MV Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks in London carrying 492 West Indian immigrants.
The ship, originally known as MV Monte Rosa, was a German cruise ship that had been used as a troop transporter during the Second World War. She was seized by Britain at the end of the war, when she was renamed.
In 1948 the British government passed the Nationality Act, which gave British citizenship to people who lived in Commonwealth countries and allowed them the right to settle in Britain. Britain desperately needed workers in the aftermath of the Second World War, so Commonwealth citizens were encouraged to immigrate and help to rebuild the ‘Mother Country’. A series of advertisements in and around Jamaica advertised tickets for the journey on board Empire Windrush for £28, which equates to around £600 today.
Many of the passengers who bought this first wave of tickets had been members of the Royal Air Force during the war. A number of them sought to rejoin the armed forces, while others undertook the voyage to see what opportunities Britain would present.
Although the press generally greeted them warmly as ‘sons of Empire’, some members of parliament opposed the arrival of the immigrants. Their presence was needed to staff a number of industries, however, but although Britain was short of workers, there was also a shortage of housing. This led to the new arrivals being temporarily housed in the deep level air-raid shelter in South Clapham, approximately two miles away from Brixton town centre, while they searched for accommodation. The majority permanently settled in Britain, but the Afro-Caribbean community experienced significant prejudice, intolerance and racism in subsequent years.