Windrush: preserving the past

The plight of the children of the Windrush generation – Commonwealth immigrants who have lived and worked in the UK for decades has dominated the political agenda for several weeks. Yesterday, the Home Secretary Amber Rudd bowed to the inevitable and resigned from her post.

Some of the families of these Windrush migrants have been threatened with deportation, denied access to NHS treatment, benefits and pensions and stripped of their jobs. The UK government has now apologised and offered compensation. The reason why these individuals have not been able to prove that they have lived in the UK for so long is largely because records have been lost. And it appears that one of the primary sources, the old ‘landing card’ system which was in use at the time, have now been destroyed.

These cards had been kept in the basement of an office block in Croydon but in about 2009 they were shredded. According to this Guardian report, an employee suggested digitising the records but was told that there were no resources. ‘He remembered protesting: “Even if half the people are dead, they are historical records.” His manager responded that the cards were “redundant”.’

One of the most useful resources in my research into the lives of all the men who took part on the Dams Raid (now published as The Complete Dambusters, plug, plug) have been genealogical records. Firms like Ancestry have done us all a great service in digitising resources such as US landing cards, and I simply don’t believe that they would not have offered to take the UK landing cards off the Home Office’s hands. And according to this BBC article, the National Archives already holds the passenger list from the Empire Windrush itself so it too should have been consulted.

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