Arthur Torrington reflects on the anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush and the contributions of Black British servicemen and women.


In 1996, Sam King MBE and Arthur Torrington CBE established Windrush Foundation ‘to keep alive the memories of the young men and women who were among the first wave of post-war settlers in Britain’.

2018 marked the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush that brought to the UK nearly a thousand Caribbean passengers who disembarked on 22 June 1948 at Tilbury Docks, Essex. The ship has become an iconic symbol of ‘post-war Caribbean settlement’ in Britain. Windrush70, a project led by the Windrush Foundation, has highlighted the contributions that these individuals have made and continue to make to British society and the cultural landscape since the 1940s.

During World War Two, thousands of Caribbean men and women volunteered for the British armed forces, with some 6000 serving in the RAF. Many of the men on the Empire Windrush were RAF servicemen who were returning to their jobs in the UK, or who were taking the opportunity to settle in Britain knowing that the country needed workers with the skills they had acquired both during and prior to the war. The other passengers were new to the country and relied on the ex-servicemen for advice, companionship and support. They all sought a better future and standard of life.

It has been estimated that about 4,000 Caribbean servicemen made their homes in the UK after the war. They included Laurent Phillpotts and Hubert ‘Baron’ Baker, who were both living in Britain when the Windrush arrived and helped passengers with accommodation, employment and further education, as well as Gilbert Clarke and Sam King, who both travelled on the Windrush. Sam King became involved in the pioneering West Indian Gazette and later became the first black mayor of the London Borough of Southwark. Connie Mark, who served with the Auxiliary Territorial Service in Jamaica, arrived in Britain in 1954 and became a formidable community organiser and activist.

Windrush Foundation has discovered that those post-war settlers became the nucleus of the Caribbean community. As pioneers, their voices are important for a better understanding of the lives and experiences of Caribbean people in the UK. The 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush, in particular, commemorates and celebrates their journey and contribution to the rebuilding of Britain after World War Two. In parallel, the 70th anniversary has brought attention to the presence and contributions of the wider ‘Windrush generation’, a term used today to describe Caribbean people who settled in the UK from the 1940s to 1972. Those who arrived in the UK after the war stand on the shoulders of the earlier settlers in terms of the sharing of advice, providing practical necessities such as accommodation, and the building of companionship and community.

To discover more, explore the biographies in the Windrush Foundation’s publication, ‘70 Windrush Pioneers and Champions’.

Written by Arthur Torrington

Arthur Torrington CBE is a co-founder and director of the Windrush Foundation, a registered charity that designs and delivers heritage projects, programmes and initiatives which highlight African and Caribbean peoples’ contributions to UK public services, the Arts, commerce, and other areas of socio-economic and cultural life in Britain and the Commonwealth. In 1996, the same year as the Windrush Foundation was founded, Arthur Torrington also established the Equiano Society. The society’s main objective is to publicise and celebrate the life and work of Olaudah Equiano, as well as of Equiano’s contemporaries who made outstanding contributions to African literary and cultural heritage.