Vital to celebrate Windrush pioneers, says Lenny Henry ahead of 75th anniversary

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HMT Empire Windrush docked on June 22, 1948 (Image: Getty)
HMT Empire Windrush docked on June 22, 1948 (Image: Getty)

Leading black Brits have thrown their weight behind a campaign to mark 75 years since the arrival of the Windrush generation.

The liner HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury, Essex, on June 22, 1948, bringing passengers from the Caribbean to help rebuild the UK in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Excitement is building in the run-up to this summer’s anniversary, with a Walnut Unlimited poll of 2,013 adults for the British Future think tank revealing 61% agreed that “Britain owes a great deal to the Windrush generation of migrants and should recognise their contribution as part of our national story”.

Actor Sir Lenny Henry, 64, said: “It's vital this year to celebrate the courage of those Windrush pioneers 75 years ago, who gave up the life they knew to seek a better one here in Britain.

“They paved the way for those of us who have followed.”

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Vital to celebrate Windrush pioneers, says Lenny Henry ahead of 75th anniversarySir Lenny Henry backed the commemorations (Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

Historian David Olusoga, 53, said: “The arrival of the Windrush is a pivotal moment in black history and British history.

“We see its legacy every day, when we turn on the radio or TV, walk down the high street or cheer for England at the World Cup, so it’s important that the anniversary is marked in a significant way and that everyone is invited to take part.”

The Windrush75 organisation is leading events and “aims to make 2023 a year of celebrations”.

The group added: “It’s a chance to mark this milestone in our history and spark a wider conversation about the past, present and future of our multi-ethnic society.”

Convenor Patrick Vernon said: “We are celebrating four generations of contribution, legacy, struggle and positive change, and it is a moment to look to the future too, at how we address the challenges to come.”

British Future director Sunder Katwala said: “Windrush 75 reflects the complex story of migration to Britain, one of pride and of prejudice.

Vital to celebrate Windrush pioneers, says Lenny Henry ahead of 75th anniversaryJamaican immigrants arrived at Tilbury aboard the ex-troopship HMT Empire Windrush (PA)

“But the endpoint of that story so far is us - this is who we are now.”

Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy said the anniversary was “a time to celebrate how migration and diversity has helped build modern Britain” and a chance “to remember the sacrifices of a generation which gave so much to this country”.

This year also marks the 75th anniversary of the NHS, which relies heavily on migrant workers.

NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “The 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the work of our black and other ethnic minority colleagues and their significant contributions to the National Health Service, which is also marking its 75th year.

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“From 1948 to today, the NHS has always welcomed talent from around the world. Many of the new arrivals’ contributions to the health service helped to create a new and free health care system for all.

“They were critical to the formation of the NHS, and I am honoured to work alongside their descendants and generations that followed in their footsteps.”

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Ben Glaze

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