Windrush Generation hailed for resilience at Westminster Abbey anniversary service

Guests leave after the service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey, London to mark the 70th anniversary when about 500 Caribbeans stepped off the Empire Windrush in Tilbury Docks, Essex, to join the effort to rebuild post-war Britain (Victoria Jones/PA) Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies

Members of the Windrush generation, who helped rebuild post-war Britain, showed resilience in the face of adversity a service to commemorate the 70th anniversary of their arrival has been told.

Prime Minister Theresa May, whose Government has been heavily criticised amid a scandal that has seen people who were invited here decades ago face deportation, was among those listening at a service in Westminster Abbey.

The Rev Canon Joel Edwards hailed the positive impact those who landed at Tilbury Docks on June 22 1948 and their offspring have had in the worlds of politics, business, music and food.

Two Caribbeans aged in their 90s who came to Britain as young men described the service as "great" and "moving".

John Richards, 92, and 93-year-old Allan Wilmot sat beside each other near the altar in Westminster Abbey, a few feet from Theresa May and other politicians.

Mr Richards who was 21 when he arrived on the ship in 1948 said he thought the service was "great".

He added: "It brings back memories yes, but I'm too old for the emotion."

  • Member of Windrush generation Alford Gardner tells ITV News of his gratitude for anniversary service

The Rev Canon Joel Edwards said the Windrush generation had "gifted Britain", providing trade union leaders, politicians and senior civil servants, as well as becoming leaders in various other areas of British life.

But many of those who left sunnier climes in the Caribbean for a new life in Britain faced hardships including racism, Mr Edwards said, as he paid tribute to "Windrush resilience".

(left to right) Winston Whyte, John Richards and Allan Wilmot at the service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey. Credit: PA

He said: "Settling down hasn't been plain sailing. The children of Windrush have experienced over-representation in Britain's prisons and mental health institutions. Knife crimes.

"Underachievement in education and the job market. Settlement has meant racism, sometimes too much policing and not enough protection. And Stephen Lawrence."

Mr Wilmot, who was invited to a reception at Downing Street on Friday afternoon, said he would be telling Mrs May: "I am happy that our efforts have been recognised."

With a smile, he added: "The British are never in a hurry to do nothing. But eventually they get around to it."

The original members of the Windrush generation landed at Tilbury Docks on June 22 1948 after sailing on the HMT Empire Windrush. Credit: PA

The service, also attended by Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, was peppered with short pieces of drama.

Actors recounted the story of those who left their native islands to make the long journey to Britain, showing both the joys and hardships faced by immigrants.

John Richards, 92, who came to Britain on the Windrush aged 21, described the service as "great".

The celebrations come as the fallout continues from the deportation scandal, which also saw some denied access to the NHS, work and housing despite having a legal right to be in the UK.

Actors recounted the story of those who left their native islands to make the long journey to Britain. Credit: PA

The Government effort to right the wrongs of the fiasco continued this week with a Home Office announcement that former chief crown prosecutor Wendy Williams will oversee the Windrush lessons learned review.

Plans to create an annual Government-backed Windrush Day have been welcomed, but questions remain over compensation for those who have suffered financial setbacks trying to prove their right to residence.

The Home Office has reiterated Mr Javid's commitment to a compensation scheme and said more than 500 people and organisations have come forward as part of the call for evidence.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, also attended the service. Credit: PA

More than 2,000 people have been provided documentation since April by the dedicated Windrush task force, the Home Office said, helping them to demonstrate their right to residence.

Under the new Windrush scheme, which offers free citizenship for Commonwealth citizens who arrived before 1973 and children who joined their parents before they turned 18, some 285 people have so far been granted citizenship, they added.

So far the Home Office has made contact with 11 people who may have been wrongfully removed from the UK as a result of the scandal.