75th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush into dock at Tilbury, in Essex. On board were 492 passengers who had been brought to the UK from a number of Caribbean islands, to help fill post-War labour shortages.
To recognise the occasion a new commemorative 50p coin has been released by the Royal Mint, designed by artist Valda Jackson, who herself came to the UK in 1964, following her parents from Jamaica.
The coin depicts two two smartly-dressed black people from what has become known as the “Windrush Generation”, standing against a backdrop of the Union Flag, representing a tribute to all the Caribbean and Commonwealth citizens who arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1971, after which the British Immigration Act was introduced.
In 2018 it emerged that the government had not properly recorded the details of the people who had been granted permission to stay in the UK, and many were wrongly deported. This was declared a “scandal” and drew an official apology from the then Prime Minister, Theresa May.
Commemoration events have been held every year on the 22nd of this month to acknowledge not just those who came over initially, but also all of those that followed.
Major role in lifting the country
The ship which arrived in 1948 became a symbol of the wider mass-migration movement, with many of those who came to the UK having actually served in the British armed forces during World War Two. They secured jobs as nurses, drivers, cleaners, and manual workers and made a major contribution to helping lift the country, after the troubles of the war years.
Pride for the designer
Ms Jackson, from Bristol, told how she followed her parents over from St Thomas, Jamaica. They had been among the generation of people invited to leave their Caribbean homes to take up work in the UK. She said she was proud and very happy to have her design selected as it “honours our parents and their legacy”.
Explaining the image on the coin, Ms Jackson described it as one of “unity representing the bond between the UK and Commonwealth citizens who have helped rebuild the country in its time of need.”
She went on to say how it “celebrates our presence, achievements, and contributions that continue to enrich our society,” before adding: “It is more than a celebration of one moment – it is an acknowledgement of the real, lived experience of generations of ordinary working people, and, though we may have struggled, and we still struggle in so many ways, we and our descendants are, in fact, at home.”
Royal Mint’s honour
In making the announcement of the release of the coins, the Royal Mint said it had also worked very closely with Dr Juanita Cox, a Caribbean Studies specialist at the University of London, throughout the whole rigorous process.
Their Director of Commemorative Coins, Rebecca Morgan commented: “We’re honoured to be marking the 75th anniversary since the Windrush generation arrived in the UK.”
She continued: “The Royal Mint is committed to representing and celebrating diversity on UK coinage. Windrush has become symbolic of its passengers and today encompasses the subsequent generations who have played a pivotal role in shaping modern British culture and society since the Second World War.”
There are three coins available, all of which go on sale on Monday 19 June, just ahead of this year’s special anniversary. Two are limited edition in gold and silver; the other is a standard metal coin, much like the regular 50p piece.
It is now available on the Royal Mint’s website, with prices starting at £11. They have not clarified whether the coin will enter general circulation.
Large scale government failure
The change in the laws back in 1971 enabled Commonwealth citizens who had been living with permission to stay in the UK, the permanent right to live and work in the country. This included all of the “Windrush Generation”, but in April 2018, it emerged that the UK Home Office had kept no records, and all landing cards had been destroyed.
They had also failed to issue supporting paperwork, meaning that many of those who had been invited over would not have been able to confirm their legal status. This resulted in prevention from accessing healthcare, work, and housing, with large numbers either threatened with, or actually suffering deportation.
Indeed, in a review of historical cases, it was discovered that at least 83 people who had arrived before 1973, had been wrongly deported.
After an apology from the serving PM, a compensation scheme was established.
The country recognises
“Windrush Day” this year will also be marked with a series of concerts and exhibitions, right around the UK.