On the Buses: West Indian Migration after WWII

The years directly following the Second World War saw a huge transfer of the Caribbean Islands population. It was, in fact, the largest outward movement of people from the British Caribbean Islands, with many thousands ultimately moving to Britain in search of a better life.

The war was a major factor that stimulated migration to England after 1945. Because the British armed forces and the merchant navy were forced to expand considerably, labour shortages became a very real problem on the home front. Women and Irish workers stepped up to fill the gaps, but this was only a partial remedy. Thus, the Empire reached out to its colonies, recruiting thousands of Hondurans and West Indians, among others. Not only were workers recruited for labour on the home front, but 10,000 West Indians were recruited by the Royal Air Force, and thousands more joined the Merchant Navy as well as becoming the workforce keeping the London buses moving.

At the same time, the West Indies had been much neglected and had become the “slum of the Empire” with high levels

Map of the Caribbean Sea and its islands.
Map of the Caribbean Sea and its islands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

of poverty and unemployment. As the war ended and West Indians returned, the men who had fought hard for the Empire knew that there was little opportunity for employment at home.

The men who had been recruited during the war were eligible for repatriation and gratuities. The government made a valiant effort to send many of them home, and about a fifth of the West Indians were repatriated to Jamaica; however, most quickly returned to Britain. Others simply refused to leave Great Britain at all, instead settling in various parts of England and Scotland.

Following the war, Britain was busy rebuilding and was in dire need of labourers. Initially, however, the British government was reluctant to allow migration from the West Indies, preferring instead to invite workers from the European continent. Many, in fact, felt that West Indians would be lazy or would turn to an easy life on the welfare system. Despite a huge influx of Poles and Italians, the need was simply too great and the UK turned to its colonies.

Finally, the decision was made to allow all British subjects entry. It was widely felt that since all subjects of the Empire had contributed equally to the war effort, there shouldn’t be restrictions on certain groups or nationalities.

In 1948, a Jamaican newspaper featured an advertisement stating that 300 places were available on board the ship Windrush, headed for England. Anyone hoping for better career or education prospects was welcome to travel aboard the ship. This voyage, which landed at Tilbury docks on June 21st, 1948, was the beginning of a major migration from the West Indian Islands to Britain. From 1948 to 1955, over 18,000 immigrants had moved from the Caribbean to Britain. The migration did not slow until 1962, by which time over 98,000 West Indians had made Great Britain their new home.

While many of the migrants were simply grateful for the opportunities available to them, most did face substantial challenges. Many were severely limited in their skills, and thus were forced to take low-paying jobs. The housing many migrants inhabited was of the poorest quality, yet they remained and formed a tightly-knit ethnic group with shared cultural, linguistic, and religious traditions. Social prejudice and discrimination was a challenge as well, as many British workers felt that migrants were taking over the job market and causing unemployment.

Fortunately, however, the West Indian migrants soon settled and became valued contributors to the rebuilding efforts. In many ways, they became a replacement population, inhabiting areas that were previously sparsely populated. Ultimately, the huge influx breathed new life and diversity into the British culture – ethnic diversity that is now widely celebrated. It marked a massive change in British society, and was the start of more wide-spread immigration to the UK.

Migration to the UK in pre-history

It is estimated that around 4000BC there were just 3000 people in Britain, slowly rising to around 500,000 by 50BC. Clearly this is not just a case of procreation but natural immigration following game animals. Migration therefore has been a focus of our population from very early times but not one that can be recorded except in the DNA of individuals to show which migration pattern their ancestors followed.

DNA profiling can therefore can be of use to the family historian in determining in which wave of migration their ancestors arrived in Britain and also whether there is a relationship between individuals that have the same name and yet no documented relationship can be determined.
The next people to occupy Britain were the Celts who developed their own language around 1000BC. There is little evidence of migration during the iron age and by the time of the arrival of the Romans in 43AD, the Celts descending from the Neolithic population were already present in Britain.
The Roman period from 43AD to 410AD saw the arrival of some 20,000 combat troops and a similar number of auxiliaries and camp followers. This period in our history was a disaster for the indigenous population in the south with virtual total destruction of the Celtic societies in the south and subsequent migration westward to Wales and Cornwall. The population in AD200 was thought to be between one and two million.

Territories inhabited by East Germanic tribes ...
Territories inhabited by East Germanic tribes between 100 BC and AD 300. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The end of the Roman occupation saw the arrival of the Anlo-Saxons a term defining a number of Germanic tribes, mainly, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes but also the minority tribes of Franks, Frisians and Suevi. This means that we have an ethnic diversity and cultural elements coming from an area as diverse and as far apart as from the Jutland peninsula to the Lower Rhine. There must have been oral traditions passed down by the various tribes but these appear not to have survived into recorded history.
Frisians were from the Frisian Islands and the area to the north of the Netherlands, and the Franks were from areas along the Rhine and Merovingian Gaul. The Suevi were from Sweden.

