Lords of the Windrush

On June 22, 1948, eight hundred and two African-Caribbean migrants arrived in Britain on the HMT Empire Windrush. Amongst this historic first wave of “reverse colonization” were the soon-to-be-famous calypsonian singer Lord Kitchener.

HMT Empire Windrush
Royal Navy official photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

After World War II, the British parliament passed the British Nationality Act 1948. This act created a “Commonwealth citizenship” for people in the United Kingdom and its colonies overseas. It meant that people from a Commonwealth country could migrate to Britain and work. And, before the act even passed, hundreds of African-Caribbean people set sail for London to do just that.

The HMT Empire Windrush was supposed to transport servicemen back from Jamaica… but apparently there weren’t a lot coming home. So the ship filled up with African-Caribbean migrants instead. And, while people had settled in Britain from the Caribbean for decades before, these eight hundred and two people represented a new wave of multiculturalism pouring into the Mother Country. This was the start of the Windrush generation.

On board that historic first ship were at least four calypsonian singers: Lord Beginner, Lord Woodbine, Mona Baptise, and Lord Kitchener. The four would all win some measure of fame in Britain (Lord Woodbine went on to be an associate of the Beatles in their early Hamburg days), but none more than Lord Kitchener.

In 1948 Lord Kitchener was already well known in Trinidad and Tobago, but his move to Britain pushed him to new and international fame – and it brought calypso music to an international audience too. (It seems that many people know calypso music mainly through the Tim Burton film Beetlejuice, though. Lord Kitchener wrote the classic “Jump in the Line – Shake, SeƱora” song.)

When Lord Kitchener disembarked from the Empire Windrush a film crew captured his arrival, and the first public performance of his classic “London in the Place for Me.”

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