The HMT Empire Windrush Shipwreck and the Windrush Controversy

While the political party leaders gesticulate blame on each other for the controversy, we look at why the immigrants are called the Windrush Generation and what became of the vessel from which they are named?

What is the Windrush Generation Controversy?

In brief and after WWII, immigrants from the Caribbean Commonwealth, including the islands of Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago were invited to the UK between 1948 and 1971 in response to post-war labour shortages. The controversy today has emerged as many children did travel on their parents passports and/or visas and cannot demonstrate their rights to remain in the UK after decades of living here.

Why are they called the Windrush Generation?

This is reference to the ship HMT Empire Windrush, which arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex, on 22nd June 1948. The ship carried 492 passengers, many of them children.

HMT Empire Windrush History

The ship HMT Empire Windrush was initially a German ocean liner, called MV Monte Rosa.

Built in 1930, she presently lays some 2,800 metres below the service in the Mediterranean off the north African coast, having succumb to a break out of fire in 28th March 1954 and a loss of 4 lives. She was renamed from MV Monte Rosa to HMT Empire Windrush in 1946, being seized as a war prize in 1945.

Between 1930 and 1945

The 13,882 tonne liner had been one of Germany’s super liners. Built by Hamberg shipbuilders Bohm and Voss, the Monte Rosa was one of five sister ships:

  • Monte Cervantes (Ran Aground 1930)
  • Monte Olivia (Bombed and Sunk 1945)
  • Monte Pascoal (Scuttled 1946)
  • Monte Rosa (Loss to fire 1954)
  • Monte Sarmiento (Bombed and Sunk 1942)

Under the ‘Kraft Durche Freude’ leisure scheme, the vessel was later to provide German workers and their families opportunities to take cruises that were previously only availability to the elite. During the war, she was used as a troopship.

Her Demise

Setting out from Yokohama and Kure in Japan in February 1954, it’s 1,276 passengers and crew had every reason to look forward to a a pleasant voyage. Passengers included military families of servicemen from the Far East including survivors of the Korean War. Among the casualties were wounded from the Third Battle of the Hook.

Unfortunately, defects in her propulsion system needed constant running repairs and the unlucky ship spent more time wallowing in the Indian Ocean than sailing. The estimated three week passage to Port Said took an excruciating eight weeks.

Departing the Egyptian port, she embarked on her final leg of the journey across the Mediterranean to England.

However, sailing off the coast of Algiers on 28th March 1954, an engine room fire resulted in a catastrophic explosion, killing four crew members. The fire could not be fought because of a lack of electrical power. The remaining 1,276 passengers and crew were rescued, but she sank while being towed to Gibraltar by the British destroyer HMS Saintes. In worsening weather, the attempt failed and HMT Empire Windrush sank on 30th March 1954 at 00:37am.