Alford Gardner was the guest of honour at a Speaker’s House reception to celebrate the arrival of Caribbean migrants on the Empire Windrush 70 years’ ago.
The 92-year-old great-grandfather joined the descendants of more than 500 passengers who disembarked at Tilbury Docks in 1948, hoping to start a new life. The event was organised to honour the contribution and influence of the Windrush generation on British society – and to welcome the government’s announcement of a Windrush celebration on 22 June each year. Mr Gardner, who first came to England in 1943 to join the RAF as a motor mechanic, said the decision was “long overdue”.
Speaker’s Chaplain Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, who was a toddler when she and her mother left Jamaica in 1962, said recognising the part played by the British Afro-Caribbean community in helping to rebuild Britain after the Second World War sent a “powerful message” to society. She said:
“For such a long time, black people in this country were a bother – a problem. When we arrived, the perception was that we’d ‘taken British jobs’ – but no-one spoke about the contribution that we made, especially to the health service, where we became the backbone, providing the NHS with nurses, care workers and cleaners.”
Commons Speaker John Bercow said:
“Our country is better, richer, more diverse and is a finer place in every sense – materially, spiritually and culturally – for the presence of the British Afro Caribbean community.”
He also used the occasion to pay tribute to Rev Hudson-Wilkin, who he appointed as the first female, black Speaker’s chaplain in 2010, adding:
"Rose has been and continues to be a stellar servant of the House of Commons. I’m sure those of you who are part of the Windrush generation and the Afro Caribbean community can be - and I’m sure are - incredibly proud of Rose.”