The next wave of immigrants brought death, destruction and abject terror amongst the indigenous population. The first Viking raid was recorded in 789 AD and then in 793 AD with an attack at Lindisfarne. The Wessex king, Alfred repulsed the Danes at the end of the 9th Century but the Vikings were too strong to remain defeated and Canute the King of both Norway and Denmark defeated the English in 1016. The Norsemen remained in power for another 50 years when their migration was ended by William at the Battle of Hastings. Their reign in Scotland lasted longer with Magnus Barefoot‘s seizure of the Western Isles between 1098 and 1104.

With William the Conqueror we have the beginnings of recorded history that is of use to the average family historian and so our story of British migration from, to and within the British isles our story can begin.

 

 

 

Off to Patagonia in the Morning – Welsh Migration to Argentina

 

Each year, flights arrive in London carrying Welsh-speaking passengers bound for the National Eisteddfod. These aren’t Welshmen returning home, however. These visitors speak little to no English, yet they are able to communicate freely once they have crossed the border into Wales.

English: Bodiwan, Bala At one time this was th...
Bodiwan, Bala At one time this was the home of Michael D. Jones 573337who had to sell it because of financial losses incurred in the establishment of a Welsh colony in Patagonia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They have come from Patagonia, nearly 8,000 miles away in Argentina. The story of how this Welsh outpost has survived in a Spanish speaking country is quite a fascinating one, and it begins in the early 1800s.

In the early 19thcentury, Wales was becoming increasingly uncomfortable for the Welsh. Much of the land was owned by the English, and the rich landowners were trying to impose change on the Welsh culture and religion. The Welsh heartlands were being rapidly given over to industry. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and Wales was a source of much iron, steel, slate, and coal. Little by little, rural communities dwindled away as burgeoning industrial centres took over.

This civil unrest (likely combined with the allure of the new world) caused a considerable Welsh migration to the Americas and Australia. Welshmen and women set out to establish communities across the Americas. Some of the most notable settlements were in Utica, New York and Scranton Pennsylvania.

While a few communities were somewhat successful, many Welsh immigrants found that they were generally under great pressure to learn the English language and integrate into the American way of life. If they hoped to be accepted into the community or find gainful employment, being able to speak and understand the English language was crucial. Thus, much of their native culture and language was lost over time.

Welsh patriots were concerned about this. They wanted a place where they could be isolated enough to retain their native language, culture, traditions, and beliefs – and the United States didn’t seem to be an option. In 1961, a group of men met at the north Wales home of Michael D. Jones (a staunch nationalist) to discuss what could be done. For a time they discussed the possibility of Vancouver Island; however, it soon became apparent that Patagonia in Argentina held all the elements they were searching for in a true Welsh promised land.

Michael Jones corresponded for a time with the Argentine government about settling on a tract of land called Bahia Blanca. Due to an ongoing dispute with Chile regarding this bit of land, the Argentine government was only too happy to have the land settled by the Welsh. They allowed the Welsh to freely colonize the area, and gave them the freedom to live however they wanted.

In May of1865, the first group of 163 Welsh natives set out from Liverpool aboard the tea-clipper, Mimosa. In eight short weeks, the ship arrived at Puerto Madryn, Argentina.

While the natives of Patagonia were welcoming and assisted the Welsh migrants as they settled in the territory, the land wasn’t the fertile, friendly terrain the settlers had expected. The land was barren with no water, little food, and few materials available for building shelter.

The Welsh migrants founded their first settlement on the banks of the river Camwy in the Chubut valley. The colony suffered fiercely during the early years, and nearly failed due to lack of food. Finally, through much backbreaking labor, the settlers were able to irrigate the land with a water management system, utilizing the occasional flooding of the Camwy. This ultimately saved the settlement.

The colony succeeded and thrived with more settlers arriving from Wales and Pennsylvania in the following years. By late 1874, the population exceeded 270 souls. The fresh blood brought new life and energy to the settlement, and farms and colonies began to emerge along the banks of the river Camwy.

When the Argentine government officially granted the land to the Welsh settlers in 1875, many new settlers began to make their way to Patagonia. Great depressions in the coalfields of Wales brought several large influxes of settlers in the late 1800s and early 1900s. All of these settlers made further irrigation of the Chubut valley possible, and the Welsh had soon transformed the arid wasteland into one of the most fertile spots in all of Argentina.

For many years, the Welsh had their utopia. Welsh was the language of home, church, school and government. In time, the Argentine government stepped in and enforced Spanish as the language of school and government; however, Welsh continued as the language of home and chapel. The community continues to thrive to this day, celebrating their proud heritage in language and custom.

 

 

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