HMT Empire Windrush

The Windrush Generation: Lord Kitchener, Multiculturalism and the Windrush Scandal

To mark Windrush Day, Dr Cassandra Gooptar discusses what the anniversary evokes for her. Dr Gooptar is a postdoctoral research assistant at the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation.

Dr Gooptar hails from Trinidad and Tobago. Her research focuses on stories of the enslaved and exploring the links between British organisations and historical slavery.

The Windrush generation refers to persons from Caribbean islands such as Trinidad and Jamaica who arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1971. Aptly termed for the MV Empire Windrush that bought 492 passengers to a post-war UK on 22 June 1948, the arrival of the Windrush generation is commemorated on Windrush Day, observed on 22 June.

As a Trinidadian interdisciplinary researcher who recently moved to the UK in 2019, Windrush Day evokes various feelings for me both personally and professionally. The imagery of ‘King of Calypso’ Lord Kitchener singing his impromptu ‘London is the place for me’ on Pathé News as he disembarked the Windrush and the multiculturalism that has become embedded in parts of contemporary UK society, instill a sense of familiarity, homeliness, and connection with my ‘Trini to d bone’ identity.

Video: Lord Kitchener singing “London is the Place for me”.

However, in the same breath I can also talk about the colour bars and institutional racism West Indians fought against and continue to fight to overcome here in the UK. Case in point: the Windrush Scandal which broke in late 2017. This scandal involved cases of deportation and detention amongst other life-altering restrictions for the Windrush generation and their descendants.

The 2020 Windrush Lessons Learned Review requested by the then Home Secretary concluded:

"Members of the Windrush generation and their children have been poorly served by this country. They had every right to be here and should never have been caught in the immigration net. The many stories of injustice and hardship are heartbreaking, with jobs lost, lives uprooted and untold damage done to so many individuals and families".

Importantly, it went on to state ‘that what happened to those affected by the Windrush scandal was foreseeable and avoidable… over time those in power forgot about them and their circumstances’.

The discriminatory practices at the highest levels of society in the UK highlights, for one thing, the need for further research and educational output resources on the ever-permeating topic of Britain’s legacy of colonialism. Aligned with this need, wider projects on the Caribbean’s built environment, stories of the enslaved and enslavers from Hull are currently in the works at the Wilberforce Institute. Efforts are also being made to collaborate with networks in the West Indies to promote cultural and knowledge exchange in the form of digital output resources for schools in both Hull and the Caribbean.

Windrush Day is one that should be honoured for heralding the arrival of almost 250,000 West Indians in the decade following the Empire Windrush. However, it also serves as a poignant reminder of the struggles that the Windrush generation faced in their new lives in the UK and the persistent barriers they and their families still encounter today.

For more information on the 2020 independent report on the Windrush Scandal, see the Windrush Lessons Learned Review.

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