Tag: World War II

The “Ten Pound” Pom

Orient Liner
Orient Liner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shortly after World War II, one of the largest planned mass migrations of the 20th century began. Britain was a fairly depressing place at the time, plagued by housing shortages and post-war rationing. Australia, on the other hand, had more land than they could handle, and a burgeoning economy to boot.

Australia was desperate for new immigrants to populate its shores; however its racist “White Australia Policy” kept blacks and Asians from applying. The British government was only too happy to help populate the Commonwealth, and thus, the assisted migration scheme came into being.

By the end of 1944, the British and Australian governments had begun negotiations for the planned assisted migration scheme. The government began to promote Australia as a land of glorious opportunity – a place where Britons could escape the difficulties of England and live a new, modern British lifestyle in sunny Australia.

The proposed scheme seemed nearly too good to be true to many in England. Hundreds of thousands of Britons were seduced by a fare of only £10 per adult and free passage for children. The government offered housing and great employment opportunities for all participants. In the first year alone, 400,000 Britons applied for the migration plan.

Starting in 1947, the migration began in earnest. Most migrants traveled aboard refitted troop ships, though a lucky few were able to make the voyage on luxury P&O liners that provided comfortable cabins, good food and even swimming pools.

The £10 plan didn’t come without a catch, however. As great as the deal seemed, the contract stated that migrants were required to stay in Australia for a minimum of two years or else they would be required to pay back the full fare. The risks were disregarded by most. Migrants were blinded by government propaganda films, and seduced by the idea of a stunning new life.

In reality, most had no idea what they were in for. Most Australian cities seemed little more than backwater towns to the incoming Brits. Many arrived without savings, thus, they were housed in former army barracks. The conditions seemed appalling to the immigrants, and many complained of being misled. Some didn’t even bother to get jobs, deciding instead to simply sit tight for the required two years until they could go home. The Australian media retaliated by labeling the British migrants “whinging Poms”.

Others truly did see Australia as a chance for a fresh start. Opportunity was everywhere – both for men and women – and those who tried were quickly able to find gainful employment. Some saved carefully and were able to buy their own land within the first year.

Over 1.5 million Britons took up the offer and relocated to Australia on the £10 fare. However, it’s estimated that about 250,000 of the “Ten Pound Poms” returned to England after the first few years. Oddly enough, half of the returnees eventually decided that returning had been a mistake and ended up going back to Australia after all. These became known as the “Boomerang Poms”.

English: Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gil...
Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

A number of well-known personalities actually participated in this scheme. The Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is in fact one of the most famous Ten Pound Poms. She migrated with her family from Wales in 1966 in the hopes that the warmer climate would aid in the healing of her lung infection.

The Gibbs brothers – better known as the Bee Gees – moved from Manchester, England to Queensland, Australia in the late 1950s. They kicked off their music career in Australia in 1958.

Other famous Ten Pound Poms include actor Hugh Jackman, singer and actress Kylie Minogue, and English cricketers Frank Tyson and Harold Larwood.

 

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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.

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