Sunday 22 April 2018

Compensate The Conscripts

The Windrush row is replete with grim ironies. Not least is the passenger ship that gave its name to the whole business, the Empire Windrush, was built in Hamburg named "Monte Rosa" and served the German navy during World War Two.

The UK took it as reparations and needed extra troopships in the late 1940's to return troops from abroad and send out different ones to clear up the many messes of Empire, other wars, as well as being ready for a hot war to start during the Cold War.

The years of the "Windrush Generation" which we are told by our modern media was the shock horror of its time coincides with the period of conscription in which millions of British men were required to do their duty by their King/Queen with no questions asked. The labour shortages that resulted meant recruiting migrants.

Some did not return, see the picture above, others were damaged for the rest of their lives. Essentially, the conscripts lost two years of income, job experience, family or other personal life and might experience horrors rather beyond those of migrants from the West Indies inconvenienced by administrative errors.

A key to all the trouble today is the question of the landing cards  thought to be lost or scrapped. High words and allegations have been made. Now, it turns out to the astonishment of all they could be in the National Archives.

As someone who often has a look in these on the web and in the past has searched for a great deal of information there, one can only have a sense of wonder of a civil service that failed to check its own archive before making its blunders, never mind the politicians.

In the period in question the Brit's had to have their documents, birth certificates and marriage, military discharge papers etc. as routine. The Inland Revenue, the banks and other offices would often ask to see them. Some of the Windrush Generation did not have basic documentation as in the colonies among the local populations they might be ignored.

In the UK now if you want to find out what grandad or a relative was actually doing and where during their National Service you may be out of luck. It was the age before computers and such machines. The amount of paperwork handled by the armies of clerks was vast. What happened to it?

When in the Army at my unit I was the Lord High Chief Incinerator. As when mobilised we could only take what we could carry then nothing had to be left behind. As my chief preferred me to be out of the office it fell to me to do the burning. What was in the files or such was of no matter, up in smoke it went.

During my later career, especially local government reorganisation, these skills were regarded as an asset. Shredding took for too much time, just dumping meant needed places to dump it. So we burned all that could be burned keeping only essential minutes and planning permissions, if I felt like it.

So the unlucky ones of the Windrush Generation, particularly those from locations where the registrations of births and marriages was skimpy, if at all there or could be accessed, were the ones where the paperwork was missing. They were but a small minority in a nation of losers.

What this issue does attract attention for is the chance to claim racism and of the British in general. This period was a different world. You disliked anyone who was not the same as you or your family. I recall yes there was racism and prejudice and in many ways, especially if looking for "digs" or a room to rent.

It was common to see "No Blacks" in the windows of rental etc. places. They usually followed the "No Irish". Given World War 2 few had "No Jews" but they did not find that out until they knocked on the door and were told that the room(s) had just been taken.

In London those with strong Geordie, Scots or Liverpool accents could have trouble. In the Army God help a cockney posted to the Durham Light Infantry. That was the way it was. You might suffer from it yourself, but then equally you might make others suffer.

You might be equal in your kind, but your kind was never equal to others. Except, perhaps in the Army when the bullets were flying.

There are not many left of that generation now and fewer by the day. Why not give compensation, if only to assuage the conscience?

1 comment:

  1. no unemployment then when the Windrush docked.
    As for the 'no blacks' signs they did not exist as this was a white Britain back then.
    There were very few rental signs anyway as there was a rush to rent = no need for signs just word of mouth.
    Remember the vast number of homes destroyed and not replaced during ww2.