Advertiser letter of the week: Ashamed of immigration stance
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Owing to the recent interest in the Windrush immigrations I thought you might be interested in my experience in the 1940s writes Eddie Johnson, former landlord of Two Puddings in Stratford 1962-2000.
It must have been before the Windrush as I was 15 years old in 1947 and living in a little street in Old Ford called Lamprell Street, sadly demolished in the ’50s, but bordered by Parnell Road, Jodrell Road and Wick Lane.
My father had bought a garage and a house at the top of the street, next to Ted’s our corner shop which was let to an upholsterer and one or two people lucky enough in those days to have a car, the little house was unlet.
He came home one Sunday afternoon from his regular few pints at the Mitford Castle, flushed with drink and in a merry mood, “I’ve let the house” he said, “to three boys I met in the pub, they’re West Indians and lovely blokes”.
They were nice, the oldest, Arthur was from Curacao, Jacob from St Lucia and Joe from British Guinea. They were in their early twenties, had peg top trousers and trilby hats and were always laughing. They settled in pretty quickly, playing with us kids in the street, football and cricket and whatever else. Arthur was always in our house asking for advice on different things from my dad who became his mentor.
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One day they introduced us to a tall, snappily dressed man with a trilby hat, he was a singer, they said. He stayed for a few days playing cricket in the street with us, they all seemed to look up to him and one evening we went to a pub in Hackney called the Deuragon, they had a group of three young Caribbean musicians, when we walked in they all stopped playing and surrounded our new friend with excited cries of ‘Lord Kitchener, Lord Kitchener!’ although at the time I had never heard of him he was the most celebrated Calypso singer of his time remembered now for the song ‘Cricket, lovely cricket’ which was a big hit all round the Commonwealth. He was such a gracious and dignified man. He, with Arthur, took me to the Paramount Dance Hall, in Tottenham Court Road. They looked after me as if I was their treasured nephew.
After about a year Jacob and Joe moved on but Arthur stayed till they knocked Lamprell Street down, he met a white girl called Hilary, who we all thought was rather posh as she came from Ilford, and I heard they got married.
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I went into the army and while I was away they demolished Lamprell Street and my family moved to Forest Gate, I only saw Arthur once more at Stratford Labour Exchange, I’d been offered a job interview at a company and Arthur was enraged.
After being pleased to see me after a few years he got very upset as they’d told him at the counter there was no vacancies anywhere but I was being offered a job. Even if it was unofficial there was a definite colour bar. It’s so sad that all those people came here so many years ago, they were a happy group who loved the King and thought they were British citizens, they worked hard as nurses, railwaymen and bus conductors and all this while there has been this insidious prejudice.
I think the policy towards the West Indians has resulted in the present day attitude of young black people feeling disenfranchised and has led to this terrible gang culture that is causing so much distress in London. We should all be ashamed at what is going on. Immigration is still a huge issue and. despite all the denials that this is so, is still the main reason for the Brexit vote.
The Windrush generation made a huge contribution to our country’s well being and we should all try to come to terms and recognise that immigration can be a huge force for good and we need them wherever they come from.