Windrush 1948: Coming Home
“London, is the place for me
London, this lovely city
You can go to France or America,
India, Asia or Australia
But you must come back, to London city.”
(Calypso: Sung by Lord Kitchener)
A leap into the unknown,
hundreds of men, women, families
loyal subjects of the Queen of England
wait patiently for their boarding cards
passports to a new land, a new life –
sunny determination in their veins
spirit of slave rebellion dancing in their hearts
centuries of cutting cane without shade
pulls their backs tall,
enslavement courses their DNA
fires the desire for a better life:
Britain won the war
her Queen, stole Caribbean hearts.
Leaving the hot sun of home
waving goodbye to warm seas
bearing bruises of the Atlantic slave trade
borrowed names: Williams, Beckfords, Campbells,
from Trinidad, Jamaica, Bardados,
waiting on the gangplank of British warships
on request of the British government
many with a one way ticket to England
a one way ticket to cities with strange names,
Liverpool, Bristol, Manchester, a one-way ticket…
‘….tickets please’ ‘Tickets please!’
shouts the bus conductor
in a broad Bajan accent, with a broader smile,
he was ‘home’ a new land, a new life.
My grandfather, Wilfred N. Walker, came to England from Jamaica on the Reina Del Pacifico in 1955. My grandfather’s brother Lester, is the handsome man in the black and white photograph, alongside his wife, Julia, who was known in the family as ‘Cookie’. The rest of his family, his wife Maud (my grandmother) and the children Colin, Aston, Valrie and my mother Dorcas, came to England on the Reina Del Mar, docking in Liverpool in 1956.
Whenever I read this poem, it always stimulates a reaction; I have seen people cry, and many of a certain age, like to join in with the song which I try to sing acappella, but sometimes emotion gets the better of me. At my last reading, at Hampton Hill Theatre, Noel Coward Suite, one woman approached me afterwards and said that she was there to see the ship arriving. A young 87, with bright green nail varnish and dyed red hair, she said that the signs outside of houses, saying ‘No Irish, no dogs, no blacks’, were not racist, but a symptom of the desperate housing situation in bombed post-war Britain.
I read this poem to remember my grandfather, who died in 2012, after receiving a telegram from the Queen for his 100th birthday. I read this poem to assert that I’m British, born and bred in Birmingham, and this is my home country, although I am often asked where am I from. I read this poem out of pride for the many positive contributions and efforts, my ancestors, and people like them have put energy into crafting, building, railway-ing, nursing, musician-ing, and generally seasoning this country to make it one of the most amazing, dynamic and forgiving places to live – in spite of the difficulties many of us still face. I see all of this as cause for celebration.
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© Suzy Rowland Rigg